Pollyanna, card-carrying member of the Ant Army

Lyda here.

Yesterday, I worked in 95 degree heat – So Cal is having another heat wave, help us Al Gore! – moving and unpacking boxes in a warehouse and carrying empty boxes to the dumpster. I was filthy, covered in old dust and dirt, sweat matting my hair. My fingernails split and broke, my feet got blisters, my muscles ached, and my breathing became ragged. For nine dollars an hour.

It confirmed so many things for me. One, of course, is that I am not suited to this kind of heavy manual labor. Also, I am grateful for every skill and gift I have that will keep me from having to do this kind of work for the rest of my life.

Also, clutter and chaos is not confined to homes. This place was unpacking after a move, which is why they had us there. There were more boxes marked “Misc” than anything else. When I moved, there was one – count ’em, one – box labeled “Misc” and I knew exactly what was in it.  Packrat-ism afflicts warehouses and offices everywhere. Each place I work, I clean and organize and declutter the office while doing the work. It’s a gift and a curse, this Cleaning Obsession o’ mine. And yes, packrat-ism is an official term. Or it should be.

Yesterday confirmed, yet again, that I work harder at any given task than any four or five other people. There were two other temps there plus various employees of the company who wandered in and out. Nice people, but all together too inclined to stop working and talk about sports, or politics, or how hot it was.

I worked hard all day. They worked… easier. With frequent pauses. Especially after the first few hours. Their natural inclination seemed to be to mill about aimlessly. Like sheep.  My natural inclination is to take charge, and I did to some degree. That’s me, I’m a sheepdog.  The company manager thought I was the supervisor of the other two temps.

I’ve had this experience many times before – I’m working flat out, and everyone else is coasting. Sometimes it makes me angry, sometimes it amuses me, often it is frustrating. I am definitely a product of my upbringing, my sturdy peasant stock. Keep going, get the work done, don’t stop until the sun sets and it’s too dark to see. Or someone loses an eye.

When we were growing up, we worked with Dad and Mom at the theater. Dad said we were better and harder workers than any of the adult volunteers, and called us his Ant Army. Mom even had Ant Army t-shirts made for us. There was nothing we would not do. We built and painted sets, we made costumes and props, we ran sound and lights, we sold tickets and soda, we cleaned up at the end of the show, we broke the sets down at the end of the run. And we acted, sang and danced too.  We were the first to arrive and the last to leave. Just like our parents. And while we had a lot of fun, we worked flat out. Dad and Mom kept an eye on us, enforcing safety rules and calling a halt when we were exhausted, while working flat out themselves. As a family, we left everyone else in the dust. If the Ant Army had been organizing that warehouse, today it would be unpacked, organized for maximum efficiency, and clean as a whistle. As it was… not so much.

It’s a family thing, a legacy, a twist to my psyche. I work hard for the money. I work hard at quilting, at cleaning, at everything. I’m the volunteer every event needs, and the manager few subordinates want.

I didn’t start learning to take it easy until I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. It has been hard to learn to ease up, to stop pushing myself so hard. To rest. To relax.

That’s why knitting is so good for me. It keeps the Ant Army part of my mind busy and let’s the rest of me relax.

Today, I’m taking the day off. To read. To quilt. To watch TV. To knit.

I may even take a nap.

But you can bet, tomorrow I’ll be hard at it again.

It’s a family thing.


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