Walking to work Tuesday morning, I happened to turn my head as I passed a small office building. There was a woman in a back room, one light on, washing out a coffee pot. She looked to be in her mid-fifties, was a little heavyset, wearing something floral that no doubt crinkled and rasped instead of breathing. I wondered about her as I walked. I figured her name was probably something responsible and stalwart sounding: Pat or Lou Ann, or Barb…yes, definitely Barb.
I wondered how long Barb had been working at the office. She looked pretty comfortable as she leaned into that sink. Was it long enough for people to start taking her for granted and forgetting who made the coffee, watered the plants, re-ordered the paper clips? I started thinking about all the people who are up early, many of us in the dark of deep night or early morning, to make sure that the scene is set for the next day. Selfless magicians making lunches by the light of time clock on the microwave. Generals making copies for multiple levels of differentiated curriculum. Janitors slow dancing weary mops over wet floors like Fred and Ginger stuck in Purgatory. The list goes on, and I started to compose an ode to them all, feeling it was the only thing that was right after the enormity of their sacrifices…
…except that it wasn’t. It was making me sick. I stopped and stared at a lawn of purple blossoms digging electric holes into the green. “Fuck that,” I told them in no uncertain terms. “Fuck that all morning and into the afternoon!” Now, I don’t usually curse at flowers, but I suddenly found myself SOOO angry!!
Why do we glorify the endless sacrifice of these scene-setters? And besides being glorified for it, why and how can we the scene-setters continue to find it so attractive? I know I did, and to some extent still do. I was the teacher who thought through the lesson so thoroughly most days that I had removed every obstacle that was humanly possible for me to remove from student’s learning. All it took for them was to step into this miracle, and I loved creating this open land for them. “But you were just doing your job.” But was I? In making them believe in seamless beginnings, middles, and ends, was I taking something from them? Are we making it too easy to have stars in the eyes but no feet on the ground? All the miracles I know of have moving human parts; susceptible to wear, rust, and all other conditions that make replacement parts necessary.
This is not to say these people aren’t appreciated–there is Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Teacher Appreciation Week, Administrative Assistant Week. However, appreciation isn’t really the point (what is the point? maybe the hindrance to community?). This is also not to say that we should stop preparing for everything. I went to a class a few months back now where the facilitator so wanted to “co-create” with us, that she spent almost an hour of a four hour workshop talking about choices for what we could do next. By the end of the day I wanted to kick her woo-woo butt to Woo-wootopia. In theory the idea of co-creation thrills me, but in practice it is a lot harder embody in a way that works for everyone.
So, how do you set the scene without making the scene setting invisible?
No, it’s not a pointless question. I have to ask all manner of questions till I figure out why, almost a week later, I’m still thinking about dependable Barb in the window. What if she, what if all of us who handle logistics and make it possible for important people to do important things, just didn’t show up one day? What if we were gone for more than a day? Would people’s ownership of the underpinnings of organizations change? If nothing else, we’d all get some good sleep.
I know not all scene setters are as meticulous as I was. Maybe Barb only remembers to wash the coffee pot once every few weeks when she hears someone remark that the coffee tastes funky. For some people a scene setting job is just another job, same as any. My worry is for those of us that think it won’t get done if we don’t do it, for those of us who get up in the dark to steal something back from the law of scarcity, who don’t have another outlet for love besides the relentless attention to details. I think those folks need to do themselves and us a favor and go on vacation, remember there is plenty everywhere.