Two weeks ago I called a carpet cleaning company to deal with some rooms that needed professional help. The owner of the company launched into a list of things I would have to do to get the carpets ready to for the cleaning.
“Make sure there’s no little toys or things on the carpets, move smaller pieces of furniture out of the way, and vacuum the entire room. Vacuum those carpets like you mean it,” he said.
“Most people vacuum like their house is on fire,” he explained. “I don’t know why they’re in such a hurry. You want to vacuum like you mean it. Start with an empty vacuum canister and vacuum nice and slow. Slower than you’ve ever vacuumed before.”
Being a rule follower, I obediently did everything the carpet man asked me to do, while my spouse wondered out loud why I was working so hard when they were the ones getting paid. I picked up all the diabolical toys that hide under the couch: the Shopkins, K’nex, and other tiny plastic shapes in primary colors with jacked-up names that have no meaning in the English language.
Then I vacuumed like I frigging meant it. It took forever. My brain and body were itching to vacuum like I’m used to doing it, like the house is on fire. About halfway through the living room, something unexpected happened. The white noise of the vacuum engine, combined with the repetitive back and forth movement, started to feel soothing. The monkey in my mind stopped clanging her giant cymbals. I was spending so long vacuuming that I was actually running out of stuff to ruminate on. My river of thoughts slowed from whitewater rapids to babbling brook.
In this mentally and physically relaxed state I realized that this was the first time I had vacuumed while I was vacuuming. As opposed to ordering my kids around, or writing a strongly worded letter in my head to the neighborhood HOA about people driving too fast, or berating myself for not writing my son’s preschool teacher a thank you note three years ago…all while vacuuming.
Then I began to wonder when I last did anything like I meant it, which is to say: am I ever simply doing the thing I am doing while I am doing it? The answer is, not really. And that’s a disservice to myself, my loved ones, and the world. How am I honoring the unimaginably improbable privilege of being alive today if I am wandering through my life blinded by distraction?
So then I decided to do all my mundane tasks that day like I meant it. I heard the sound of the water while I did the dishes. I noticed how the dish soap smelled like a fruit that hasn’t been invented yet. I looked at the trees arching over the road while I drove to CVS. I heard my children playing I Spy in the backseat. I stopped in the middle of an afternoon dog walk to watch a mother and father cardinal teach their baby to fly.
All of these things gave me joy. They were simple everyday things, and they made me happy. And all it took was some concentration and intention courtesy of the carpet cleaner man.
Of course the best intentions tend to get waylaid by life. I continue to live in my head most of the time, taking myself on silent journeys of distraction through old wounds, resentments, struggles, and questions I will never find the answers to.
Sometimes I remember the carpet cleaning guy telling me to vacuum like I mean it. Sometimes I try to do that. Sometimes I am able to let my mind rest for twenty minutes while I fold the clothes like I mean it. To let my children see that I am eating dinner with them like I mean it. To talk to my husband about his day at work like I mean it.
Learning how to live life like I mean it? It’s a work in progress. But it helps to know that if I ever feel like I’ve gone too far into the maze of my own endless stream of thoughts, all I have to do is vacuum the living room.
Last night my husband was trying to watch some television, and all hell nearly broke loose.
He had just gotten home from a long day back to work after traveling for the holidays. All he wanted was a little brain vacation, but what he got instead was a blank, ominously brackish television screen that was unresponsive to all four of our remote controls. (Um, yeah. we haven’t joined the world of the universal remote yet.)
So my loving husband did what anyone would do in his situation. He called his wife over for help.
I am the official IT person in my household, which is, honestly, pretty sad. But I have this one trick that works about 95% of the time. I learned it from the person who answers the phone at the cable company. I just turn off whatever is malfunctioning, and turn it back on. It works on Kindles, iPhones, Rokus, and many other devices with names that were invented by kindergarteners.
We all held our breath as I attempted my magic trick by unplugging and replugging the television, and…it worked! Crisis averted, my husband got to watch ESPN and my family continues to worship me for the technological genius that I am.
Which got me thinking…could my magic trick work on a human? What if I just CTRL+ALT+DELETE myself when I’m so stuck on something that I can’t move forward? What would a restart look like on a day that gets so sideways, I don’t know which way is up?
For example, yesterday was our first full day back from our holiday travels. I mostly wandered around the house, overwhelmed by the magnitude of tasks before me and therefore unable to focus on finishing anything. I got three loads of laundry done and not much else. (And when I say “done” I mean “clean.” I certainly do not mean “folded and put away.” I’m not a laundry-based cyborg, jeez.)
About 756 things got started yesterday, but nothing really got done.
I should have used my magic trick on myself. I should have stopped everything, taken a power nap, and tried again. Someone once said when their days go haywire, or they have completely had it with their kids, they stop everything, make a batch of cookies, and try again. (If you are this person, please identify yourself in the comments, and also, you are brilliant.)
What would be your version of a restart button? Taking a walk? Meditating? Playing guitar? Watching Mexico: One Plate at a Time on PBS and then making the featured meal in your kitchen? (This one is very specific but I can think of at least one person in my life who would do this.)
In 2018 I resolve to try the restart trick whenever my day starts getting all janky. I think this is a friendly, doable resolution. Much more doable than, say, getting a universal remote. I mean, I may be a technological genius but I’m not Steve Jobs.
...was the name of my column in Phillips' Finest, my middle school newspaper. If it was good enough for seventh grade, it's good enough for "adulthood."