PrepWork


"Are we there yet? Probably not."

Outside of industrial mass production, most work seems properly classified under the label PrepWork. Cooking supper mostly amounts to waiting for the oven to finish. Prepping whatever's cooking might have needed hours of concerted effort to process without producing anything more than supper's components, which the oven will finish without any active cook's intervention. Planting a garden's about 80% securing and schlepping supplies. Even mopping the kitchen floor involves much more moving chairs and Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat's feeding station than actual mopping. Because of this feature, I understand that most chores have been mislabeled, and this leads folks to misinterpret what tasks entail. Painting's almost entirely PrepWork. Even laundry requires more sorting than washing, yet nobody declares that they're off to sort laundry, but to wash it. The machine does the washing. No machine knows how to properly sort laundry.

PrepWork seems the source of much of my frustration as I rediscover that the effort I anticipated hardly resembles the work I find I must do before I can do the work I expected to be doing.
I feel as though I'm being restrained from my work when I show up with paintbrush in hand only to learn that the window frames really must be scraped before they'll be ready for paint. Until that PrepWork's finished, applying paint could only move progress backward, producing even more PrepWork before the "real" work can be properly competed. Perhaps this humbling acknowledgement lies behind the Romans' insistence that one must Hasten Slowly at the beginning.

Hastening Slowly hardly feels like hastening at all. I experience it as an unrelenting series of backward steps which produce no progress at all, emotionally indistinguishable from procrastination. By the end of the first day, a day I'd declared would be the day I would paint the front of the house, I've resecured that phone cable the roofers tore loose and replaced three sun-rotted window frames. By the end of day two, I've caulked loose siding boards, countersunk nail heads, and puttied in the holes. Some sanding will come next, then supplemental caulking, then the windows will need razor-blading and taping. I might just as well lay down some painting paper to prevent the inevitable splashes from staining the asphalt shingles. By the end of day three, I've yet to crack the first can of paint, though my strategy for applying the paint has shifted a half-dozen times. Had I just started slapping paint without these slog days engaging in PrepWork, I would have probably painted everything backwards with no recourse.

This morning, The Muse has volunteered to help create a painting platform, a plywood gizmo intended to keep the paint tray level on the steeply pitched roof; more unanticipated PrepWork. I might—and I acknowledge that this promise remains entirely contingent upon ten thousand as of yet encountered complications—finish applying paint today. I see two coats of two different kinds of primers, and two coats of the finish color. The weather looks agreeable. I've forgotten when I started this chore and when I then confidently proclaimed that I'd finish it by. I certainly tried to make that now meaningless initial due date, though I'm glad now that I didn't.

This situation in no way suggests the presence of a problem that needs fixing. Like so many complicating difficulties, this PrepWork Paradox needs to be coped with, not fixed. The way it is happens to be nothing more than the way it is, always was, and ever after shall be. When I hear myself declare what I'm going to go do out there, I can be certain that I've omitted even imagining about 90% of what the situation will require me to do before I can get down to simply doing what I've declared. I can be confident in little else than my enduring inability to foresee what PrepWork might demand from me. I might humbly accede control over the effort to some higher power, accepting all I cannot be responsible for foreseeing but must become responsible for before completing. PrepWork renews humility in the flaring face of hubris. I might not finish painting the front of the house today, but I will very likely make some progress that should properly feel like at least one giant step backwards. Are we there yet? Probably not.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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