Wednesday, May 2, 2012


I can't imagine not liking work. I can't imagine spending forty-eight weeks of every year hating what you do and only four weeks being happy. Why should anyone leave school at, say, sixteen thinking that the next half century or so was likely to be that kind of hell?

It's all wrong. What we do for forty-eight weeks a year should make us happy. If it doesn't, we should change what we do, if possible. Not everyone has the luxury to manage this, I know. It takes planning, education, forethought. Otherwise we risk leading those lives of quiet desperation that Henry Thoreau wrote about.

There's much talk about work/life balance. It's supposed to be a good thing. I suspect it's a kind of bumper-sticker jolly-up. As though "life" is something that happens outside work, that ideally we should do less work and have, or do, more of something else. Pleasure perhaps. Fulfilment. Joy. I'm all for that – who wouldn't be?

But if time spent working is boring and/or hateful, what part of the equation is the fun part, the fulfilling, adrenalin-rushing part, the worth-living part? Anonymous, that indefatigable and often cynical composer of wise sayings, said that the human race is faced with a cruel choice: work, or daytime television. S/he could have added housework, cleaning the car, taking out the garbage and painting the roof. I remember an old friend fretting that her real life – the bit that made her life worth living – was conducted in left-over spaces, the tiny pockets of time between work and the chores, in which she tried to fit what she really wanted to do. Chores, by definition, are boring and tend to fill the not-at-work time.

By and large people who like work are happy. They even do it when they aren't paid. The weekends are short enough to be tolerable, and Mondays roll around not a moment too soon. The chores are relegated to the left-over spaces, and quite right too.

I don't plan to retire. I don't ever want to ask myself, with T. S. Eliot, "Where is the life we have lost in living?"

The painting is "Long, Hot Summer" (which we didn't have this year)

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