Signposts Of Life

The “Life is a journey” cliché has been done to death — but it’s there and I’m lazy, so what the hell!  People say life is a journey, and it is — but it’s not a straight-and-narrow, or a super highway or even a twisty backroad to heaven.  It’s a wilderness, and we poor mortals are forced to navigate it the best way we know how.  That’s why our more than benevolent society gives us signposts.  These are big, simple, well-lit markers that we can clearly see as we’re speeding along at 200 KPH, going – uh – wherever it is we’re all going.

When we’re babies, the first signpost we get is “NO!”  This keeps us away from dangerous stuff, disgusting stuff and stuff we really shouldn’t put in our mouth.  Easy!  But it doesn’t take us long to discover that some “no’s” are more important than others.  For example, when we ignore, “No, don’t pull kitty’s tail!” we end up with lacerations. However, “No, don’t throw your food on the floor.” Is nothing serious.  (After all, cleanup is not our problem.)

From there, the signposts get a little trickier.  Sure “Play nice!” is relatively easy, but “Share!” comes with a double-edged sword.  There isn’t a person on this planet who hasn’t run into the “share” conundrum.  Meanwhile, this is when we realize that — even though the world is full of signposts — some people don’t feel any obligation to observe them.  It’s a hard lesson when we’ve “shared” our cupcake with Sally, but Sally has decided to keep her cookies to herself.

Then the signposts start coming faster, and they’re a lot more complicated.  We learn there are certain words that are off limits, even though they’re surprisingly fun to say and actually quite common during times of parental stress.  We also learn “Don’t lie!”  This is a biggie.  However, it comes with a number of caveats that aren’t always obvious to the untrained eye.  For example, Uncle Jake’s Special Spaghetti Sauce might honestly taste like dirt, but if you say so there will be consequences.  Here’s where we find out that even though the path is always clearly marked, on occasion, life is a lot easier if we simply look the other way.

Teenage years are full of signposts that are basically contradictory.  “You’re young: have fun!” is diametrically opposed to “You need to study, or you’ll end up a crack whore like your cousin Jerry.”  Plus, we’re starting to get the feeling that some signposts are deliberately misleading.  Some, like “Algebra is important!” are there to keep us on the path whether we like it or not, and others, like “YOLO,” are trying to lure you into the weeds.  Then there’s the uber dangerous “Ahh, come on!  It’ll be fun!” which can go either way.  Follow this one too far and you could end up either hosting multi-level marketing seminars in your living room or sittin’ in an alley somewhere, smokin’ crack with your cousin Jerry.  It can happen!  Luckily, most of us manage to get through the 12-to-20 labyrinth and come out the other side as Adults.  And here’s where things settle down a bit.

As adults, we all see life’s signposts, and we all kinda know which direction we’re going.  Plus, even though we sometimes don’t admit it, we all know where the edge of the path is.  Mainly because, at some point in our lives, we’ve screwed up and found ourselves stumbling around in the weeds.  It’s not very pleasant.  That’s why, even though “Love thy neighbour” doesn’t apply to Fang, the 24/7 Death Metal music freak down the street, we don’t go down there and beat him over the head with his sub-woofer.  That’s off the path, over the hill and down the other side.  And we know if we go out there, there’s always a chance we won’t find our way back.  So, from time to time, we might covet our neighbour’s wife and her ass, and maybe even her riding lawnmower but we don’t do anything about it.  We just glance up at the signpost, look at the snarl of brambles and thorns and weeds beyond it, and roll over and go back to sleep. 

When Life Hands You …

lemon

I’ve always thought that “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” is a bunch of crap.  First of all, life better also provide you with a pitcher, some water, ice (optional) sugar, a knife and a wooden spoon — or your beverage-making adventure is over before it starts.  Secondly, if life is willing to furnish that kind of equipment, why not just hang out for a while and see if it’s got a bottle of vodka stashed away somewhere in that bag of tricks?  Which brings me to my main point.  These lemon-lifers are totally obsessed.  They haven’t even considered the possibility that life might hand out all manner of fruit and veg.  Why not?  I’m pretty sure there’s more than just citrus in the cornucopia of human existence.  So what happens when life gives you an apple?  Do you make a pie?  Sauce?  Strudel?

Okay, I get the allusion.  Life has some sour bits.  Duh!  My problem is there’s no reason to believe that’s the default mode.  The physical, spiritual and metaphorical laws of the universe suggest – no, dictate — that there are just as many sweet, juicy Valencia oranges available to life’s intrepid travellers as there are lemons.  Not to mention, strawberries, peaches, bananas and the occasional kiwi fruit.  In fact, to carry this fruit business to its logical conclusion, lemons are so hopelessly outnumbered that the odds of life actually giving you one are astronomical – unless, of course, you planted the tree yourself.

 

Everybody Works

work

Everybody works.  Some work harder than others, some work smarter than others, but as each of us wanders along life’s incredible journey, we all have a relentless series of jobs to do.  Just to clarify – I’m not talking about gainful employment; I’m talking about all those nasty little tasks that haunt our otherwise leisured existence — everything from filling out income tax forms to assembling a Fridekgloben bookcase from Ikea.  This is the work that torments our souls.

Having survived on this planet for – uh – a number of years, I’ve done my share of personal chores and, without bragging, I’ve gained some valuable experience.  Here are just a few bits and bobs from what I’ve learned along the way.

1 – Every job takes longer than you think.  No matter how simple it looks or how comprehensively you’ve prepared, the task at hand is going to eat up more minutes than you bargained for.  (See items 4, 5, 6, 7 and sometimes 8 for a detailed explanation.)

2 – The rule of quarters.  No matter what you do, the first 75% of the job takes 25% of the time and the last 25% takes 75% — or more.

3 – Do as much as possible before lunch — cuz after lunch, you’re going to be useless.

4 – Something you need isn’t going to be there.  Whether it’s a particular medical receipt, a pinch of coriander, an account number or an oddly shaped one-use-only tool, there will be one item, that’s absolutely necessary to the task, which you either don’t have or can’t find.  This means you have to stop, search or go buy it – no other choice.  And, BTW, this never happens at the beginning of the adventure but always more than halfway through — when you’ve got everything torn up, half assembled, disassembled and/or spread out all over hell.

5 – There will be an essential piece of information missing.  Assembly instructions are notorious for this – the placement of Lock Washer #3 is a mystery known only to God.  Meanwhile, the Federal Government will not accept your tax return without an entry in Box 906a even though its purpose is a bigger secret than the contents of Area 51.  But the very worst are online forms that demand an encyclopedia of personal information and, after you’ve entered it all, flash the big red “Error” warning at you — while slyly refusing to tell you where the error occurred.

6 – The thing that’s supposed to fit … won’t.  Carpenters and plumbers know this and are skilled in Improvise, Adapt and Overcome, but the rest of us are utterly stunned when the last bolt’s too big, the connecting rod’s too short or the brand new muffin pans don’t fit in the oven.  The result is an extended period of swearing and weeping.

7 – The experience you gain from one task does not translate to anything else.  What you learned trimming the hedge doesn’t help you buy car insurance online.  Painting the porch and making a soufflé are straight chalk and cheese.  Every task demands a particular expertise, so whatever you attempt to do (unless you’re a poly-skilled professional, or spend your life watching YouTube) you’re going to waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel.

And finally:

8 – You can’t get there from here. – This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens regularly enough to be included here.  Basically, there’s always a danger that the first touch on any project will set off a chain of disasters, each more expensive and time-consuming than the last.  The leaking faucet that eventually becomes a $5,000 plumbing job.  The birthday cake that ends up with a new stove.  The computer upgrade that resets your Netflix account to Serbia and your banking information to Good Shepherd Savings and Loan in Azerbaijan.  Seriously, I have a friend who tried to buy a paper shredder and is locked out of Amazon forever.  (Even they don’t know why.)

Yeah, we all have jobs to do, but I’ve discovered that only paid professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists get anything out of these mundane tasks.  The rest of us just have to grit and bear it.