Prune Juice

The Harvard Study of Adult [Male] Happiness reached the pretty clear conclusion that the men who are healthiest and most joyous in later years are the men who took the time to invest in relationships.

I read that finding and had two reactions. First: Ya think? Every spiritual tradition of more than a nanosecond’s duration focuses on “Love One Another.” Not on “Die With the Most Toys” or “Bill 3000 Hours a Year.” Of course relationships matter. You needed eighty years of data to reach that conclusion?

But–as I usually do–I also had a conflicting reaction. “Yes, men who have a lot of healthy relationships are going to do better in old age, but does that mean the same finding holds true for women?” Because a lot of the older ladies I know are busy, busy, busy later in life, still tending to grand kids, siblings, spouses, or coworkers. These women, into their sixties and seventies and beyond, are silently wondering, “Will I ever get a break from all the relationship demands?”

Harvard has graciously begun to interview the spouses and female offspring of their original study participants, but I’m not holding my breath for eighty years while Harvard plays catch-up.

I did though, come across some useful insights reading Daniel Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. He mentions the concept of pruning, which is also part of healthy aging. When our own candles grow shorter, we cut loose the people, groups, and tasks that take more than they give. We respect our limitations and put a greater priority on using our energy for who and what matters to us, and for ourselves.

That resonates with me, and has become almost a silver lining to the COVID19 virus. Travel got pruned right out of my life, which saved me a bunch of money and writing disruption. I like my dumpy little house (mostly), and was leaving it for weeks at a time because I figured I will soon be old and frail and broke, and “Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may…” I’m really glad I traveled as much as I did, but a little pruning of those ambitions has been good too.

I’ve also pruned my carbon footprint. No road trips, no weekend retreats and workshops. No conferences except the virtual kind. I’m OK with that too. If we do ever get to something approximating a pre-virus normal, I will choose my reasons for venturing forth more carefully and say no more.

The pruning has resulted in more vigorous growth in other places. I’m reading more, I’m doing less wash, I’m writing at a pace that keeps the whole book in my head and taking break when the story is done, instead of having to stop and start and fiddle around trying to recall what bright idea was going to save the day.

Has your year seen any useful pruning? Any lessons learned or COVID-induced experiments that bore fruit? I’ll add the names of three commenters to my ARC list for My Heart’s True Delight.

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33 comments on “Prune Juice

  1. I’m working from home 80% of the time, so my commute to and from work is only 20% of what it was. Being around family and 3 rambunctious dogs so much more can be challenging so I’ll say my patience has been tested and my tolerance for chaos has improved.

    Here’s hoping for a good vaccine soon. It would be nice if this virus disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared but I’m afraid that there are no genies to make that happen.

    • I see so many posts about, “working from home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…” and I want to yeah-but, loudly. Doing ANYTHING in a pandemic isn’t all its cracked up to be. I started working from home before the Late Unpleasantness, and without family crowding in, trying to tele-teach kids on badly kludged together platforms, dealing with a spouse working from home, and various other stressors, it can be wonderful.
      I hope when the virus does ease its grip, we can keep the good things about WFH rather than just go back to business on the terms that exclusively worked for business.

  2. Same here for travel. We got home from celebrating our 40th anniversary in Hawaii on Feb 8. It wasn’t long after that the madness blew up.
    We take our Granddaughter to Disney every year. Until now. Until who knows when.
    Husband and I love planning trips. None of that now.
    I have discovered that I love curbside pick up. Everyone has it! I live in Phoenix. Like many places, it’s horrible when you no sooner get the ac pumping out cold air, then you turn the car off. For just a short time. And you start all over again.
    So I am loving the pick up.
    I spend less money shopping online. No wandering the store just tossing random things in.
    But I can’t really think of anything I have pruned. Especially pruned willingly.
    I miss going to the movies. Sitting for a leisure lunch with a friend.
    Heck, you can’t even chat with a stranger while waiting in lines.

    I find it harder to read. I do less of it.

    It’s a sadder world these days. And getting more sad all the time.


    • Welp, yes, sadder, because we’ve lost 3 Vietnams worth of friends and loved ones in less than a year, but also more honest. We have a chance to take a long, hard look at how underfunding schools plays out, how for-profit health care stacks up internationally, how a lack of honesty standards for social media and media generally does us a disservice, how institutional racism affects public health, and–the one I’m gunning for–how lousy baseline public health is in America. Only 12 percent of us qualify as metabolically healthy, and that ties into our miserable mortality statistics. We can know better and do better, but it’s sure not a fun process.

  3. It’s been an interesting time. And when I say *interesting* I’m referencing that old Confucius curse–“may you live in interesting times.” Yep, not having a great time here.

    I’ve had to cut out things I don’t really seem to miss but wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t had to cut them out. Some of the busyness I never enjoyed has been a RELIEF to cut out.

    I try to be efficient when doing errands now because I only want to be out a limited time from home. Cutting out extra trips and merging into one trip a week (two a week if something comes up) has cut down on gas usage. I think that’s a good thing and hope to keep the habit.

    When we are back to normal, I’m not sure I will want to get everything back to normal. Some of the committee meetings and events I’ve been part of because it’s expected of me can go–I think I’ll be fine with that. 🙂

    • It’s easy to get your engine going at high RPMs and then think that’s normal. I look back at a busier me and think, “I know how she did it–tired all the time, no self care, relationships coming last–but WHY did she do it?” A harder question.

  4. Friends are important to women as they age. My grandmother, who had seven extant children and 19 extant grandchildren plus great-grandchildren, said to me once that she was sad because her friends were all dying. Her community of friends was down to one.

    • My dad said the same thing. By the time he’d hit 90, only one other friend from his youth was extant, and when that guy died, we didn’t tell Dad (who was becoming a little wifty). He was fortunate though, that as a professor, he’d made strong ties to his graduate students and kept in touch with their careers, but by the time Dad checked out (age 97) even his former grad students were passing on. What really unmoored him, though, was my mom’s death. She pre-deceased him by 18 months, and for Dad, they were a long, lonely, entirely pointless 18 months.

  5. There are two huge benefits to working from home. I am not pumping gas for the old Suburban on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings and I am not stuck in the daily Boston traffic mess. Less stress, less anxiety works for me.

    In addition, I have reduced my carbon foot print by not going to dog class, dog training seminars and dog shows. I am training in my yard for a virtual rally title with one of my dogs.

    Travel has been pruned from 2020. We had hoped to take a few days to visit the White Mountains in NH in September. Also, I had hoped to attend a National Specialty in Virginia Beach— cancelled.

    Positives to pruning- My shopping lists are much more organized resulting in less waste. I am shopping online and using Amazon for best pricing. Saving money by not eating lunch at work, getting coffee or contributing to gifts and work parties.

    I am reading and trying to review what I read. As a family, we have tried new dinners (some hits, some misses) and watch movies and Netflix. I miss my friends at work and would love to go to the movies but….I’d rather be safe.

    • There’s very little going on in the big world that means more to me than my health. The odd thing is, businesses save money by having people work from home. No worker’s comp claims, less load on the HVAC/power bills. No stocking the break room. Very few of us putting in for mileage or travel reimbursement… I think this is part of the reason Google and a few others aren’t in any hurry to gather us all together at the office.

  6. I have pruned spending back A LOT. It’s been necessary due to my big drop in income due to the shutdown, but it’s been liberating to not be shopping for anything other than food and paper goods (haha, I found an extra 6 pack of toilet paper in the closet this week)

    The pruning of social contact has been hard. Most of our friends have not been safe in their behavior at all, do we don’t feel safe in trying to get together with them because we can’t trust them to social distance and to not be silent carriers. Sigh.

    • That is sad. I hope your friends get the memo. In Maryland, you either mask up or you don’t get into the store. Fines for individuals are $1000 and for retail locations are $5000, though the public health officers are trying to be reasonable about enforcement. I simply don’t get the anti-maskers. We grasp speed limits, stop signs, shirts/shoes ordinances… what is so complicated about masks?

  7. My husband and I have definitely “pruned” many non-essential trips, especially to tag sales and estate sales and flea markets. While we always enjoyed browsing those places (lucky me! I’m married to a man who enjoys shopping as much as I do!!!), honestly we often came home with some not-really-necessary items. (My guilty pleasure is kitchenware and serving pieces, since I love to cook and, pre-covid we often entertained large groups of family and friends; my husband’s is musical instruments). Seriously, how many different size and color platters do I need? Instead I’ve tried to concentrate on some crafts that I haven’t tried before to fill the time that shopping used to. I’m mostly successful! LOL!

    • Crafts have apparently go through the roof, as has anything that will entertain a kid–board games, puzzles, books, gaming apps, jump ropes, sandboxes… I’m so happy to think we’re putting down our screens for more interactive play and diversion. That has to be a good thing.

  8. This evening I plan to water the very thirsty garden.I am waiting for it to cool down,I’ve had my Sunday dinner and now it’s the gardens turn.My life has certainly been pruned by the current situation and made me realise how insignificant we all are when mother nature plays the ace card.We mess with her at our peril.Surely we now realise that it’s the whole world that has to rethink its direction.Pruning is maintenance that results in good strong growth in the future.We are all living creatures so let’s get on with it.!!!.It’s very hot here in Kent and many people are flocking to the sea side and beaches not a good idea at the moment.We could pay the price in 2 week’s time.Our hospitals are quiet at the present time but to many people in crowds out it at risk.Keep safe every one and keep prunning.

    • Maryland went through a summer spike in July. Same thing–got really hot, people started getting together again, hanging out together, letting their guard down, up the numbers did go… Looks like we’re turning it around (again), but the whole process is tedious.
      I’m ready for an early fall, and a big dose of general common sense.

  9. I have learned to do what is important to me. I like staying at home.I have finished some projects that have been half finished for years. I have learned to say n to going out to just shop with my Mom. Mom has learned that online shopping is ok. We have gotten more done around the house. Dad has been able to finish lawn mowers getting fixed and working on going over my car and his truck. We have been busy but with things that kept being put off. I think this has made many of us rethink what is important
    I agree with you I am glad that I went to places before but I am fin e at home. Glad to hear what your pruning has been like. Always enjoy your stories.

    • Melinda, you put me to shame. I thought “someday” I would give this house a good attics to crawlspace scrubbing… but hasn’t happened yet. Of course, my job hasn’t changed because of the virus, and my schedule hasn’t changed much either, but still… I SHOULD be getting after the house.
      Don’t hold your breath.

    • And for others, it’s “learn to shop on line.” A big change for me was that I bought a NOOK. I wanted to read a book, “Humankind,” that wasn’t available in print, and what the heck… the nearest bookstore is 25 miles from the house. Might as well bow to the inevitable. I still prefer print, but the NOOK works too.

  10. Am focusing my reading on books that generate positive energy. Just finished egalley of Donna Andrews’ next mystery and the genuine and deep caring of her characters for each other and for their community is goung to power me through this week

  11. I live 10 miles from the US/Canadian border which is currently closed. Our nearest shopping center is on the US side, as is my mailing address. Covid-19 has pruned both. On the one hand, dealing with the bin loads of unnecessary mail is nice. On the other, I don’t have my bank statements, my birthday cards or the bras I ordered to that address. There are few clothes available in our rural community and no shoes. Mail order is unpredictable and expensive in Canada, IF you can find what you need.

    My husband is essential service, so we try not to see anyone else… Unfortunately, that suits me fine!

  12. I’ve been working from home for the last 14 years, so this period has not been a huge shift for me. What has been pruned, like you, are my trips. Working in the travel industry, getting on a plane is a necessity and the pause for most of us has been unsettling. Being able to hold meetings and conferences on Zoom has helped bridge the gap. The time spent at home has been a blessing for my husband, who prefers to have me home with him. We’ve also pruned dining out, saving lots of money and increasing my culinary skills!

    • I keep thinking, “So, Grace, bake some bread.” I baked all the bread in this household for years, because homemade just puts the other kind to shame, but nah. It’s hot, I will gobble up too much too quickly, and you can’t have bread without butter, cheese, jam, cream cheese… so no homemade bread. Yet.

  13. I agree, Grace! As I get older, I have less time and patience for people who are all about talking and not listening. That’s not a relationship in my book!

    COVID and the blossoming of ZOOM has also made it easier to connect with far-flung friends, and I’ve done that more often. Our lives may be different now, but we share a history and that’s valuable and worth preserving.

    • I have connected with a couple old friends through social media, people hadn’t heard from for 40 years. We’re not in touch a lot, but to know they are well and happy is cheering, and cheering is a good thing lately.

  14. I have enjoyed not ferrying my children around. Just as policy generally, I try to keep my driving minimal, but the kids are doing just about as much stuff now as ever, it just happens over zoom with a commute that makes my life easier.

    Reading tends to be my relaxation and entertainment and I watch very little tv/movies but have pretty much cut them out altogether now. I have a friend from work who is less than half my age and to stay connected we netflix party things I would never have chosen myself. So, I only watch things that are intentionally chosen for the purpose of sharing. No mindless zoning out etc.

    • I’m watching BritBox mysteries if I watch at all. They hit the sweet spot for me between interesting and no effort. I’m also reading literary biographies. Just started on Dickens, and I am so grateful for the people who do the work to create the books. They are holding me together right now more than ever.

  15. With COVID-19 happening I’ve learned how to slow down again and I feel so blessed for this experience. I’m a single mama to four kids ages 13, 11, 8 and 1 (all girls with the exception of my oldest) and before the pandemic my life was very very busy.

    Every day there was too much to do and too little time to do it in with all of their extracurricular activities (soccer, baseball, basketball, jujitsu, improv, the list could go on…) and my full time online college classes as well as the extra curricular activities that I took on, like volunteering at my kids’ elementary school library twice a week and helping coach some of their sports (Full disclosure – I didn’t make very good coach for my son’s basketball team, I was shorter than all the boys and much too soft spoken, I ended up being a co-coach and handling all the scheduling and communication for the team, but it was still a lot of time investment.) and I was de facto counselor for my friends because I’m a good listener.

    My life is much slower and more peaceful now, and I appreciate this so very much. I sleep in (if my kids let me by sleeping in themselves), I spend hours reading (even through I should be doing homework, I’m still in school full time) and I am so thankful that I’m not constantly going, constantly busy and constantly rushing.

    Before COVID-19 I was so focused on accomplishing that I forgot how wonderful it is to pause and live slowly.

    I get so much more time with my kids now and even though I still have struggles and still worry over finances and still have emotional conundrums to work through, I feel happy and at peace and overwhelmingly thankful for the blessings that I have, happy and healthy children and a home and food on my table and good books to read and coffee to drink and flowers on my patio.

    • I hope more people are hitting the kind of positive re-set you and your kids are. It IS tough to all be underfoot in this sort of strange holding pattern. I often wax eloquent about the pre-industrial age, when agricultural, a family business, a trade, some sort of activity was mostly pursued from the family home.
      This interregnum where we’re working from home, and schooling from home, but not really on a permanent basis can be the worst of both worlds. I’m glad you’re finding a big silver lining to it, because if you are, your children likely are too.