Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I Fix Mess

My wife and I were talking the other night about some major decisions ahead of us, and I mused a bit about the career I’ve had for 37+ years. The musing took the form of a summary statement.

I fix mess.

This isn’t exactly a recent revelation; I’ve known this for a long time. It’s also easier to say and understand than “dysfunctional organization co-dependent.”

Right after I graduated from college, I worked on the copy desk of a newspaper. Turnover was high; within three months I was #2 on the desk and #1 had a drinking problem, which meant that a 21-year-old kid was essentially responsible for the copy desk for three editions of a newspaper. I held it together.

My next job was working for a large corporation. The first two years were good, and then I got another boss with a drinking problem. I held that together, too.

I didn’t have to deal with bosses’ drinking problems after that, but there came a line of mediocre people expected to do extraordinary things, people making major mistakes, businesses teetering on the brink of disaster, nasty issues, dysfunctional personalities and a few good bosses thrown in for good measure. Even as an independent consultant, who I was for almost four years, my job was almost always to fix the mess. I have a good boss now, and it’s been rare enough that I consider it a special blessing.

But down all the paths my career has followed, there’s been one constant.

I fix mess. Sometimes it’s mess of omission, and sometimes it’s mess of commission. But that’s what has characterized a good chunk of what my career has been about: fixing the mess caused by others.

She doesn’t describe it that way, but that’s what L.L. Barkat has experienced, as she describes it in God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us (Week 10: Self-care): “I’d always been the person who tried to play the part of bridge, who tried to hold things together.”

The bridge metaphor is an apt one – the bridge between chaos and safety, or disaster and resolution. It can be a self-imposed metaphor.

She goes on: “Acting as bridge puts a strain on our souls. Always being the one to handle things, neglecting our needs and dreams to stand in some supposed gap…” I didn’t stand in “some supposed gap” in the lives of family or friends; my supposed gap was invariably work.

In the last year, I’ve begun to muse and ponder about this. I’ve also been writing stories and poetry more.

The two are not unconnected.

I didn’t know the man

I didn’t know the man
but I did, because I
knew his father, who
knew me years before,
another lifetime ago.
My father, he said, spoke
of you as a talisman,
a charm, a rabbit’s
foot they couldn’t lose,
but they threw you away.
I didn’t know that, I said,
but I did.

Chameleon by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.


L.L. Barkat said...

ooooo, that poem. That poem! I have got shivers up and down. Glynn... that poem.

Cassandra Frear said...

Glynn, this is a really good post. Really good.

I think there are a lot of quiet people out there who fix messes, over and over. Sadly, they go unnoticed, unappreciated. But our world probably wouldn't hold together without them.

Kelly Langner Sauer said...

And then there are the people - like me - who cause the messes sometimes.

WHY does your poem hurt so much?

Michael said...

I have to tell you. I completely relate to this post. It seems that this is what I have done my whole life.

Maureen said...

The last job I had, the one that lasted for almost 25 years, it was all about picking up the pieces and making them coherent, of taking on what nobody else could get done or would do. I was the lightning rod and took a lot of hits. I'm so glad that part of life is done.

Your poem, especially that line "a rabbit's foot they couldn't lose": what a deep, deep well of feelings brought to the surface.

Red Letter Believers said...

Working in PR for a company going down quick, I can totally relate. "How do we make this stink less" is our mantra...

Jeff Jordan said...

This post really spoke to me. It's funny really. I've worked for the same essentially my whole adult life, and I frequently discuss with my wife how my job has basically turned into fixing problems all day long...some of which I caused, others I didn't. It gets old fast.

One of these days I'm going to leave it all behind and go find a job with the least amount of responsibility I can find...of course, that's after I finish paying for the education of three children. On second thought, maybe that's a pipe dream anyway.

Either way, great post!

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Such an interesting post.
I'm so glad you're letting your poet heart run free. After a lifetime of fixing other people's stuff, it must feel great to sing on your own. Your poem is beautiful and heartbreaking and real.

I've sort of felt like a fixer (and definitely a bridge) in my mommy work. My husband travels a lot, and like all kids, my three come with their own issues. L.L. Barkat is so right. Being the bridge is costly. Sometimes I can hear the creaking and wonder if a board is about to break.
I've got to read that book!

Anonymous said...

you bring up thoughts for me of my life so long being family/work so intertwined that i can see why sometimes i wanted work to be work. to have a place that was seprate from family i guess. but, it seems that is just not true anyway, it all runs together like hot fudge on ice cream anyway.

your poem goes deep like a drop off in lake bed. it makes me swim and think.

i have wanted people to see worth in me, and have often felt thrown away or rejected in some fashion or another. so strong my wanting to be whole, enough, desired, understood, Loved by other humans. in some ways i think this might be about the disconnection that we have with God and God with us...and with eachother... along with the unseen war. it has to have an effect on our hearts and life that we just "feel" and try to explain it with things that we can see and touch.

i'm rambling

JC Dude said...

Yep, I am a mess fixer...that's a good thing right? I like to think it as a "mender of nets".

The poem...was...very moving.

Kathleen Overby said...

A lament mixed with my tears. To do your best, and be thrown away is agonizing.

Anonymous said...

Great post. And so true--what could be more painful than to everything you could, only to be tossed away as yesterday's news?

SuzyQ said...

I love the structure of your poem.

Anonymous said...

short poems that say a hell of a lot are amongst my favorites.

Anonymous said...

Learning makes a good man better and ill man worse.............................................................

Linda said...

The poem is amazing - so touching Glynn. I was going to write that fixing messes is not a bad thing, but I wonder. In relationships it may not always benefit the one in the "mess." Did you find it so in your work?
You always challenge me Glynn.

Laura said...

Your poem is so insightful, says so much, Glynn. The rabbit foot thing...yes, we co-dependents go by many names :) I am enjoying learning more about you through L.L.'s book. It's been taking me to some deep places.

Anonymous said...

Glynn -- I just read the same chapter last night and really connected with it. I have a similar job description, though I suspect are jobs are quite different. I do fix mess, nonetheless!

I also LOVED this poem. I think it might be my favorite of yours that I've read. That last line was so surprising and chilling.

Anonymous said...

Excellent and haunting poem.

I am only in Chapter 4 of the book, so you are ahead of me with the mess-fixing and bridge-building.

Isn't it so great to be at a place in life where you can actually reflect on what's going on, and express it (through writing and talks with your spouse) rather than just doing doing doing.

Sounds like in addition to fixing mess, you are going through a little growth spurt!

Sandra Heska King said...

I a fixer. Maybe even an enabler sometimes. No, I *am* an enabler at times. Maybe that's the nurse in me? Maybe that's why I've come back to write? Maybe that's why I started to dabble in poetry?

I meant to start this book right after vacation. I haven't been able to yet. I can't wait.

Your poem ---> chill bumps.