I have difficulties creating boundaries. I don’t like to eliminate any possibilities or potentials, but in doing so I tend to cut myself off at the knees, so to speak. Before Covid even hit, I was struggling with creating time and space boundaries so I could get things done. I love that my desk is by the front window in the living room. I can look out on the “front” lawn (our house and property are situated oddly), watching birds and the trees. I can see the occasional person go by on the canal beyond our block wall, we sit low, the canal walk is up high. However, while we don’t use the living room like most people, we hang out in the kitchen, it’s still a common area and everyone felt it was fair game to come in and sit down at my desk while I was working. Even if I was grading or typing, chatter would start.
I love my family and love that they enjoy sharing things with me. The problem is I get distracted easily. Too easily. If you’re a betting person, bet on me losing my train of thought mid-conversation at some point. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stray thought that wandered into my head or a bird that landed on the lawn. Seriously, it’s a sure thing. So, when someone just walks into the area, the chance that I lose my thread or stumble is very, very high. Like triple digits in a Phoenix summer high.
I was writing the first draft of The Reluctant Bandit when I had a breakdown. I cried that no one respected my space or my time, meaning if I said I had to get X done or that I’d be working XY amount of time it was either ignored or the people just didn’t pay attention. It was a struggle. The more I was interrupted, the more I sat at my desk and the more needy the people became. I understood the dynamic. What I didn’t understand was why I had to make the sacrifice for family time when it was convenient for them. Where was their flexibility? How was it that my schedule didn’t rate?
One day, I lost it. Chief and I were having a conversation about family time and doing things. I explained the dynamic and how I felt unheard, that my goals weren’t important. Being the good husband he is, he said they were important, but I was very firm and somewhat caustic about it–all talk, no delivery was the bottom line of my response. Okay, I was really mean and I felt horrible, and was sobbing, but I also felt horrible that I wasn’t being acknowledged and my words were falling on deaf ears. This felt like some sort of thousand-times conversation. I was pretty sure we should’ve leveled up by that point.
Fast forward a week later when a mystery package (of the unlabeled variety) shows up on our doorstep. No, not that kind. Although that could’ve been fun–we’ll never know, now, will we? Chief comes home and after looking at the package and thinking about it–he can’t remember what it is, either–tosses me the package. “It’s for you,” he says. Everyone looks at me, expectantly. I open the package and there it is–a sliding “come on in!”/”please do not disturb” sign. OMG, people! Cartoon tears shot out of my eyes. No joke. It was the best gift, ever. It was so thoughtful, so timely, and I love, love, loved it. I also cried hysterically. I know, poor guy can’t cut a break. I’m not easy to live with.
So, that’s the story of the sliding sign above the living room barn doors. It’s also the beginning of being much better about focusing (trying very, very hard to, at least), as well being more aware of how I spend my time. I have one child who isn’t the best at checking before he enters, but overall, everyone has been awesome about respecting it. (Except that one dog, Finnegan. He busts in by nosing between the barn doors until the latch shimmies up and off.) Sometimes they can see me deep at work or on a Zoom call and they slide it for me, if I haven’t already. It’s not perfect, but none of us are–especially me. But it’s practical, thoughtful, and symbolic–one of the best gifts I’ve received.