Conversations May 20, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

7:30 AM. Okay, Papa, what shall we talk about today? Started Death In The Afternoon again, as you no doubt know.

If you were to keep a list of questions you wanted to ask, you could add to the list as you read. You won’t be able to keep them all in your mind, because that isn’t how minds work.

Let’s talk about work and working and work schedules.

Everything in life is alternation. Things wax and wane in importance. Too much of anything is not a good thing, but too much of anything in the wrong time is even worse. So, scheduling helps you keep things in balance; it reduces the impact on you of the things you can’t help.

I got up early and worked then, for several reasons that ought to be obvious. You’re fresh in the morning — provided that you didn’t abuse your body too much the night before. You’re clear, too — you don’t have things of the day hanging over you, or distracting you. And you are not plagued with company or with people’s demands early in the day. Most people sleep later, plus they take time to get themselves organized, plus they have their own lives to deal with. It’s very convenient in many ways, and when you’re done for the day, you’re done. You can — and ought to, almost must — turn your mind to other things.

But when you work, work. Bring to it a single-minded intensity, don’t just work at half speed, or with half your mind. The very intensity with which you work will be a reward: It will increase your energy, and your enjoyment, in a way that going through the motions never can. If you don’t work hard, how can you know the difference between work and play? How can you live?

Let’s talk a minute about this. Existing is not the same as living, in the same way that dusk is not the same as high noon. Living without intensity is living with much more boredom, with a lack of savor. Why do you think I wanted out when I could no longer live with intensity?

People think my life was a frantic progression from one time-filling thing to another — bullfights, sea fishing, partying, drinking — and fewer people remember that the work that underlay all that, and financed it, is not something that can be made into dramatic stories, so is unreported, leaving a very distorted picture of the balance of my life. But even when they realize that my life had careful alternations of work and play, they usually don’t realize that the play wasn’t frantic, wasn’t purposeless, wasn’t self-destructive.

Deep-sea fishing isn’t purposeless and isn’t destructive. It is a different application of discipline and intensity. Big game hunting, the same. Hunting small game requires intelligence and sharp instinct and reflex, even if it doesn’t involve personal danger. Observing corridas is different the more knowledge you acquire, and how different is it to appreciate a bullfight than to appreciate an opera, say, or a symphony, or a baseball game, or any intricate performance conducted within strictly understood and observed rules?

Parties, all right, that’s relaxation. A lot of people, a lot of food and drink, that’s a balance to all those hours working alone. It isn’t what it would be if the parties weren’t a balance to work, you see. Same parties, same amount of wine or liquor, but the total effect is entirely different.

So, work! It isn’t a matter of earning your pleasure, as much as it is of making the pleasure possible. There aren’t any people more sad than those who don’t have any real work, unless maybe it’s those who have only work, or only meaningless work.

Your day-to-day schedule is going to be a certain amount of work, a certain amount relaxing from the intensity of work, and then either a certain amount of play or the same time spent quietly refilling the reserves for the next day’s work.

Your week-by-week schedule ought to have the same alternation. Don’t work Sundays, or if not Sunday, some day you choose. Or if you wish, maybe don’t work two days in the week, or three, or whatever suits you. But the alternation is the important thing. Some days must break the routine, or else the routine will become unsustainable. You’ll be draining your batteries all the time, and at some point you’re going to have to refill them, either by some time off like a prolonged vacation or probably by some form of illness.

And in the course of a year, too, there ought to be some extra time that breaks the schedule, some Sunday of the year. It is only when you deliberately break up your schedule that you can keep the schedule up for a long time without you breaking down or just grinding down.

Beyond the span of a year, that is, breaking your life into larger chunks the way a month is a chunk of weeks, and a week a chunk of days, and a day a chunk of hours — well, here you’re into astrology, or into anything that looks at the ages in a man’s life. It ought to be clear enough that there are some things you can do and can’t do at any stage of life. Try to stay with the rhythm of it.

So, let’s assume you are able to work on your own schedule, and aren’t just putting in time for somebody. How do you work best? The first thing is to know what suits you. Do you do better in short spurts, then a pause, then another spurt? Do you like steady-as-she-goes? Do you prefer to orchestrate things so you do some easy things first, move toward harder or more intense things, then taper off? I don’t know that there’s any right or wrong about it, but you want to know what kind of routine suits you. You fit into it better. You aren’t chafing against the harness.

All of this has been just clearing away the shrubbery. The big question is, what are you working for? What are you working towards?

If you are doing some job you don’t care about one way or another and you’re just putting in time because you have to feed your family, that’s one thing. But even there, you should know why you’re doing what you’re doing. If it’s just a job and you know it, you won’t hesitate to change for something better that pays better or is better somehow. But if you’re doing the only thing there is for you, the work equivalent of the only girl for you, then you you’ve got to stick to it and be true to it, and God help you if you throw it over to do something that pays more or is steadier, or for any reason. If you have to, all right: There’s no telling what our lives really mean. But you’d better be sure you really have to, and you aren’t just settling. Things that settle can wind up in quicksand.

And if you don’t really know what you want to do?

Then you have to find it.

And how do you go about finding it?

How did you do it?

I floundered around, thinking I was going to be a statesman, thinking I was going to be a novelist, and in the meantime working at various jobs and reading all the time.

That’s one way to see it. But you could also say, you floundered around because you had a fixed idea about what you were going to do, and you had blankness as to how to do what really called you, and you didn’t see a path because you hadn’t done the research and couldn’t have done it. How were you to find the Monroe Institute? How were you to find Bob Friedman? How were you to find the Virginian-Pilot? You — following logic or any form of matter-of-fact common sense way of going about things — could never have found your way along “the path without a path.” But the path found you. All you had to do was listen when the promptings got loud enough, and you changed jobs, you volunteered to write a guest column in the one week when it was possible, you applied for the job you otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and on and on. You didn’t suspect, when you went to the Shirley MacLaine seminar, that you were moving directly onto the path. How could you? But you were faithful to something within yourself, and that brought you through. Do you have any reason at all to think that this wouldn’t hold true for everyone?

No I don’t.

All right. So — the simple rule is, to find your right work, you have to keep your eyes and ears open to the promptings of the inner self. It knows. Call it your higher self, if you like, or your soul, or your hunches. Otherwise you’re on your own, and the world’s clues might mislead you. Or maybe not, I don’t know that you can make rules about it.

And there’s one more thing to say about work, and it’s important. Not everybody’s life centers on their work, and not everybody’s should. There’s many a guy whose life is making money to feed his family, and his family is his life, and his job is just a sort of social interaction. And of course in your time that’s true of women as much as men.

Thanks, Papa. I’ll enter this in the machine and send it out as usual.

But don’t forget to think about it, and consider if you want to put any of it into effect.

Yes. I got it. It’s meant to be practical advice.

Not advice; just the way things are as I see them. You’re going to do whatever your life brings you to do.

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