A bit of wisdom crossed my content stream the other day when someone asked for “the best advice you’ve ever received.” How you do anything is how you do everything. It resonated neatly with the maxim on which I was raised, If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you ever have time to do it again? Also, and even more common, Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Whether it is a luxury to have the time to do it right or the result of ruthless choices and delegation, it has mostly worked for me. I consider very carefully my methods and processes, consciously choosing what appears to be the most efficient and logical way to accomplish the task.
Now, I live with a very intelligent and pragmatic person of the opposite species, a man. We do not see the world from the same angle very often, literally as there is an 8” difference in the altitude of our eyes, and figuratively as he is a scientist with a Y chromosome and I am a linguist with a matching set of Xs. He was raised by
wolves parents who chose to spend their recreational time hiking through the woods in the rain, then sleeping on rocky beaches in said rain. My parents took us to subtropical, sandy beaches on holiday where we slept indoors and thought mostly of the next restaurant. One would think that between the two of us, we could understand and solve any problem. Except when we can’t even articulate to the other what the problem might be.
Fortunately, we are both keenly aware that I am not a stellar housekeeper. There is always something I’d rather do than sweep, mop, scrub, dust. Frequently that something is trying out a new recipe, making a nice dinner, which cleverly distracts the man from the stampeding dustbunnies rolling across the floor. For a while. Eventually, there is no escaping the truth of the matter; the house is filthy. But getting it clean, really clean, feels so overwhelming I can’t bring myself to start the Sisyphean task, which I won’t finish before it’s dirty again because this is the dustiest place I have ever lived. Really. It’s not just me. Others come here and notice it, too. It’s the Sahara riding high winds then sanding down upon us. But I digress. One day, the man asked if I’ve ever heard of “successive approximation?” Hmm, nope. His specific explanation made sense at the time, something about finding 10% in solution… maybe. But its essence was the idea of accomplishing a difficult task by doing an imprecise job of it repeatedly until enough of it is complete as to be satisfactory. In other words, Don’t do it right once; do it half-way but often. You can see, gentle reader, how this would strike me. However, as my tried-and-true habits were failing me, in desperation I allowed the idea to percolate. And I have accepted that this slap-dashery might, in fact, be a viable solution to certain dilemmas. This does not fling wide the door to any and all dubious postulations the man may put forth. Of course.
So, the issue under scrutiny today is hard-water build-up on the shower walls. Some time ago, after scrubbing my heart out and getting nowhere, the formerly glossy tiles stubbornly remaining roughly mineralized, I declared to the man that the shower was probably as clean as it was ever going to be. He pointed out that the calcium dissolved in the water evaporates out into rock on the walls. Yes, it would be a bugger to scrape away once it built up. And build up it did because I so loathed the thankless task of struggling against it that I didn’t attempt it very often, making the matter just that much worse. However, vinegar had proven itself a potent foe against the calcium in the kettle and the cat’s water dish, when left to soak for a bit. One day, before I went to the gym knowing I would be showering upon my return, I sprayed down the walls with vinegar. Shook some baking soda around for good measure. All the stinky hippy blogs rave about the universal cleaning power of the duo. After the workout, I gave the walls a quick bedampening, then scrubbed with the brush no more vigorously than before. After a good rinse, there was a difference. The shower felt less like a cave, a few spots even shone again as they hadn’t in ages. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better. So I did the same thing the next week. And the next. It worked. The shower walls are (mostly) shiny and smooth. So are the chrome fixtures which had gone flat gray. The theory of Successful Approximation has a place in my world view now. Yes, yes, the man corrects me, too. I know it’s Successive, but the other way is just so much more inspiring.