Sunday, September 21, 2014

To Hurry or Not to Hurry…?

Blog Post #18
 
The White Rabbit from
Alice in Wonderland: "I'm late!"

To my knowledge, there is no specific word in the English language for a person who is usually two steps behind and, therefore, always hurrying, nor is there a word for an extremely “put together” efficient person.  For lack of better words on both counts, I’ll refer to the former as a “Hurry-er,” and the latter as an “Efficienteer.” (I made up these words just for you.)

Some people might think of a person who is always hurrying as efficient, but as I see it, that couldn’t be further from the truth. A hurry-er, by nature, is anything but efficient. In fact, hurry-ers are anything but hurry-ers. Moving quickly goes against their nature.  Hurry-ers are often sloppy, redundant, and ineffectual. They only hurry because it has become the last resort for their inaction. They hurry because they are always running late. They procrastinate when action would put them “on top of the game.” Perhaps they are just lazy.  Personal interests may be so absorbing to a hurry-er, that the he or she will let slide other aspects of life until forced to face them, responding to all the pulls and tugs nudging them from “the outside” (meaning the outside of their heads) only when it becomes imperative that they do respond. While dawdling over an ant on the windowsill, they ignore the rat rummaging through their kitchen. When the rat makes for the door with the cheese, at once frenzied, they follow in a mad dash to catch it, tripping on the piles of toys and junky things littering the house, barely recognizing their frazzled  image in the mirror hanging slightly askew as they pass, and finding they still have on their pajamas once they’re out the door. They must return inside, searching every nook and cranny to find their car keys, before they can even think of the pursuit. The rat has long escaped and the hurry-er hopelessly left behind and in a muddle.
 
Illustration from "The Tale of Samuel Whiskers" 
by Beatrix Potter

The hurry-er lives in a constant state of disarray. A domino effect of woebegone activities is set in motion by an initial choice that leads the hurry-er down the path to a Never Never Land of never never getting caught up. Neglecting rudimentary routines and necessities causes a pile-up of “have-tos” that soon form obstacles to freedom. Just one little choice can lead to captivity for the hurry-er. For example, a hurry-er I’ll call "Flakey" hears the alarm go off at 6am. She pushes the snooze button. At 7:30, Flakey is still in bed. The children got up while Flakey continued to push snooze. The kids were hungry, and decided to prepare their own breakfast—which would be fine, except they’re three and four years old. Cereal scatters all over the floors and counters. Milk spills. Dishes break. The three-year-old falls off a chair pushed up to the countertop in order to reach some forbidden cookies. Crying ensues. Hearing this, Flakey rouses herself from the stupor she feels from having overslept and hurries into the kitchen. She gets angry at the four-year-old for the mess, while simultaneously scolding and comforting the crying three-year-old who is covered in a sticky layer of crunchy crumbs. She bemoans her situation, wondering aloud, "Why me?" This is just how the day begins. A series of similarly neglectful events pile up one on top of the other throughout the day until Flakey is at her wit’s end. She might have enjoyed a different outcome had she chosen differently at the onset.



To be fair, there is a time and place for hurrying. Crossing a busy street, answering the call of someone in need, and escaping a burning building are all good reasons to hurry. It’s also a good idea to hurry when a pot of jam boils over, or a when a baby’s diaper explodes.








Whereas a hurry-er is constantly reacting to things, an efficient person, an Efficienteer, is into prevention, and planning—focused on acting rather than reacting. An efficienteer’s aim is to avoid muddles, not just respond to them. An efficienteer prevents pots from boiling over. ("And what about exploding diapers?” you ask smugly. Well, let’s face it—even though an exploding diaper announces its arrival with a sound not unlike a recently unplugged drainpipe, they are hard to anticipate—even for an efficienteer. Some things are outside the realm of even the most efficient.)


An ounce of prevention...


Still, efficienteers don’t wait for a problem to present itself, they think ahead, planning and preparing for the inevitable. Where a hurry-er might scramble all over the house, like a mouse in a maze, hurrying this way and that to find wipes, ointment, and clean diapers, an efficient person would have all necessary items gathered into one spot in advance, so when the blast occurs, they can immediately attend to the eruption with the confidence of a NICU nurse.

Think and plan ahead


Sometimes, efficienteers are designated as “multitaskers.” I disagree with this status. I  suspect the term "multitasker" was created by a hurry-er who was a wannabe efficienteer. What I've seen of multitasking doesn’t equate with efficiency. It just means a person has a short attention span and can’t stick with one thing for more than a few minutes, choosing distraction by various forms of simultaneous stimulation. Studies in neuroscience indicate that not only does multitasking slow you down, it also causes you to make more errors, and changes the way your brain works, dividing its functions, and reducing its ability to perform. 

A true efficienteer has the ability to focus. To tune out the unnecessary. When multiple tasks are in need of attention, the efficienteer knows how to prioritize. If other tasks are called into play while focused on something truly important, the efficienteer is well equipped to assess whether or not the interruption is worthy of her time and immediate attention. Once assessed, the urgent squeaky wheel is handled with alacrity by the efficienteer in one of three ways :  (1) she takes care of it quickly, (2) she relegates her attention to it at a time equal to its true importance, or, if she deems necessary, (3) she dismisses it altogether, returning to the needful and important with the same attention and resolve as before.





The efficienteer plans for distractions. When a casual phone call interrupts the efficienteer’s routine, the efficienteer has at the ready a list of mindless tasks to perform that nevertheless need doing—such as ironing, sewing on a button, or folding clothes—while talking via speakerphone.
 
"Woman Ironing" by Degas

An efficienteer’s motto might be “Semper Paratus,” since being always at the ready is her forte.  A hurry-er’s motto may run more along the lines of “Videbimus,” meaning “We Shall See….” 

Semper Paratus = Always Ready

Videbimus = We Shall See



I have functioned on both sides of the hurry-er/efficienteer fence at different times in my life, although I must admit, as the years have rolled by, my fence has increasingly leaned a little more toward the efficienteer’s obsessive side. Prone to efficienteerism, I would doubtless find a support beam to prop the leaning fence up. I think it’s possible to switch off between being a hurry-er and an efficienteer depending on circumstances, but I think, generally speaking, people gravitate toward one or the other most of the time.

It’s a simple difference in viewpoint and energy. Surely being an efficienteer isn’t always what it cracks up to be. For example, if carried to an extreme, efficienteers may be accused of fanaticism, or obsession. They must own the burden of this accusation because—feign to deny it—it is more than likely true.

On the other hand, hurry-ers, being frequently caught off-guard, may find themselves declared  indifferent,  self-absorbed, or oblivious, when the real issue is distraction. The hurry-er’s distractedness can be remedied by practice. Writing lists, and following simple schedules are good places for a hurry-er to begin pushing their fence toward the efficient side, provided they are able to follow-through. Which is the whole problem in the first place.

Distractions

As young wives, my sister and I both read the book, “The Art of Homemaking” by Daryl Hoole (1962, Publishers Press). We admired her organizational expertise, the emphasis she put on creating a home and reigning over it as a queen in her realm, (instead of being a common housewife), and the humorous way she made her points. We discussed at length how we hoped to integrate her suggestions into our households, and set to work doing so. It became a quest: organized shelves, de-junked, uncluttered, and harmonious homes all underscored by a woman who understood that creating a home was a rare and beautiful art form worthy of creative and enterprising minds. These were the shining beacons we sought after.

"The Art of Homemaking" by Daryl Hoole


My Uncle Albert used to say, “Wantin’ aint-a gettin’.” That applies to quests for organization and efficiency—especially if you are of the hurry-er mindset. At least, it takes longer “to get” if you are a hurry-er. (It sounds contradictory, but a distracted hurry-er reaches for what they want while moving rapidly at a standstill in the opposite direction.) One may incorporate many of the trappings of an organized household, but still lack the mental efficiency required for upkeep. Again, it's about following through.

Page from "The Art of Homemaking" by Daryl Hoole


This was not my problem, however. I had the mental capacity, but I had to be creative with how to go about getting what I was seeking, lacking space and funds to organize and create with flair the kind of home environment I envisioned. In its humble way, my home reflected many of Mrs. Hoole’s suggestions and genius. Back in those forward-looking days of budding enthusiasm for all things domestic, I was oblivious to the development of an overly efficienteer mindset which she described in her book, but I failed to recognize as a real possibility.

She told of a homemaker who went on a date to the movies with her husband. No sooner had the woman sat down she pulled out a dust cloth and began dusting the theater seating.  She had become so obsessed with efficiency and cleanliness she couldn’t relax and enjoy freedom from this responsibility. Karen and I laughed at this story and I remember thinking that I could never relate to that kind of behavior or mindset! 




After all five of our children were sprouting into capable individuals—our youngest child, just three at the time—my husband and I decided it was time to host my entire side of the family for Thanksgiving dinner. A feat we had never thought to undertake until that time. For the first time, we were in that blissful state called “Pride of Home Ownership.” The house was still bare bones clean and uncluttered, and we thought it time we christen it while relieving my dear mother from the yearly bombardment of the hungry and thundering herds.

Painting by Norman Rockwell

A little worried about how things would turn out, and to insure everything was ready on time, I made a list for the week outlining the dishes that could be made in advance, when to clean the house, and indicating the timing of every task down to the moment we sat down to eat. Things did go smoothly. Our children were enlisted to help with various responsibilities. I even had time to relax in front of a cozy, toasty fireplace prior to our guests’ arrival. It was a turning point for me. I had walked the wobbly line between hurrying and efficiency for many years. I saw that I could be efficient and effective in a relaxed, unhurried way. That began my descent into obsession—into learning that women who carry dust cloths into the movies may be more than just a funny story. It just might be true—of me.



Now, over twenty years after that fateful Thanksgiving Day when I had begun to master the fine art of efficiency, I’m often accused, and rightly so, of clearing away the plates and cups of those who aren’t finished using them. I like to wipe up spills as they happen—but before they happen would suit me even better. 

When an efficienteer teeters on this imbalanced line of unnecessary efficiency they cross into the gray matter of superfluousity. In effect, they are no less effective than the hurry-er.  Their efforts are counterproductive as they waste precious minutes they could be doing something of greater worth, instead of keeping on top of the knit picky, infinite demands of the mundane. Spinning wheels may appear to be working hard, but if the vehicle they are attached to is up on a lift, of what use is all that expenditure of energy? Their effort is in vain. So it is with a superfluous efficienteer. (Try saying that fast three times in a row!)



Now, as I strive to resist my superfluous efficienteer tendencies, I’ve learned some simple truths:
  • You can hear the dishes and laundry snicker at you from their fresh places in the cupboard and closets if you inadvertently let them hear you say, “There! All done!”
  • Organization is only as good as one’s memory.
  • Wantin’ aint-a gettin’. Things worth having require effort, practice, and may eventually—if carried too far—need, to a degree, be unlearned.
  • A freshly cleaned house sends out vibes to friends and family urging them to pay a random visit. Almost without fail, they are accompanied by small children who delight in playing in the sandbox, and when nature calls, scurry through the entire length of the house with a truckload of sand sifting through their clothing and shoes onto the carpets, only to deposit the remainder of the load onto the bathroom floor. This is the time for the penitent superfluous efficienteer to sit back and enjoy the visit. Leave the cleaning-up for when your wonderful guests have gone, and count your blessings that people still want to visit someone like you--who entertains with a dust cloth in her hand.
  • An exploding diaper is an inevitability.
  • Sometimes it’s nice to press snooze—come what may.


© September 20, 2014


9/24/14 - ADDENDUM:  I've decided to add an addendum to this post in order to avoid confusion. I feel I should note that being an efficienteer doesn't necessarily mean that one has all one's ducks in a row all of the time. It doesn't mean one's house is always immaculate. The distinction is simply a matter of prioritizing time and funneling energy. 


A reminder to all (myself included): The dust cloth will always be there waiting, and so will the dust. Loved ones, family, friends, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, will not....


As always, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my little blog. I feel honored you would do so.

Tempus Fugit



Saturday, September 6, 2014

"As You Sow..."

Blog Post #17

Jean-Fran├žois Millet, The Sower

My mother-in-law had her own twist on the old proverb "For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” (Galatians 6:7). With delight, she often showed me pieces of fabric she planned to use for new dresses. One fabric she particularly liked had a small print of little cowboy boots, horses, and spurs on a navy blue field. She liked this fabric because it suggested something dear to her—her late husband, who had passed away a year or two earlier.  Horses and cowboy boots were synonymous with Dad.

The cowboy print looked something like this

Dad with his horse Smokey

She used the same dress pattern many times, changing the print of the fabric for variety.  Soon after she showed me the cowboy print, it became a dress much like the one she's wearing in the picture below.

My mother-in-law wearing a
typical dress of her own making

One day, not long after my husband and I had married, his mom emerged from her sewing room and laughingly shared with me the truism she had just thought of as she began to repair a mistake in her sewing: 


Whatsoever a woman seweth, that shall she also rip!” 

This became shortened  to, “As you sew, so shall you rip,” which is how I always think of it. Her witticism seemed to make up for any error in sewing she had made. She knew she had struck on a profound play on words. Always chuckling at her wit, she repeated this phrase to me whenever I found her sewing.


The notorious seam ripper


It was simply brilliant. And so true. I have thought of it plenty of times since as I’ve sat at my own sewing machine frantically rushing to repair a mistake by wielding my trusty seam ripper. I have never been a patient seamstress. I like sewing. I do. But mostly the thing I like about sewing is being done. I like the finished product—wearing, displaying, or using it. Sewing is a means to an end.



My daughter Caity sews for a living. Her business keeps her extremely busy, with deadlines that often require additional help, (which I am pleased to provide). We sit together sewing for hours at a time, or I do odd jobs to expedite the orders she has to fill.

"Young Mother Sewing" by Mary Cassatt

Caity does impeccable work. Running her business online via an *Etsy shop means her clients must take their own measurements. This can create problems if done incorrectly. Sometimes, items are returned for adjustments. Fortunately, this is the exception, not the rule. Making adjustments is time-consuming and generally without remuneration.


At times, she asks me to remove a bodice (the top portion of a dress) from the skirt. Recently, I had two such dresses to take apart. On one of the dresses, the length of both sleeves and skirt had been miss-measured by the customer, and the dress returned for adjustments. The fully lined mutton sleeves—having two parts—also needed to be dissected and refinished.

Dresses with mutton sleeves.
Not the dresses Caity makes.

Looking at one of the sleeves, I saw a possible shortcut to repairing the hem of the lower sleeve without having to rip the sleeve apart. But I was strictly instructed that no shortcuts were allowed. Caity, having already attempted a shortcut in refinishing the sleeve at the proper length in a thoroughly acceptable way, received word from the customer that she preferred the sleeves refinished the original way.  The fabric would need re-cutting, and the sleeve, re-made from scratch. It had to measure up to a high level of quality and workmanship, and it did. Her customers are happy, and she feels peace and confidence in her product, and, truthfully, in herself. 



I balked at the thought of this, knowing the extra time and effort it would take. But Caity was adamant. I tore out the stitches, while reciting to myself the slightly altered form of the already misrepresented adage, “As you sew, so shall I rip.” True. So true. We reaped as she sowed (and as she sewed).




I’ve watched Caity in her preparations to sew her custom designs. Because she does work with a handicap—the customer’s measurements—she takes precautions to help insure a perfect fit (and achieves this feat at least 95 % of the time). I’ve watched her measure, and re-measure, two and three times before cutting.  She carefully lays-out, and pins pieces together, instead of doing it her mother’s less exacting and speedier way. In doing so, she saves the time I waste picking out mistakes. Because she makes costumes that multiple people may wear, she allows for discrepancies and variances in size by including an expandable panel in her designs. I’ve watched the great care she takes in her craft and marvel at how few mistakes she makes. It is truly remarkable, considering the queen of “just get it done as fast as possible” was her first (and only) sewing instructor. (Yes, I speak of myself. I grimace as I admit this. But it is true.)




“…Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” True of everything, not just sewing. This summer is full of illustrations: I neglected to deadhead my roses, and have had few to any blooms. The basil, too, I’ve neglected, and have nothing but sad and scraggly plants gone to seed with which not to make pesto. I have giant “thistles” instead of artichokes, because I failed to harvest. We have a sad little avocado tree that was sown in what must be a cursed bit of soil, for the tree, (and its earlier counterpart, which we uprooted because it also fared poorly) has turned into a skinny, leafless stem. I have reaped as I have sown. No doubt about it.



There are many ways to sow. Sowing faithful and true relationships is paramount if you wish to reap a harvest of love and harmony. Sowing good works brings joy and fulfillment. Sowing things of the spirit brings a harvest of knowledge, truth, and peace. Of course, it’s possible to sow things that reap a poor harvest. Sowing seeds of laziness, self-indulgence, pride, and deceit all reap thriving harvests, but who wants grubs and sewage in their horn of plenty?  




For me, it was a particularly hot and humid summer—a particularly busy one, as well. We were busy sowing other than in our vegetable garden. One of our daughters and her family came to stay after being pruned and uprooted from the bit of soil where they had been planted for several years. Their former house sold, they stayed with us during the summer until they found a fruitful spot of ground in a happy situation less than an hour away. Transplanted and thriving--is this not a worthwhile harvest?




Add to that, the sowing and the reaping (or more apropos, the sewing and the ripping) with Caity, we’ve had a fruitful summer.

In sowing and reaping, time does not allow for shortcuts. It just doesn’t. If you plant a seed, it doesn’t matter how much you water it, or expose it to the proper sunlight and nourishment, it will always take a certain amount of time before it will produce. A mighty oak isn't grown in a day. You cannot rush the harvest. You might be able to encourage it, to make it more plentiful. You might even discourage it, and never reap at all.



Our daughter’s family reaped a nice, quiet, home in exactly the area they had hoped to live, but there were no shortcuts getting there. They reaped as they sowed. They might have settled for something less adequate, but there would have been a price to pay. The safe environment they were seeking, the proximity to schools, work, church, family, and access to the community would have, to a degree, been sacrificed, and with that a certain measure of peace and comfort. Patience in sowing reaps added benefits during harvest.




Brad planted tomatoes. With great care, he watched over them. He nourished and cared for them because he wanted that plentiful harvest. He reaped a lot of tomatoes—many beautiful, red, ripe and delicious. Enough to bottle and to share. He thought he might be able to extend the season further into fall by pruning back the old plants, and planting a couple new plants mid-summer. He was disappointed that his efforts really didn’t produce the desired effect. The season has run its course. The tomatoes have run their cycle—all ending at about the same time. There are things we can change, and things we cannot. I suppose he could build a greenhouse, and have tomatoes year-round, but he hasn’t chosen to do that. Everything comes with a price. Shortcuts must follow the law of the harvest. No matter what, you always reap what you sow.  

 
Jean-Fran├žois Millet – "Gleaners"

Looking back on the summer, it is evident that I did not sow some of the things that I might have sown. I didn’t even sew things that I planned to sew. I’ve been talking about making a new dress since March. I still haven’t done it. It doesn’t matter. The old ones are still wearable as they hang, limp and lifeless in my closet, like vintage remnants from a garage sale. Instead, I sowed a summer with my daughter, sewing and talking, and being together. It was, and continues to be, worth the harvest, for she is precious to me.




I spent the summer with my other daughter’s family, with treasured grandchildren, laughing, talking, playing games, and building relationships that reek with happiness.

Surely these, and other important things sown over the course of the summer, were worth any displaced activities I might have harvested. Instead of basil, what have I gleaned? Much, much more—and of greater worth. An eternal harvest.

One of our daughters, and some of our grandchildren on a summer outing

One of my grandsons with me

There’s always next year for basil and artichokes. But some things you may only sow once in a lifetime. They are worth every part of the time invested, and the harvest reaped is eternal.

  

*Caity’s Etsy shop is called Cait’s Boutique.  You might find it fun to take a look!

© September 6, 2014