There is a Portuguese joke that goes like this “Could you eat a whole cow?” “Only with a lot of bread.”
If you didn’t at least smile, it’s because you’re missing the underpinnings of the culture. First, everyone is all about the bread. No matter what you’re eating, there will be rolls on the table. My grandmother used to say “Even in hell, they don’t serve soup without bread.” (Which gave me an odd idea of hell as a very infra dig restaurant.)
Second, at least in my early childhood, the family often ended up in these all-day eating fests, a propos not very much. Someone was back from overseas on vacation, or you had a large gathering of relatives, and the tables would be put on the patio, under the giant pergola covered in grapevines, and we’d sit there and talk and eat all day. Sometime towards evening, women would flip the table clothes over (to the clean side) and serve dinner. (After lunch and a whole lot of apetizer like stuff, which you eat while drinking wine or beer.)
In that kind of situation, you could eat a whole cow… with a lot of bread. I’m not saying it would be good for you, either physically or financially (back then there is a reason we ate a lot of tiny, tastefully arranged morsels, unless it was stuff we grew ourselves.) I’m saying you could do it. Eat a little, drink a little, talk a little, eat a little more…
However anyone sane, or even anyone Portuguese, even of the time, if faced with a vast roasted cow and asked “can you eat that at once?” would go “Oh, dear Lord, no.”
I’ve always had trouble with this concept. One of my first points of awe over the woman who would eventually become my sister in law was that she made these long, elaborate, HUGE crochet bedspreads. While attending medschool. And I kept thinking, “Good Lord, I’d get so bored.” But the thing is, she made them in squares, while attending games, or sitting around after dinner, or whatever. A square here, a square there, and soon enough you have a couple of bedspreads. But if faced with the task you’d go “Dear Lord, it would take months and be impossible.”
Years later, I figured that out. I mean, I always knew it intellectually, but I internalized it, too. I used to have a collection of hand crocheted curtains made during writers’ meetings, and on plane trips, and long drives, and… They were lost during the move.
About 12 years ago, the wheels came off that, mostly because I couldn’t remember a pattern long enough to execute it, which sounds stupid and is. But that’s not how I experienced it. I experienced it as “I am bored.” and I kept starting things and not finishing it. The same applied to novels, and it turned out it was hypothyroidism affecting the white matter in my brain.
I used to go running forth along a thought line, and suddenly hit what felt like a hole. Turns out it really is a hole, where connections are cut. Your brain knows! (This still happens sometimes, late at night, when it’s been a long day. Yesterday I struggled in vain for the word “neurologist.” Which you must admit is funny.)
Anyway, perhaps predictably, this threw all my habits of life and work out the window, until all I could do is finish novels by running at them full tilt and writing them in as short a time as possible (after fighting myself on writing them for sometimes months.)
It also threw other things out the window. When the thought of getting up, showering and getting dressed seems like overwhelmingly difficult, you kind of let housekeeping things go, too. And of course, when you try to get help everyone thinks “depression.” And you’re doing all the things to get out of depression, but you can’t (though some of them help a little, because anything helps a little) because it’s organic and you’re very, very ill.
I’m now recovering — I have a disquieting feeling I’m still not full me, but dear Lord, it’s hard to conceptualize where I was. It was hard to perceive it too, because when your brain is malfunctioning, your perceptions are off — and trying to establish habits and thought patterns and … well, all that again. As well as kick my life back into order, starting with my surroundings (hence as much as you’ve heard about house keeping around here.)
Because see, whatever you think of yourself and your personality, living in confusion and chaos much less in filth, hurts you and limits what you can accomplish.
There is the illness and allergy issues, but there’s also never being able to find what you want, spending hours of your day looking for something, and just generally feeling like you’re slumming.
However most of us have jobs, and the time to accomplish “keeping the house in a semblance of clean” (I’ll never be an immaculate housekeeper. That’s full time. I don’t have full time) is never there.
Reading people like the flylady (and her daily hints never arrived, and I’m not going to bother. At any rate, all I wanted was the general concept) reminded me of how I used to clean the kitchens, at parties.
Okay, I probably should have realized I was an introvert, no matter how much I can “put Party Sarah on.” because when my parents had massive parties (late seventies, most of the eighties) I’d choose to be in the kitchen, dealing with the dishes before they became intractable (We didn’t own a dishwasher and mom would cut off her own feet rather than use paper for guests.)
That first moment you enter a party kitchen, still littered with pots, pans etc from the cooking (which might have taken two days) all in complete confusion (mom has a bizarre habit of not even throwing away trash, while cooking. She makes piles of it in sink and counter, and then puts dirty dishes on top. EW) is daunting. You look at it and go “OMG, I never…”
Then you think “I’ll make order in this little corner” then the next, then the next, and next thing you know, you’re standing in the middle of a completely clean kitchen, washing each dish that comes back and setting it on the rack to dry. (And avoiding the party which was rather a thing.)
I’d forgotten that lesson. The flylady, at first reading of her site, reminded me of that. “Do what you can right now” and also the basic (which ties in with my readings of Peterson too) “respect yourself” (in flylady’s case “dress to shoes.” I always dress to shoes, because that’s how I found out I could get ANY work done. Wake up when Dan does, dress for work, etc. BUT over the years I’d started interpreting “dress to shoes” as “cover all the relevant bits.” I’ve been trying to work on “Dress as if you were going to work” with my hair up, and maybe jewelry and a touch of make up. I know it sounds stupid, but it makes an actual world of difference.
So I’m not getting her full daily stuff, but I’m doing what I once did and “doing what you can where you are.” While having breakfast and writing this blog post, for instance, I did a bunch of laundry that was cluttering the laundry room. Just… you know, a load at a time, five minutes to fold that, return to post.
Can I sustain it? Probably, since I really am better. And just two weeks of this has made a marked difference. There are a couple of foci of mess that I have to deal with, but a vast amount of it is cleared up, and the house looks like a human dwelling again.
Now, there will be stupid days. Wednesday and Thursday last week were bad, leading to the house looking like a tornado had gone through and taking me more time to do the once a week on Friday. BUT even that was less than in the bad old days.
Is this turning into a housekeeping blog? Of course not, you know that.
The same applies to politics and our current cultural cold war. We’re way behind. The country is the equivalent of that kitchen with the sink full of disgusting, greasy pans, with food burned on, and under that all the entrails of the animals mom cooked, and butter wrappers under the pile of bowls in a corner.
And you look at it and go “Burn it all down.” Which, to be fair, I often thought about our kitchen, as a party started.
But you know if you burn it, it will take the house with it. So…
So you start in a little corner. You do the little thing, in whatever time you can manage, even though it seems like it’s worth nothing. You throw that pebble in the ocean and trust the ripples will do something. It might be something you never see, never have anything to do with, but it also might be pivotal.
I’ve said before I owe my political conversion to whomever sent me a subscription to Reason way back in 92. (Yeah, I as anti-communist before, but I was ‘European right’ which is to say left.) I didn’t even know anyone who would have done it at that time, and honestly, what they thought they were doing sending that to a mother of one who had never sold anything, I don’t know.
And yet, the ripples have gone rather far.
You do what you believe will make things better, one tiny, incremental microscopic thing at a time. And you trust. Maybe you’ll get lucky and see the results in your lifetime. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. You’re bringing order out of chaos.
You’re eating a metaphorical cow, with a lot of bread. And maybe, yeah, nothing is sure in this world, maybe it will all be for nothing. After all, a meteor could hit and wipe out life tonight.
BUT you can’t bank on that. You can bank on doing what you can, as hard as you can, while you can.
And having faith it will mean something.
Because that’s all human life is: a shout against chaos and entropy.
Go shout as hard as you can.