Finding balance a balancing act

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied
The garden wants a good weed. The pantry needs clearing. The fridge, a good cleaning. The car needs maintaining. The house interior needs painting. The house exterior needs painting. The cedar bits are crying out for stain. The other car's demanding attention. There are books whose spines want taping. Tops with buttons ripe for stitching. Trees need pruning. Tomatoes sprawl for picking out. Shopping wants doing. Dust needs unsettling. Letters, writing. Edits, editing. Teeth need much more regular flossing. Vitamins. Stretches. Firewood. Toenails. Laundry cupboards. Husbands. Flutes. Files.

Life needs maintenance. Not just on weekends with a "Labour" in them, but regularly. Such is the untrending, starchy nature of maintenance, as opposed to its frivolous cousin, D.I.Y. If maintenance is darned wool, washed in the right stuff, D.I.Y. is a polyester put-together. If we move on fast, perhaps nobody will pick holes in that metaphor. Moving on fast is too much of what we do. Maintenance requires we slow down and look. And care. And mend.

There is a kind of love called maintenance, writes UA Fanthorpe in her poem, Atlas, "which checks the insurance, and doesn't forget/ The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs ... which upholds/ The permanently rickety elaborate/ Structures of living, which is Atlas." Poor old Atlas, holding up the sky on his own. All that responsibility.

If you, too, spend too much time reading online instead of paying attention to the maintenance of things, you might have come across Caryatids. They're like a female version of Atlas, but they usually hang out in groups, holding up big Greek ceilings with their heads. Named after the nut tree sisterhood of Karyae, their staunch togetherness could be read as a powerful metaphor for getting things done all girl power and together, if you were looking for that sort of thing.

It's remarkably easy to spend time photoshopping friends' faces on to columns of Caryatids as an Important Political Statement instead of addressing anything on the maintenance list. This may be partly because we're selling ourselves great societal lines in planned obsolescence and outsourcing that lead us to either buy something or pay someone rather than maintaining what we've got. But also, we're lazy. And it's more fun, and easier than addressing how we're supposed to help hold up the ceiling and pick the clothes up off the bathroom floor and separate them into colour-coded washing piles at the same time. So we carry on doing new things and buying new things rather than addressing the core of things.

Much like the house that needs painting inside and out, the life that needs maintenance isn't just exterior. We need to give ourselves weather and sustenance and water and brainfood. And that's just in order to survive. Unless we're bench-pressing planets like Atlas or neck-staunching ceilings along with the Caryatids, we're also going to lose 3%-8% of our muscle mass every decade from our 30s and lots of our neural connections to apathy and Netflix. And let's not segue to the needs for the planet. Maintenance fast becomes an uphill treadmill. So where's the time for fun and games?

There's a fine balance to be achieved - it's optimum for the vehicle of life to be running somewhere between the old dunger in the paddock and the showpiece that gets its mags buffed every Saturday. A fine line that sees us taut enough and tuned up, but loose enough to play. A maintenance schedule, maybe? A list pinned to the fridge to determine who cleans the fridge? It's too much of a cop out to say that some of us aren't hardwired to get with the programme. We're in this together. Life needs maintenance, to keep, as Fanthorpe put it, our "suspect edifice upright in air, as Atlas did the sky".



Go Zen, both of you. Essentially, this is focused, unconcerned, thinking, and fixing stuff in disciplined slow motion. A motorcycle is good to tinker with, or 'maintain', as that old hippie author is wont to write.

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