living underground in the real world

the loneliness of the long distance runner

(I’ve given up resisting using songs as post titles. Sorry, people who do not share my exact same music tastes, aka everyone!)

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Everyone who does volunteer work knows that it’s often a living hell, especially for us self-motivated super productive solitary types. Despite how crazy it makes me, I currently divide my slim volunteering hours between two groups. Group 1 is a good core group of mostly women who are really getting shit done in our community. Group 2 is a loose shambling group of mostly women who have been hacking away at a project for almost three years and have pretty much nothing to show for it.

The incredible difficulty of this group is making me see that although I’ve been working with nonprofit and community groups since I was fifteen, I am finally getting good at it and it’s finally getting a little easier. Every one of our meetings is a 1.5 hour long series of icepicks jammed into our collective eyes. We get into fights, we passive aggressively squabble like children. We can’t see the end in sight. Every meeting feels like square one. The core group keeps shifting and half of our meetings are meta-meetings spent talking about the meeting agenda, or how the group should be structured, or problems with the last meeting.

But we keep going. And we grumble and gossip and complain. After every meeting I am reminded of the feeling I get when it’s 3 am and I have so much more cooking to do, when I’m exhausted and breathless and know that even whining about how hard my job is will use up energy I need to get the job done. So I just keep working, glum and wondering why I structure my life the way I do. When I get home and sleep the next morning until noon and have three luxurious days off ahead of me, I remember how much the hard work is worth it – but I’m truly not sure that day will ever come with Group 2.

But incrementally, pretty much imperceptibly, things are changing. We’re making progress so slow that it can’t be measured. We’re learning how to like each other more, or at least how to work together – which is often even better than liking each other. I see my bad behavior in meetings as if I am outside myself and resolve to stop interrupting, stop rudely doodling.

In the car on the way home from the last meeting I realized that I like how hard it is. Friction. The long haul. This is what I wanted my life to be – difficult. It’s the same with my job. I can’t believe I can actually admit that I like the exhaustion and seeming impossibility more than what comes easily, but it’s true. Selma from Bloodroot is always driving that point home to me – people want to use shortcuts in their cooking because they think they lack time. But things that comes easily come cheaply, and who wants a cheap life? I’ll make my pie crust from scratch, thank you.

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