Working Stiff: Part Three

Chores and the structure of everyday life—if there is a typical everyday life.

During the 10 years I spent semi-unemployed (aka: full-time freelancing), I never had a chore to do. Finding gainful employment again, I’ve had to relearn some things.

A chore is something that you have to do when it has to be done, not when you want to do it. During that decade of what I now wistfully refer to as “having it all—except for the money,” I spent my typical work day stretching two hours of writing over eight hours. (Some days I stretched it over 10 hours and called it “putting in OT.”)

That ebb and flow of work—mostly ebb—allowed for a lot of chore-doing. I bought groceries, vacuumed carpets, prepared dinner, replaced air filters and toilet handles, paid bills, removed trash, made coffee and caught up on past episodes of “Frasier.” I did it all when I wanted to, so none of it ever seemed like a chore. In fact, there were times when those activities proved themselves high water marks of productive workdays.

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Now with a job that no longer requires pacing the floor waiting for the mailman to arrive with a freelance paycheck, I’m rediscovering just how structured a workday has to become if you’re going to get everything done. Daily activities that once seemed like a break from the arduous, energy-depleting, stressful task of writing a column (like this one) while struggling to keep a bathrobe cinched at the same time (in the event UPS showed up with an overnighted freelance check—which never, ever happened, by the way) suddenly became do-or-die exigencies that had to be intricately scheduled and accomplished within a narrow window of opportunity.

I am reminded why people raced their carts past as I weighed the mind-boggling options of creamy versus crunchy or whole wheat versus white, why they chased the trash man with trash containers they hadn’t gotten to the curb in time, why they pulled their cars out of their driveways like they’d just finished a pit stop at Dover Downs.

Now the days fly by with the sense that I’ve accomplished only about half the things that I should have gotten done, along with a vague fear that I overlooked something vital. (I sometimes run my hand through what’s left of my hair as I drive to work, just to make sure it’s a little damp from a shower I’m suddenly uncertain had been taken.)

As our shift ended one recent night, a co-worker yawned and announced she was going home to wash her hair. I thought about her day, about how she realized she had simply run out of time before work. A hair wash had become one more chore that had to be done when it was demanded.

“I hear you sister,” I silently told myself, as I looked at my long fingernails and realized there was something I hadn’t gotten done before work either.

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Reid Champagne is hoping his wife doesn’t have time to read this one.

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