Half hidden behind the drooping branches of a bottlebrush bush, I watch him doing pushups on the top of the wall. Even in the mild March sunshine, the blocks radiate too much heat to rest his abdomen on their flat surface. This guy is big: fat, in fact. It’s been a good spring for lizards. Early bug hatching and lots of tender weeds provide a plentiful food supply.
I sit quietly and lay my book down. Stilling the movement of the glider, I barely breathe as a hummingbird whirrs toward me. She hovers, taking me in, and then darts up and down the tall stem of a penstamon, drinking from each trumpet-shaped pink blossom. Her wings are a fast-forward blur, while her body’s a still life in concentration. I am surprised by the deep drone emanating from this tiny creature. She tips her hat to me before zipping away to sample the next stand of flowers.
Monarchs dart between the bees and the penstamons, stopping to feed on the blue ageratums and salvia leucanthas. The butterflies have arrived early this year. The red bloodvines they so love are not in bloom as yet, but they make do. Overhead a hawk circles, riding the currants. I wonder if he’s the same red-tail that thinks a wide limb of our mesquite is his dining table?
The garden is a crazy quilt of color: pale and hot pinks, white, a creamy peach, bright yellow, and a touch of burgundy. Wildflowers take root wherever they choose to propagate. The old saying “one man’s weed is another man’s flower” is never truer than in my desert version of an English garden. Three’s a crowd does not apply, and the hummers and butterflies seem to agree with me. I’m usually quite happy to ignore the spacing guidelines for both planting seeds and placing bedding plants, so they live shoulder to shoulder, one variety blending into the next. No social distancing in my garden.
A bee buzzes a little too close for comfort. This curious yellow- and black-striped boy lands on my hand, sniffing—if bees can sniff—my skin. I stay very still. As soon as his curiosity is assuaged and he lifts off, I move swiftly away. I’m not afraid of bees but treat them with cautious respect. Those that are Africanized have temperaments that are not to be trusted.
Not ready to go indoors, I settle into a cushioned patio chair and breathe in the sweet cinnamon fragrance of the hyacinths and the frilly, party-dress stocks. A breeze kicks up. This morning’s white, angel-wing billow clouds are now overrun by their grey-bottomed, cumulous cousins, who are striding across the sky from the south west: a portent of a storm moving up from Mexico? I smile, realizing I won’t have to stress about driving across town in a desert downpour. There’s nowhere I have to be. Social distancing has its benefits.
Mandated self-isolation has become a vacation of sorts. Two weeks in, and I’m relishing my cleared calendar. My soul feels more nourished than in longer than I can remember. My disappointment at events being cancelled has melted into satisfaction in having time to sit in my garden with a cup of tea and a book. Being still and watching sparrows flirt in flight and woodpeckers rip at the fruit on the hanger is a rare treat, but it shouldn’t be. I realize that my ambitious to-do list was becoming a self-dictated lifestyle of over-commitment.
The red-tail swoops down and lands in the largest mesquite tree: a thwarted attempt at hatchling stealing perhaps? A smallish bird, squawking and cursing, dives after the hawk, circles and then races away. The hawk shakes out his feathers, disgruntled but tenacious. He tilts his head sideways. I relate to the look in his eye. His focus on achieving his goal is absolute. He’ll bide his time and then take flight again.
For now my wings have been forcibly clipped but, once the feathers grow back in, I’ll be more judicious with my flight plan. I look forward to reconnecting with the friends and activities that enhance my enjoyment of life, but I won’t forget that, to rejuvenate, I need to occasionally withdraw into a shell of solitude. Social distancing just might have made me hit the reset button.
I swear, I’m truly trying to be more conscious of living in the moment, but to be honest, I’m failing miserably at it. The carousel is spinning so fast my surroundings blur, and I can’t focus. Not only is it difficult to stop to smell the proverbial roses, I can’t seem to slow down long enough to get the damn rosebush planted. And I mean that literally.
Now, I’m not letting myself off the hook, but I don’t think I’m alone here. Raise your hand if you feel like you’ve become too accustomed to moving through life at warp speed, and it doesn’t matter whether that pattern is an ingrained personal practice or a reaction to outside pressures. Like Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory, stuffing chocolate after chocolate into her mouth, we often fail to savor the moment we are in before mentally rushing on to the next.
This runaway train of thought pushed me off the tracks while I was signing a book. Almost the first question I get asked is, “What’s next? What are you working on now?” It’s a polite, innocuous question, right? It’s one I have asked. But when directed at me, I almost break out in a cold sweat.
“What’s next?” Bloody hell, damned if I know. The truth is I’m still figuring things out, trying to wear the author mantle with style and aplomb rather than novice awkwardness. Any confidence I exude is a total smokescreen, easily dissipated.
I have, though, had some time to reflect on the “what are you working on now?” question, so I will tell you this: rather than working on new writing, I’m busy switching chapeaus. In today’s publishing environment, an author is required to wear multiple hats, including those of promotions and marketing expert, neither of which fit comfortably on my head. I find that instead of writing, I’m trying to wade through the deep pond an ocean) of gaining exposure for Dancing Between the Beats. I've learned to stand up in front of a room and read aloud, hoping that, when I look up, the room hasn’t collectively dozed off. I’ve also donned the cloak of the annoying doorbell-ringing peddler, nudging my readers to write reviews, spread the word, ask their local library or bookstore to carry copies, and post pictures on their social media accounts. Sheesh. Trust me when I say that this cloak weighs heavy on the shoulders of a somewhat reclusive writer.
The upside is that the stress of the promotions learning curve is more than balanced by the deep satisfaction of knowing my book is actually being read. I am deeply grateful for each and every book sale, every review, and every positive comment. Gratitude slides me into low gear long enough to pause, breathe, and enjoy the moment. But then, of course, my mind meanders off into “what’s next”, and I ponder whether to work on Book Two or retire quietly to my garden and the relative obscurity of writing blog posts.
Just so you know, I ran “what’s next” by the two dogs sitting by my feet, and I got a decisive, tail wagging, toe-nail tapping, full-voice “dinner, dinner, dinner." Dogs live definitely and joyously in the moment. Maybe it’s time for this human to pay attention and take a page out of their playbook. "Wine, dinner, wine, wine....treat!"