Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Grind

The baby wakes at around 7:15. One of us makes coffee. I eat a bowl of cereal while playing blocks with Ellis. Dave makes up and labels the bottles. Masking tape that says "Ellis breast milk" stuck to the bottom of my shoe. I pack up my computer. Dave changes the baby. I dress the baby. I wash the parts of my breast pump. I get dressed. Dave gets dressed. Dave goes downstairs to warm up the car. I nurse Ellis. Dave comes back upstairs. We pack Ellis into his grey fleece suit that covers his hands and feet, that is getting too small. The temperatures have been well below zero for weeks now. I pour the coffee in the travel mugs. I hold Ellis while Dave puts on his coat. He holds Ellis while I put on mine. Dave takes down the breast pump, my laptop, then comes back up to get his bag, the baby bag. I sit Ellis on the floor while I put on my boots. We walk down the stairs. One of us scrapes the frost or snow off the windshield. One of us straps Ellis in the car seat. We get in the car. This is how we start our days.

On Thursdays, Dave drops me at my co-worker's house and we carpool to work. "Some days its the grind that gets to you," she said to me the other day, "...the idea that you have to get up and do the whole thing over again." We are driving, away from the work of her two year old and my seven month old, and towards the work of keeping an arts non-profit alive in this financial climate. On the radio, the NPR Arts correspondent is reporting on the cuts to arts funding. "In the state budget cuts, the arts were like a dandelion in front of a steam roller," he says, "everything is being stripped away."

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. There is so much at stake.

What is the sum, the meaning, the result of all of this work, this feeding, packing, cleaning, data entry, grant writing, art making? What does it amount to, at the end of the day?

Many years ago, before I had a child, before this current life, I wrote a Masters Thesis. I used personal narratives of 13 "ordinary" women--including that of my grandmother-- as data. I was fascinated by these women that raised children, that made the same beds over and over their whole lives, that cooked and cleaned and ran households and in the process acted as the glue that held their immigrant communities together. I argued that they were the makers, the builders of history, culture and community just as much if not more than the "important" people that get all the credit in our history books.

Getting up and doing it all over again-- this is what propels us all forward, this is what keeps a household, community, city, a world afloat. In my 120 page thesis, I proved this with high brow theory and nuanced arguments.

I miss the self that wrote that thesis. I miss my brain. I miss the satisfaction of theorizing, analyzing, sitting in the library for hours and hours, trying to pin it all down to words on a page.

But now it's my turn to work. My body aches. I am sleep deprived. On some days, I am a dandelion in front of a steamroller. Its the grind that gets to you. But this is important work, I have to remind myself. I have the data to prove it.

"The people I love the best jump into work head first...
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like a water buffalo with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again...

The work of the world is common as mud
Botched it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real." -Marge Piercy

1 comment:

  1. i distinctly remember this one morning when ian and i were some how awake before emmett...we quietly huddled in the kitchen...and he said, "i feel like we are at work before the boss arrives"....we enjoyed this moment before we had to fire into action of preparing meals for the day, diaper changes, nursing sessions, taking the dog out, etc, many days I collapse on the couch and think, "this is really what people do????" i think about my grandmother often who had 4 children in five years....she was a true matriarch --- and she never complained. Some days I wonder, how in the world she did it and with such grace.
    I guess it is our turn.....
    PS> she did tell night she'd like to enjoy a cigarette and watch the late show :)