Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Praise of Mediocrity

by Kerry Blair

My grandmother was a great believer in the idiom Any job worth doing is worth doing well. In fact, considering how long ago she began saying it, it may have been her idea in the first place.
One case in point for which she is particularly famous is table-setting. No matter the time of the day, the day of the week, the week of the year, and/or the scarcity of the food, Nana set the table. This, of course, required a clean, pressed cloth and napkins, dishes made of something other than paper or plastic, a full complement of flatware (even if serving sandwiches,) a pitcher for the beverage, and all condiments of any kind presented in matching serving dishes. Lest I forget, she must also have had a ceramic salt cellar, pepper mill, and vase, the latter containing whatever wildflower (or bare tree branch) was most handy at the time.

My grandmother got out every single one of those items. Every. Single. Meal.

Laundering and pressing aside, if I had a nickel for each plate, bowl, glass, and utensil that dear woman moved from cupboard to table to countertop to sink to drainer to cupboard to countertop to table (ad infintum) in her 94 years of service to hearth and home, I would not only be able to afford a reliable computer and Internet connection for blogging each week, I could hire a staff of top writers to do it for me.

Because of my grandmother’s early influence, I have a closet full of linen cloths and napkins. I own two sets of silverware (sterling and plated) plus two sets of flatware. In my cupboards and hutches are two sets of crystal stemware, two sets of everyday glassware, and more china and “everyday” dishes than any middle-class American woman could realistically expect to use in her lifetime. (But I do use them. The dog’s bowl was made in Italy. The cats dine from their own Blue Willow. Even the chicken feed is served up in stoneware.) Centerpieces? Martha Stewart has nothing on me. I have made centerpieces from materials (id est LEGOS & My Little Ponies) that Martha probably doesn’t know exist.

Now for a true confession. Despite my great wealth of tableware, I seldom put all – or even very many – of the aforementioned elements together at the same time. I can be counted on to “set” a table maybe once every twenty-one meals or so. (Thou Shalt Set the Table for Sabbath Dinner was the eleventh commandment in rural Depression-Era Kansas. On the few occasions I break it today, I fear for my immortal soul.) The rest of the time, I often pass on serving meals entirely. When I do serve them, I rarely do it “well.”

And table-setting is not my only failure. It’s not even one of the big ones.

For the first half (hopefully!) of my life I lived by my grandmother’s credo. Kindergarten was my first “job.” I often missed recess because I was still inside, tongue between my teeth, coloring ever-so-carefully within the lines. By third grade, a B+ on a timed multiplication test would reduce me to tears. I’d like to say I outgrew the madness, but the “do it well” mindset continued to dog me even after I left college to become a professional wife and mother. Suddenly, there were even more jobs worth doing. Well! With little kids everywhere, it was certainly worth mopping the kitchen floor. Ergo, I shouldn’t miss a corner – or a crumb. Same deal with Church. Being a new convert, there were a few years over which I researched genealogy until I had personally been baptized for about 65% of the female population of 1880 Hancock County, Indiana. I dutifully grew tomatoes under the Phoenix sun. (They cost us about $25 each.) Upon my introduction to the important job of storing food, I mastered eighty-some different gluten-and-soybean recipes – none of which my family would touch. It was no different when it came to the community. If it was worth helping out at my kids’ schools, wasn’t it then worth chairing every book fair and carnival at the elementary school while simultaneously heading up the PTA at the junior high, and band boosters at the high school?

I was not a well woman.

And then, thankfully, I got sick.

I know MS is a purgatory for many, so I want to be careful what I say here. But, since I have a recurring/remitting variety of the disease – and have been greatly blessed besides – contracting MS was honestly, for me, a little glimpse of paradise. All at once, no matter how much I wanted to be Polly Perfect, or how hard I tried, it was physically impossible to do everything (read: anything) well, especially all at once. Being not quite as smart as the average Blair, I first assumed this meant I’d have to give up everything important, all that that made life worthwhile, and just . . . I don’t know . . . puddle? Turns out, all I had to do was slow down long enough to finally tune in the Spirit. It's simply amazing what happens when you stop doing everything you think you should and instead start doing those things God thinks you could.

You probably never thought you’d hear me admit this, but my sainted grandmother was wrong. (Only about this. Everything else? Spot on!) It turns out there are all kinds of jobs worth doing that are not worth doing particularly well every single time. (Scrubbing floors and setting tables come immediately to mind.) Every job in life, large or small, worthy or trivial, requires a trade-off. In a Frog-blog related example, not one of the award-winning writers I know personally has an utterly spotless home. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the one incredibly immaculate housekeeper I know hasn’t read a book in twenty years, let alone written one? (I don’t know, either.)

The point is, you don't have to get sick (or even old) to reconsider your priorities. (Unless you're me; I'm very thick.) Regardless of our circumstances, health, and energy levels, I suspect we should all be a little easier on ourselves, and surely more judicious in choosing which of our many “jobs” are really worth giving everything we’ve got. We don’t have to compile a list. Probably we can just agree that if something will get us an nth of a degree closer to the Highest in the hereafter, it’s worth doing well. Everything else should be evaluated on a sliding scale.

That, of necessity, has lately included blogging for me. (Sorry.) Today I decided to forgo doing it well and just do it. Maybe I'm on to something at last . . .


At 10/22/2010 4:55 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

Oh Kerry, you are a gem! This is just what I needed today. I often feel so inadequate, unable to keep up with it all. I'm so grateful for the reminder to slow down.

Wishing you the very best!



At 10/22/2010 6:32 PM, Anonymous mean aunt said...

Amen, sister!

I'd just like to add that you also don't have to finish everything you start. Start lots of things. Finish what you want to.

Don't tell my mom I said that. . .

At 10/22/2010 6:34 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

This is wonderful news! I have all the attributes of an award-winning writer--my house is perpetually messy and it doesn't bother me at all! Okay, I have that one attribute. I’m still working on the others, like becoming an award-winning writer. . . or just a published writer.

Thanks for reminding me that I’m not the only woman in the world with a dish obsession. It began with simple Corelle ware because they aren’t supposed to break. (Right!) And then I wanted the holiday china for twelve with matching gold flatware. (Two different sets, but don’t worry, I gave one set away.) Then I discovered Fiesta Ware and had to get a place setting in every color, plus serving bowls and pitchers, vases, etc. Then I ate over this friend’s house and she had Blue Willow, and I instantly fell in love with the pattern and color, let alone the story behind the two blue birds flying in the white sky. Oh, and let’s not forget about matching glasses . . .

Priorities change, and we must be wise enough to recognize when those changes come, whether it’s due to health problems or other circumstances. You are a wise woman, Kerry, and if you don’t want to blog every Friday, then don’t. I will keep checking in at the end of the work week to see if I get to read something from my favorite author. Today I struck gold!

At 10/23/2010 11:05 AM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Bless you, Kerry! I had one of those days yesterday where I was shown very much every area that I'm being mediocre. I came home pretty down. I needed a reminder that it's OKAY if the kitchen isn't spotless.

At 10/23/2010 12:47 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

I grew up with a saying similar to your grandmother's, but I think I like it better. "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you find time to do it over?" I prefer meals served at the table with a proper place setting, but that doesn't mean there can be no exceptions. The people at my table are more important than the place settings. A neat orderly house is much nicer than a dirty cluttered one too, and I work hard to keep mine clean and organized, but there are times in everyone's life, including mine, that isn't possible. Homemaking perfection, like any other kind of perfection, is a goal, something to work toward, but no realistic person expects to achieve it in this life, but that shouldn't keep us from trying when there aren't more important crisis to deal with.

At 10/23/2010 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may be on to something, but Nike beat you to it. They've been "just doing it" for years, though, I'm pretty sure, they could never fill your shoes!

At 10/25/2010 12:33 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I know this won't make you feel any better, but we have set the table for a meal approximately 10 times in the last year, and probably about 15 times in the last 10 years. (Including this past year.)

We took in a foster daughter this year, so we thought we should have nice, sit-at-the-table type dinners, but we've since found it easier to revert to our old ways and just watch TV while eating. (Not one of us is much of a conversationist. I guess you could say we're conSERVationists of words.)

At 10/26/2010 4:34 PM, Blogger Becki said...

Oh,how I love your wit and wisdom. My grandmother and mother were big on the table setting thing too. I serve meals buffet style [get your plate and go down the line] How did they do it? they didn't even have dishwashers. Anyway, it took years for me to learn it was more important to have the meal than how it was presented. It seems that lesson applies in different ways to many different situations. however, i never felt okay about it until now. your words are liberating and insightful. I will print this off and remind myself it's all right not to be perfect.

At 10/26/2010 7:37 PM, Blogger Michele Ashman Bell said...

I just want to add an AMEN to your post and also say, I HEART Kerry Blair! Your wisdom and wit are profound.

At 10/28/2010 2:27 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Woohoo ... I just got validation for my messy house!! Thanks, Kerry!

At 10/29/2010 11:00 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Thanks so, so much for all the comments!

A week later, I can't rest without correcting one glaring error. Upon further reflection, I DO know one best-selling, award-winning author who has a spotless house, gorgeous garden, and cookbook full of delicious, gluten-free goodies! In her "spare time" she tirelessly serves family, friends, and strangers; reads and reviews virtually every LDS book on the market; works faithfully at the temple; and sends e-mail at just the right moment to keep me sane. But we can't all be Jennie Hansen. In fact, we might as well face it: not even the 3 Nephites can keep up with that woman! (Love you, Jennie.)


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