Sexy! New! Fun! Cool! Exciting!


As we slog into the New Year, I want to share one of my personal enthusiasms with readers.


This pastime requires little or no expense, can be done with minimal or no equipment, and engaged in wherever you happen to be. It can be practiced in solitude or with others. No batteries or instructions are required.


Let us welcome 2009 with a celebration of Drudgery. I admit Drudgery does not evoke any of the glittering promises of advertising and the media circus, the words that invariably arrive with an exclamation point. Sexy! New! Fun! Cool! Exciting!


Drudgery is none of those things, and takes a certain quiet pride in the fact.  Rarely does the word arrive with an exclamation point at its side. Samuel Johnson, the great English essayist and creator of the first comprehensive English dictionary, defined “lexicographer” as “a harmless drudge.”


The painter Gauguin wrote in his journal, “Work is leisure.” Yet when I think about it, his might be an exceptional case. “Monsieur Gauguin, what do you do for a living?” “My profession is painting beautiful partly clad native women in the tropical paradise where I live.” It would be superfluous to ask if his job came with a good 401K program.


One reason to accept the beauty of Drudgery is that it comprises much of what we call work, and not a little of what we call recreation. The author Logan Pearsall Smith wrote, “The test of a vocation is the love of the Drudgery it involves.” (I wonder if he was a gardener).


Do not confuse Drudgery with its sibling Hard Work. There are certain people who complain, with great self-satisfaction, about all the Hard Work they do.


I do not deny the existence of Hard Work. I do not begrudge a soldier assigned to deactivating land mines that his is Hard Work. I concede to the Emergency Room physician who tends to patients nonstop for 18 hours that this is Hard Work indeed. Hard Work is the lot, too, of the diamond miners in Africa who work in unspeakable conditions. Working three jobs to support your family can be called only Hard Work.


There are other kinds of Hard Work that are less extreme or debilitating. To labor at a task which is altogether uncongenial is Hard. Working in a nasty and unsupportive workplace is most Hard. To work at something for which you have no aptitude: Hard again. It is sure hard to accomplish one’s task without adequate tools or guidance.


But when an executive or politician preens himself on his Hard Work, what he’s really talking about is diligent application, the persistence needed to accomplish a task. For him to complain of this as Hard Work is like a cow complaining of all the grass it must chew, or a hen kvetching about the ordeal of laying eggs.


If you consider your day’s work and grade the degree of difficulty of each task from 1 to 10, you will probably land in the sweet spot of Drudgery, somewhere between Gauguin’s 1 or 2 and the land mine remover’s 10. 


In decision-making, sometimes the Hardest thing to do is also the easiest. Often the greatest challenge is to step away from the task for a time, and come back to it later, with fresh eyes and a rested, open mind.


Many a military, investment or marketing blunder might have been averted if one brave soul had the temerity to propose that the assembled company of Hard Workers go home and play with their children.


It was as he was lowering himself into his bathtub that the Greek scientist Archimedes had his “Eureka” moment. I doubt the discoverer of specific gravity grumbled about the Hard Work involved in bath taking.


Contemplating drudgery brings to mind the image of Japanese Zen monks sweeping the sand in a temple garden. They look happy.  There is contentment in their movements. They turn sweeping into poetry,  a chore into an exercise of mindfulness.


We are, all of us, fated to lives filled with Drudgery. How very lucky we are.


Happy Gardening New Year!



This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 at 10:55 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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40 Responses to “Sexy! New! Fun! Cool! Exciting!”

  1. Carole Ferguson said:

    Drudgery is just focused, repetative work. Soothing in that it lets the mind go as the body does the work. In the end the mind has been to many parts of the world in thought and the garden looks better.

    What a great vacation…..

  2. George said:

    Dear Carole

    Thanks. Folks should “give repetition a chance”.

  3. Barbara said:

    Thank you for giving me a more properly focused start for the New Year. Without the “drudgery” I would be nothing more than a slug.
    Best to you and your family.

  4. George said:

    Dear Barbra

    Thank you for your wonderfully enlightened response.

  5. Marjorie Johnson said:

    Your Picture IS MUCH BETTER

  6. George said:

    Dear Marjorie

    No red Shoes. But Thanks.

  7. Henry Knock said:

    That which one loves is not work, nor drudgery, but play – whether one is paid for it or not has nothing to do with the matter.

  8. George said:

    Dear Henry

    I disagree a little. I expect to get paid for my work, whether I like it or not. Play I do for nothing. I’m thinking also of the drudgery of a good education. The memorization and drills were effective, no? Thanks very much for your input.

  9. HollySue said:

    Ahhh you are a breath of fresh air. thank you.

  10. Jo Fox in RO MI said:

    I have really been enjoying your tirades!

  11. George said:

    Dear Holly Sue

    So are you.

  12. George said:

    Dear Jo

    Thank you – trying to be enjoyable is key.

  13. Alice Vernon said:

    What an incomparable moment of peace to share the thoughts and emotions of a “fellow gardener” regarding that special zen, creating your own “church,” Feng Shui, of those moments mindlessly committed in your own gardening drugery.

  14. Gina Murdock said:

    With this title of your essay and your new picture, I almost thought this was going to be about your new haircut! :)Tee hee!

  15. George said:

    Dear Gina,

    I close my eyes and think, “Back at you!”


  16. Joy Viola said:

    Drudgery! What a novel thought. There is tranquility in drudgery too – a certain peaceful existence with nature as one weeds, feeds or waters. Perhaps it is the latent expectation of what this drudgery will yield when spring turns to summer and blossoms appear. But yes, I like the thought of benign drudgery in the garden. And as I watch the snow falling heavily outside my window, and watch the birds feeding in the makeshift shelters I have created to keep their ground-tossed seed from getting covered up, even the shoveling becomes a pleasant drudgery.

  17. George said:

    Dear Joy

    Thanks much. What lovely writing! You should write this blog.

  18. Marie M. Merzon said:

    Thank you and may your new year be full of drudgery……and mine too! Marie Montone-Merzon

  19. George said:

    Dear Marie

    Beautifully said. Thanks.

  20. Ken O'Dell said:

    Go, George Ball, GO!!!
    Drudgery, How SWEET it is.

  21. George said:

    Dear Ken

    I’m glad you like the blog. Thanks.

  22. elspeth Bobbs said:

    Thank you very much for your delightful and insightful letters. They are fun to read and they are food for thought. Happy New Year and Happy Gardening.

  23. George said:

    Dear Elspeth

    Thanks for the nice compliments.

    Happy New Year to you also.

  24. Mary said:

    As I ponder your explanation of drudgery, I could see that one’s heart might then more easily be present in present time (while you are in what you might consider drudgery), in a state of being and in contact with your own conscious type of spiritual life. When you are in this state of being, you can live in a state in which stress disappears, or better yet, is nonexistent. This elevates your quality of life exponentially.

    Your life can be in the energy of your own heart, feeling it and thus able to engage in a dialog with it, as did the Mayan People, who as wise people maintained this activity constantly & deliberately.

    When you decide your inner being needs a permanent inner peace, you will realize the excitement of the world has little importance. With the aforementioned “drudgery”, your mind can now quiet itself and respond to questions about your life and what you will create. In this way, you will experience more joy, more fruits of the Spirit… and hopefully a more connected experience with your soil and plants. Thank you for your insight, which helped me lead to my insight from it.

  25. George said:

    Dear Mary

    You’re very welcome. Best wishes to you in the New Year.

  26. TC said:

    So that’s what it’s called? You just gave me my “Eureka!” moment.

    Now I must go prepare to “slog into the New Year” with dread.

    The best of 2009 awaits us all.

  27. George said:

    Dear TC

    Actually I call it something else, but thanks anyway. Your posts are a hoot.

  28. S. Bell said:

    I look forward to reading the “voice”. This must be a very kind and gentle soul. Please keep writing.

  29. Paula said:

    You most definately get an “Amen brother” from one who thankfully slogs through most work,or play chores.Thankful to be in the slow lane,as there are so many small treasures to happen upon if one keeps their eyes open and their mouth shut! I persist, with patience and know that whatever I can see in my imagination can come to fruition with patience, patience, patience and goat-headed persistance. After all… we’re gardeners- EH!!!!

  30. Martha said:

    When visitors look at our shelves full of home grown and canned vegeteables and fruits they say, “What a lot of work.”

    When visitors see our gardens and notice that we are working in the yard for hours every day, they shake their heads.

    They think it is drudgery.

  31. Sheila said:

    Although it is work, this drudgery, it is what makes the world work. I suppose it is drudgery when I plow through the paperwork that goes along with my business, insurance, or the thoughtfulness I direct towards the needs of my customers I would not feel the sense of satisfaction that I receive in return. The same attention and concern is directed to my gardens. but somehow I cannot get excited about other activities in the same way. I suppose we drudges of the world, we worker bees, who care about the way as well as the why things work are the reasons the world works.

  32. Tammy said:

    What I enjoy about work, if it is repetative, is that it helps me be in that exact moment. I think that must be the Zen. Gardening and even housework has saved my mind when things in my life were not too happy. Cancer, a sick parent, and a bad relationship were my realities, but for that period of time my mind could either be at rest or open to new ways of looking at my life. I enjoy your articles.

  33. Laura said:

    I look forward to reading your inspirational messages and I usually smile as I read. Drudgery can also be the past seasons endless mailings of junk mail catalogs. Buy,buy,buy!! Then, a beautiful Heronswood catalog is delivered and with a good cup of coffee…or a great french wine…you just sit down and enjoy. I love your new logo. Thankyou

  34. Jean said:

    Your delightful New Year’s greeting essay did a fine job of putting things into proper perspective. I normally use “uneventful” to describe my contented life but drudgery could be a good substitute.
    Happy New Year.

  35. Mary Loo said:

    To Mr. George Ball,
    Thank you for your eloquent essay on ‘drudgery’. I read your views with interest and, for the mostpart, happy agreement.

    I serve as a steward for the small pond and greenspace behind our home – I pick up all the litter & rubbish (items larger than litter?) left by the thoughtless others & enjoy the view of our little park once the debris is removed.

    For Christmas, I asked for a telescoping litter picker and received one that appears to be a dandy. With recent back problems, this new tool will allow me to continue my volunteerism at our little community park & pond. So – this part of my life of drudgery may continue – with the pleasure of knowing that I am silently giving something to our community & to our good earth (in addition to our growing garden). Happy New Year to One & All;-)

  36. Happy New Year to Everyone At Heronswood Voice!
    When Martha Stewart first recommended Heronswood (some time ago) I was amazed to see the passion and beauty online (in color) to be enjoyed even if I was unable to visit the gardens in person.

    Many books have been written on gardening, but very few are able to make me feel as if I am walking by your side. Thank you for your extra effort in creating beauty that makes people feel good.

  37. Lisa Bice said:

    Beautiful thoughts which bring peace to my spirit.

  38. Virginia said:

    good subject
    you look 15-20 years younger with your clean shaven face and head!

    Happy New Year!

  39. Judy Sopenski said:

    I love that thought. I raise sheep and pigs and love gardening. Gardening is the sweet work when I have time. Much of my work is mindless: haul water, hay, feed out grain, stomp out frozen water from the pails, observe each animal…can this be drudgery? Or is this just the ordinariness of daily chores combined with a connection tothe seasons, the time of day and the place. Yours was a good thought for the new year.

  40. Grandmapeg said:

    What is an appropriate “celebration of drudgery”? Perhaps Hallmark and American Greetings would have us send out Happy Drudgery cards, the variety stores would love to sell us crepe streamers, noise makers, and table decorations. Magazines might feature recipes like dirt cake, mudpie cookies, and uses of gummy worms. Record companies could feature special drudge music. What are you trying to start?

    Seriously, enjoyed the blog.

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