It’s the doing that means something

I read an article today that someone linked to Facebook. It talked about the fairly common feeling of not doing enough or being enough—not making a big enough difference in the world. I’m not sure why most of us feel this way, at least some of the time. It’s the sense of being a fraud, of not actually being as smart, capable, creative, or intuitive as we let on. And it seems to be pretty universal.

I’ve been cleaning my house to rid it of germs and to ceremonially reclaim it from the children who have been messing it up hard core these past fourteen days of Christmas break. While it might be a cliché, as I swept and vacuumed, Lysol-ed and laundered, I had an epiphany. I scuttled around in my sweats and socks trying to banish the mess, and I understood cleaning as a process, not unlike the writing process which I practice and which I teach my students.

Much like writing isn’t simply about the finished piece, keeping house isn’t so much about achieving cleanliness (which is über-fleeting anyway) but about the act of cleaning. In case you’re thinking of recommending it to me, I haven’t read that bestselling book about how tidying up your house is magical and transformative. I haven’t felt the need, since I already throw things away  with wild abandon, often before they have exceeded their usefulness. I don’t need a book to tell me that cleaning up and clearing out is a good idea. I believe it.

What happened this weekend is that my mind felt like an extension of my arms and hands as they wiped, scrubbed, washed, folded, and picked up. Together, my body and my brain organized (most of) the house and both felt better for it.

I learned in one of my graduate seminars back in the day that the act of writing something down can cement it in one’s memory, even if you never revisit or re-read what you’ve written. Just writing something imprints it in our minds. Maybe just caring for things like sick little people and a messy house does something similar: the process of doing it makes it real and valuable, and however it turns out isn’t the point. It’s the doing that means something.

This is a sea change view of life for me.

I’m seeing things afresh.

My boys’ behavior/speech/occupational therapy is not a means to an end, but is a valuable process and routine, and that’s enough.

Eldest son’s basketball passion does something good to his brain, while his body runs and shoots and blocks. Wins are nice, but just playing is a win.

I had another article accepted this week for publication, which was great. But my satisfaction is at just having written it down. The thoughts had percolated for some time, and now they are out.

There is value in the objet d’art and the cleaned house and the changing person, as there is significance in the struggle to create it.

And while it is the visible part, the end result is simply one piece of a larger process.

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