“Being forced to work, and forced to do your best, will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle will never know.” Charles Kingsley
Greetings Dear Ones!
Harvest time is drawing to a close. The hay is in the shed, the firewood is getting stacked up close to the house—I am working like an ant but still wanting to party like a grasshopper. My Now has become all about The Future. A killing frost has silenced the cricket choir—a harsh lesson warning my inner Grasshopper to shape up and Prepare: With frigid, snow-furred claws and icicles for teeth, It cometh. We’ve had hail, heavy rain, a sun burn, a rainbow, and a light dusting of snow all in one week. It’s New England—Winter could be any moment now.
Even in the shop, we do our work with an eye to the future. A woman brings in a pair of slacks for her son. I secretly put four inch hems on the boy’s suit pants. I normally only turn up two inches on a hem but this mother is getting them hemmed “for no reason.” There is no upcoming “event”—she just wants to be “ready for anything.” (All Yankees are part Boy Scout.) I say, be ready for this kid to grow! If I know anything about teenage boys, it’s that they go through a phase when they will eat the contents of the fridge on a daily basis and grow an average of six inches a week. I think about how the future versions of this mother and son will thank the little ant-minded seamstress who thought to make room for another half a leg.
There is a somewhat skewed Bell curve to the time management strategies of our customers. At one end, there are the pure Ants and sweet, polite Mr. Brisk-Vigour who gets all his winter woolens and long-johns mended and dry-cleaned in August. In the middle, representing the bulk of people, are the ant-grasshopper blends ranging from cheerful workers to dour party-ers. Most of them manage to give us just enough time to accommodate their needs. At the far right of the spectrum is Ms. Breathless Grasshopper: “I know it’s Thursday after 5, but the wedding is this Saturday and well, I just got the dress in the mail and…” One look at her tells Prudence that she has been chosen as a bridesmaid for her Karaoke talents rather than her organizational skills. The waft of tequila in the dressing room is palpable.
These harried ones, the Grasshoppers rushing in with their hair or pants on fire, these are visions of myself I could do without. They haunt me. I see how Inconvenient I must be to the truly Organized. The furthest to the left of this Bell Curve—which moves in a continuum from “People on Time,” to “People with extra time,” all the way to “People who make Extraordinary Preparedness an art form”—these are exotic creatures to me. I long to live among them and study their ways. They don’t seem to have the same troubles I do. But then, they don’t have some of the domestic companions I do. Apart from a beloved son, an assortment of animal criminals and a Russian tortoise, I live daily with someone else who drives me Totally Bonkers…who makes my life more fraught than three incontinent Jack Russells put together. Let’s call her Past Nancy. She’s a warped Zen ideal of “burning in the Now,” who thinks never of past nor future. She’s a menace. She never thinks to refill what she empties. She never empties what she fills. She never puts the caps back on anything. She makes my life a living hell sometimes—spending money we need for more important bills on fabric she already has, somewhere, but cannot find; forgetting to turn the water off when refilling the sheep’s trough so that their paddock turns into a marsh and her well runs dry and burns out the pump motor; leaving apple cakes and scones in the oven until they are cinders… She’s a mess. She’s the worst roommate I have ever had. “Who left these dishes in the sink? Who forgot to lock the chickens up at night? Who let her car inspection sticker lapse four months?” Present Nancy often cannot get ANYTHING done because she is like a dazed member of FEMA following in the aftermath of destruction left by hurricane Past Nancy.
The once and future Nancys are always in some form of conflict over what needs to be done Now. Present Nancy lurches between damage control and forward planning that would make tomorrow less hellish. Inevitably, Past Nancy has aimed too high or too low, perhaps just too chaotically (if at all), which keeps Present Nancy in a rut—a rut that seems occasionally to be on fire with emergencies. When the ambient chaos level leads to unwarranted suffering, it’s time to pause and have a little meeting with my selves. Prudence is always the first to show up. She has a long list of complaints, observations, and grievances. She is like the woman, years ago at a Maynard town hall meeting, who got up and told everyone she checked the mileage on our town policeman’s cruiser every morning when he went into the Bean House to get coffee.
“Excuse me,” I say to my selves, “Winter and worse yet, Tomorrow, are on their way, even as I speak. I am tired of coming home to a place that looks like it’s been the scene of an epic Struggle. The mice, not generally known for being such great planners yet who are clearly much better planners than we, have taken over the kitchen and are even now annexing the closet, as evidenced by the pile of dog food I found in my boot this morning. I’m sick of realizing I cannot wear half of my clothes because they need: a. a button, b. a patch, c. a hem. I am a seamstress, for crying out loud! (or as a friend likes to put it, a “Seamster” which sounds infinitely tougher.) We need to pull together and turn this ship around!
The ranting feels good while it lasts. Prudence tries to take potshots when she can, but the rest of me feels defeated, sullen, and bored. Only Prudence is smiling. She is a fine one for issuing demands to “shape up or ship out,” immediately demanding more, being punitive and caustic about what we DO manage to achieve—such as having clothing on that is not back to front or inside out, remembering underwear and such things... She is an obnoxious Ant lecturing Grasshoppers.
I change course. “Look,” I plead, “I know we hate making decisions and that our choosit muscles are generally fairly weak but the fact is that we make around seven hundred decisions a day whether we want to or not. (Very Important Life-affecting decisions like deciding NOT to smack that certain customer who leans on the back doorbell like it’s a fire alarm until I am almost to the back door before she skitters round to the front door instead. I can’t afford any jail time because they don’t let you have knitting needles in jail—so this is a very Important Choice.) Could we not aim one or two of these many other choices at a better result for tomorrow? I mean, I don’t expect to find my wallet, car keys and cell phone all in the same day—so let’s aim low, at something achievable, like being able to eat breakfast at home, not at ninety miles an hour on the way to work so that we show up, literally, with egg on our face or a lap full of oatmeal? How about, starting now, we think of a few LITTLE plans that could make life a tiny bit better before sundown tonight? I promise to notice. I promise to celebrate. There WILL be a reward—so long as it is not Swiss Cake Rolls or whisky… The Inner Child perks up but Grasshopper Nancy is pissed. She was counting on some whisky and a few Swiss Cake Rolls. She would happily fiddle while pretty much anything burned, including Rome or Ashburnham.
The truth is, dear readers, we all are somewhere on the spectrum between Grasshopper and Ant. It’s necessary to plan for the future but it’s important to have fun too. What good is securing a future that will not be any fun? I love it when I get my act together and leave gifts for my future self—like when I get into a clean, neatly made bed at night, a gift from Morning Nancy—with my nightie folded under my pillow like a love note, or when I get to work on Mondays and find I have already changed my needles and threads to the right colors and prepped my work station so that my first project will go smoothly, or when I think to buy toilet paper before I have to shuffle through the house with my knees bound together by jeans half-way down, scrambling for any kind of substitute that will work, like junk mail or Jo Ann Fabric receipts.
I work really hard at Accepting What Is and trying to change what I can for the better but I also have to admit that sometimes it feels churlish and ungrateful to denigrate my current insufficient (to me) success in order to benefit from my imaginings of improving the future. It’s hard not to feel guilty when we in this country are all so blessed and prosperous beyond the wildest dreams of most of the world, where both ants and grasshoppers are starving. I should stay put and be overjoyed with my lot. Why plan ahead for a “lack” when there is such bounty? And yet, I also can’t help thinking “here I am at point A and I can clearly see that at point B, just over there, everything will be so much More Organized, Peaceful, Prosperous and Serene—with more to share, beds I don’t have to vacuum, houseplants that live, and car keys whose whereabouts are not a total mystery—let’s pack up and move there at once!” All I have to do is stop slacking off and fiddling…A little earnest, persistent drudgery is all it takes. Every day I get up before dawn and announce to myself “Today is the day I am going to Get Organized. Life is not going to happen to me; I am going to happen to It.” And then…Then, I find out that Past Nancy, that blasted grasshopper, has left a load of wash wet in the washer for the last three days and it is starting to smell…
Be well, my dear ones! Some days are not so much about the Harvest we reap as the seeds we sow. Do something now that your Future selves will thank you for! Pay it forward to yourself, and when you receive your own gift one day, may you smile and thank your Past Ant self.
May you do Good Work AND be Merry!
P.S. If only Past Nancy had written this Blog sooner, damn her!