Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cleaning House

Today I spent a good part of the day cleaning my house. I mean the kind of pull apart the furniture, get up on a stool, roll out and hose down the potted trees kind of cleaning. Shaking out and refitting the slipcovers, de-cobwebing the ceiling with an upside-down broom, pulling off and bleaching the musty grey-once-were-white sheers, and Windexing both sides of every louvered windowpane, all 70 of 'em, that kind of cleaning.

It's amazing how much dirt accumulates when you ignore it and let it fester.

I've been so busy cleaning up the community--and the little school that could in particular--I've neglected my own house.

Listening to a couple of long-bookmarked / podcasts on our current economic "situation," a couple of things occurred to me while I worked.

We always have exactly what we need. Even when we can't see it. It's always there.

Funny to hear that bauble of wisdom when from all outer appearances, it appears that we're losing everything, that it's all falling apart at the seams, economically-speaking.

For months I've been hearing the phrase, use what you have. From gathering disparate pantry items for a quick dinner to swapping out babysitting with a neighbor to coming up with a solution for the school, there are resources right in front of us if we only open to them. As if in our disconnect, we somehow forgot we came from perfect abundance and we're always provided for, we always have exactly what we need. In perfect time. Even when we can't see it. Even when we think we want something else. Even when it's cracking at the seams.

This house has become a shell - a place to come in, drop a pile of papers, campaign madly, go to meetings, express frustrations, hear more frustrations, dump more madness, hear more anger, more tenseness, more anxiety, feed everybody, get them cleaned and to bed, and up again and dressed, and exit according to the day's unrelenting schedule….each day folding into the next, rarely a breather.

Years pass in this virtual motion. Pull in to the micro-focus and surf the wave of minute-by-minute emotions, passions, exchanges and issues…then pull waaaay back and the whole thing looks like a guitar string after it is plucked and vibrating…a blurry bzzzzzzz….. a single suspended note, insignificant amidst the cacophany.

Today, I am taking back my house. I am recreating home. I am ending the siege I've been on (strong word, I know), to make up for where others don't see fit to contribute. I'm stepping aside for a moment, gathering my collective thoughts.

You know that theory that 20% of the people do 80% of the work? In our school it's more like 10% of the people, always the same 10% doing 90% of the work, and then they bash us for "elitism" or "cronyism"...or if we prefer doing it all by ourselves, as if we couldn't use any help. Are they really too weak or indifferent to pitch in? In a community system, this ratio just doesn't work. It's unsustainable.

There's got to be a difference between giving someone a hand, and giving someone a hand-out.

If we're going to build a system where the community all benefits, particularly benefits from the hard-fought labors of a very small group of savvy, entrepreneurial doers, then everybody has got to come together and do their part--no matter what their contribution is. Making taquitos, running the copier, reading in the classroom, weeding the gardens, or direct cash donation. It's foolish to think we are building community when only a fraction of the whole is doing all the work for everyone else's benefit. That's not community. That's a welfare state. That's taking advantage. That's being a sucker…either sucking the strength out of the whole or being sucker enough to give it all away in the first place.

So? At home I move my furniture back and hang up the newly white curtains. A soft breeze blows fresh air through the windows while sunlight dapples the honeyed floorboards. It feels good to create this beauty and revitalization in my own house. My home. Our home. For the three of us. Effort for our direct benefit. I know I should be productive in other areas, but this effort is making me feel buoyant today.

Next I'm out in the yard pulling a few stray vines. Again I am reminded at how much neglect there has been to our home and property. We need a roof. We need some serious yard cleanup. My hair, my body, even my toenails, all need a serious overhaul. Neglect. Everywhere neglect…all our energies have been going out of here devoted to the whole, at the expense of the one.

I begin scooping copious amounts of algae-ridden waterweed growing rampant at the bottom of the pond threatening to take over the lilies and decorative potted bog plants. The whole system is overgrown, decaying, and in need of an overhaul. With each scoopful, a thick black sludge of compacted fish debris once settled around the roots comes rising up, spreading ink clouds towards the surface of the water, impeding any clear perspective. Shit.

It has to get dirty before it can be cleaned out, otherwise you wouldn't even notice the difference or bother to do anything about it. And/or, things start to look worse before they get better.

Perhaps the whole thing has to fall, fall apart, before any true progress can be made. I'm thinking about the whole school district, second largest in the country. Break it up! Let it fall. Maybe it should go bankrupt. Like everything else. Then we can truly transform.

I check my email. The Courage Campaign announces that the state of California is $41 BILLION DOLLARS in debt. We are on the brink of bankruptcy. Tens of thousands of public workers are being laid off today and more tomorrow. Our state legislators have been in a budget gridlock for months now, perhaps almost a year. It was last April when I was up in Sacramento campaigning on behalf of our children and their schools…. We are one vote away from the 2/3 majority we need to pass a budget. Seriously. They say it's down to one Republican. So close, and yet so far away. Still. While so many lives hang in the balance...these legislators don't seem to notice.

I have been ambivalent about next steps. Although clear, I cant quite seem to muster the stamina or wherewithall. I can't crusade forever. You fix one thing and then there's another…and another…ad infinitum. Ad nauseum. My daughter's in first grade and I've already begun campaigning to clean up our middle schools. What am I thinking? How can I sustain this? Where does this drive come from? I can't hold the bridge up for everybody!

After years of putting out for the greater good, today I'm holding out for myself. After years of calling "all for one and one for all" while only a very few of us were in there trying to make things better, today I'm decidedly being self-focused. I'm cleaning MY house. I'm cleaning out my OWN pond scum. I'm searching for my own clarity and solutions, as surely they are there. All that we need is always right there, I know it. Perhaps I just can't see it. Perhaps it is just hidden under the surface of cumulative dirt and debris.

Tonight as sure as I'm writing this I'm making a freshly squeezed cocktail in a crystal clear glass, in my sparkling clean house, while reveling in the surrounding beauty my attention has created.

I deserve this. I earned this abundance, even if it was here all along.

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kario said...

If I had the energy to clean my house that way, I'd be on it, too, but I'm pouring myself a glass of wine instead. ;-)

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Every good "do-er" I know eventually comes to the place you so well describe.

You've inspired me to do THAT kind of cleaning in my own house, both literal and figurative, too. Thanks.