Barn-raising in the 21st Century
Since barns were invented, there have been traditions of the community barn-raising, and right alongside, similar inventions for doing everything else we need a village to do, like raising children, stitching quilt tops, and betting on low-stakes bingo.
There are many things in life that don’t require a village, of course. Unlike barns, plenty of achievements—like a lasagna or a cardigan—can be accomplished solo.
But it seems to me there are also many things that some people can do all by themselves, but others cannot. And here I count things like going mano a mano with health insurance “providers,” opening scary mail that’s been sitting on the desk for a month, and trying to find someone at the airport to help me retrieve the zip-up hoodie I lost in the security lineup two weeks ago.
No matter what the dreaded task is, how big or how small, if there’s something I simply cannot stop shuffling to the bottom of the pile, I know I need to call for backup. I don’t need anyone to do the task for me. They just have to believe I can do it and tell me so. They have to say, “Max! YOU CAN PICK UP THE PHONE. I’ll be with you the whole time.” And perhaps pat me encouragingly as I shudder through 24 minutes of hold music.
And then maybe, you know, throw me a parade after.
Just like a barn-raising, I will do the same and help them get through their dismal tasks. So it’s totally the same, because there are snacks, but it’s different, because together we can generally get through more than one barn at a go.
I’ve been hosting what I call Odious Tasks Parties in some form for about 20 years, and at those parties I’ve completed a mountain of mending, KonMari’d a thrift shop’s worth of geegaws, and figured out how to make my doctor’s office stop double-billing me. (Answer: after two years and innumerable hours lost, get the state’s attorney general on the case.) But for an Odious Tasks Party, I’d probably still be in medical debt today. I never could have resolved that problem as a solo act; I was spent from all the impotent-rage weeping.
No doubt you have a pile of your own odious tasks (and you can guess I’m kinda dying to know what they are! Please, pop ‘em down below! It’ll give us all courage) that you need hand-holding for. Perhaps a small pile, perhaps a big one. Why not call for reinforcements?
Odious Tasks Party DIY
Here’s how I suggest throwing your own Odious Tasks Party:
- If possible, schedule the party to take place in person. But Zoom has been working pretty well, too.
- Snacks and drinks are helpful incentives here to get through the work. It’s already sort of a barn-raising which is more than halfway to a potluck, so ask folks to bring something.
- Let your people know that OTP is a time to do the harder things. If they’ve avoided finishing their sweater because they hate Kitchener, that qualifies; bring it! But I do ask that people not show up with their happy-place projects. That’s just Knit Night, and this is Power Hour. The group vibe is “determined.”
- If not everyone knows each other, just telling each other what we’re working on serves as a good icebreaker.
- Gotta be tough to get ‘er done, but also vulnerable enough to admit we need help. Not every venue is a safe space to admit you’re negotiating with debt collectors, but ideally this group is.
- Task size doesn’t matter. Big projects: great! Odds and ends: great! It’s the size of the fear or loathing that makes us need help.
- Keep the party time-bound. 90 minutes of real work is actually a lot of work; ask any manager. Being explicit that you’re going to do Hard Things, but only for a while, is what makes people accept the invitation.
- Celebrate knocking some beasts off the list. Cheer for each other: you all did it!
You could plan for one party and see how it goes, but it can also work to schedule a recurring party and just let the people come as they’re able.
Let’s Do This Thing
Special treat: You’re invited to my (First Annual?) MDK Online Odious Tasks Party via Zoom. Let’s raise that barn! Bring your dread tasks for parallel play and, ideally, delightful and supportive conversation as we each shrink our odious list a little.
I’ll have my video and audio on throughout, and the chat will be open as well. Let’s plan to start by declaring our intentions and see what we can get through.
Here are the details:
Date: Saturday November 6, 2021
Time: 11am-noon Eastern. We can do anything for 60 minutes…
Place: Tune in here (that’s a link) on Zoom.
Zoom etiquette: Video on or off; mute for making odious calls but otherwise let’s chat!
Dress code: Comfort first. I’ll have on the Real Housepants of Marblehead.
Hope to see you there! I and my mending pile await the pleasure of your company.