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By Pam Burke 

Upon having completed a job whatever-done ...


Last updated 1/14/2022 at 9:14am

Experts say that completing tasks inspires feelings like pride, satisfaction and confidence. I am the exception that disproves the rule.

I just finished tiling the bathroom floor in the house-to-be and I couldn’t be more, eh, whatever about the whole thing.


It took days of planning, hours of labor and untold gallons of sweat equity. … And I gotta be totally and brutally honest here: all this and I didn’t even have to tile the entire floor, just a 3-by-4 foot alcove where the toilet goes. It was ridiculous and, by the way, no pressure there that the toilet on the ground floor has been removed from its mooring for more than a month … and the only way to get to the upstairs toilet is by way of a ladder. You have to plan ahead in this situation.

Trust me on that.

To my credit, I had everything ready to tile, then I had to take a break to focus on a work deadline and then I had to wait for a break in the weather. And after all that I had to spend a few days freaking out because, of course, I’m me and I had far too long to think about this task — a task, I will add, that involves a significant investment for an installation that can only be redone by destroying it and starting over from scratch.

Also, I learned how to tile by watching YouTube.

You get the big picture now, right?

I got it done. That’s all I’m going to say about it.

Except this one thing I want to say about grout: Sometimes it does help to put lipstick on a pig.

So if my pig is pretty, or rather pretty enough that I don’t need to tear it out, why am I not whirling from a dopamine-induced, yeah-me energy high? Where are the perks, the happy-happy feelings from conquering my trepidation and from checking a major task off my to-do list?

It’s all in the toilet, so to speak.

My brain didn’t give me a dopamine attagirl. My brain gave me a hit of some kind of anti-dopamine neurotransblocker, with total exhaustion and an overwhelming sense of a job whatever-done.

I am exhausted and sore. My knees and shins are sore, my leg muscles are sore and my back muscles are more sore than that. My feet, somehow, are sore, and my hands — I don’t even want to talk about my hands. Well, that’s a lie. I do want to talk about my hands.

My hands are red-raw and knuckle-scraped, but weirdest of all is that the muscles and tendons in my hands are so exhausted I can’t type without them starting to cramp up after about 50 words.

You would think that big, meaty peasant-paws like mine would hold up to this work.

Of course, it didn’t help that we also had water lines to thaw and plumbing repairs to make at the trailer house, which is trying to die in peace out from under us before we get moved, a forklift to fuel, chores, a couple pigs to help process so the freezer is full of food again, snow to shovel and assorted elements of life to live — I kinda forgot about life, but there’s also insulation to hang, drywall to put up, more plumbing, cabinets to build, an actual stairway to build and so on and so forth, ad nauseam.

And that toilet needs to be reinstalled in the alcove tomorrow morning.

At this point I’ve pretty well forgotten what I wanted to say here about how I was robbed of my proud moment with a dopamine boost to my ego and all.

I’m reminded of an article I read a while back about the Zeigarnik effect, a term describing how “incompletion — leaving an activity or relationship unfinished — can be a severe hindrance to living fully in the present,” the MentalHelp.net article “The Zeigarnik Effect and Completing Everything” says.

The term came from research by Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in the late 1920s. She gave 138 children simple tasks to complete but interrupted half of the children mid-task. Testing one hour later revealed that, by a “whopping” margin, more children remembered the incompleted tasks than the complete tasks. Her conclusions were that “people tend to remember negative experiences and feelings longer than positive ones” and they “feel a greater level of impact from negative messages than positive ones.”

This article and others point out that later researchers, building on Zeigarnik’s research, found that a positive spin on the experiment comes by replacing negative images with positive ones.

So here’s the plan: I get that toilet back in its newly decorated throne alcove, drink a bunch of water, and when the fluids kick in I’ll take the pause that refreshes on the new loo.

I’ll skip thinking of the to-do list and looking at where the bathroom sink is not yet installed along the wall in front of me, and I’ll just have a moment to enjoy my functional tile work beneath my feet. Complete in its flawed beauty.


Wabi sabi, it’s a thing, too, at http://www.facebook.com/viewfromthenorth40 .


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