Rant 46 April 2008: Shoveling to nowhere, or, let’s quitz again, like we did last summer

It’s been a hard winter in Toronto. It started earlier than normal with a snowstorm that was like Satan had mated with a canister of liquid nitrogen, and kinda just went from there. It’s now April 6 as I write this, and there are still piles of snow outside, hanging on by their icy little fingernails. So you can’t blame people for getting a little kooky.

I live in a neighbourhood with lots of older people who came from Southern Europe in the 1940s-60s. Most of these folks are working people: labourers, tradespeople, seamstresses, factory workers, etc. They busted ass their entire working lives, and when they weren’t working for pay they were busily raising families and growing vegetables in gardens constructed from bizarre Rube Goldberg-esque structures of old containers, pipes, fences made from discarded stair railings, pieces of random stuff tied together with what appear to be shoelaces, etc. (My next door neighbour’s specialty is found-object scarecrows. Some of them are downright Blair Witch Project. There was one teddy bear homunculus situation that will surely give me a lifetime of nightmares.)

Now that they’re retired, the work ethic remains. The problem is, few of them have much education, and few of them have hobbies as such. Their kids have all moved out to the suburbs to raise families of their own. So they’re bored and trying to stay busy. As the day unfolds the neighbourhood begins to chatter with their activities: sweeping the sidewalk, poking at ice bits in the sewer grates, floofing out carpets and blankets over the porch railing, and strolling up and down the street yelling at each other about the weather.

Two weeks ago, I looked out the window and saw a particularly poignant sight. My next door neighbour was outside shoveling the latest dumping of white crap. So far, so normal. Except he was shoveling his backyard garden. He wasn’t shoveling anything in particular. He wasn’t clearing a path or the steps, or freeing up a frozen door. He wasn’t even really shoveling with any apparent intent to uncover anything, because underneath was simply frozen dirt. He was just shoveling, moving snow from one side of the garden to the other. He would transfer the shovelfuls from one side to the other, occasionally pausing to admire his handiwork. He was shoveling to nowhere.

As I observed this peculiar objectiveless ritual, shoveling to nowhere suddenly seemed like a metaphor for many of my activities recently. I’d been staying busy – very busy, in fact – but wasn’t feeling like I’d really accomplished anything in particular. In response to the question “How was your day?” I’d often reply, “I’ve already forgotten.” The weeks flipped past in a haze of rushing from one meeting to the next, one commitment to the next. I was busy. I had a good stable job. But was I really doing anything?

For years, I fantasized on and off about doing something with Stumptuous full time. I spent my spare hours surfing training blogs, answering emails about training, talking about training with other people, thinking about articles for my website. But because of my other commitments, Stumptuous often languished, out of date, slightly tattered, still serviceable but getting a little intellectually dowdy from time to time. I always came up with reasons why it wouldn’t be sensible to do it.

You have to understand – I am an eminently sensible woman. I am a belt-and-suspenders person, the kind of grrl who always saves for a rainy day. I am the Boy Scout Be Prepared. Before I leave the house I check the stove and coffee maker at least twice. I have obsessive compulsive rituals of patting my pockets for my keys. I am the kind of friend you want to organize birthday parties and colour code files. I would be voted “Least Likely To Have A Psychedelic Episode While Driving a Stolen Maserati Through A Plate Glass Window”.

Last week, suddenly, the universe pinched me. Hard. For reasons I won’t divulge publicly, last week I decided to quit my job. RIGHT NOW. Not “Oh, when I have something else lined up.” Not, “Oh, maybe in a year.” No, RIGHT NOW, with the kind of urgency generally reserved for the intestinal distress of having consumed a bran-and-Guinness curry the night before.

Friday morning, April 4th, I walked into my workplace and handed in my resignation, effective immediately. Friday afternoon, I boarded a plane to the North American Grappling Association World Championships. Saturday afternoon I stood grinning like a moron with a silver medal around my neck. (Saturday night I ate my bodyweight in New York barbecue, and washed it down with a bag of peanut M&Ms. We need not speak of that indiscretion again.) Sunday evening, my brain raced with all the projects I wanted to do: A Stumptuous book! DVDs! Training clients! Hell, I might even answer my email!

I write this on Monday, slightly shell shocked but excited by the possibilities. I’m free, to do what I want, any old time.

To paraphrase Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, big things are afoot at the Dr. K. Here I am, folks. Let’s get to work.