August 18th, 2002


maintenance Zen

My father used to rail against maintenance. I don't remember his exact words but it was something like "Always maintenance!". He seemed to take it as some kind of personal affront that things needed to be kept up, that they couldn't just stay in good condition. Because he did not do a lot of the drudge work most of us are saddled with in our daily lives, he didn't always sense how some of his designs might be difficult to maintain. He might create wonderful spaces that would be difficult to dust, for example. But in other ways maintenance was clearly on his mind from the start. I think this is one reason he loved concrete.

I didn't grow up with him, but I did grow up with my mother, who said she liked to see a difference when she cleaned. So she didn't have a routine, didn't keep things up regularly. When we went on cleaning binges you could certainly tell the difference. For a long time I operated this way, too, and I still am learning to work against that tendency.

Now that I am doing some things on a regular basis I find that I can do them more with pleasure than with a manic sense of duty. I don't feel pressure to finish quickly, get through it. I used to sweep the floor or vacuum the carpet with my heart beating rapidfire, as if there were a deadline to get it done and I might not meet it. Now I get into the work, paying attention to it, noticing what I am doing, doing it well or at least competently. I don't worry when I don't do a perfect job, figure I will be back to do it again before long.

It becomes, then, an opportunity to meditate. It's not the recommended technique for meditation but for me it works better than being completely quiet. I don't feel guilt because I am actually working, but the work is straightforward and requires little thought, so I can put my mind where I want, or nowhere.
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