Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The project philosophy as marriage theory

Ahhhhhhhhhh, a few coerced moments on the computer at last. I nearly had to arm-wrestle for access to the *#!?*& thing.

We tackled one of the aforementioned home improvement projects last week. If it weren't raining right now, and if the ladders had been put away and the porch swept back into shape, I'd provide a photo: The front of our home now sports lovely, chocolate-colored railing, trim, and gutters. What a difference! Perhaps next time I'll show you the nearly edible loveliness.

For now, though, all that recent work and (sometimes reluctant) teamwork has me thinking about projects in general. It seems to me that all projects follow a similar course. Professional projects, outdoor projects, remodeling projects, whatever—they all proceed in roughly the same fashion.

• First, the project looms, sometimes larger than life. Even small projects, when examined in detail, can be a bit daunting. All those minute points, hidden complications, the sheer thought of attempting such tasks can deter even the most brave and seasoned worker. What? We'll need a taller ladder than we own? Will we have to rent it? We need to scrape all that first? I never noticed how intricate is the scrollwork on this crazy trim... What a pain.

• Then, the details are wrestled into submission. The project is placed into sections, is ordered properly, different portions are prioritized, and the work begins. A ladder is borrowed, paint and supplies are purchased, work is tackled. At first, it may go smoothly, stay on schedule, follow the expected course... The workers' confidence may soar, and additional projects might even be discussed in the heat of success.

• And then, an unforeseen obstacle. Something unexpected happens, or is uncovered. Darnit, the eaves under this gutter are rotten. And the gutter is leaking and clogged at the same time—apparently hasn't functioned properly in years. We need wood, we need more caulking, we need sealant... But we will conquer. Camaraderie reigns yet.

• The project proceeds. More unforeseen obstacles; even with the dark shade, two coats are most definitely needed. Rain is forecasted, days of it for Pete's sake. And the rest of the household chores are looming—they have no respect for the big job in process. They cry out for attention as well. And the neighbors, those friendly chatty neighbors, keep distracting the workers from the job at hand. Interference! Where's the ref?

• At last, crunch time is reached. A new away-from-home work schedule hangs in the near future, in addition to inclement weather on its way, not to mention that one worker is planning to travel out of town in just a few days. All those factors bring about the just-buckle-down-and-get-it-done mentality in at least one team member, and that member's panic and grim determination eventually bleed onto the other members; work commences with steely force, marked by new intensity. The neighbors sense this and steer clear, recognizing the set of the workers' mouths, seeing and knowing that such a speechless, driven approach can only mean that "Just work, dammit" has become the mindset and small talk, even among the workers, has been set upon a shelf for a friendlier future time.

• And then, achievements accumulate, genuine and observable achievements, and the workers are fueled for the finish. Maybe they're still speaking, maybe not, but work continues at a still-somewhat-breakneck pace because the end is in sight. We can taste it.

• Finally, it's done, or so close to done that it feels done, and life can go back to normal, whatever normal looks like.

And that's the project. Nearly every project I've ever been involved with. And you know what I'm realizing? Marriage itself is a project—a project that happens to contain countless other smaller projects. To say this has been an odd, stressful summer would be an understatement. And I'm seeing that daily, especially in stress, this whole project procedure also describes intimate personal relationships a bit. The initial thought of marriage is intimidating, then do-able, then you plan it, then you take the plunge, obstacles arise and you work through them, more arise, you wonder what you were thinking, you get through it, normal is achieved once again, and this pattern repeats many, many times. Occasionally, the obstacles encountered are mind-numbing, might have kept you from starting the project if you'd known it would involve this... You work through them. You have no choice. It would be nice if the majority of married time was spent in that clear-cut, prioritized period where work is accomplished and people feel good about it. But many days, it's not there. Sometimes it's in that "just work, just get it done" phase where the only thing that keeps you working is that you started it and you'll finish it, by God.

Thankfully, marriage includes many moments between projects—happy, carefree periods of employment, of busy but not frenetic schedules, times to enjoy life and have plenty and take things for granted. Memories that are savored when the excrement hits the fan and suddenly every conversation is short and loaded, when Just Work, Dammit is the phrase on your lips and you have to bite your tongue and keep pressing forward, clinging to the knowledge that you made a promise, made a covenant, and you're in it to stay.

I don't think we'll be starting any new projects right now. Yes, there's time, there's man- and woman-power. But I think for now, we'll just savor this moment between projects. We'll get back on a schedule, we'll simply BE for a bit. Down the road there'll be time for more projects, for discomfort aplenty. And it will come. Oh, it will come.


Mel said...

thanks. {: )

chris h. said...

I am very much a "just work, dammit" project worker. Lower your head and plow through. And you're so right -- marriage is like that sometimes, too!