Grant Wood: Fall Plowing (1931)
"I get away with nothing."

I know myself to be, above all else, a Shirker. In my time, I've left many more jobs undone than I ever completed. I'm apt to spend a day when I should be engaging in my equivalent of Fall Plowing, plowing my way through a novel in lieu of attempting to outrun the first snow outside. I tend to leave a lot on the table. I think of myself as being more able than I ever actually deliver. I shrink in the face of even modest challenges, and I feel myself defeated at the merest rumor of conflict. I contend that I am not lazy, however, for the lazy never seem to notice the work they shirk, but fail to catch the cues that inform then that they really should be doing something. Mine's a more sophisticated sort of slothfulness, one ridden with essential guilt and built upon a solid foundation of dedicated precedent. I can usually tell when I first sense a deadline whether or not I'll ever manage to get around to actually attempting to accomplish it, but I retain the expectation on my books, never writing off the obligation. Ever! I might have become most masterful at managing the resulting residue of guilt, my constant companion and, curiously, my primary inspiration.

I sense time on my tail and I know for sure that I will ultimately lose this race.
I occasionally impress myself and engage as if I might somehow win, engaging with what might appear as sincere dedication. I'm not above getting enthralled in some effort, working long and apparently selflessly to achieve some worthy objective, but these times seem noteworthy as exceptions rather than rules. I maintain much more fallow ground than I ever cultivate, and I seem to harvest much less than I ever sow. I survey my yard and mostly see the hard work I've managed to avoid. I have my excuses, each as lame as the next, and I concoct complex strategies for overcoming my more obvious shortcomings, but I most often decline my own invitations to engage. I imagine that other days will come when I might well be better positioned to complete the chore more properly, this, a central component of my overall ego-preserving strategy.

I wander hip-deep in guilt, pulling a crooked-wheeled cart half-filled with leaden remorse. Had I followed a different course, I might hold out hope for me, but I seem to live out of redemption's arm reach. I preach to myself sermons that might shame any Puritan, but still trod some path other than outright righteousness. My filing system's a mess. I mostly work hardest to simply forget, to encourage placating distractions. I hold my objections lightly lest I come to feel utterly defeated by my own hand. I do still manage to concoct supper most nights, and to write something every damned morning, but by nine am, I'm disengaging, mentally wanting and sensing myself falling ever further behind. I most days convince myself that I'm engaging in meaningful alternative work, that my fields might not actually need plowing this season, an unconvincing no-till argument the upcoming snow couldn't care less about. I convince myself that there's always another springtime coming.

I mention this obvious personal shortcoming because I suspect that, while I feel alone and especially neglectful, I'm not alone in this little negative obsession. I must possess a limitless capacity for both forgiveness and self-loathing, and I suspect that I exhibit nothing more concerning than perhaps a locally severe case of The Human Condition. Over time, I seem to have conditioned myself to somehow tolerate even this embarrassment about myself. We might wear similar shoes. I deeply envy those who humbly engage in whatever needs doing regardless of the conditions, indifferent to the personal cost. Those who sunburn their faces doing some rough equivalent of God's work, expecting nothing more than the jolt of personal satisfaction it bestows. I've experienced those days, though I seem much more likely to watch those opportunities pass me by, hiding from them rather than opening my arms to embrace them. I know full well what I'm doing when I'm ruing my responsibilities. I imagine that one day I might somehow outgrow this tendency, but I deep down doubt that I ever will. If I possess a saving grace, I claim that it lies in my noticing my shortcomings. I get away with nothing.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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