Who Loves a Business Trip?

I’m on a business trip for a few days. Nothing fancy, just a hop on Amtrak to Baltimore for a couple of days.

I love business trips. Although I’ve been traveling for work a little for 20+ years, it’s still thrilling somehow. I feel like Peggy from Mad Men with her smug satisfaction, even if it means staying at a budget hotel, drinking low-quality whiskey.

Or, in my case, a fruit, veggie and hummus plate from Amtrak…

Business trips cure my craving for alone time. Something about a hotel room, all to myself, a flight without a companion, even a meal alone feels great. I get time with coworkers during the day, or I interact with lots of strangers at a conference, but any time after that is MINE. At home there’s always something that needs doing, or my husband wants to chat, or the TV is blaring… Always something demands my time. 

Most importantly, I get lonely after a few days, or I wish I was home again. And then I am – feeling refreshed.

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Yes, I Do Windows

The windows in the kitchen badly needed cleaning, so who cleans them? Me.

Another job for The Distaff Side!

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My husband didn’t even notice when he got home this afternoon. He’s a pretty clean guy. When we were dating, he’d always spruce up the kitchen and bathroom, freshly vacuum the carpet and sweep away clutter. But there would be dust everywhere. And the windows and mirrors were never washed. He really just doesn’t “see” it. I guess like how some people don’t “see” that they’ve gained 50 pounds. Willful ignorance is more like it.

“I don’t do windows,” is one of those catch phrases that comes from a life of ceaseless toil. A housekeeper or maid was expected to do all kinds of jobs, but windows were such a thankless and irksome task that they could reasonably refuse. It’s the kind of job you need to hire special for.

When we first bought our home, built in 1908, I guessed that the windows had not been cleaned since 1970. (That’s the year I was born, and I am old as dirt, so it made sense at the time.) I called around to some window-washing companies to get a quote for doing our house, and I was laughed right off the phone. I lived with the dirt.

Years ago we replaced the drafty, rattling old wood windows with newfangled ones that tilt in for easy cleaning. Excuses over, time to get out the Windex and paper towels. Don’t tell me that vinegar and newspaper are the way to do this, in an effective and environmentally responsible way. All you get for your troubles is a big mess. Hey, I take public transportation and bike whenever possible – so what if I burn through half a bottle of Windex and half a roll of paper towels?

Anyway, the windows are nice and clean now. I can look forward to looking through them all winter. And in the spring, they will probably need to be cleaned. Again.

A “Friend” at Work

A woman I work closely with had a goodbye party this week. I didn’t attend. Notice I did not say “a friend from work.” I would like to think of her as my friend, but she’s not, really.

Her husband got a job in a new city, so they’re moving. She’s going to keep her job, but work remotely from now on with occasional trips to see up at the headquarters. She did not want to move, does not want to work remotely, and is actively and vocally dreading the whole thing.

If she were a “friend,” I would feel more comfortable telling her what I really thought about this. My greatest regret in my career is that I put my husband’s career ahead of my own. He was older and more established at the time, so I deferred to him. Today, I have advanced much further in my career – perhaps as far as I can go. He’s in exactly the same place, doing exactly the same thing, and counting down the days (many many days) to retirement.

If she were my friend, I’d tell her not to defer, not to consider her career second-best. It isn’t, for one thing – she’s at a higher level than he is and is more established at a premier company. She also loves living in the city and loves being in the office. She will be miserable working from home full-time and living in a provincial city. Also, her husband sounds very controlling. They got married not even a year ago. She’s forever saying her husband “lets her” do this and that. I find this disturbing. She’s all of 30 years old, and she has a long way to go. I am 47 and I have a bit of wisdom to offer. Yet, all this is none of my business.

I might have considered her a friend, but it’s clear she doesn’t feel this way about me. I actually heard her talking on the phone about me (our desks are next to each other). She started to say “a friend at work” when she stopped. “A fr….. a coworker,” is what came out instead. So she actually stopped herself from calling me a friend, while on a personal phone call, and sitting right next to me.

So,  I keep my mouth shut, skip her going-away party, and count her out.

Can you really have “friends” at work anyway? I was close to a few people at my old job, and we’ve tried to stay in touch. When we get together, though, we talk excessively about the old times, or about the current situation at work if they’re still at the same place. Is this true friendship, or just affinity born of professional convenience?

I have two true “friends” from work – both women I worked with decades ago. Perhaps distance is needed to assess whether a true friendship is in the cards. We’ll see in another 20 years who I still consider a friend.

“Women’s Work”

I’ve had these garden gloves for years. I never noticed the label: Womanswork.

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I love these gloves because they fit perfectly. No wonder – Womanswork is owned by a woman and many key staff people are women and relatives of the company’s founder. (For more info, see their Website.)

Wow does the term “woman’s work” get a bad rap. I have been watching this BBC show “Victorian Slum House” (airing now in the US), one of these shows where modern people try to live in historical times, and this old guy who probably would have been dead in the 19th century is all upset because he’s stuck doing “woman’s work” – making artificial flowers to sell to milliners. He tried “man’s work” at a bell foundry and put his back out.

I felt sorry for him, because back pain is horrific. But I turned sour at his disdain for the flower-making job. It put food on the table and kept a roof over the head of his whole family of five for a week. Why, is his mind, is making a bell more important than making an ornament for a hat? Is it because a bell is big and heavy and a flower is tiny and light? Because the bell costs more? Because a bell is “manly” in some way that a flower is not?

Both iron bells and artificial flowers are fripperies in life, one might say. Not necessary. Not important. One is not inherently better than another. But all work has value. All work matters and should be treated with respect, just as all workers should be treated with dignity.

A lot of young men find themselves out of work nowadays. That’s for a lot of reasons, but one reason is because of their disdain for “women’s work.” Health care is the largest sector of the US economy, yet it’s predominantly female. So is education; except at the collegiate level, female teachers and staff outnumber men greatly. Men need to get over this idea that only certain kinds of work are worthy of them. Or, they can stand back and watch the women continue to outshine them at every turn.

Ceaseless Toil and Spring Cleaning

Yesterday was a marathon spring cleaning adventure. Five hours I spent washing and vacuuming and dusting and decluttering. And I’m not done yet.

Is there a more thankless task than housework?

I decided to budget my time. I set the oven for a five-hour self-clean cycle and gave myself five hours to do what I could.

The oven racks needed a good wash. How the hell do these things get so greasy? And why can’t I leave them in the oven in self-clean mode?

Bah.

We rotated the carpets and vacuumed, moving all the furniture out to do it properly. Aha! That’s where all the dead bugs went! 

Gag.

I filled two vacuum cleaner bags with lovely assortments of dust, spider webs, fireplace soot, carpet fuzz, dog hair, crispy needles from the long-gone Christmas tree, and whatnot.

Gross.

Another job for the distaff side done and dusted, literally.

Plant a Tree

I bought a tree yesterday. An Eastern redbud, variety “Carolina Sweetheart,” with red variegated leaves and dark pink flowers.

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We went to a fancy garden center to get it. Few places scream “distaff side” more than a fancy garden center. Farming is  a man’s world. The garden is where the gals go.

We no sooner arrived than the extras from Central Casting appeared: The skinny old WASP-y woman in khakis and tennis shoes, the tummy pooch from mothering 3 or 4 children, broad-brimmed hat shading her face, deeply lined from too much sun and too many cigarettes in her youth. The Earth Mother in jangling bracelets, who let it be known to all within earshot that she drove up from New Jersey that morning because she just had to have such and whatnot. The 30-something French-manicured mom who wants to rip out every living thing from her newly purchased property that she hates and replace it with other living things that she loves, for now.

Some male employees took them around, showing off the plants and listening to these women’s garden glories. The message was plain on these men’s faces, under their hipster beards: “Whatever you want, lady.”

I fled to the ornamental tree section and browsed the redbuds. A young woman who worked at the garden center asked if I needed help. She was maybe 5’2″ with dark hair clubbed into a short ponytail under a floppy sun hat. She wore black-framed glasses and sturdy boots and dirty jeans. Under the V-neck of her T-shirt I glimpsed part of a tattoo of a magnolia blossom (I knew it was a magnolia because under the blossom, “magnolia grandiflora” skated across in script). I also glimpsed a nest of curly auburn armpit hair.

We got to talking, and guess what? She lives a couple blocks away from me. She rides her bike to work in the garden center – at least an hour’s ride up some steep hills. She was funny and knowledgeable and confident. In short, I wanted to be her.

OK, not her exactly. She’s probably half my age, for starters, and no way do I want to be in my 20s again. But her life as I glimpsed it and assumed it to be appealed to me. How nice it would be, to do what I love on my own terms? I don’t know if I’d stop shaving my pits, but I’d love to wear my handmade clothes, eat my fill from my garden, write and just be, on my own terms, more often than I do today.

What’s stopping me? Fear of poverty, I can tell you that. I’ve always been driven to earn money and achieve more and more in my career. That’s brought me to a big job at a big company in a big city, living in a big house with big bills to pay. Has it brought happiness? Not really. I enjoy this life, for sure. But part me of always wonders what it would be like without it all.

When I was in my 20s I tried the bohemian life, but bolted for convention quickly. You marry, buy a house, get your first “real” job. Maybe you have a kid or two. You may want to go back to a simpler time, but you also need to be a grown-up, so you keep going.

Someone with a better sense of humor than mine once said: “If everyone actually did what they wanted to do when they were young, the world would have way too many ballerinas and not nearly enough garbagemen.”

True enough. So I will plant my tree, inhale its floral scent in spring, sit under its shade in summer, collect its autumn leaves, gaze at its naked limbs in winter, and think about what might have been.

Funkytown

I’ve been in a funk for the past week. I was on a business trip to India, which was exhausting and exciting and fun and scary all at the same time. When I got home I dealt with jet lag for a couple of days. But there’s some other kind of lag going on still.

Since I was gone for a week, it seems like everyone has been making up for it by being on my ass about everything. The house needed cleaning. My husband’s needy and whiny. Stuff piled up at work. Bills needed paying. Even the damn dog is like, “Pet me! Pet me NOW!”

All I want is to sit somewhere, quietly and alone, and just not have to deal with anything. I actually had a fantasy of just getting a hotel room so I could sit in it and be quiet for a while with nothing to do, no place to go, no one expecting anything of me.

Of course I didn’t do that…

And because I am pretty out of sorts I am making it worse for myself by hauling around resentment. I struggle to ask people for what I need. I just go along, silently, tired and annoyed, one day after the other.

I finally chose to take a week off in a couple of weeks. This little vacation is meant to get my garden in, and I will definitely do some gardening that week. But mostly I look forward to a few days when I don’t really HAVE to do anything. I will do what I want, as much as possible.

I need to frame this vacation to my husband, or I risk him taking over. Whenever I have some time off, errands always pop up. Or he comes home early from work. Or friends want to get together. Or I have to wait around the house all day for FedEx or the chimney cleaning guy or some such nuisance.

I told my husband Friday that I am taking off a week in May. I am run down, I said. I need some time to just relax and get a break from work. I really don’t want to be bothered with anything, OK?

OK. We’ll see.