I hate it when people say that many middle-aged people “aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.” It’s condescending, insulting, naive and just plain wrong. What I hate even more, though, is being one of those dull tools. Alas, there are times when I feel I’m struggling to stay in the shed, period.
This morning was a fine example of the three strikes towards the dull tool rule. This morning (really last night), I failed to barricade our kitchen, and our very naughty lab got in and scattered what she couldn’t eat down the hallway. I erased the new grocery list on the marker board, thinking it was last week’s, and left paperwork that was supposed to be turned in today on the kitchen table. I’m not stupid – it’s just that I don’t pay attention the way I should.
How many times have things happened around you that only later you find important? Except for local jaunts, I get lost driving without written directions, even though I’ve been to these places dozens of times. I am terrible at relaying verbal messages from doctors, bankers and insurance agents, and although many things make sense to me, I have a hard time explaining them to others. Like I have crossed wires in my head.
Is this the same woman who was commended for the creative language in her novels? The same who proofreads and enters information into a computer every day? What happens to our ability to pay attention? Do we all become a little A-D-D as we get older? Is it just a case of not paying attention? Or something more sinister?
I am not talking about dementia here; this is not one of those not-enough-blood-to-the-brain things. There are many people from their 20’s through their 80’s who bounce from cloud to cloud, half connected to the responsibilities of this world, half to another. Some are considered geniuses, others rebels. Some are trendsetters, others ne’re-do-wells. I’m sure at least one of them comes to your mind even now. But that doesn’t mean they are slower or duller than others. Everybody forgets things ― everybody does things now and then in a skewered way. The important thing to do in times like these is to learn from your idiosyncrasies. If you can’t change them, join them!
Start with slowing down. “I don’t go fast!” you reiterate. Perhaps not. But in some circles even full speed ahead isn’t fast enough. We see others around us moving faster, driving faster, coming to conclusions faster, and that makes us feel inferior. Our brain tells us we are not, yet try telling that to our ego. We are so busy trying to keep one step ahead of the game, thinking about the next play, the next set of consequences, that we fail to finish the game we are currently playing. When I take the grocery list with me and not the checkbook, it doesn’t mean I’m stupid. It just means I didn’t take time to complete the circle, i.e., grocery list = buying groceries = no cash on hand = pay with a check.
I think it’s the simple things that trip us up the most. I don’t do well remembering driving directions because, I admit, I don’t focus on taking this road to that highway to that street. As a passenger, I’m too busy chatting or looking out the windows at the cows and the clouds or reading a book or talking to my car mates. This highway and that street aren’t important to me at that moment. That doesn’t mean they are not important at all ― just not at that particular moment of remembering.
Same thing with worrying if I turned off the curling iron or picked up the stack of bills on the table to drop in the mailbox. Both situations are important; it’s just that I’m more worried about punching in on time than casing the table one more time or dipping one more time into the bathroom. I can handle the main control for the TV/DVD player/satellite box, but if someone comes along and changes things in order to play a video game, I’m done for the night.
So when I say I/we need to slow down, all I mean is that we need to pay attention to each task as we perform it. There is nothing wrong with being interested or excited about our next move, but sometimes we need to exaggerate our involvement in the current one. To assure I complete each circle, I do things like talk out loud to myself (stove is OFF. Curling iron is BACK UNDER THE SINK). I know it sounds ridiculous (the dogs think I’m talking to them), but I would feel a lot more ridiculous should my house catch on fire.
We are all given one deck of cards to play with, and it’s how we play with the cards we’re dealt that matters. I exceed in places where others fall short. It’s all a balancing act. It is in your life, too. So don’t let it be a big deal. Make your list, sing as you recite your steps, and stay on course. After all, the most important thing in life is continually sharpening that tool.
You’ll never know when you’ll need it to dig yourself out of a hole.