My physical therapist didn’t sympathize much when I told him vacuuming seemed to trigger incapacitating pain. Just said to hire a maid. But it took Makers: Women Who Make America, a documentary on PBS, saying that one way to know how successful the women’s movement in the 1970s was to look at who does how much of the housework to get me seriously considering it. And vacuuming myself one more time, of course, just to be sure. With the same result hampering my day today, I picked up the phone.
You might ask, as I did:
Q1 Hmm, does hiring another woman to clean the house better than doing this myself?
A1 Absolutely. She’s a small business person providing a service for about twice what I hope to pay. She is Spanish-speaking and probably a recent immigrant. I heard small children in the background on the phone, so I’ll be helping support another woman’s goals and children.
Q2 Did I freak myself out hiring a maid?
A2 Yep. It goes against all my farmgirl conditioning and I had to sit with “I’m not strong enough” for awhile before all the interesting little birds distracted me from my self-pity.
Q3 How did I make the startling, healing leap to changing my behavior to arrange for my needs to be met?
A3 Two sources.
1. I just read Columbia Professor of Business Sheena Iyengar’s Art of Choosing, which elucidates many of the subliminal forces at work on our freewill. This may not surprise you: not all forces shaping our choices are concerned with our best interest.
The most startling was a report from cruel animal tests in the ‘60s that showed that two-thirds of dogs who had not had the experience of being able to control a shock eventually would not leave an electrified plate even if they were shown how to jump over a low barrier. The dogs who had been able to control the shock quickly learned how to escape.
This has huge ramifications for those of us in constant pain being willing to try new things to manage our pain. Iyengar goes on to report that in studying the effect of optimism on perseverance, the rats swimming in jars of water who had experienced a successful escape swam as long as the last survivors of a random trial before they drowned. “In 1957 prolific psychobiology researcher at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine” concluded that a rat’s conviction of success is a better indicator of perseverance than the survival instinct, which all rats shared.
2. And I’ve been reading Jung and thinking about synchronicity and my deep need for the numinous. I went to look at my business cards to take to an upcoming conference and at the bottom of the stack was a card for a maid. “Faith Cleaning” it said, and her name is Emma. So, I will become a lady of my manor.
When I told Emma the square footage to get an estimate, all she said was “small, then” and then a figure twice what I hoped to pay. We’ll start once a month on Tuesday, after I get back from the Associated Writing Programs conference in Boston where I’ll be doing the “wholesome moment” writing prompt to kickstart a panel on writing workshops in unusual venues (addiction recovery clinics, refuges for homeless youth, jails, hospitals, hospice) at 3 p.m. on Saturday (“Where in the World is the Writer in Residence,” Room 102, Plaza Level). I’m hoping our panel of prompts and conversation will be a reflective end-of-conference creative time for us all.