Does anyone truly love to work?
I mean, the actual act of working, not the side-effects: satisfaction, sense of purpose, feelings of accomplishment. I mean, let’s be honest: wouldn’t you rather be having a glass of wine with friends in a nice, sunny garden instead of surveilling a parking garage, polishing your story draft, or pulling weeds? I know I would. But without the work hours, the wine hours feel a bit hollow and unearned. I mean, what to talk about between sips of wine, if not the day’s accomplishments? Besides which, if you don’t pull the weeds, the sunny garden tends to look a bit…weedy.
Maybe you’re different. Perhaps you’re actually one of those extremely driven souls who thrive on long days at the office, negotiating, litigating, or typing your heart out until moonglitter streams into the windows. If so, I commend you. But I’m also slightly wary of your single-mindedness. What are you trying to avoid? Do you fear human engagement outside of the cubicle? I mean, what’s the work for, if not to find a sense of meaning inside a life that’s larger than the work itself—and by larger, I mean full of people, friendships, laughter, travel, feasts, and not a few glasses of wine?
Or maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s me. Is it possible that I’m simply devoid of the Great American Work Ethic? That I love wine and summer and song a bit more than I should? Because right now, all I know is, sitting down to write sometimes feels a whole lot like sprinting uphill in a driving rainstorm. In rickety stilettos.
I stumbled across a quotation in one of my favorite books this morning that seems to sum up what I’m feeling about my novel manuscript right now. I’ve sent her out into the world, and I tensely await the world’s feedback. Writing those 60,000-or-so words has taken many thousands of hours over a period of about two years. There were moments when I loved the actual hours of dreaming up words and sentences. And there were hours when dragging a single phrase out of the mental quagmire felt like a slog in swirling, waist-high water. And when I thumb through that stack of pages, I feel surges of emotion—pride and disgust, terror and thrill. To sum it up, love.
Here’s Marlow, from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, on the “twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat” he’s fighting to restore for his epic river journey:
“She was nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape, but I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influential friend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit—to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work,—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know.”
That pretty much sums it up. Which is why, as my husband Hal put it earlier this morning, that 240-page stack makes me smile, even if the world, when all is said and done, declines to care about it with me.
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