Put up and shut up

I need to stop reading other people’s blogs.

I didn’t know this when I started this enterprise, but it turns out there are a bazillion people doing some variation on the living-off-the-land thing, and at least half of them have web sites. All of them are more productive than I am.

Take Rhonda Jean, at Down to Earth. Last week, she posted her daily schedule. It looked something like this:

5:00 AM – Get up, brush teeth
5:01 AM – Feed chickens, sweep floor, make bed, cook breakfast
5:15 AM – Build addition on house
5:25 AM – Negotiate peace in the Middle East
5:45 AM – Have second cup of tea

And so on. And, get this: she knits her own dishcloths. Dishcloths! Rhonda Jean is so productive that it’s suspicious. I don’t think she actually exists. She’s like Carolyn Keene, the “author” of the Nancy Drew mysteries, who was really a whole slew of writers working behind the curtain.

Then there’s Jen at Milkweed & Teasel. In a recent post about the harvest, she ended by listing all the things that needed to be done before Plough Sunday, which is twelve days after Christmas and marks the beginning of the new agricultural year. This is what she said. Honest:

Between now and then there is still wood to be logged, fires to keep lit, fences needing repair, tools to mend and sharpen, pruning and putting plants to bed, animals to keep warm and fed, and lots to be hunted and hung in the larder. And hopefully some time to enjoy the fruits of our labours. I’ve have a lot of knitting and spinning to get on with now the days are getting noticeably shorter. This coming season will have its own charms.

I’ve logged wood, lit fires, and mended tools, and I can tell you there’s nothing charming about it, but Jen actually seems to look forward to it. And she one-ups Rhonda Jean by not only knitting but actually spinning (although it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that RJ does that, too). I think I’m Pioneer Wife if I sew on a button.

And Fiona, at Cottage Smallholder. She cooks, she cans, she gardens, she dehydrates, she forages, she pickles, and she even makes wine. All this while she’s ill enough to be bedridden a lot of the time.

What strikes me about these three, and others besides, is that they never seem to see all the work as, well, work. It seems to be a labor at least of like, rather than a chore, which is what it usually seems to me.

Take our butternut squash. It was a terrible year for squash, and we harvested a grand total of seven. I picked them with the intention of cooking them and freezing the flesh in convenient portions. I put them on our outside table to take a picture of them, and that is where they stayed, for a good four or five days.

Beyond just wanting a freezer full of vegetables, I want the satisfaction of having procured, processed, and put up the things we eat all winter. The magnitude of those wants, though, isn’t always sufficient to get me off the couch. Inertia is a formidable foe.

So, instead of just pulling up my socks and getting started on the squash, I called my mother to philosophize about jobs for which the appeal of the having done them is insufficient to motivate the actual doing of them. She pointed out that those kinds of jobs are better than jobs that you don’t have trouble making yourself do, but which are unsatisfying in retrospect. I couldn’t think of any of those, but my mother, who’s smarter than I am, suggested writing ad copy for cigarettes. “You could see how it might be fun at the time,” she said, “but you couldn’t be happy about it later.”

There’s something to be said for clarifying your ideas about household chores, but clarity, unfortunately, doesn’t get you any closer to a freezer full of squash. Clearly, instead of calling my mother, I should have called Rhonda Jean, who would have told me to pull up my socks and put the pot on to boil.

I did, eventually, do just that, and processing the squash turned out to be a couple of hours’ worth of work that was neither strenuous nor difficult. I listened to an audiobook (The Count of Monte Cristo, a very silly story) as I did it. Is that really so hard?

Of course not. It’s just that the first step’s a doozy.

8 people are having a conversation about “Put up and shut up

  1. If I had written “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should,” I’d have been happy about it at the time, and later on too. The Count of Monte Cristo is no sillier than most of Dickens — is Pip’s fortune any more plausible than Edmond’s? — and considerably more satisfying.

  2. beachnitpicker says:

    I woke up this morning thinking about your post and trying to remember something from a (fairly) recent novel about the difference between aspiration (I think it was) and hope. Aspiration does something like work on its resume and build its portfolio. “Hope gardens and plays with the children.” (The last is the only part I’m sure I have right. The novel may be by Martin Amis, although it doesn’t really sound like his sort of thing.) And, Aaron, if you can help me find the source, I’ll be appreciative, but no snide comments please.

  3. Tamar – You’re giving me more credit than I deserve, but thanks for the praise.

    If I had an ounce of your writing talent I could get a real job and let someone with more energy and a stronger back do my chores! It is a hard life sometimes and I lose motivation too, particularly when it’s been raining for a week straight.

    I get worried for people who are duped into thinking self-sufficiency is a life “style”, particularly by magazines that portray it as a blissful eden of endless simple pleasures. It misleads potential do-it-yourself-ers who get discouraged by the hard bits and inevitable failures than come as part of the package. If we were told up front that there are going to be some epic disasters and disappointments, as well as the blissful eden part, we wouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.

    Leave your socks right where they are – I think some self-congratulation is in order instead. Glad your squash was a success. And my best tip is the same as yours: Podcasts and audiobooks are the secret to perservering through the worst jobs.


  4. Aaron — Certainly Dickens is silly, but Dumas is silly on a grander scale. Pip’s fortune IS more plausible than Edmond’s, both in circumstance and in magnitude. I mean, really, buried treasure?

    There’s a kind of swashbuckling grandiosity in Dumas that dwarfs Dickens’ smaller silliness of mannerisms and coincidence.

    BNP — If that’s Martin Amis, the Martin Amis I know must be his evil twin.

    Jen — You’re absolutely right. It’s the Blissful Eden Fallacy. Known hereafter as the BEF.

  5. That quote could be from Martin Amis only if he attributed it to one of his bad-writer characters, like Gwyn in The Information.

    As to Dumas and Dickens, it’s the swashbuckling that makes Dumas more fun. Buried treasure is admittedly ridiculous, though less then than now, but consider the chain of circumstance. Edmond’s jail-mate tells gives him directions to the treasure and he goes and digs it up. Pip, on the other hand, feeds a fugitive convict, who gets caught anyway, goes to jail, escapes, runs away to New Zealand, makes a fortune (in sheep farming as I recall), acquires himself an English lawyer, tracks Pip down, and becomes his anonymous benefactor. Each step is less plausible than the treasure, but it’s an awful lot of steps.

  6. Tamar, I suspect that the Manhattan condo looms large in your imagination as various insects attempt to clamber on board your weary limbs, in between your frequent water-logged episodes.

    Chin up, girl. As your Aunt Dag may once have said “I will grow to love this life within 50 years”. And she probably never came to know the joys of leaf springs!

    You are so fortunate 🙂

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