A few days ago, for the second time since I moved into my current apartment in June, I left a pot of boiling water on the stove in the kitchen, went into my bedroom/office, and promptly forgot I had intended to make tea. No, after the first time, a few months ago, I foolishly did not buy a whistling tea kettle. Instead, I vowed, to myself and my boyfriend, "I'll never walk away when I'm boiling water." Well, you can tell how well that turned out.
When I did emerge from my internet stupor (I had come into my room to check "one little thing," which turned into over an hour online), I realized what I'd done and was first grateful that only the pot had burned. I immediately put it in the sink, doused it in water, and opened the living room windows and door.
Mostly, I felt stupid. Here I am, 40 years old, and I literally don't know how to boil water. Well, I do know, but I'm so distracted with deadlines and book promotion and seemingly "urgent" tasks that I forget the most basic thing I need to care for: myself and my safety.
The automatic fan eventually subsided, the apartment cooled off, and I debated whether or not to tell my boyfriend what happened. I didn't want to, because I already feel like the slacker in our relationship, by far the least adult even though I'm two and a half years older than him. I was sure he'd be angry at me, as he should have been.
When he got home about an hour later, there was little evidence of what I'd done, save for a slightly charred pot. "What's wrong?" he asked immediately, because I have no poker face, and it was clear I was miserable. I told him. He immediately hugged me and assured me that since I hadn't, in fact, burned the house down, it was okay. I'd been browsing tea kettles on Amazon, ready to buy one, but he told me to wait until Christmas, which is only a few weeks away.
"But what if I do it again?" I asked.
"Just don't leave the kitchen if you're boiling water," he responded.
"Or I could use the microwave to make tea," I suggested.
Eventually, I got over berating myself, but I know it was a sign that I need to pay more attention, not just in the kitchen, but in all areas of my life. For most of my working life, I've run my schedule with the assumption that the more frantic I feel, the harder I'm working, and therefore the more successful I'll be. But this year has taught me that not only is that franticness deeply unhealthy, no matter how harried I make myself or how many hours I put in just to feel "productive," I still have limits, and will still hit barriers, and will still fail.
And that's all okay. The trick is to keep going, to not wallow in that failure. To remind myself that I didn't actually do any damage to myself. That, like every other time I fuck up, my job is to learn from my mistakes and do my best to make different choices next time. This applies to every area of my life that could use work: my health, my sleep, my time management, my money management, the attention I pay to my boyfriend, how much stuff I own or don't own. Sometimes all I can see when I look around is where I need to improve, and then I feel so hopeless that being mindful doesn't even enter the picture, because I'm beyond that point. So my goal not just for the new year, but for this very second, is to stay in a realm where I can be mindful, be grateful, and focus on the next right step I need to take. And hopefully not burn down my home-for-five-more-weeks in the process.