Executive function OK – for a change

Executive function has been failing me too often of late. But the last few days have reassured me that there are situations I navigate as well as anyone else, if not better.

Seattle has just been through a record-setting heatwave, with the temperature topping out at around 42C (108F) on Monday, the third day in a row that temperatures broke 100F. Like most Seattlites, I live without air conditioning AND my top floor apartment soaks up the heat all day long and is very slow to cool down overnight. I have been through several big heatwaves in the nineteen years I have lived in this apartment, but nothing like this one.

On Thursday, while temperatures were still unremarkable, I stocked up at the grocery store so that I would not have to go out for several days. (Going to the grocery store involves a long walk up a steep hill with little shade.) I pulled out the two long, baggy shirts that I wear around my apartment during hot weather. And I loaded up my iPod Touch with podcasts.

My living room has a large window which faces south-southeast, so it warms up very early in the day. But my front door is in an alcove that opens on the opposite site of the building which is in shade until late afternoon — so it can be quite pleasant to sit out there until around 3pm. So I set up my folding table and chair and did several hours of writing on my iPad on Saturday and Sunday morning. I made great progress on a novel I started a couple of months ago. But eventually I had to come back inside.

The only thing to do was lie down in the bedroom and listen to podcasts. The window faces east-northeast, and so that room is rather cave-like in the afternoon with the blinds closed. I wish that could make it cooler, but by the afternoon it is the most comfortable part of my apartment. Temperatures were high enough that running a fan just makes you hotter – unless you are soaked with cold water. I always keep plastic bottles of frozen water in my freezer. They are a good emergency supply of water. And in hot weather, I like to have a couple out near the fan to cool the air as it blows over them. Moisture in the air readily condenses on them, so every few minutes I can wipe my hand over them and get a nice amount of ice cold water to splash over me. When the ice in the bottles was almost melted (something that happened alarmingly quickly) I put them back in the freezer and brought out two frozen ones. And each time I went to the kitchen I made another cup of ginger-lemon tea to pour over ice in a twenty-ounce beaker.

Heatwaves at this time of the year are the worst because sunset is at 9:11pm so it is not dark until almost 10pm. But once the sun goes down, my building usually starts to feel a breeze from the water, and I relocated to my chair outside the front door to listen to podcasts there. Unfortunately, if cool air does find its way into my apartment it does not stay cool very long because of all the stored heat being radiated from the wall, but eventually the cool air does win. So I prepared to sleep on the floor of my living room right by the front door — with the door propped slightly ajar and a fan pulling air in. And I soaked a t-shirt in cold water to drape across me. Each night I woke up around 2am feeling sufficiently comfortable to discard the damp t-shirt and cover myself properly with a sheet.

On Monday, the hottest day, I started work (at home) around 6:30am and stopped around noon. But I checked email every hour or so, and unfortunately there was something that needed my attention at 3:30pm. Once I was done with that, I signed off and closed up the laptop.

Yesterday morning (Tuesday), I woke up at 2am and was actually cold. A marine push from the Pacific Ocean had finally shoved that heat dome to the east and north. I was able to turn off the fan and close the door. And I knew the worst was over.

I had been worried about my cat, because she is seventeen. But she did fine, sleeping in a spot that obviously worked for her and getting up occasionally to eat, drink and use the litter box. I basically emulated her behavior. I was lucky not to have the power go out on me at all. There were several isolated power outages in Seattle. My modem did get rather hot, so I kept a fan blowing on it. My iPod Touch ran hot also, so I propped it up against the fan that was blowing air on me.

While I was lying down in my sweltering apartment, I did think of less fortunate people: those who were working; those who had someplace they needed to travel; those who live far from the evening breezes by the water; those who lost electric power for hours; those who could not feel safe going to sleep with windows and the front door open. (And hundreds of people ended up dying.) All I really needed to do to take care of myself was lie down and keep still, splash cold water on myself, and keep the iced tea coming. But it was tough, all the same.

I hope I never have to go through this ever again. But I must admit that I rather enjoyed the enforced downtime. Some of the podcasts I listened to really helped me regroup after the anxiety of the last few weeks. And I am very happy with the writing I did. A difficult chapter suddenly found a direction I had not even though of a week ago. I feel motivated to finish this novel so that the inspiration does not go to waste.

I think I did OK.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s