To me there is an aura of grandeur about the dull routine of maintenance: I see it as a defiance of the teeth of time. It is easier to build than to maintain. Even a lethargic or debilitated population can be galvanized for a while to achieve something impressive, but the energy which goes into maintaining things in good repair day in, day out is the energy of true vigor.
— Eric Hoffer, Maintenance: A Trait of the East
Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele used to work for the NYC Parks and Rec department before the band became popular. He often spoke fondly of his days there, saying that he only gave the job up because the rest of the band wanted the full-time life of rock musicians; he would have been content to keep music as a hobby. His amused bandmates would recount stories of how Steele, when feeling stressed while on tour, would grab a broom and start sweeping the floor of the venue where they were playing. It was his way of making order out of chaos, and, to some extent, reminding himself of simpler, happier times.
I also practice Steele’s method of stress reduction. When angry or anxious, I instinctively channel that energy into household chores. It doesn’t take depth psychology to see this as a means of coping with a breach in the defenses of my psychological city-state. When the tendrils of chaos start creeping in somewhere, I immediately go on patrol around the perimeter, looking to reinforce any other weak spots. I realize this may be a bit odd, but as far as quirks go, at least this one is constructive. If character is fate, perhaps my overall fastidiousness marked me as temperamentally conservative from the start — I start from the assumption that all valuable things are fragile and the threat of entropy and disaster requires constant vigilance. It’s not even that I think this way; it’s more like it’s in my marrow. For many people, it may seem overly gloomy or pessimistic to assume the glass is half-empty, but honestly, I feel conscious all the time of how wonderful it is that the glass is even half-full when it could easily be, and has so often been, empty. Ritual maintenance, whether physical or spiritual, personal or cultural, is the practice of honoring that.
It’s not all grim stoicism and emergency preparedness drills, though. In her essay “Marrying Libraries,” Anne Fadiman quipped about her husband being closely allied with the forces of entropy. I, too, know what it is to share living space with one of the enemy’s agents. We have a running joke that I’m the robot butler who repeatedly insists on removing Donald Duck’s hat in “Modern Inventions,” except in my case, it’s coffee cups and clothing which need to be picked up and put where they belong despite vociferous protest. I don’t mind these homeopathic doses of chaos, though. Like Hoffer said a few times throughout his writings, it’s the pull of opposite poles that stretches souls, and only stretched souls make music.