fac·to·tum – noun \fak-ˈtō-təm\

: a person whose job involves doing many different types of work
: a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
: a general servant


Last week as I got back to work after a couple of weeks off, I set out with a new time management system, a renewed fervor for my work, and by Wednesday morning, a toilet that wouldn’t flush because of a frozen pipe.

So while I should have been editing articles and drafting marketing slicks, I was walking around in the snow-covered backyard with my house slippers on, peering into the crawlspace over the shoulder of our plumber. Thankfully they were making emergency house calls all day.

For the rest of the week, Steve and I worked to seal off the back of the house from cold air seepage to keep it warm and cozy for our plumbing system. But we couldn’t stop the rest of our lives just to winterize, so for the next few days, we took turns rotating the space heater, shutting the blinds, and flushing the toilet while we worked away in our home office. On Saturday, we caulked the windows just before heading the YMCA to work out. Later, we stopped at Lowe’s for insulating foam board on the way to see the new Glick glass exhibit at the Indianapolis Art Museum.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, just after we duct-taped the foam board to our metal crawlspace door and attached insulated drawstring bags to our outside water spigots, I sat down to enjoy a relaxing evening, only to discover my website had been obliterated by an innocent-looking update to my design theme.

So much for a relaxing evening.

I often imagine that if I didn’t take the plunge of working for myself, if my days weren’t spent working at home, that my life would be more orderly. I would just punch my timecard and do what I was told. But it’s not true. We all wear lots of hats these days; we are all factotums managing our overly automated, delicately integrated lives of communication, transportation, education, domestication, and commercialization. Proficiencies that used to be whole jobs—receptionist, driver, cook, housekeeper, trainer, typist, bookkeeper—are now just skills expected on most job descriptions.

In the past week, in addition to all of my normal responsibilities, I’ve been a general contractor, a web designer, a facilities manager, and a meteorologist. And with the 30-day eating challenge my family has undertaken, I’ve become a nutritionist and a personal chef. Normally, I’m just the cook.

But life in the 21st century is fun that way, too, isn’t it? While I sometimes feel like I’m going in a hundred different directions, I’m not stuck fulfilling a one-dimensional role society has foisted on me, like Daisy, from downstairs at Downton Abbey. She’s a cook, and it’s not that she doesn’t like being a cook, but she wants to learn her numbers, too.

“It’s not that I look down on cooking,” she says to her tutor, Miss Bunting. “I wouldn’t want you to think that. It’s just . . . “

“You’d like to have some choices in your life,” Miss Bunting finishes. “Why shouldn’t you?”

Of course, I can’t do everything. And on the weeks when pipes freeze and websites disappear, taking care of those things means lots of other things don’t get done. I also want to master a few skills, not dabble at many, which requires me to choose to give up doing somethings. I’ll admit it: I sometimes buy pre-cut vegetables at Costco in order to save time, and when I realized our backyard fence needs to be painted, I thought immediately of hiring someone.

But in the end, I feel good about having some choices in my life that at least allow me to try my hand at many things.

Now, two words of caution.

Just because an update is available on your website doesn’t mean you should download it. And it’s always better to winterize before winter comes. Next year, remind me of that.



What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you. 

Photo above by , via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License. Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.