08 May 2010

That’s not drudgery … THIS is drudgery!

I worked with someone a few years ago in a cube-farm industrial IT environment. You know the kind of place … it’s the land of Dilbert. Yes, there really are places like that, and way more humans are confined to them than is just and proper. The environment doesn’t seem to destroy absolutely all of the inhabitants, but there are a lot of casualties, and the toll on the human psyche is pretty significant.

Anyway, one day on a short break in the ongoing slog of our software project, she mentioned her dream of a little house by the sea – all she ever wanted, she said, was a little house by the sea, with a garden and a few chickens.

“They told us that mucking out chicken coops and chopping wood and hauling water and cooking on a woodstove was drudgery.
They were wrong.
That’s not drudgery … THIS is!

Now I’ll readily admit that mucking out chicken coops isn’t fun. Chopping wood and hauling water is hard work, and it’s unpleasant in bad weather or if you are feeling ill. Cooking on a woodstove takes time and planning and practice. Yes, it’s all work, definitely.

But it’s not drudgery. You muck out the coop and you stand back and say, “There! That’s better.” You chop the wood and say, “Good! We’ll be warm this winter.” You haul the water and say, “There, those plants are not thirsty anymore … ooh look, a tomato is ready!” You cook on the woodstove and have the opportunity to actually think about what you are making, to slow down to the speed of life, and acutally be present while you do the necessary task of feeding the crew. And you get to taste the stew while it simmers.

This is nothing like cube-farm IT work. For that, you get out of bed, make yourself presentable for a Business Environment and drive an hour through rush hour traffic to get to the office. You swipe your passkey to get in, and stash your lunch in the desk drawer, hoping you remembered to stick the ice pack in or you’ll have to go out for fast food. You log in and start work, knowing that every keystroke can be monitored by the Powers that Be if they feel the need, and you spend the day creating and/or breaking stuff that exists nowhere but in cyberspace, and which, in all likelihood, is going to annoy the people who are paying for it because although it does everything the documentation says it has to do, there are half a dozen common-sense oversights that stare you in the face all day and drive you nuts … but you can’t fix them, because the documentation was signed off as it is, and if the customer wants something other than what they signed off on, they’ll have to submit a change request. Oh, and pay for the modification they are requesting, to add the really obvious thing that was either assumed or forgotten in the initial round of design. By the time you start the trek back to your vehicle (parked ten minutes from the office building, because anything closer costs an arm and a leg) you are wrung out and frustrated, uncomfortable in your now-wrinkled business clothes, and overdosed on caffeine and junk food. You drive back home through rush hour traffic, find something to microwave for dinner, and crash in one fashion or another for the evening – assuming you don’t have errands to run or places to shuttle your children or homework to supervise or some emergency work project that absolutely has to be done before morning so you brought it home and will do it on your laptop. Then you fall into bed, get up the next morning, and do it all again.

Now see, THAT is drudgery. That kind of existence eats you up from the inside, knowing that all the hours you spend at work every day amount to nothing more than shuffling pixels from one screen to another, and making money for several middlemen while you are at it. You die a little at a time on the inside, day after day, until you’re just a drone on autopilot, periodically waking up enough to wonder why you bother with all this hurry and hullaballoo.

Thankfully, I did manage to escape the cube farm five years ago,  just in time to prevent me from going right off the deep end into despair, and right around the same time I found Apple Jack Creek. I do still have one foot in each world – my day job is still in IT (with a small, honest firm that takes excellent care of their staff and customers – and where the stupid annoying stuff gets fixed without anyone demanding paperwork first!) … but my heart is at the farm.

So, yeah, I have extra work to do – I have to keep track of the schedule for the farm jobs, work on infrastructure like fences and gates, shear sheep, plant and harvest in the garden, and deliver eggs and meat to our customers … but I have a lot of help. The Boy and The Reluctant Farmer carry all the day to day tasks, bless them both (The Boy says, “Yeah, it’s work, but it’s not all that bad … well except when it’s a blizzard or something.”).

Most of all, it doesn’t feel like drudgery, most of the time. Oh, it’s work, I don’t deny it, and yes, there are days when nobody wants to haul hay (again) or figure out why the tank heater isn’t working (again), or round up the escaped animals (again), or pound in fence posts (again).

But there aren’t any days when nobody wants to watch the lambs bounce around in the pasture, or be entertained by the chickens scrambling for the kitchen scraps tossed out the door, or enjoy the bounty of our own harvest at dinner.

It’s not drudgery. It’s living in the real world.


  1. Kansas Cousin9:20 am

    Once again, you hit it on the head. I still read your blog every chance I get and am still imspired by my cousins to the north. Happy Mothers Day.

  2. Anonymous7:55 pm

    As someone that worked [almost] with you in that cube farm, I can relate. (And yes, I am still doing my thing there.) I have been following your blog since you left. It's very refreshing.


  3. Well said! I too escaped the drudgery of a Dilbert world in high tech. It's great to see real physical products of my labour now all over the house, garden and table.

    But I'm also glad that someone works in IT and makes all this blogging possible!

  4. Kansas Cousin, we are always so happy to hear from you! Thank you!

    Colette, wow, I didn't know you were reading here, how totally cool. I don't miss the downtown hassle in the least - but when I drive to work with the sun in my eyes and repeat it on the way home, I am often reminded of your purposeful decision to live EAST of where you work to avoid just such a problem!

    Ev, I am grateful for the IT grunts who keep the virtual universe ticking as well ... but boy there's just nothing like building and growing real stuff, is there?

    Every day, I'm just so darn happy to be *home*. :)

  5. What a great read. Gives me hope that there are options, and I can hope (and plan) for the same as what you've done. I too will have a 'reluctant farmer', but it'll be fun to expose her to 'life' as you described.

  6. Duhgee, there are *always* options. And it doesn't have to be the whole big schmoo, either - a garden in the backyard does wonders for a person's mental health (and diet) and more and more municipalities are allowing backyard chickens for eggs.

    I even found that 'productive hobbies' (for me, knitting and spinning) make a difference to the mental health of an IT grunt: a knitter I knew (also an IT person) said she loved to be able to say "see? that inch of fabric didn't exist this morning - and now it does."

    One step at a time ... and then one day you wake up with a dairy cow, twelve sheep, a flock of chickens and more cats than you thought possible. :D

  7. Dear "Apple Jack Creek"--I hear you loud and clear, and wish you well on your blog. I took the link option from the Archdruid Report.
    Best regards! Ariel

  8. Thank you Ariel! I do love the Archdrduid's writings and the community in the comboxes there. Thank you so much for coming this way!

  9. Ha, been there, done that have the (mental) scars to prove it too!

  10. Yep, DieselDaryl ... and now you have corn and lettuce growing in your backyard! Growing stuff must be part of the road to healing.


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