Augusten Burroughs blog (from his FB page)

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-15-2004
Augusten Burroughs blog (from his FB page)
Thu, 01-31-2013 - 1:49pm

On towel bars, “Living in the moment” and why I admire people who are late. 

I’m a worrier and a catastrophist. What this means is, if you invited me to a birthday party and i watched you stick candles in the cake, I would worry about the candles burning down too quickly, before the wish was made. And then as the candles were blown out, I would think about all the airborne pathogens that were now blown over the surface of the cake; I would think about tuberculosis and smallpox and lung tissue scars. I would probably even have a vision of myself at next year's birthday party attached to a portable oxygen tank. 

Automatically, my mind always runs ahead and scans the future for the worst possible outcome and this, then, becomes the thing that I expect. To the catastrophist, a knock on the door is never a girl scout selling cookies; it's the girl scout's third cousin who just escaped from jail and is carrying a machette. 

About six months ago, the towel bar in my bathroom started to jiggle on the wall. “Oh great,” I thought, “now the tiled ceiling ceiling the same contractor put in is going to come crashing down and kill my dog.”

My dog loves the bathroom because there’s a heater in there that I can’t turn off. He sits below the towel bar and bakes himself. 

When I step out of the shower and see him curled up in front of his heater, the towels hanging from the bar above him, I begin to worry. Even as I shave, I’m glancing down at him in the mirror and saying to myself, “I wish you wouldn’t sit there. it’s dangerous now. That towel bar just isn’t secure.”

If you were to watch a movie of me shaving in the morning, you might mistakenly believe I was somebody who “lived in the moment” because look, I’m just standing there shaving.

But my mind is not shaving along with my body; my mind is in a courtroom during the trial for the contractor who installed the towel bar that fell and killed my dog thereby causing me irreparable psychological damage.

So yesterday, the towel bar came off in my hands. It didn't fall on the dog -but it would have, had I not caught it. (So says the catastrophist.)

So I sat on the floor and figured out how the stupid-ass thing was attached because you can’t see the screws. (Burn in Hell Restoration Hardware.) 

But then if you’re sitting on the floor with your face mashed against the wall and you look up, you do kind of half-see a tiny little hole with some sort of possible screw-like thing inside. Because I have two red tool boxes and not just one, I located the correct gizmo and was able to inelegantly but effectively re-tighten the screws and make the towel bar stable once again.

And when I was finished, I experienced the most unfamiliar thing: calm. And I realized that taking action and doing something I didn’t know how to do but had to figure out on the fly had been enough to occupy my brain and prevent it from skipping ahead in search of the next cliff, hurricane or Very Bad News waiting for me around the next corner with a chloroform-soaked rag and a burlap potato sack. 

By doing something that required my focus and attention because it was new, I accidentally slipped and fell into the moment. 

Thinking about the loose towel bar constantly: stressful, crazy-making. Stepping inside the loose towel bar to see what's going on: calming, like a nap. 

When your actions and your thoughts are in the same room at the same time doing the exact same thing, you're "living in the moment."

It doesn’t count to be like me, shaving with your hands and face but with a wayward mind that's occupied with worrying about Possible Outcomes of An Imagined and Dreaded Future Event.

I have a friend who's been sick and tired of New York City for years and wants to just run away to a goat farm somewhere and make artisanal cheese. She imagines she would be happy petting the goats and collecting their milk and turning it into a soft and expensive cheese she could then sell to Whole Foods so that mothers in $700 sandals could buy it and spread it on crackers for their gluten-sensitive children. 

But would this really give her the peace of mind she seeks? She’s not unlike me, worry-wise. I can’t help but picture her on her goat farm at 4am out there in the barn milking those critters and even while she’s squatting down in the hay among the hanta-virus rats milking her goats, I bet she’d be thinking, “If I can't find a way to speed these goats up and give me more milk, the bank will foreclose." I have no doubt that as she milked her goats in her charming country barn, all her thoughts would be about how she will soon be living in her elderly parents' garage, eating cat food form a can.

Because if you can't be content where you are, you won't be content where you wish you were. That's why they don't let alcoholics make geographic changes for at least a year. It's like, first you have to make peace and be content here, where you actually are. Then you can move and continue being content someplace new if you want. 

To really live in the moment you have to do what my personal trainer told me to do at the gym back in the 1990’s when everybody had a personal trainer and wore their cell phone on a belt clip. He said, “Put your mind in your muscle.” Meaning, if you’re doing bicep curls, look at your bicep muscle, stare at it while you raise the weight, concentrate to make certain you are not involving your shoulder muscles (cheating) but limiting the motion only to the muscles involved.

Which is why I admire people who are late. Somebody should do a study, for real. Because I am almost never late: I arrive way too early. Because I fear being late, I worry about it and then imagine the consequences. So I'm early and totally stressed out with lots of free time to enjoy all those stress hormones eroding my insides. 

But people who are late are late because they’re occupied with something else. They obviously aren’t worrying about being late because if they were, they’d have arrived early like me.

People who are late are late because they are busy doing something else and are doing this something else so fully, thoughts about What’s Next? haven’t entered their brains.

Maybe this isn’t true 100% of the time, but I can tell you, the people I know who are always running late for everything are also the people I wish I could be a little bit more like because as busy as they may be, they don’t seem as anxious. 

I think that secretly, people who get furious at people who are late are jealous because they wish they could be late, too. Just a hunch. 

Here’s the thing about living “in the moment” and I talk more about this in THIS IS HOW (which you should buy right now so I can afford better towel bars): as soon as you ask yourself, am I living in the moment? you take yourself out of the moment. 

“Living in the moment” is something you realized you did, in retrospect. It’s not something you realize you’re doing right now. Because, like I just said, if you realize you’re living in the moment right now, you’ve just taken yourself out of it. And once you’re free of this instant in time, there’s no telling where your mind will go.

You also can’t remind yourself to live in the moment so don't bother writing "Live in the moment" on a sticky note, that only increases your carbon footprint and, worse, turns you into the kind of person with trite, motivational slogans stuck to everything.

The only way to truly live in and experience the moment is to do the thing you’re doing. If you’re sitting, sit. If you’re busy researching something, read the thing you’re reading and don’t angst over how much more reading you have yet to do. 

How do you know if you’ve been living in the moment? That one’s easy. After I had secured the towel bar I felt like I’d taken a nap. I’d lost all track of time. 

When you lose track of time, that’s how you know that you’ve just been living inside it.

OK, I have to get back to writing my novel now because if I don't turn it in by the beginning of December, I'll be living in my brother's garage eating cat food from a can.

Community Leader
Registered: 04-05-2002
Thu, 01-31-2013 - 3:40pm

Thanks, Kel!  I still like it all these months later.  It's how I feel when I'm skiing or doing calligraphy or aerial silks and get into what I'm doing. It's not how I feel when I start worrying about what can go wrong when I'm doing them because then it all gets awkward.  It kind of reminds me of When Harry Met Sally and Harry brags about being down/negative (Or as he put it, when the "shoot" hits the fan, I'm going to be ready for it). And Sally replies, it doesn't mean he's better or anything. It just means he's spent his life worried about the "shoot" hitting the fan.  Edited to change the "shoot" because I forgot this is iVillage where I can't say that other word.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-08-2006
Thu, 01-31-2013 - 5:44pm
And I am glad that you explained your editing because I was thinking 'I saw that movie...he said shoot?' Isn't it amazing that the only thing working in overdrive here is the profanity filter? Did the requirements document say 'logging in is going to for god's sake don't let them swear about it'? And you know, I can never remember the grammar rules for punctuation inside or outside quotation marks. And I use them all the time. My thinking is too random to stay in the moment for long...
Community Leader
Registered: 04-05-2002
Thu, 01-31-2013 - 7:20pm

They keep changing the grammar rules on us anyway. I was told never to split an infinitive or end w/ a preposition and now we can.  The quotation marks drive me crazy because it's not always logical to put the punctuation inside the quotation mark.  They should have had mathematicians come up w/ the grammar rules.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-15-2004
Fri, 02-01-2013 - 7:14am
I must confess... I feel guilty every time I end a sentence with a preposition. And I internally shake a finger when I see published articles that do it. :P
Community Leader
Registered: 09-25-2003
Fri, 02-01-2013 - 1:44pm
Jean, thanks for asking for this,and Gymrat, thanks for posting. I like him. I should buy one of his books. Yes, I worry too much, but I also see people around me who worry far more,and I used to worry more, but seem to let things go more now. Yes, I hate the punctuation rules, and especially the marks inside quotations. It's not mathematical like parentheses, and that drives me crazy. I am not consistent with that rule because it doesn't seem "right". I love how dogs live in the moment. Maybe that's why I love my dog so much...that, and because we bonded.