Saturday, May 01, 2021

Making it look easy/it's not as easy as it looks

An anecdote, or maybe a parable, about academe. 

If you have a large extended family, and that large extended family has gatherings periodically, chances are excellent that the women of that family have taken turns spending huge amounts of time organizing, cleaning prior to, cooking for, and cleaning up after those gatherings. 

Yes, people bring potluck dishes or rolls or steaks or whatever, but there's still a point person who's in charge of seeing to it that everything actually happens. Maybe you've had to do this yourself (raises hand). 

When my mother--let's call her Barbara-- was the one to do this when we all lived at home, it was . . . strenuous. She'd get up early, get the groceries, start cleaning (and we had to clean, too, or, since we were teenagers, at least heave all the clothes and random stuff strewn on the floor into the closet before everyone arrived), and then start cooking. You know the drill: boil the eggs for deviled eggs and the potatoes for potato salad; peel, chop, and cook some more stuff. Maybe some creamed potatoes, too? A big salad?  Make piecrust and a few pies, maybe rhubarb and apple and lemon meringue? And let's not forget a casserole and some kind of Jello thing with fruit or carrots or (I want to say one time) sauerkraut in it.

Then everyone arrives, and the table is laid, and everyone's ready to eat. 

And my beloved grandmother--truly, she was--says, "You know, Barbara always does this so easy." 

She thought she was giving a compliment, I think, but my mother had steam coming out of her ears every time.

I'm thinking about this because of the various tasks that faculty, and by this I mean primarily women faculty, undertake to keep things going in service and administration. 

And the tasks are always with a "just": 

  • "You'd just have to call X or email Y or look up Z."
  • "You'd just have to call a meeting." 
  • "You might want to take a second and just reach out to these five people to see their thoughts on this."
  • "It's just a report; it shouldn't take too long to do."
  • "It's just a small gathering; it'd be nice to get everyone together to celebrate."

Point #1 is this: if you do it right, and you put the time and effort into it, whatever "it" is as a task, you'll make it look easy. Point #2 is that it's not as easy as it looks, but that no one will ever see that or credit you with it, or care that you've done it well, because see Point #1.

Because you do it so easy, you see.