There’s a scene in “The Incredibles” where the mom calls the dad at work and says “we are are officially moved in,” and he says something like “and the last three years don’t count because…” to which she responds that she finally finished unpacking.
That’s how I feel with my new office space. It only took three months, not three years, but really – I’m kind of embarrassed that it took me that long. The thing is, I generally have a ton of work to do, and when I’m in the office, I’m not there to decorate. So here it is. Drum roll please….
Notice the new file cabinet which took me two hours to put together. And the ergonomic key board tray (which you can’t really see because my chair is in the way). But trust me. It’s great. Everything is exactly where I need it, and I have a whole section there on the left where I can spread out papers when I’m working on something. So much space!
I even love the bare brick walls, though it’s pretty tricky to get anything to stick to them, by tape or tack. I managed to tape a few family photos to a ribbon that I hung from an old nail, but it’s kind of ghetto.
I think I’m going to have to spring for a few frames to put the photos in, and maybe a few tall plants to fill the bare walls a bit.
It’s a work in progress, but the exciting news is, I am officially moved in.
I can’t remember the context any more, but once, when I was in high school, a boyfriend of mine asked “do you want to live to work, or work to live?”
It’s one of those annoying questions that stoners ask when their existential angst comes up pressure from their parents to get a j-o-b.
My mom was an artist (is still), and she loved her work. She lived to work. It didn’t always pay the bills (or so I know now, with the perspective of grown up hindsight), but her work was her passion. So when stoner-boy posed the question, I answered without hesitation – live to work.
But thinking back, I remember my date scoffing. His mom was a lawyer, or something, and I think he equated living for work with selling your soul.
He planned to work to live – go, clock in, do his time and then go home to the thing he really cared about (pot). Even back then I had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around that. I mean really, we spend more time working than we do with our families.
Working to live is what you do when you have to. I’ve certainly done it, but it’s not my preference. Life is too short to waste eight hours a day on things/people you don’t care anything about.
I think I’ve been knocking this question around some lately because I’m realizing that things aren’t as simple as the marijuana-addled brains of a teenager would like to believe. I’ve got a great job, and I get to do a lot of writing for clients, but I don’t LIVE for my work. I live for the writing I do at five in the morning. Well, actually, I LIVE for my family. They are the best and if I could I would lay around with them all day every day, soaking in the kiddie pool and planting strawberries, but there are bills to pay. So I work.
I guess the best we can hope for is to be engaged, to be interested enough in what we’re doing, and/or who we’re doing it with, that the time passes quickly and we can get back to the things/people we love. Would that count as living to work, or working to live?
It’s been a downright crazy couple of days.
On Friday morning I was up in Napa to act as secretary for a client, taking notes for the organization’s quarterly board meeting. Then, before I really had a chance to take advantage of anything Napa has to offer, I rushed south again to get home in time to put the kiddos to bed, and head out to a party in the Mojave. It’s a yearly event some DJ friends of mine put on, and it was a banner year.
Great music, great friends, even a keg of micro-brew from San Diego, and the moon was just a sliver, which meant the stars were out in a mind-boggling display of lights the likes of which I hadn’t seen in a long time. Rather than go through the trouble of setting up the tent, I did something I’d been wanting to do since we bought our big family-mobile (a Honda Pilot). I flipped the back seats flat and inflated our air mattress so that it filled the space. It was so easy, and so comfortable (when I finally crashed out around 4). I woke briefly to watch the sun rise, then went back to sleep until some rowdy friends with a megaphone woke me around seven, insisting I come dance some more. How could I argue? It was nice to spend some time out in the desert and remember that I chose to set my novel there because I freaking LOVE it.
I left that party early (they go all weekend) to get back home for another friend’s 40th birthday party on Saturday night. It was a costume party where everyone was supposed to dress as a literary character, and folks went all out. I met Nancy Drew, Lenny (from Of Mice and Men), a couple Harry Potters. I went as the Mad Hatter. It was a great crowd (right down to the guy who tweaked the theme a bit to come as David Foster Wallace, who held a copy of Infinite Jest with laminated strips of paper (each with a Wallace quote) sticking out of it, which he invited everyone to chose from) and I had a fabulous time.
I talked a for a long time with a woman who might be the most well-read person I’ve ever met. She was throwing out titles and authors with an ease that had me feeling like a right idiot. Her dad used to interview authors for a living, and I guess she was paying attention from a very young age. It was such a treat to talk books with her. She invited me to join her book club. She said they intentionally choose difficult books, the kind of novels that you have to discuss to truly understand, and they only meet a few times a year, so as to give each other plenty of time to read. I’ll admit, I’m a little intimidated, but I’m also super excited. If their book club is anything like the conversation she and I had Saturday night, it’ll be great.
Yesterday morning I took the kids to the farmer’s market, then plunked them in front of a movie while I took a much needed nap. I’m still trying to catch up, but what is a little sleep derivation compared to a wonderful weekend like that?
I saw this little gem in my Facebook stream a while back and it’s been the cause of much rumination since then.
Is the idea that we (me, you, and your cousin Jim) need to earn a living really just a self-imposed prison? Should we all just go back to school and think about whatever it was we were thinking about before somebody came along and told us to earn a living?
I don’t know.
The way I interpret this is that we all have a true calling, and that our efforts in life should be in service to that, rather than a pay check. Some people are called to be heart surgeons, others are called to paint landscapes, and some would spend all day in the garden growing pumpkins if they could. If we all just follow our calling, we will all be happy, living in a world with excellent doctors, lovely art and lots of pumpkins to eat.
It’s a nice idea, but my mind keeps turning to our garbage man, my dental hygienist, and the administrative assistant at my kid’s preschool. All three of these people do important work, but I’ve never assumed their work is their calling. The truth is, in the world we live in, bills have to be paid, food needs to be bought, cars need to be repaired. These things cost money. We earn money by working jobs.
That’s not to say that jobs have to dominate our lives. In fact, in my experience, most people have a job they work for a pay check, and other pursuits they follow in their spare time. Hobbies, they’re called. My novel is what I do in my spare time. I’m reluctant to call it a hobby, as I genuinely hope to turn my novel writing into the thing that earns me my pay check, but I guess it would be an accurate label.
Until I have developed the skill to be a professional novelist, I will continue to work the day job. And that, I think, is the hole in Fuller’s argument. With all due respect, you don’t just get to declare yourself and artist and retire to a life of rumination. Not all artists are good. Not all gardeners have a green thumb. Some doctors have shaky hands and should never operate on anyone’s heart.
We all end up somewhere in our attempt to pay our bills. If we’re not happy with that, it’s in our power to change it, but it’s difficult. Like my mom always says: “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” The idea that we should all just sit around and ponder what interests us is flawed. What we should really do is study, apprentice, practice, train.
I have always said that a writer is someone who writes. Full stop. But as a writer I’m under no illusion that the bills will pay themselves. No matter what Mr. Fuller had to say about it.
The other day at work I was doing some uploading and formatting of images for a new site, and rather than listen to music as I usually do, I decided to put on a TED Talk. I was just feeling nerdy, I guess. But man, those babies blow me away every time.
If you’re not familiar, TED is a conference that is pretty fancy. People at the top of their game give talks, and the people who put the whole thing together post everything online FOR FREE. Of course, there’s so much content, that it can be a little overwhelming, but I like to click on the check box for “most viewed,” and it usually turns up interesting stuff.
So this other day at work, I ended up listening to this one:
It’s about how we are better at everything we do when we’re happy. You should watch it if you have 10 minutes to spare.
If you don’t, I’ll tell you the kicker – this guy has done research on how it is we can train ourselves to be happier (and therefore better at everything we do). I did a little screen grab for you:
Three gratitudes means writing down three new things that you’re grateful for every day. The rest is pretty self explanatory, except the random (or as he calls them intentional) acts of kindness – he describes that as writing an email, first thing every day when you sit down at work, to someone saying why you care about them, or why they’re great.
This guys says (and I’m inclined to believe him, because you don’t get to do a Ted Talk just by walking in off the street) that if you do a 21 day training of these 5 things, you will begin the process of reprogramming your brain – to be happier.
If this were an infomercial, I would totally be pulling out my credit card.
So I’ve been thinking how I should do this. 21 days. It would be really interesting to see how I felt as the three weeks progressed. But then I think – the main thing that makes me unhappy is being over-committed. It’s a bad habit I’ve been trying for a long time to let go of.
It wouldn’t take so long. The exercise and meditation would take time, and I guess the journal writing would too. Let’s say it’s an hour every day. Man, if I had an extra hour every day I’d sleep. Or work on my novel.
But maybe I’d be happier if I devoted some time to trying to make myself happier.
In any case, I’ve been going around on this for about 5 days now, and I’m not any happier (or sadder) than I was before. If I did it every other day would I be half as happier at the end?
Who can say?
There’s a kid’s book called “Hippos Go Berserk,” by Sandra Boynton. It’s a favorite around our house. For those of you who don’t know this little gem, allow me to share. It starts out with a drawing of a hippo, sitting at a table all by his (her?) lonesome. The corresponding line is: One hippo, all alone.
On the next page that hippo calls two hippos, on the phone.
The next thing you know, there are three hippos at the door, who bring along another four.
It goes on like this for a bit until finally, there are 45 hippos in the house, and…
All the hippos go berserk!
And they really do. One is standing on his head. Another is clearly streaking, which is funny because most of the hippos are naked anyway, but this one is running by and has a banner of some sort wrapped around him. One is passing around what I swear are jello shots. There’s a blue beast hanging from the wall art. By any standards, it looks like a hell of a party.
That’s how this weekend felt.
Daniel and I went to Austin for the wedding of a dear friend who walks an interesting line in life between Texas high society and a rowdy Burning Man crowd. At one point I looked across the dance floor to see a very dapper elderly couple waltzing, and behind them danced a man in an orange jumper wearing a full rubber unicorn head. There was a fire dance performance. The last song was from the most recent Muppet movie. And then the party moved on. I crashed out around 4, but the bride and groom closed the place down at 6am.
All through the hippo night, the hippos played with great delight, but at the hippo break of day, the hippos all must go away.
And so it was for us. The next day, after a brunch that I was too exhausted and hung over to go to, all these wonderful people headed back to their far flung homes.
Daniel and I made it home that evening, and as we loaded into the taxi for the final stretch Daniel turned to me and said “I feel like a hippo.” I didn’t understand what he was saying at first – until he quoted me the last line of the book: One hippo, alone once more, misses the other 44.
Just goes to show that perfect prose come in many forms.
It was a wonderful weekend. Thank you, dear hippos.