Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Days Without Context

When I was a kid a question I asked my father only a handful of times and quickly learned to avoid was, "how was your day?"  Upon asking that question, I would be awash in tales of blast furnaces, grease and conduit, not to mention the actions of various coworkers who would never break into his top ten list of favorite people.  There was always an assumption on my father's part that you knew what he was talking about and had met the various cast of characters.  However, if I met any more than a handful of the guys he worked with at an age where I'd reached full cognizance I can say that I really don't remember ever having done so.  I can also say with authority that I've never fully understood what it is that he did beyond knowing enough to say that he was a high-voltage electrician.

The point I'm getting at, I guess, is that there was a huge disconnect between my father's work life and his home life.  We didn't really socialize with his coworkers or their families, and quite frankly I'm not entirely sure I'm capable of understanding all of the principles involved in his day to day labor at the mill.  Nevertheless, when prompted, my father would spill out the details of his day with little or no context to a rather confused audience.  I suspect that his need to vent and get things off his chest were a bit more at the forefront of his mind than bringing this listener fully up to speed.  As I said, the net result was that I stopped asking and he stopped telling, which still worked just fine as Pop was always good at leaving work at work.

Still, I regret never getting the full story and am constantly aggravated at how little I understand.  What I've learned over the years, however, is that the assumptions my father made about the knowledge of his audience aren't uncommon.

Nowadays, my friends (those with "normal" jobs, that is) are often guilty of the same thing.  Ask how work is and you'll hear random names and tales of their buffoonery.  Try and interject a question for clarity and the conversation comes to a screeching halt so a bone can be thrown to give some context.  Then it's back off to the races.

Ask my wife a similar question, and you'll hear a similar tale.  Her world is full of "Joes" and "Marks" and "Heathers" — faceless entities I imagine as department store mannequins in some elaborate play at the heart of which is sneakers and athletic gear.  I have no real concept of what she does on a daily basis except to say that she is often in meetings, which gives my imagination a nice place to set the play.  Always with me meetings are held in large rooms with gray low pile carpeting and long tables at the head of which there is someone in a suit with pyramided fingers sitting in an over-sized leather chair.  One wall is always comprised of windows often covered in venetian blinds.  The furthest my imagination has ever gotten is that my wife is in on these meetings, the rarely seen light of day streaked across her visage in neat rows as she and her fellow subordinates await approval from "the boss."

By comparison, imagining the play version of my day is easy.  The set is a standard bedroom with an easel and chair instead of a bed and dresser.  There is a television in the corner.  A single character sits in front of the easel, periodically stealing a glance at the tv's screen.  There is naught but the sound of the film he has playing in the background and the occasional swishing of a brush in oil.  In a really action-packed sequence, our hero swears then grabs a rag to wipe away a mistake.  Riveting stuff.

The fact is, my day involves almost no human interaction.  It has been exactly a decade since I've had a coworker.  If there are any anecdotes from my day, they largely involve something being rather difficult or time-consuming to paint.  Perhaps there was something funny that someone posted on Facebook or there's some random bit of movie news I've learned.  When prompted, the descriptions of my day are rarely longer than a few words.  Any stories I have to tell are so mundane as to put even the most caffeinated person to sleep.  Nevertheless, I will volunteer them should the opportunity arise which is kind of sad.  Sadder still is the fact that there is no context to omit.

I can't rightly say why people tend to assume that I'm fully aware of the details of their day.  Perhaps it's because the details aren't what's important.  Perhaps the whole point is to get the day off their chest so they can move on.  It's entirely possible — probable in fact — that the question of "how was your day?" is not for the one asking the question at all.  It would certainly explain why my attempts to flesh out the stage have always been so fruitless.


  1. Hey Scott, what did you do today?

    Answers may include some or all of the following:

    "Drew stuff"
    "Painted part of something"
    "Continued painting something"
    "Finished painting something"
    "Had to repaint something"
    "Commented on Steve's blog."

  2. That's a pretty good summation of my day, too. See, I even did that last one.



I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.