New neighbors, Part 3: Refugee cats versus our own — brokering a peace

Once I began feeding tom-kittens Jack and Justin to usher them through their rapid adolescent growth spurt, it entailed something else as well. They would need to be integrated into our own brood of cats to prevent fighting with our two toms, which could potentially maim any one of them.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Note: I have changed the names of the two neighbor cats in this post, and the preceding one, to provide anonymity for our neighbors out of respect for privacy. For the same reason I have not included any photos. I think it’s unlikely anyone in our neighborhood will read these stories, but you never know.

Roaming for food, seeking haven

As far as I could tell, Justin and Jack were fed at their place next door twice a day. Presumably they were fed in the morning right before or after being let out of the garage for the day, and again when being put inside again at night. On the other hand, perhaps they also had access to food ad libitum from a feeder overnight, although they were so ravenous when showing up at our place each morning, I doubted it. Or, alternatively, perhaps they didn’t much care for the food they were given.

I didn’t know any of this for sure, and could have been wrong. It was my best guess, based on the clues I could discern while keeping at arm’s length and not prying.

What did seem to be pretty clear, though, is that the two were put outside all day to fend for themselves. And when you do that with a cat, you can be sure they are going to try to line up other sources of food for themselves with sympathetic neighbors.

They will also try to secure secluded quiet spots and hidey-holes near preferred food sources for napping. They will scout out perches to serve as lookout posts or for keeping an eye and ear out for telltale signs food may be on its way. If they get caring attention from their benefactors as part of the bargain, so much the better.

Our own cats, with more frequent access to food, rarely wandered more than a half-block away, sometimes perhaps a block. Jack and Justin, though, had been spotted ranging as far away as two or three blocks from home, based on reports and photos posted by others in our neighborhood group online, as well as sightings by a friend of mine. Of course, part of this roving around could be attributed to the fact they were not neutered, but food is always a factor.

Read moreNew neighbors, Part 3: Refugee cats versus our own — brokering a peace

New neighbors, Part 2: Refugee cats at our door

When two hungry, rapidly growing, unneutered tom-kittens unexpectedly arrived on the scene — with a brood of our own cats to care for already — deciding how to deal with them wasn’t easy. Would I be overstepping my bounds to help them out myself? Or should I leave it up to owners who didn’t understand the Tao of Cats?
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Note: I have changed the names of the two neighbor cats in this post, and the post to follow, to provide anonymity for our neighbors out of respect for privacy. For the same reason I have not included any photos. I think it’s unlikely anyone in our neighborhood will read these stories, but you never know.

So where were we with the story of our next-door neighbors who moved in a couple of years ago, as we were wrapping up Act 1 of the tale? In a nutshell, the primary theme was: Nice people, but completely unaware of how the high level of daily, hours-long noise the family squalled out into the soundscape affected those around them. Particularly the constant whooping, hollering, and shrieking emitted by their five energetic, pre- and post-adolescent children.

Before moving on to the next chapter here about the neighbors and their refugee cats, though, there’s an interesting loose end to tie up that unexpectedly capped off the previous chain of events some time after I made the original post.

The conclusion of the initial installment of the story found my wife and me hunkering down, resigned to putting up with the ongoing noise for the time being, while contemplating a potential next move, but not eager to make one because of the potential confrontation or ill will it might generate. Because most of the noise comes during the warmer months, and particularly the summer when the neighbors’ backyard pool is open and in use, we got a long-awaited respite once the family closed it down in the fall of the first year they moved in.

For perhaps four months or so after that until springtime of the second year, we were able to enjoy some peace and quiet. Not complete, mind you, but with the noise level much reduced. With their five kids in school during the day in the colder months, and temperatures often too wintry afterward in the small slice of daylight left to play outside for long when they returned home, there was simply not as much opportunity to wreak havoc on the airwaves.

Read moreNew neighbors, Part 2: Refugee cats at our door

A mouse in my pocket

The pocket that held the mouse whose luck turned around.
Once in a while there is the chance to save a mouse from the carnage that goes along with owning cats who like to hunt. What difference does it make?

As much as I love our cats, one of the tradeoffs is dealing with the other animals they kill. Periodically, my wife or I will open the front door to find lying on our concrete porch a dead bird or mouse, or leftover mangled rabbit parts, lifeless before us.

My wife cannot face such scenes, and calls me in to take care of the mess if I haven’t yet come across it myself. Otherwise I will try to handle the cleanup of any blood or entrails, and dispose of the body, before she has a chance to see it, perhaps giving her a brief report later — if even that isn’t too much for her to hear.

While I’m not freaked out by the small, dead bodies and don’t mind the task itself, still, it always brings at least some pangs of regret or sadness.

Last year I remember finding a beautiful yellow finch at the foot of the short wooden staircase outside our kitchen door that opens into the attached garage, which is accessible via cat door and serves as another location where the cats leave their kills. Holding the finch in my hands, its eyes unseeing, but body and breast both still warm and supple, an emptiness arose inside and a lump came to my throat. Only moments ago it had to have been full of life. At the same time that you know cats are only doing what’s natural, your heart sinks to see such a beautiful, feathered and fellow creature — up close and personal, but gone.

Read moreA mouse in my pocket

On the run with Jim Walmsley and the kids (dream 9)

I am out again on the dirt roads, outside the hometown where I used to live decades ago, this time to the southwest of town, on a training run with the renowned ultrarunner Jim Walmsley. He is passing through the Midwestern plains and farm country here on his way across the country somewhere.

There are things about Walmsley I feel a kinship with that have led me to take an interest in him, and to follow the ups and downs of his career. But more than that, he is a wonder to behold in action: The loping, mesmerizing stride of a gazelle possessed by no other in ultrarunning. The superb, technically accurate footing of a mountain goat dancing effortlessly across minefields of scattered rock. Relaxed abandon fused with a relentless drive. A masterful grace evident in his easy handling of the most challenging trails. The agile coordination rounding hairpin-tight switchbacks. His confident facility breezing down twisting paths atop sheer canyon drop-offs.

And beyond that, there is the subliminal joy exhibited in the lilt of his limbs running even on the most prosaic terrain. Which is where we are presently, now that he has shown up on my turf for a run, unexpectedly, in a dream.

Read moreOn the run with Jim Walmsley and the kids (dream 9)

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 6

And now, after an interminable five-month hiatus, the thrilling denouement of the thinking person’s guide to slacking responsibly. Even fortified against the madding crowd by the numerous practical steps and information outlined previously, the way of “doing less” doesn’t happen without an ongoing shift in consciousness. In this concluding leg of our journey, we’ll look at what it takes to cover that terrain.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Unless you’re convinced of the wisdom of doing less in today’s overbusy world — driving that point home is what Parts 1 and 2 were all about — significant resistance to actually going down this road will arise within. And, even with the knowledge of how thoroughly unhealthy America’s culture of overbusyness is, it still may not be easy to embrace suggestions for actually doing less, as you might have discovered while digesting the strategies and tactics outlined in Parts 3, 4, and 5.

This is because the way of doing less also forces you to confront your own preferences for, or addictions to, activities that may not be contributing to happiness in your life. Or in fact may be actively undermining it.

You may already know what some of these diversions are in your life but find yourself reluctant to give them up — a reluctance that might have been dredged up by the practical pointers covered in the previous three parts. Even the attitude itself of regarding activities detrimental to your deepest well-being as something to “give up” indicates an embedded or conditioned philosophy of always “wanting more.” Thus, if you do experience such reluctance, but still say you want to do less, then you have some internal psychological or spiritual “work” to do.

Successfully doing less and reaping the rewards of a more relaxed schedule requires that you take a psychological or spiritual journey (use whichever word you prefer). It’s a different kind of work than we’re used to doing for money or to keep our households running. Its entire makeup is different because it involves looking or feeling within rather than doing outwardly. In fact, the whole “way” of doing less embodies an internal shift to bring a better balance with outward doing by cultivating more looking, listening, and feeling. Not only within yourself but when it comes to the world around you.

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 6

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 5

Widen your horizons, and you’ll find a diverse array of strategies and tactics for taming the dragon of daily life, all enumerated here. Also not to be overlooked is the “mental game” where one begins to employ the less-is-more “jujitsu” underlying it all.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The elephant in the room: our jobs

Our world is schizophrenic. Most people dislike their jobs yet fear losing them. But when people trust you enough to tell the truth, most will admit they would really rather not work — at least not at the jobs available — but do so anyway because they have little choice in today’s world.

On the other hand, when people are doing something they like, they aren’t lazy. They are enthused and put significant energy into it, though in such situations they tend not to overwork, instead finding an unforced rhythm of uptime and downtime. This is what natural activity looks like, not the scheduled-to-death lives so many of us live these days.

Best of all worlds: self-employment, flextime, or working from home

In the best of all worlds, this more natural rhythm of uptime and downtime would apply to our working hours as well. However, it’s usually only possible if you’re either self-employed or are employed by a company that allows you to work from home with compensation based on work performed rather than hours clocked. Carving out a niche for yourself in the business world as a self-employed individual, or landing a job with a work-from-home arrangement, though, is beyond the scope of this series of postings. But I highly recommend it if you have the personality, discipline, and motivation for it, and there are a few things I want to point out here.

Self-employment does potentially carry the trade-off of “feast or famine” periods where you alternately work more than you would like, but get unplanned periods of extended time off too. This pattern is well-known by many who make their living working for themselves. It all depends on the type of business you’re in.

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 5

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 4

Adding to our overbusyness today is the mirage of multitasking, which studies show actually doesn’t save any time at all. Far from promoting the practice, we consider how to tame its prime enabler — the smartphone beast, plus cover a few other tips. Multitasking by its very nature also helps breed and compound that gnawing emptiness inside you may feel. True satisfaction comes from a different direction.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Doing one thing at a time

The illusion of multitasking

By now, enough studies have shown so-called multitasking actually increases the time it takes to get things done that it should be beyond dispute. We fool only ourselves when we believe doing multiple things at once increases efficiency.

And truthfully, don’t you often find it just plain annoying to feel forced to multitask? Wouldn’t it feel great not to? Wouldn’t you enjoy bucking a damnable trend like this — giving such a frustrating habit ye ole heave-ho?

Multitasking isn’t really doing things simultaneously anyway — it’s constantly alternating between more than one activity, and interrupting yourself each time you switch. Multitasking thus comes with numerous costs, has been shown to increase unhappiness, and can be harmful to your health due to increasing chronic stress. The work-related costs include up to a 40% loss in productivity and making more errors, the number of which increases with the complexity of the tasks involved.

Even simpler multitasking combinations such as smartphone use while walking can incur costs — nearly 20% of teens aged 13 to 17 and 10% of adults hit by cars while walking reported being distracted by their mobile devices at the time. Chronic “media multitasking” also negatively affects memory recall. Multitasking during cognitive tasks lowers IQ by about 10 points while so engaged. Also, studies show we are happiest when focusing on a single activity over shorter time periods of approximately an hour or less, while introducing variety of tasks over longer time spans of perhaps a day or longer.

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 4

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2, we documented America’s descent into a maelstrom of overwork and overbusyness, how unnatural it all is, and how unhealthy and unhappy we are compared to other developed nations. Here, in Part 3, we get down to the business, er, make that pleasure, of actually doing less.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

As I began putting together strategies, tactics, and tips for pulling back from the rat race, it became clear to me that many people would experience emotional resistance to them, despite the desire to do less. Reactions such as, “Oh, I could never give that up,” “I don’t have enough discipline,” “I don’t want to make that tradeoff,” “My friends’ feelings will be hurt if I don’t do such-and-such,” etc.

Which highlights the fact that the approach of doing less — scaling back — in order to reclaim a portion of your life from society’s excessive demands is not just a question of making changes to what you do during the week. Or changing the level of your involvement with certain habits or pursuits, or the pace of your daily activities. It is a psychological or spiritual journey as well. And in large part, that’s because we have internalized society’s demands on us and do not thoroughly question them.

Rather than cover that in this post, though, and delay getting into what it actually takes to do less in your life while still accomplishing what’s truly essential, we’ll hold off on the psychological and spiritual side of things for now. By first delving into strategies and tactics, and experiencing any psychological resistance that may arise along the way, we’ll be in a better position later to appreciate why “inner work” is so critical to the process.

I wanted to give a bit of a heads-up about that here first. Something to be aware of while we’re going through practical suggestions, so you’ll be ready for what might surface emotionally in response, and so you know what’s coming later. Ready? Let’s dive in.

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 3

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 2

America prides itself on its work ethic and role as the global epicenter of innovation and high technology. Yet it is at the same time the unhealthiest and least happy of the major developed nations. By contrast, primitive hunter-gatherer tribes that have been studied work the least, have the most leisure, and are much healthier. What’s wrong with this picture?
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

How we got here, or… Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into, Stanley

The age of too much to do in too little time we Americans are living in is not solely the product of something that has only become established recently, though it might well seem like it. Its ultimate roots extend deep into our past. The culture of overbusyness we find ourselves snared by is itself held in place by a worldview bound into place inside us largely by the unseen tendrils of Western religion that have grown up through the cracks of society everywhere. Or at least by religion’s darker side. (What? You thought it was all light and goodness?!)

Recall, for example, one of religion’s timeworn sayings whose job is to instill a collective “work ethic” disparaging downtime. The dictum “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” goes back at least several centuries under different variants and is tightly tied to religious admonitions to stay busy at all times, in fear of some kind of unseen boogeyman.

Those outside the church walls may chuckle at such sayings, but nonetheless still cling strongly to the idea of the work ethic, probably viewing it as so self-evident it does not require debate. Nonetheless, the arguments for it are strongly morally tinged — the emotional baggage that goes along with it, and the guilt experienced if one shirks from it, have largely religious roots.

There are a number of other such strictures in Western religion against enjoying oneself too much without sufficient justification. Fortunately they have not been able to stamp out all unbidden leisure, but they do induce a significant amount of guilt over it for many. And that is perhaps the strongest mark it leaves on us, psychologically. Even when we do relax, we may feel we should somehow be using that time to “make something of ourselves.”

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 2

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 1

To disengage from America’s culture of excess so you can begin doing less, first you have to feel good about it. So to start with, Part 1 cuts loose with a rant flogging the nation’s collective psychosis of overwork, overconsumption, and overbusyness to help make it easy to jettison the guilt.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Where the nation is now: looking into the funhouse mirror

In America today, we are living in an age of extreme excess and imbalance. Most do not see it, of course. We cannot see it, because nearly everyone has “drunk the well water” and regards it as normal. Even those of us who do consider this excess warped or perverse may still feel a certain amount of it to be unavoidable or inevitable: “Go along to get along,” in so many words.

But this excess and imbalance is not simply a matter of the country’s unbridled consumerism. Fueling our excessive purchases and collective philosophy of “living large” — otherwise known as “the American way of life” and famously termed “not negotiable” by President George Bush Sr. — is the other side of the coin of modern excess: working slavishly hard and feeling we need to keep busy all the time. For without these twin talismans of ambition, we could not pay for nor would we feel compelled to indulge in the overbusy, overconsumeristic lifestyle so many of us believe we should have.

Even with them, we still cannot afford some of our unrestrained purchases, and so with the addition of debt-fueled spending we can add “overextended” to the description of our outsize appetites. Below is a representative roundup of the most typical items in the nation’s lifestyle that keep us indebted to what we could call the four “O”s of overwork, overconsumption, overbusyness, and overextendedness.

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 1

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