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.


Anonymous said...

I had the same revelation yesterday. All of a sudden it hit me -- "My life is Groundhog Day" (the movie, not the event). No matter what I do every day, I have to wake up and get it all done again tomorrow. Kind of like Sisyphus, just keep rolling that boulder up the hill...

Then my daughter made a little card for me after dinner that read "Good soup, Daddy. Love Sassy and Boo Boo." It WAS good soup, but let's just say I never got a card like that when I had a paying job.

I'm going to laminate the card and keep it in my wallet.

Harry said...

Well, do what those 50s housewives did - go to the park, find some guy, and have an affair with him.