Rendered Fat Content


Jan Neumann: Monument to the Janitor (St Petersburg, 2007)
"Nobody later will notice."

Curt our painter and I try to run a tidy operation. We attempt to clean up the unavoidable messes renovating quite naturally produces. We keep a broom and a vacuum handy, even though we both know that we're fighting an inevitably losing battle. How ever much sanding dust we might manage to capture, at least that much remains even after we've finished cleaning. I've taken to dust mopping the walls after Curt spends a day sanding off the high points of an unfortunate gritty top coat some prior owner smeared over some of the plaster walls, leaving unsightly swirls. We're trying to render those walls minimally presentable, understanding that nothing short of replacing them with drywall could ever render them perfectly plumb again and The Muse and I want the age of this place to show through the new paint. We're not erasing history, just taming it a bit. Taming history's messy business with some new form of detritus appearing daily. Each presents a challenge we cannot completely mitigate, but we attempt to keep up with cleaning up lest we accidentally overwhelm ourselves.

Such Cleanering belongs to that special class of apparently meaningless work, effort that will either make no apparent difference or be shortly erased, but which absolutely must be accomplished.
Some work, sculpting, for instance, intends to produce results for the ages. Street sweepers produce results for the minute. The cigarette butts and litter they harvest do not seem to hardly make a dent in the volume of trash on the street. They could return in an hour to find a fresh canvas upon which to produce their masterwork. It's what we call "wasting work." Work that quickly extinguishes itself. Wasting Work does hold purpose, though, but not in any sense most have come to know. There is no done to Cleanering. No real beginning, either. One starts in the middle, typically in the middle of some overwhelming mess. One works out from there, aiming to make a dent, not to completely resolve the offense. One works until the end of the shift, perhaps a bit longer if a sense of closure demands it. One never quits before at least attempting to sand off the high spots.

Wasting Work often become ritualistic, as if to compensate for its lack of normal closure. One, for instance, might always fold and put away the tarps before closing, even though the first task the next morning will most certainly be unfolding the tarps again. One might, as I find myself doing on this refurbishing project, dust mop walls in an apparently futile attempt to keep down dust that has already invaded every corner of the place. And these actions do not just keep up appearances. They might not be sculpture, but these acts, too, we do for the ages, as if they were necessary maintenance on this world we inherited. Our forebears performed Wasting Work as well, effort that left not even a hint of a trace of a clue that they ever existed and yet I contend that their work was not wasted. I write books that do not get published. Zen masters always insist that their novices sweep floors that do not need sweeping, for the sweeping just provides the
medium within which significance happens, not the significance itself. Same story with writing unpublished books and dust mopping walls. Wasting Work attempts to properly focus one's attention, so it might prove important to attend to what's happening within the apparently wasting moments.

So much in this life seems to depend upon perspective. Any scene, even the one I'm witnessing out my high window this predawn morning, features ten thousand and more particulars. In a very real sense, no scene actually exists. My lazy old brain conglomerates into composites which I hardly ever focus upon enough to remember any details. It's a street, I tell myself, and head off rooting out something else I can essentially ignore. I might even claim to be bored. I suspect that if I really applied myself and my dulled senses to seeing within and perhaps even through the unseen scene outside my high window, I could entertain myself for a few infinities or longer. But then even this scene was not designed to persist for eons, let alone a scant century. When this house was built, the street out front was undoubtedly dirt and this was the far edge of this small city. It's different now, thanks to an enormous quantity of Wasting Work and to the dedicated individuals engaging in it. The promise of cold beer eggs me on through the day's closing rituals. Floor vacuumed, trash hauled out to the two-wheeler out front, enormous satisfaction washes over my dusty self. I want nothing more than a cool shower and that cold beer. We might not have completely conquered even our own world that day, but we managed to sand off a few of the more unsightly high spots. Nobody later will notice.


This final Friday of this scorching July finds me satisfied. Oh, this week's been a struggle, like all weeks tend to be, featuring low points as well as high. Not all weeks end as well as this one even though, as those who've been reading along already understand, I spent some of the week feeling overwhelmed, as if I was somehow working backward. I might have been. I've ended this week's writing speaking of the noble necessity of Wasting Work, an act of Cleanering for my own work, sweeping up around the edges.

I began my writing week chronicling the effort I engage in every early Friday morning in
Fridaying. "Some live for the past and others for the present. I focus upon the future by writing about my pasts and presences. Fridays bring it all together, for better or worser."

I next described my experience with finding myself in the middle of something in
Middling. "I do not wonder why people take the last half of July as vacation. They feel the overwhelming need to simply get away where they could not possibly be held responsible for accomplishing anything."

I offered an update on my practice at becoming a genuine quitter in
Quittering. This story was filled with negative space. I can report that subsequently, positives started seeping in as replacements. "The difficulty with doing without might be that it amounts to negative doing. It creates a vacuum."

I reported on life here, nearer the end of distribution networks, in
BeatenPaths, wherein I praised the ready availability of inconvenience. "We came here for this. We expected inconvenience."

I spent this week in transition, from disorganized dog's body to our painter into a responsible contributor, which I explained in
Rhythming. "Rhythming provides cadence until the real backbeat kicks in. It's indistinguishable from chaos since it exhibits sometimes extreme disorganization."

I became a door whisperer this week as Curt The Painter helped me learn to listen to the door I was refinishing, a process I described in
Doorable. "Doors are as a class mostly silent. They speak when taken down off their hinges and also when, hinges reattached, one attempts to hang them again. They speak almost non-stop when being repainted. It must be like a trip to the dentist for them. They have their dings and cavities to explain. They, too, lie about flossing. They recline there just as they are, independent of their explanatory stories. They hold gouges like conservatives hold grudges. Their scrapes and scars speak mountains and seem daunting to anyone attempting a refinishing, a misbegotten term, since nothing associated with HomeMaking ever gets completely done."

I ended my writing week
ColdFooting, a respectably cowardly way of engaging. "I think it at best unseemly when we expect ourselves to act as though we are courageous when we're not feeling it. This act mostly comes across as decidedly inauthentic rather than as brave."

And so ends this writing week. By next Friday, it will have become August already and I expect our heat wave to still be continuing. When the temperature gets up into the low hundreds, sweat flows from my eyebrows into my glasses, blinding me if I try to work outside. Inside, this old house seems stuffy when all shut up against the sun, and dusty. Fridays will continue to come as I move beyond Middling and Quittering, appreciate my many inconveniences off BeatenPaths, stepping through Rhythming and into an actual cadence, refinish more doors, and try to not appear too awfully courageous. Thank you for engaging in this Wasting Work with me by following these stories without apparent meaning or purpose.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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