On the Essential Maintenance of Daily Life

A poetic exploration of who keeps the world going round when everything else stops

Samantha Wallen
3 min readApr 1, 2020


“Daily life is always extraordinary when rendered precisely.” — Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark

To see an ordinary thing clearly is highly unusual. Ordinary things are who and what we rely on regularly without much thought or attention, they maintain our lives on a day to day basis, and they’re most often overlooked and undervalued. That’s now changing. (Toilet paper, anyone?)

This is an unprecedented time in human history. Many of us are staying home and slowing down in order to “flatten the curve” of corona virus infections. The majority of work outside the home has ceased and only “essential workers” are reporting to their jobs. We’re attempting to maintain our daily lives in ways we’ve never had to do before, as a result we’re seeing more clearly what “maintenance” really means and who performs it at a fundamental level.

The current circumstances are revealing exactly who keeps the world going round. Namely: grocery store workers, health care workers, teachers, moms (and anyone doing the work of birthing and parenting), care givers, garbage collectors, artists, and all those who grow, harvest, transport, cook, and clean up after our meals, to name a few. Under “normal” circumstances, this labor is predominantly undervalued, made invisible, feminized, and unpaid or poorly paid.

The etymological root of the word maintenance is “hold in the hand.” Those who maintain the essential functions of our day to day lives hold us in their hands. Everyday they sculpt our lives into being. Their “art” is the maintenance of society and our lives as we know them.

This year for National Poetry Writing Month (#NaPoWriMo) we’ve decided to write about our lives as women who routinely perform loads of what Mierle Laderman Ukele called, “maintenance art.” This is the care work that makes all other work possible.

For our 2019 NaPoWriMo collaboration here on Medium we wrote:

“Uranus (the planet of revolution) has recently moved into Taurus (a slow, feminine earth sign) where it will stay for…



Samantha Wallen

Poet, writer, writing & book coach — Seeking to restore the soul of our world one word at a time…