About Maintenance

I’ve always hated the word and concept of “training.” Maybe it’s a particular personality quirk or maybe it’s pointless semantics, but I do a lot of things that other people would consider training for their own sake. They have the side benefit of keeping me in shape, I guess, but it’s hard for me to be too goal oriented or care about metrics because I tend to get naturally better at things when I enjoy them because I do them more (and any other attitude makes them feel like a chore). No matter what you call it, when I really consider it, I spend a lot of time doing things that improve my body’s abilities, and then doing them again and again to maintain that status quo. It’s a strange, futile cycle if you think about it too much– eating calories, converting them to slightly better fitness, and using that fitness to do things that make you really hungry so you have to eat a lot again.

Maintenance of a building or machine (or in the case of my job, exhibits) can feel the same way. You keep fixing something and tuning it, and just like your body, it will eventually stop working when you inevitably finally lose to entropy. Still, you have to do these things carefully and regularly or this failure will come much sooner. And much like going for a run, many people come to enjoy the maintenance aspects of their job or hobbies for their own sake.

And interestingly, even though my job maintaining science exhibits is ostensibly about “maintaining” the state of the museum, in reality we don’t keep everything the same. Sometimes, something gets so old it needs to be rebuilt. Sometimes, there is better technology and we rethink the mechanism behind an exhibit. Sometimes we just build new things and throw old things away. Without this, the museum would become rapidly irrelevant. So really, we are not maintaining the precise physical state of the museum, we are maintaining some system, some essence of what the experience of visiting the museum should be. We are maintaining the magic.

And maybe that’s why I hate separating my activities into “training” or “practice” activities and otherwise. Just as much as you go for a run because you want to stay in shape (which in my case is really never the reason), maybe you do it because the fresh air inspires you. Maybe your hike where you get really lost is maintaining not just your physical fitness but your emotional resilience, some kind of store of inspiration, or your “adventure meter” that you don’t like to let get too low. And when it comes to “maintaining” a healthy mind, changing or eliminating ideas and assumptions, exposing yourself to new things, is obviously an important part.

As evidenced by the stereotype of men who enjoy maintaining cars they ostensibly bought for transportation more than driving them, the separation is often less clear than we imagine. Since I am not like those men and don’t generally like repetitive tasks, I think blurring this line helps keep me from becoming too stagnant in the maintenance roles I perform, or falling into the illusory trap of maintenance as pure, boring repetition. Destruction and change are a part of all things.

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