Choose Your Own Grind Adventure

In video games, “grinding” is doing repetitive tasks over and over to increase your in-game scores or for some in-game benefit, such as mining a bunch to get the materials you need to craft a weapon or better tool.

Real life is like a grind. No, scratch that: Real life is a selection of different grinds from which you can choose. And, as a bonus, some grinds do not lead to better outcomes: some grinds are maintenance grinds which are repetitive tasks that you do just to keep even.

For example, the housecleaning grind. Nogglestead is a fairly large domicile, and I’ve recently become pretty dilligent about cleaning it with an increased frequency: I dust the upstairs every week, clean the bathrooms every week, dust and vacuum the lower level every two weeks, dust my office every couple of weeks, sweep and Swiffer the hallway weekly, and tackle other tidiness projects as I can. This takes, what, six to eight hours on weekends and some time during the weekdays if I want to get ahead.

I’ve also been on mowing the lawn frequently and running the line trimmer, including edging the driveway and trimming the ditch in addition to around the fence and house. Mowing takes three to three and a half hours, but it’s falling out of weekly as the summer tends to drier weather. Line trimming sessions are limited to the three rechargeable batteries we have for the line trimmer, to about thirty to forty minutes until the batteries need recharging. So it takes three to five sessions, say two hours per mowing, to finish the job–and in many cases early this year, it has then been about time to start the cycle all over.

It’s also time for the quadrennial fence-painting. I say it’s quadrennial, but that’s because I start over every four years, and it takes me three or four years to get the whole fence painted. If I paint it all in a cycle, which I did not last time; although I got the exterior painted and the interior of the pool fence, I skipped the interior side of the fence (one side is the exterior of the pool fence). It generally takes a while as I get the idea to do it, and then when it’s cool in the spring, it’s rainy, and when it’s not rainy, it’s summer, and it’s hot. In the past, I have tried to do it on the weekends, but after a couple weekends of painting all day and maybe getting the exterior of the fence painted, I decide I want to have some weekends in the summer not dedicated to painting, and by the time I get back to it, it’s next year. Or the beginning of the next cycle.

This year I am trying a new tactic: Doing three segments of the fence (a segment being the 8 foot length between each post) every day. It takes twenty or thirty minutes in the morning to clean the section and then an hour in the afternoon or evening to paint it, but by doing a bit every day on the weekdays as well as the weekends, I don’t feel as though it’s consuming all of my weekends. I’ve been fairly dilligent for the first week and a half, but I’m starting to have skip days, which might lead to “See you next year!” sooner rather than later.

Also, I’m running out of paint from the last painting (four years ago) which is a different color than eight years ago because the manufacturers apparently switch the colors in that interim. I thought I had twelve or thirteen gallons of this color (Mission Brown) but only had ten, which might be enough for the exterior and–what? Interior of the pool deck? Interior of the yard? I have maybe ten gallons of the eight-year-old color, too, so I will have to decide whether to mix the two if the color will be close or to try to buy another couple hundred dollars of Mission Brown if it’s still available. Which is not a decision I have to reach today, although I might paint one picket today the old color to compare them.

I’ve focused on these particular grinds because, well, I don’t know. They need to be done, and the house and grounds look nice, but I don’t get any great satisfaction from the work itself, although it does allow me to touch what’s real instead of staring at screens for fun and profit. They provide me with the sense that I am spending my time doing something and not just wasting my time looking at the Internet or mindlessly playing a twenty-year-old version of Civilization.

Note that the aforementioned grinds do not lead to a completion of a project where I can say, “Look what I did.” They’re just the end of a cycle which will begin again soon. Within the week or so for most.

Work and “career”-related tasks/activity represent another kind of grind. As you might know, my continued employment is nebulous at best and unlikely at worst, so I’ve got choices and tasks including throwing myself into the job in hopes that my employer will keep me; applying and interviewing for other jobs (a lot of applying, not a lot of interviewing), and/or learning new skills to improve my future employability, not to mention thinking about continuing to develop any of the applications I have in mind which I start but then run into frustration and abandon.

I spend ten hours a workday on these things to a varying degree and off-core-business-hours thinking and worrying about them.

Another maintenance grind: Self-improvement, at least through exercise. I won’t actually do a triathlon this year as I’ve not had much time to exercise. For most of the last two years, I’ve been attending martial arts classes sporadically and going to the YMCA very infrequently. So I am not as good as I once was, and if I work real hard and spend several hours a week at it, I will get back to maybe near my peak and can continue to grind to maintain that level of skills and conditioning.

And each of these activities takes hours away that I could be spending with my nuclear family in the remaining weeks or months when we four are all together in one household.

I guess adulthood is, as the Philosopher said, what to leave in, what to leave out. Prioritizing among competing interests. But each day presents fairly steep tradeoffs, it seems sometimes.

And, yes, in my gloom in the grind, I do realize that each of the aforementioned burdens is a blessing: I have a nice house, a family, a job, and my health. But my own personal Wormwood has convinced me to sometimes bemoan that I don’t have more time for…. What, I don’t know. Something that results in a completion, success, and acclaim, I guess. Some ideal that is impossible to achieve and, frankly, is difficult to conceive or to plan to achieve.

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