Tuesday, April 13, 2010

the nature of work


 For the past five days, my work space was the above, a double room at a mansion that offers writing retreats for the very lucky writers in our state, thanks to an organization and wonderful group of people who are committed to maintaining this historic home as well as the philosophy that artists need space and time to create.  

 Indeed, this trip provided that, and I came home happy and satisfied that I'd met my writing goals while there.

This morning I returned to my usual place of work, this messy desk, where I am surrounded by mail, seed packets, to do lists, books, stacks of paper in need of filing, and a few talismen that manage to keep me inspired despite the clutter: the feather of a crow that I found in my labyrinth path, two stones my writer friend Dawn brought me from Shakespeare's stomping grounds, a carved bird, a white fairy horse, and the stuffed magical pony Ryan that Dawn gave me for my birthday.

Although clutter on my desk is not my preferred way of being, most days I have to make the choice. Focus on household chores including decluttering, or spend time in my other main work space, the barn. Not much of a choice! I headed out and was immediately transported back into the world of horses, donkeys, and the morning routine that at this time of year involves quite a bit of labor.

Mixing and feeding breakfast tubs, getting stalls set up with hay and clean water, doing a light groom and tick check, fly masks, etc.

 The work I did in the lovely pristine room above for the past few days was its own kind of labor. Pulling together a book-length story that has been in my head for many years now, needing to get the first draft out so I can move on to the different task of editing and polishing, is a job, although one I happen to love very much. The last two days I struggled a bit with the idea of ending. Not the ending itself - that was there all along, and accessible. What I battled was the work of ending something that has been ongoing for what feels like a very long time. I finally did it yesterday before lunch, and when I read the final chapter out loud to Dawn in the early evening, I started crying as I tried to read the last two paragraphs.

It's been awhile since I wrote the last page of the first draft of a novel. I'd forgotten how emotional I get when I do it. In the end, Dawn had to take my laptop and read that last bit out loud FOR me. And the work of writing, the labor of it, the shift from novel-in-progress to complete draft, was done.

Once it was read out loud, it was fine. There's a reason writing a book is often compared to giving birth.

This morning I came back to the more physical labor of keeping horses. As I scrubbed buckets and mixed feed tubs and stuffed hay nets, I realized that the beauty of my writing retreat is actually the same beauty of my daily life. Both involve meaningful work, and work that has meaning, and even when there are rough days where things don't exactly flow, underneath the bumps and struggles there is the deep sense that what I'm doing makes me happy, and matters on some level.

My friend Dawn wrote a beautiful post this weekend, which you can read HERE.

Something about what she wrote made me think about art and work and the value of how we choose to spend our time. And the value of how we VIEW the way we choose to spend our time.

If I were in charge of everything, career counselors and guidance counselors would teach students of all ages not only how to find meaningful work, but the skill of finding meaning in our work, because we need both skills in our lives.

Today I'm grateful for the work I have in front of me, and that all of it has the potential to give me joy and satisfaction, whether it be writing a page that sings, or treating a mare's tick bite so carefully and gently she lifts her tail and stretches her neck in appreciation. Editing pages and finding the silver threads along the way, or rinsing beet pulp until the water runs clear.


Máire said...

That's lovely. Welcome back!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like your writing retreat was very successful. Thanks for giving us a glimpse...

I have always thought that everything we do is art (taming clutter, stacking hay bales, tending the garden) if we do it artfully... a type of mindfulness I suppose.

BTW - how do you treat your horses' tick bites (other than removing the tick)?

Jane said...

Congratulations! That is a huge milestone on the road to completing your book. I can only imagine what that must feel like. :)

Life and work have the meaning we bring to them. I feel lucky to have learned that early on. :)

billie said...

Thanks, Maire. I've been enjoying your posts at Ponies At Home!

billie said...

TTH, the only tick bites that really require treating are Salina's - she reacts badly to them if I don't.

If left untreated, she gets a big swelling at the site, which gets hard and needs to drain to heal.

So the treatment is using warm water and sponge to soften the area and remove any crusting, etc.

Tincture of calendula in the water makes a fine rinse and facilitates healing, but I ran out of that last season and haven't found any this year, so I substituted Betadine in the water.

That helps but doesn't work as well as the calendula.

Recently I realized I could use plain warm water and then apply a light spray of Banixx (it's a clear, odorless, non-stinging spray that is used for thrush and an assortment of other maladies, including wound care).

We have it on hand primarily as a hoof treatment, but when I put it on the tick bite, I realized it makes a tremendous difference in the healing process. The bite area dries up very very quickly and if I'm doing this on a daily basis, none of the bites ever get to the goopy stage.

I highly recommend it.

billie said...

Thank you, Jane. It's a good lesson, and you ARE fortunate to have gotten it early in life. Many folks don't, and it makes such a difference in a daily, concrete way.

Anonymous said...

I was on the right track. I used water and then betadine... the bite was right on Val's lymph node (throat)
and pretty scary looking when I discovered it.

Thanks so much for the recommendation! :)


billie said...

Christian, for horses who react to them, the tick bites are hideous!

I'm noticing less issues this year for Salina than ever before, which makes me think her year plus some on the complete senior balanced Kellon diet is working in yet another positive way. I also am not planning to cut out the freshly ground flax this year like I did last year. They can get their omegas from fresh grass, but I think it's worth it to keep them on the flax, even if at a reduced amount, through the summer. It seems to help with the insect issues.

billie said...

Christian, meant to add that I have tried to comment on your blog but for whatever reason, that particular configuration on Blogger has NEVER worked for me. I have no idea why!

I loved you figuring out that your seatbone was the issue with the cutting of the circle - it seems it's so often "us" when things go awry.

Grey Horse Matters said...

A very thoughtful post. It seems you are a very 'together' person who knows how to live life happily and find joy in all your tasks. Be it writing or interacting with your horses. I think you have a rare gift and more importantly realize how to get the most out of everything you do.

billie said...

Arlene, I get in my share of complaining, but for the most part I do "create my day" to make it enjoyable and full of things I want to do.