Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Incredible Sameness of Being

Or, Where Jim Once Again Realizes Something Most Women Learnt In The Fifties. Or Earlier

I recognize the irony of this posting, coming as it does on the heels of this one, but it was what I felt.

I was doing something I had done a thousand times before. Unloading the dishwasher I think, but it could have been any one of a myriad of tasks. You know the kind. The sorts of things that have to be done, if not every day, then at least more than twice a week.

So I was doing this task, whatever it was, and I had this thought enter my head: "Gad, how many times have I had to do this? And how many more times will I do it in the future? I'm really sick of it, but tomorrow I'll do it again. And the next day, and the next day. Bleah."

It might not have been in so many words. It may or may not have had actual words at all, it might have been just a sort of feeling of incohate dread. This is your life now, pally, it seemed to say. Can you dig the drag it is?

Well. I'm sufficiently self-aware that when something like that happens, I can stop, pull the shrink-wrap off and look it over a bit more closely. My first thought was something along the lines of "Ah, so this is what those housewives were talking about back in the day." And that was true enough. But later I had more thoughts. After all, almost everyone has patterns, set tasks and so forth. In my former life as a computer programmer I followed the same pattern that got me to my desk every day. My specific task might vary, but it was all about setting up IF…THEN blocks and DO…UNTIL loops. Certainly my job had more variety than that of an assembly-line worker (how much change to they get now, anyway? Do you screw in spark plugs for thirty years, or do you rotate every week or two? Anyone?), but any programmer who has user support in their job description can tell you that every week you're virtually certain to get the same sort of help calls for the same sort of mistake. And there were days in front of the computer screen where I just shook my head and said to myself, "Cripes, this thing again?"

I recall when my summer job was unloading watermelons I would occasionally get the "unloading dream", where I would be working in my sleep. And when I woke up, I was exhausted because I felt like I had been pitching melons all night. Which I had, they were just in my head. You try moving watermelons from 10AM until 10PM (with lunch and dinner breaks) for days on end and see how easily you can get them out of your dreams!

Still later it came to me that the issue is not so much one of variety. Sure variety can help, but if your tasks go from pitching watermelons to washing dishes to shoveling manure or screwing in spark plugs, how much help are you going to be getting from that change, really? What really helps keep you from feeling oppressed is how much you enjoy what you are doing.

No job is perfect. There are always going to be aspects of your job that you could do without. In my case, I came to see that at least a part of what I enjoyed about being a SAHD was not that I got a charge out of doing the dishes (I don't) or sweeping the floor (that either), but because of the things it did allow me to do. Like write this blog. Or be in a movie. Or take acting class. And time of course. Time to do all those things and still be certain we have enough milk. And printer ink. Some things do change, I guess. I think this was stuff that many women once did in a search for a change, when what they really needed was to get to choose things they wanted.

[Side note -- When I started this post I really was trying to actively avoid anything that smacked of having an answer/solution. But then I had the following thoughts. So deal with it]

So I think we have to give ourselves permission to be sick of the dishes (or the laundry, or the vaccuuming, or whatever), and not worry about it. We don't have to like everything about this job in order to like it as a whole.

And one more thing: Maybe you don't actually enjoy this gig. That's okay too. Choose something else. Easier said than done, I know. But we have to allow ourselves freedom to make choices. Often its not someone else holding us back, but our own inhibitions. Go for it.

And if by chance you really like doing dishes, or laundry, drop me a line. I have a way to increase your happiness.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Last Roundup

Everyone's life has some odd things in that make for interesting stories. Mine does too, although unlike most people's it often gives me more than just some old stories. Like what, you say? Well, I'm glad you asked…

We own a ranch. Actually, wilderness preserve would be more accurate nowadays, but once upon a time the around 1300 acres were an actual working ranch, with cattle and everything. During the last drought, we kicked the person who held the lease off of it and continued the process of letting it go wild, aside from a few efforts to keep things from becoming completely overrun with mesquite.

Almost a year ago now, the two fellows who own the hunting lease reported seeing three cows wandering around. Trish and I even saw them for ourselves once. The dogs saw them too, and chased them off into the brush barking like mad.

After some false starts, I eventually got around to contacting the local sheriff, and had him ask around to see if anyone had some cattle missing. It turns out that at least one ranch thought they had. And then things got a little weird…

The sheriff gave me some phone numbers to contact the ranch owner (who I'll call M) in question. Only problem was that he was dead.

Yep, right around the time I finally began to try and deal with the mysterious mini-herd, the person suddenly took ill and died. I was only vaguely aware of this at the time I began trying to make my phone calls. I had three numbers from the sheriff. Two were non-working numbers, and the third never answered, no matter how long I let it ring.

Soon after, the three cows dropped out of sight. I presumed they had wandered back home via whatever hole in the fence they had wandered in through and let the matter drop.

Spring gave way to summer, and summer to fall. Hints appeared to suggest that the cattle had not left, or if they had, it had been just long enough to get a tall latte (or perhaps a moocha) and bagel before returning. So I tried the numbers again, with no luck. I called the sheriff again, and discussed matters with him. He said those were the contact numbers he had, and if after sufficient time had passed, I could simply have the cattle removed and sold, the proceeds to be divided up between my self and the owner.

I was hesitant about just doing that sort of thing, but my exasperation level was high. Finally, (and if memory serves, at Trish's suggestion) I got a mailing address from the tax office and sent a registered letter explaining that these animals were on my land and if I didn't hear from "To Whom It Might Concern" soon, I was going to have them removed and sold.

A few days later I got a phone call. It turned out to be from the widow of M. She (we'll call her S) had been very upset by my letter, appearing (it seemed) out of the blue, and she had fired a testy one back at me. But, she had thought about it, and decided to call before the letter arrived (I had included our phone number, of course) to see if things could be handled in a more amicable fashion. And since we were both agreeable folk that was accomplished.

Soon enough we had reached a modus vivendi, agreeing to split whatever proceeds there were from the sale of the cattle 50-50, and in the process I got a tale of family skullduggery and small-town snippiness that left my head spinning. As part of the whole discussion I arranged to send her a map I had made that showed who was paying taxes on different plots of land (and thereby probably owned it).

So then I had to call the sheriff again to get the name of someone who could help me round up the cattle. He gave me one, and it turned out to be a man who used to help my dad and me work cattle years ago, when Dad still ran the place himself. So that was cool, but he wanted me to come down and show him around and hopefully spot the animals in question. Lets call him J.

This happened right before we moved. I let the matter drop and concentrated on getting the heck out of Dodge, planning to pick up the thread sometime after we had gotten settled in the new place. Weeks later, with most of the boxes unpacked and something vaguely resembling normality returning to our lives, I made arrangements to head for the ranch and see the guy. By a happy coincidence, S was going to be in the area the same day.

So I got up at 5AM and drove two and a half hours to the south. I met the cowboy and we drove in. One of my hunters was there and we stopped to talk to him for a while. He had seen the cattle that very morning. I drove around with J and while we didn't see the animals we could see where they had been spending a lot of time. He said he would come back later in the week when his brother could help him. We settled on a price for the rounding up and hauling, and I split.

I managed to catch up to S in town. She thanked me for my trouble and regaled me with a tale of woe and small-town family skullduggery that left me dizzy. Thing is, I could well believe it. I was also as certain as I could be that I wanted no part of any of it.

At any rate, I eventually returned home, very tired.

A day or two later J called me up to say he had successfully retrieved the cattle and taken them to the auction barn. Great, I thought. I left a message on S's cell phone with the news and the dollar amount to send to him once we received our checks from the auction. A day or two later she called me up and said she thought J's price was too high. She had asked around. So I asked around a bit myself. I decided that it was high, but not overcharge high, and I told her so. She decided to go along with me.

Finally, I thought. It took forever, but the cattle were gone and all was settled.

Well, until today when I got a phone call from S. She hasn't received her money yet. She's convinced something underhanded is underfoot and…maybe she's right. How the heck would I know? Anyway, I found the check stub I had received and gave her the number of the auction barn plus some other information that might help.

This is the sort of thing I do in between loads of laundry.