Monday, January 28, 2008

"Work" vs. "work"

It's been an interesting week. To begin with, I celebrated my birthday this past weekend - I am now what the French refer to as a "woman of a certain age." Far from being depressed by the fact that I'm not in the first blush of youth anymore, I'm actually sort of thrilled. The phrase is a good one, for I am more certain about some rather key things than I was in my (occasionally) misspent youth. I'm more certain about what I like, what I don't like, what I'm willing to put up with, and what I'm willing to walk away from. This is good knowledge to have, in my opinion.

And it's come in handy lately. Part of last week was particularly grimy - the details don't really matter; suffice it to say that work was just an unholy mess - disorganized, unpleasant, and generally designed to squelch my spirit. I pitched fits, ranted, raved, and quite possibly foamed at the mouth, all to no avail. It continued to be absurd to the point I was wondering if someone named "Godot" had left a message for me. I kept waiting, but . . .

Then, in a very rare quiet moment, I remembered something important.

It really doesn't matter.

Really. It doesn't. I was confusing "work" with "Work." I'm trying to not be too hard on myself; it's an easy mistake to make. However, it's a muddle that can lead to unending heartache. See, "work" is what you do to make a living. If you're lucky (I am), you usually enjoy it and it doesn't seem like a dull series of frustrating chores. (Sure, it does from time to time; I'm talking overall here. Look at the big picture, not the frame, Chumley.) But it's not "Work."

"Work" is the big stuff - that's why it rates the big "W." It's why we put up with the little "w" work. Our purpose and reason for being, if you will. It may take years to find your Work. But I guarantee you'll know it when you see it. Further, your Work is something only you can do, although you'll probably need help with parts of it and you should never hesitate to ask. And if you don't do it, it won't get done, which means that wonderful whatever-it-is - whether it's a book, or a garden, a happy home, or a well-adjusted child - whatever is intended to be your Work, will simply never be. And we'll all be poorer for that.

For me, my Work is this book that scattered in a dozen stacks on my dining room table. Maybe to the world at large, it's not that big a deal. Well, pfffffftt! to the world, I say. Go find your own Work; mine's on the table waiting for me to index it. Hopefully, it'll be back with the publisher in two weeks (she said with crossed fingers) and to the printer shortly thereafter.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Give Me a Pipe!

A title that needs some explanation. I was having coffee with a friend the other day and we were lamenting the lack of snow we'd gotten after being promised - nay, prophesied - a "major snow event." I hate being disappointed, although I shouldn't have bought into the hype. Still, it was (to use the vernacular) a bummer.

Anyway, the conversation turned to other things we find frustrating and I said something along the lines of, "Sometimes you just want to beat the other person with your bare hands." My friend replied, "Bare hands, nothing. Hand me a pipe!"

Hence the title of the post. Now, I am not advocating random (or even carefully-planned) violence in a back alley. But it's true - sometimes you just get exasperated and, even though you'd never actually swing the pipe, it can look momentarily tempting. Therefore - a list of things I find pipe-worthy. You'll notice that most of these are petty, niggling little things. Somehow those get under my skin more than the massive things like famine and man's inhumanity to man. (Hey, it's MY list!) So, in no particular order, 5 things that make me want to swing:

1. Is it really necessary to cut me off in traffic and then slow down?
2. I despise people who curse randomly in public. Yes, yes, we all know the words; couldn't you try to be a wee bit more creative? Not every Anglo-Saxon vulgarity needs to be used as an adjective because you're too lazy to think up a new way to express yourself.
3. Not tipping your waiter/waitress is just mean. It's a rough job and that person is not there to dance for you like a monkey on a string. Standard is 15% where I'm from and if you can't calculate that, figure out 10% (it's easy; just move the decimal one place to the left) and double it until you learn how to do the math.
4. People who whine and complain about being called for jury duty, then do their level best to weasel out of it, and then have the raw nerve to complain about our justice system.
5. People who take cell phone calls at the movies - if your buddy wanted to come with you, they'd be there! Simple rule, people - when the lights go down, turn off the phone!

Well, that's the start of my list. What yanks your chain?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Winter and Home Fires

No, not home FRIES, that's something altogether different. Delicious, but different.

A new semester starts today, and we'll have to see what it brings. (By the way, I always get a kick out of saying that and having the person I'm talking to hesitate and then ask, "So where do you take classes?" Hee-hee - I'm on the other side of the desk, Drake! But thanks.)

Winter seems to have settled in here; well, our kind of winter. It's not Minnesota where, in the memorable words of a lighting designer I once knew, you "have to open your fridge to heat your house" in winter. But it's cold enough to make it reasonable to ignite the gas logs and there's a chance of snow later in the week. This excites me - we don't get much snow; usually just some nasty freezing rain or sleet. I like snow. Snow's pretty and soft and doesn't cause power outages, so it's a lot easier to stay at home, since small Southern towns only sort of have snowplows and WAY too many people think they can drive in snow (and no one, repeat no one, can drive in sleet and ice. Shame to dent up that Hummer proving that fact).

The other night, I was due at some friends' house to attend the annual Christmas Tree Burn - what began as a modest event has snowballed (smirk!) into a massive bonfire involving literally hundreds of dried-out Christmas trees. This year was going to be much smaller - another side effect of the ongoing drought - but I didn't make it at all, due to other obligations here. So I had my own version involving a metal firepit and one of those pre-packaged, guaranteed-to-burn fire logs. Just me and some contemplation about where I've been, where I am and where it looks as if I'm heading.

I highly recommend it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year, New Chances!

Among my people, one of the popular traditions associated with the New Year is the mass consumption of black-eyed peas (the food, not the band) and collard greens. This is done to assure prosperity in the new year with the peas representing coins and the greens representing - well, greens (as in folding money). I've never much cared for either food, so I spent the cusp of the year exploring other options. As for the prosperity - I have publication news, which is enough for me. Honestly, the thrill of seeing "add to wish list" near the title - well, I've had romances that weren't that exciting. (Then again, I've had a few that were, so that's something.)

It was a truly amazing end/start of the year. Work was tucked away for a while and I had time to spend with family and far-flung friends and had some fantastic experiences. For now, I'll limit myself to three things to share since last we spoke:

1. I have now hand fed hippos. Not only do they not wear cute little tutus, like in Disney's Fantasia, they're actually pretty threatening. I mean, their maws are HUGE! And they have teeth to match. You pretty much just toss entire heads of lettuce into their gullets and marvel out loud, while saying to yourself, "Sweet heaven, let me get out of here with the same number of hands as I walked in with!" (Yes, that sentence wasn't grammatical, but I was distracted by the enormous teeth and quarts of hippo slobber.) Also in the animal feeding category, I fed a giraffe through something that looked like a giant Habitrail. In all honesty, it was incredibly cool to be so close to such animals and I felt privileged to be there.

2. I was serenaded by a crowd of people singing "Happy Birthday" to me at Disneyland. Sure, it was a month early, but if age isn't anything but a number, surely the same goes for dates, right? Fireworks and artificial snow followed and it felt as if it was all for me.

3. I also re-discovered that far too many poor souls go through life convinced that having fun is somehow not quite right. I mean, shouldn't being in the Godiva store and hand-picking your very own collection of freshly-made truffles naturally make you break into spontaneous joyous song? Sheesh - the looks I got from joyless passers-by.

On the other hand, someone who understands that joy is as necessary to life as air was an education officer at the L.A. Zoo I met during my visit. I approached him and explained (very sincerely) that I was in desperate need of educational information and please, could he tell me what the capital of North Dakota is? Far from saying, "Get away from me, kid, I'm here to talk about gorillas and nobody likes a smart aleck" he smiled and radioed the main office to get the correct answer. (It's Bismarck, by the way.)

You know, in a few religions there's a belief that once we reach the afterlife, we'll be called to account for every joy that we scorned while on this earth; every opportunity we had to enjoy this wonderful gift of life we've been given that we spurned. That'll keep you up at night. But just consider it - while it may be true that hard work never killed anybody (and I'm all in favor of hard work and do a fair amount of it myself most days), I'm pretty sure that celebrating being alive never did anyone in, either.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm keeping a truffle waiting.