Tuesday, March 25, 2008


My other mania was making brightly colored tissue roses. I couldn’t stop for days after shaky baby’s party. I was working out the trauma of all the crafts we didn’t do at her party because I was so disorganized. But somehow shutup or I’ll stack you, accordion pleat you, wrap you with a chenille pipe cleaner, and fluff you doesn’t sound as funny as shutup or I’ll frost you.

“when you’re finished with the mop then you can stop
and look at what you’ve done the plateau’s clean,
no dirt to be seen and the work it took was fun
well the many hands began to scan around for the next
plateau some said it was greenland some said
mexico others decided it was nowhere except for
where they stood but those were all just guesses,
wouldn’t help you if they could”

Meat Puppets Plateau

I rediscovered the Meat Puppets because I was trying to explain to my husband that he looks like Curt Kirkwood when he just lets his hair get all long and raggy and goes unshaved. He really does, too. Kinda.

Staring at photos of longhaired, five o’clock shadowed Curt Kirkwood, preferably in a pink gingham dress, was my greatest comfort during a particularly uhappy moment in my romantic life twelve or so years ago. And at almost fifty he’s still pretty damn delicious. And he’s in Austin, where all good rockers go when they die (oh or Nashville, not sure which is better, Austin by a hair, though Steely Dan had been working out of Nashville for a while, and Bon Jovi’s there now right???). And lo and behold! They just put out a new album! And Curt is spewing his abrasive, probably aspbergers, nobody’s going to impose their agenda on me language– yum.


Top down is just not me.

For a long time I’ve been trying to get on top of my life by doing the Flylady thing– flylady.net, you know. I have tried so hard to impose easy, one-size-fits-all, brief, doable routines on my life that could be accomplished in a small amount of work each day, as opposed to either major disgusting house or major housework misery all day on a weekend day, which I just refuse to do, routines which would make it all come together with a minimum of misery, angst and resentment.

Don’t get me wrong– it has helped. A lot. I throw away a lot of crap, and then I no longer have to organize, put away, or dust it. I try to go by the handle everything once rule- go ahead and decide if it’s junk mail or important and file it, whether in the circular file or the important file, right away instead of having to touch it once when I get it out of the mail box and again weeks later when I finally get around to organizing the mail pile. I keep certain surfaces clear or easy to clear so that they can be easily and quickly disinfected often so I don’t have to get out the flamethrower because I haven’t cleaned them since last year. My house is in much better shape (at least I think it is???) than it was before Flylady.

But as a general rule, no matter how well it works, no matter how much sense it makes, top down is just not me.

There was a study in the late 70’s-early 80’s about programming styles of boys and girls using logo. In a nutshell, probably the nutshell of warped memory because I haven’t looked at the thing in twelve years, the study differentiated boys and girls like so. The boys decided what they wanted to do and then attempted to cram the reality of the programming language into the desired result– top down. The girls looked at the reality of the programming language and used that as a jumping off point to create from there– bottom up.

I see this in my life every day. Husbands relax after work (imposing desired result, regardless of reality all around them) while wives bust their asses, becoming resentful and too tired for sex, parenting, housecleaning, working full time (embracing external reality and starting at the bottom). As my brother says, men just don’t have that take on too much gene.

Managers strive to bring together reality and top down desired result, attempting to encapsulate and convey the desired outcome to staff, who relax and don’t concern themselves with the desired outcome because they aren’t paid to and they just want to deal with their own little fiefdom. My best friend’s husband keeps putting glass in the city recycle bin because it makes no sense to him that they don’t recycle glass. I don’t guess I’ll ever be a process engineer or computer programmer, but my husband can’t build a fire for shit or string a kite that will actually fly. I can, as I demonstrated beautifully on cold, clear, windy Easter night after his kite kept diving earthward and his knots popped off.

When I load the dishwasher the dishes almost always come out sparkling. My husband loads the dishwasher chock full, even though when he does that half the dishes come out dirty. He says, I refuse to be held hostage by my dishwasher.

Held hostage by your dishwasher?

How about tuned in to reality so that you can be effective, so that your kite will fly and your fire will burn?

Is my friend’s husband’s stubborn refusal to embrace the recycling reality a stupid refusal to see reality, or a thoughtful protest? I mean, it truly is wrong that our city does not recycle glass.

Some see at what is and ask why. Others see what isn’t and ask why not?

Or something.

This is a very, very basic difference. It would be unproductive to say one approach is better than the other. Even if bottom up is better (and I believe, know, that it is), never, ever the twain shall meet. I can knock my head against my husband’s reality all day long but it will only piss us both off– me because he isn’t doing it ’right’ and him because I am criticising him.

Sometimes top down is even useful. I find that at work, dealing with the folks I supervise, top down is sometimes needed or else anarchy will prevail. Anarchy isn’t such a bad thing… unless it is accompanied by people forgetting why we’re there and failing/just not bothering to serve the folks whose tax dollars pay our salaries. So, sometimes I do have to go all top down on ’em.

But at home…

It just came over me Monday when I was off and home alone.

This constant attempt to impose routine, and the consequent unhappiness because I can’t/don’t want to do it and so my life is still in disorder because I failed to tick off the items on my to do list, isn’t helping. It just isn’t.

I’m knocking my head against some basic realities.

I’m struggling to find the right simile or metaphor for this. I haven’t yet, sorry.

These realities are just not going anywhere. We have so much time and so much money. We have certain needs– food, sleep, shelter, transportation, paycheck, emotional and physical and social comforts. My husband sees things a certain way. All of these are realities I can knock my forehead against until it bleeds. I stretch and stretch, trying to manage both ends. At the front end I impose a top down strategy involving lots of proactive things like buying in bulk and routine– and still find myself stuck on the other end, out of money and out of energy, with needs unmet.

I can make running up the slide a way of life if I want to. And I have.

The endless to do list, the daily and weekly attempts to finally game the system, hit the sweet spot, make routine work for me, just wear me out and make me feel like a failure.

So it came to me Monday to try something different.

How about just being where I am and paying tender attention to that particular thing? How about setting down all the balls I am just barely managing to juggle — work, home, my own mental and physical health, parenting, marriage– and giving whatever single thing I am doing my full attention.

Instead of doing fifteen minutes in each room in the house, changing rooms each time the timer goes off, how about cleaning the kitchen for a while, as long as I want, and then going into my room and cleaning there as long as I want?

How about going to bed when I’m tired?

How about being off ADD meds which help me be supermom and just being scattered me for a while?

I gave this a shot Monday. I felt like I was in some kind of superconnected state. I say this because healing school work is the only thing I can compare it to. I was flowing through my day, and it was sweet. It made me nervous, like the first time without training wheels or water wings… but I am convinced of the essential rightness of it.

Those realities were still there… I could stop any time I wanted and try to claw my way up the flinty perpendicular bank of that flow– not enough time, not enough money, day slipping by, have to go back to work tomorrow, must be proactive, must impose routine, must go work on my budget and short and long range forecasts and plans, must accomplish this and this and this in order to create this outcome, must convince husband to save time and aggravation by finally succumbing to the reality of our dishwasher, or our dogs or child or… but why?

I might even make some progress scrambling up the bank. But all those loose ends would still be waving sweetly at me in the breeze– my failure at top down, my reality at bottom up… scrambling up the bank would probably just make my fingers bleed.

I thought, you know, this shit is all going to be there. Why don’t I just do what I want to do right now, and later I’ll probably want to do something else, and it will all get done, or it will still be there.

I didn’t check email. I didn’t budget. I didn’t create a list or calendar of things that must be done on or by certain days in order for my life to work out. I was just … there. I did some dishes. I folded some laundry. I did some writing. I printed some photos. I did some reading. I ate. I just was.

I’m not describing it very well. It really was a moment of zen, though. I haven’t had one this big since I read Haruki Murakami’s Windup Bird Chronicle. Not that I can remember anyway. It’s so funny how a truly useful paradigm shift just sneaks up on you slowly and silently.

One more listen to Plateau… who needs action when you’ve got words?

Good night!