Thursday, January 22, 2009

Less is kinda more

I’ve been gone awhile on a cognitive vacation. I didn’t want to come back until I had presents.

Here’s one: Barack Obama needs to push Joe Biden off his chair.

Here’s another: If you want to get over the fear of something, fear something bigger.

But here’s my favorite: Less done well can make you happier than more done kinda.

When I returned to school in the early 90’s to finish a degree in psychology, I was terrified to learn I’d have to take a course in micro-economics. I’d had one already as far as I knew, but it was at Northeastern in the late 70’s and my professor’s accent was so thick, and he covered material so dense, I could have been taking a course in chair design and wouldn’t have known it. So when I went back later, before the teacher even entered the room and said “Good morning,” I was convinced I would be the one raising her hand a half minute before the end of class to shove one more awkward question in before facing that bright blue book alone. Nothing made me feel stooooopit-er.

I was anxious, but it was in the way of my determination so I resolved to get over myself and raise my hand and that was what I did. At first, it was only once during the class time. Then I kinda liked the sound of my own voice and it was more often. Then it was annoying even to me, how eager I’d become to find out what I didn’t know. By the end of one class late in the semester, someone asked a question about that “law of diminishing something or other,” and the teacher turned to me suggesting I explain. I gave him a “Really?” look. Then I began, “The law of diminishing marginal utility means…”

I’ve learned two things in the writing years since I bought Stephen King’s On Writing and said, “That looks easy.” One is that writing, nevermind career writing, is damn hard. Second, that writing invigorates me like a run in the snow used to invigorate my dog when she stayed awake for more than twenty minutes a day. Now there is a third thing I know. I can’t do it full time anymore. It’s not just The Economy, it’s that law of diminishing something or other: more hours available to write, does not mean better or even more writing. More hours available means more hours of not being productive OR paid, and these days, well. If you should, and could be working, and you aren’t, aren't you a little like the lady in the mink coat at the soup kitchen? Holding on to the thing that is, um…incongruent with reality?

Not for me. I am hanging up my mink and going back to work. With three kids in college and in This Economy, blah blah blah.

I had a boss who used to say: “Kids off the street,” when he was ready for our department to roll out some major initiative. I’ve been published and will be again, but kids off the street, now. I’m lucky. I’ve kept my skills up to date, I know where I want to go and what I want to do and have started in that direction. Only essays and the novel will keep their jobs. I’m laying off op-eds and shorts. My writer-blog will have to take on more responsibility without extra pay.

The rest of the time I intend to spend in a job I love, working for someone I respect, in a place I’m proud of. I know where it is and I’m going to go and get it. That’s it. That’s enough.

That’s actually not less, is it? That's actually kinda more.

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