Recently I walked into the kitchen to ask my husband, John, a question.
“I can’t talk now,” he said. “I’m peeling carrots.”
Huh? Wouldn’t someone who was peeling carrots want to have a conversation to make the task a less tedious? But the truth is that John, a teacher and academic, can do only one thing at a time – though he does that brilliantly.
We women, on the other hand, are always bragging about how great we are at multitasking. And we truly are! But sometimes our amazing multitasking skills can get us into trouble.
Two weeks ago, I was sitting at my computer entering heath insurance information for my daughter on her college website. At least I was doing this with one-eighth of my mind. The other seven-eighths was engaged in a fantasy about moving to the English countryside, debating about whether to inoculate our oak trees for bacterial leaf scorch, and wondering if we could afford a fancy vacation, half of which would be tax deductible as research for my memoir. Oh, and reminding myself to pick up a book I’d bought recently called Ten Zen Seconds.* I really wanted to read it, but I just hadn’t had the time.
Then, at my computer, I realized I needed some information from my health insurance company for the college website, so I ran downstairs, dialed the health insurance company, punched in the member ID in response to a recorded message, and ran back upstairs to the computer. When the representative answered, he asked me for the member ID number again. Feeling annoyed, I ran downstairs to get it. I was on my way back up when I tripped and fell with a loud crash, breaking my foot while on a recorded line to my health insurance company. So much for multitasking.
Now, as my foot slowly heals in its orthopedic boot, I have time to think about those ten Zen seconds I didn’t have time for before.
When you consider it, that’s what memoir asks of us. It requires us to stop and remember, and to reflect deeply on what we remember. It demands that we interrogate reality – what is real, what is essential, what comprises our own personal truth? It requires us to synthesize past and the present so that the two create a harmonious (or deliberately discordant) whole. And it compels us to dig for story hidden in the chaotic mess of life. (In defense of chaotic messes, I think they make great stories if you can pull out the narrative structure buried in all the chaos.)
Memoir writing is, by its very nature, the ultimate exercise in mindfulness. Oddly enough, because of the intellectual rigor involved in thinking, writing, revising and rewriting, much of which is done concurrently, it is also the supreme exercise in multitasking.
Just don’t try to run up and down the stairs while you’re doing it.
*Ten Zen Seconds: Twelve Incantations for Purpose, Power and Calm by Eric Maisel, Ph.D
A version of this post was first published on womensmemoirs.com