No one could ruin a Saturday morning like my father, bless him. At breakfast, he'd deflate my hope of a long mindless day--endless channel-surfing (yes, walking back and forth from the couch to the black-and-white TV to see what Saturday morning drivel was on all four channels) and re-reading books I already knew by heart--simply by asking, "What USEful thing are you going to do today?"

USEful to him meant cleaning out the garage. Picking up my clothes or otherwise cleaning my room. Clearing my homework and schoolbooks off the dining room chair where I tended to dump them (and finishing my homework, but that was a given, not really USEful). Helping my mother cook Sunday dinner, organizing the stuff on and in her desk, or matching plastic margarine tubs with lids.

In other words, doing something to contribute to the family--something my parents wanted me to do, not necessarily something I wanted to do, and preferably what they told me to do.

Since then, my definition of USEful has changed slightly. Sure, stuff similar to the list above has to get done, though I'm doing it for my husband and me, not for my parents. The "homework" and "schoolbooks" are now simply "work" and "books," but I still leave stuff lying around on more horizontal surfaces than I should. There's always laundry. And I still spend an inordinate amount of time messing around with food storage containers.

But "doing something USEful"? It's no longer the sad trombone phrase of my youth.

These days, USEful means something tangible I do to help someone. Sometimes that "someone" is me, but more often, if I really feel USEful, I'm helping someone else. The absolute best, most fun USEful times are when I get to do something that otherwise wouldn't be done at all, or that wouldn't be done with the (ahem) attention and care I bring to it.

All of which is to say that I've been immersed in a project for someone else during the past few days. I'm contributing something of value. He's grateful. I'm happy to do it. And I get to use skills (establishing and enforcing consistency, mostly*) that create an orderly product.

In fact, I've found feeling USEful to be REALLY FUN! My younger self would be astonished. I bet my father wouldn't be.

*OK, OK, I'll confess. Since I can wax annoying about how "nobody appreciates careful copyediting these days," you might imagine I'm doing that. However, not even--I'm doing ticky administrative schtuff, like stripping and adding formatting, and running search/replace for two spaces in a row, all to bring uniformity to a giant document. It's so INCREDIBLY satisfying!