Not me this time.
I had to do a massive amount of laundry this week; the whole thing ended up taking five hours. In the laundromat, I saw a woman was using several dryers at the left end, so I started from the right end, skipping two that I suspected might give me problems, based on past experience. I needed nine dryers total, and ended up using dryers that were near dryers this woman was using. There were only three or four people in the place, including us two (all wearing masks), and it is a large room with a very high ceiling, and the door was wide open: a low-risk situation, in my estimation.
The woman started to say something to me. At first I thought she was pointing out dryers she had just finished using that still had time on them: how nice! But then I realized she was enraged: “We’re in a global pandemic, in case you’re not aware of it! I’m over at this end, so could you please stay at that end?”
“I need all of these dryers,” I tried to explain to her, but she had literally covered her ears with her hands and was yelling, “I don’t want to hear it! Don’t talk to me, lady!”
But I could sympathize. A couple of months ago, it was me lecturing a civil libertarian in the laundromat about the need to wear a mask, and in the past week or so, I was startled and disgruntled to walk into my small, enclosed office at work to find two unmasked co-workers. I stormed back out and it took me a few hours to stop being angry. It was not a good morning.
Several days earlier, I had sent my boss an email asking if, with there being more and more opinion that the virus can be aerosolized, it would be wise if masks were required at all times in our offices, with eating and drinking being done elsewhere. The response I got to that was: no response, and I felt rather irritated—my signature emotion—because we regularly are reminded about the importance of safety at work, but when I sent a note about an actual real-life safety issue, that was evidently not of interest at all. When I most recently arrived at work, I saw that the temperature takers were now wearing face shields as well as procedure masks. I asked one if that was a personal choice or if it’s required, and she said it’s required.
Meanwhile, speaking of irritation: kittens. My fuzzy little teachers. They have mastered the art of standing on the start button for the printer, which is also a copier, and making it spew forth a blank page. The other day, this happened, but then a second page came out, and a third. I looked at the printer and saw that it was in the process of making 94 copies of nothing.
It is a constant struggle not to fall into irritation, which begets more irritation and makes all of us unhappy. I nearly swatted one with a comb when he attacked a towel that came temptingly within reach, and I once or twice a day get tired of gently pushing one cat, then the other, then the other, then the other away from my plate and I unceremoniously dump them on the floor. At such moments, there seem to be about eight of them. Fortunately, the payoff for reacting calmly and offering affection in as many moments as possible is nearly immediate, which is good. I’ve noticed they don’t respond when I inform them that I’m thinking of taking them back to the SPCA.
It was also helpful to learn about their first days: I learned this week that they were part of a litter of five kittens found motherless in someone’s back yard at four weeks old or so. They were taken to Animal Care & Control, and because they had roundworm, they were sent to the SPCA for treatment, and then they went to foster care for a couple of months. This gave me a tender feeling toward them: I’ll take care of you, you little orphaned cat! You can live with me!
Each evening, I clean the bathroom, including sweeping it. The cats love chewing on the broomsticks. I figured I would just sweep as if they didn’t, and after they got bumped a time or two, they would conclude the broom is not a toy. While I was doing this one recent evening, Howie got an audible bump on the head from the wooden broomstick. Not a hard bump, but I felt horrible and decided I need to just stop sweeping every time a cat approaches, pick him up, cuddle him, put him back down, resume sweeping, stop sweeping … However many times it takes, and treats might help with this.
I’ve been buying a lot of cat stuff: Toys and more toys and yet more toys, water bowls, food bowls, treat bowls, wet food, dry food, treats, collars, ID tags, high-sided litter boxes, litter that I hope I can transition them to, more of the current litter that I hate but that they are used to, enzyme cleaner, prescription wet food, prescription dry food, probiotics …
I got them tags at Pet Food Express, then decided I should get the kind that go right along the collar. I ordered two per cat from Amazon because I want to have their name, my phone number, their chip number (so no one has to take them to the vet to determine the number), the chip phone number, and the phrase “I’m lost if outside.” That was $40, and then I realized I had ordered the wrong style; I needed the kind that would clip onto a safety collar. Most fortunately, I was able to cancel the order the next day and can start over. I ordered them two darling collars, one with pineapples on it and one with cacti. The SPCA gave me two collars, but at the smallest size, they were a little loose. Duckworth didn’t mind wearing his collar, but Howie went berserk and got his lower jaw stuck inside the collar, so I took both collars off. The cute ones I ordered from Amazon go smaller.
They still both are having soft stools, but fecal tests came back negative for parasites, and since they are eating, drinking, peeing, pooping, and full of energy, their vet agreed to delay one more week before starting medication. The first time I took them to the vet, the office visit fees were waived and the total was extremely low. A week later, I dropped off stool samples and picked up seven more cans of food and four more packets of probiotics (FortiFlora). This time the fee was $250. “Four cans of food cost two hundred and fifty dollars??” I asked the office person. I was standing on the sidewalk outside the pet hospital, talking to her on the phone. It turned out that included the fee for the two fecal tests. I was often stunned by the cost of care for Hammett, and had to remind myself that from now on, it’s going to be the same except twice as much.
So, anyway, after many episodes of getting mad at them for this or that and having to rein myself in, I had to call Tom to see if I’m a good person. He said I am. I asked why. He said because I left a corporate job to do work that has more meaning for me. I asked why else. He said because I eat in a “stable” manner. I asked why interpersonally. Like, what makes me a good friend (if anything does)? He said I have a good sense of humor, and I’m pretty nice to be with. The latter is probably a stretch at moments, and the assertion more indicative of Tom’s good nature than mine, but I felt better after I talked to him.
Then I reminded myself that I can’t do a single thing about anything I have done in the past. Nothing. And resolving to do anything in the future is equally fruitless. Completely. In this moment, is my sympathetic nervous system activated or is my parasympathetic nervous system engaged? AKA, am I lost in thought or am I conscious of any form of sense data? Howie (the human) frequently mentions being mindful in “just this moment” in the hope that we can be “less reactive.” What is it to react? It is a burst of emotion. It is to insist that something be otherwise. Trying to hurry, for me, guarantees reactivity. Trying to do too much in a given moment, ditto.
I’ve been thinking lately about Stephen and Ondrea Levine, and their frequent mentions of “soft belly.” Also about Paul Haller recommending a frequent “pause.” And about Christina Lehnherr asking, “Is it possible to relax completely with whatever is occurring in this moment?”
I have now begun pausing when I notice I’m beginning to feel tense—which is often—and just saying “soft belly” and letting my belly relax and counting to three. That is all I need to do! Yet how easy it is not to do it.
When I arrived at work most recently, I saw there was still no response regarding aerosolized coronavirus, so I sent a low-key follow-up, but in the end, all I can do is to keep myself safe as best I can. I plan to double mask when I’m in the office with others, and to be in the office as little as possible. It occurred to me that if the coronavirus can be transmitted as an aerosol, it probably always could, and I haven’t gotten it yet, so panic is probably not warranted, but being careful is. My entire risk budget is allocated to working in a hospital. Beyond that, I need to be careful. I would like to see my parents again one of these months. I think my mother is afraid I’m going to die. When we got off the phone a couple of weeks ago, she said, “Promise me you won’t die.” I am doing my best.
I have been leaving classical music on for Howie and Duckworth when I go out and leave them locked in the bathroom, which is every time I go out. They are definitely not ready to have the apartment to themselves. I am streaming the same classical music station my parents listen to: WRCJ. It’s nice to think that my parents and I and D&H are all listening to the exact same thing at some moments.