My piece is up and running in The Brasilia Review. Very cool, very smart, very creative publication, and i am very excited (and honored) to be a part of it. I encourage you to check it out.
It’s Labor Day, which got me thinking about work. Specifically, what I think is the biggest misconception about work- that most of us would prefer not to do it.
I believe we have a fundamental longing to live a life that is purposeful, and I also believe that happiness is a direct result of purposeful work.
By work, I mean work in the broader sense- not just the kind of job that attaches to a paycheck. Raising a child is work. So is weeding your garden or writing a poem. Work requires effort and engagement. We derive not only satisfaction but a sense of worth from directed, intentional activity.
I believe industry is a basic human impulse, and without it, we wither.
When I was younger, I would tell people my aspiration was to be idly rich. Now, I know better. Sloth and self-indulgence are okay- even pleasurable- in the short term, but minus the foil of productivity, our will weakens and our direction is lost. We long to pick up the yolk and pull.
Marge Piercy says in her poem “To Be Of Use”:
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Living in a university town, surrounded by students, things can get pretty loud. Take last night.
When I got into bed at 10:30 the sounds of raucous carousing at some shindig in the apartment building across the street drifted in through my window. Realistically, I didn’t expect it to quiet down. The world is full of quiet places, but New Haven on the last weekend of summer would not be one of them. Regardless, I drifted off to sleep, only to be wakened shortly after midnight. The party seemed to be ramping up, rather than dying down.
The old me- I’m talking me last year- would have been annoyed. The old me would have nudged Sam from slumber to gripe. Our street is full of young families and old people, in addition to these hedonistic twenty-somethings. When is it officially late enough that it’s civically responsible and not old farty to call the police and request they send a squad car to shut it down, stat?
But the new Laura is chill. While being totally honest I would have been secretly relieved if one of the aforementioned young families or old people did in fact call the cops, I also must admit the partiers sounded like they were having a swell time. We used to go to parties like that. Hell, we used to throw them. Amidst the cacophony of voices and music, I closed my eyes and wished the revelers well, and while thinking back on parties I’d known, fell back to sleep. My dreams were good ones: a little crazy, accompanied by a sweet backbeat.
There are lots of fancy, expensive restaurants in Nantucket, and at dusk, the cobblestone streets fill with beautiful people in fancy, expensive clothes. I sometimes think if we had a ton of money, this would be a fun way to pass a summer night. But the reality is I’d rather eat dinner, beach-haired and indifferently attired, around the big dining room table before walking down to the beach to watch the sun set. This is my favorite photograph of this summer’s ending to that kind of day.
When I walked into yoga class yesterday, my four fellow students were talking about yoga clothes. “I love lululemon,” one was saying, “especially the Westport store.” The others agreed, talking animatedly about perfect fit and range of color options while I, in my TJ Maxx clearance yoga pants with a broken drawstring, Hanes white T and cheap rubber flip-flops from CVS, set up my mat, feeling vastly superior. These women were so shallow, with their pedicured feet and their Alex and Ani bracelets! Me, I come to yoga for the right reason: to do the work.
Then, I caught myself. There are no rules in yoga regarding consumerism or style. We are urged, however, to leave our egos at the door. These women were doing nothing wrong. I was the sanctimonious jerk.
But then, yoga also teaches the value of forgiveness and the wisdom of letting go. So, I forgave myself for being kind of an asshole and let it go.
At the end of class the universe had one more thing up its sleeve. As we were leaving, our teacher, Lauren, asked one of the women how she was, seeing as she hadn’t been to class for a while. The woman said she’d been caring for her mother. How is she doing? Lauren asked. She died, the woman said, and burst into tears.
Immediately, she was surrounded by all five of us, including the lululemon lady, the lady with the fuchsia toenails, and me, the jerk with the insufferably self-righteous attitude. In that circle of support none of this stuff mattered, because when it comes to yoga or just living a life, there’s no single right way to do anything, except, of course, compassion.
There are two kinds of people, my mother told me;
the ones who love Jane Eyre
and those loving Wuthering Heights.
I, a quivering blob of unbridled emotion,
craved the ascetic honesty of Jane,
while my mother, pragmatic, prone to habit-formation,
sought the messy passion of Katherine.
(Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff are oddly interchangeable).
I considered this
an idiosyncratic line of demarcation,
its application peculiar to the two of us,
but now I see
a universal truth:
We want what is wanting.
Our dual allegiances were never bones of contention,
or flashpoints for literary argument.
My mother and I were staunch allies,
drifting off to our bedrooms,
books in hand.
My mother dreamed of pepper while I craved salt.
We both needed to eat.
- Cut across the lawn.
- Stopped to help.
- Succumbed to peer pressure.
- Lost a friend.
- Grown out bangs.
- Pretended not to see.
- Wished you could take it back.
- Prayed for something.
- Cried yourself to sleep.
- Had your breath taken away.
When I was around seven or eight, I got mad at my parents, and wrote them a note saying this was goodbye, they would never see me again. I packed my Barbie suitcase and set off. I walked off down the street, wondering when they would see my note, imagining their shock and subsequent frantic search efforts, but I would be gone by then. Long gone, never to return. I walked a bit further and noticed that the sun was getting low in the sky. It was pretty close to dinner time. The suitcase, though small, was kind of heavy. I sat down on the curb for a while and rested, thinking even if I didn’t go away forever, I could at least give them a good scare. I waited for a while longer. Then, I went back home. As it turned out my parents hadn’t discovered the note and had no idea I was missing, which was perhaps not surprising since I’d only been gone around fifteen minutes.
History, even personal history, repeats itself. Apparently, I am still drawn to over-dramatically announced exits, and my time estimates continue to be way off. But today, I am not just tossing out a note and frantically unpacking a Barbie suitcase. I actually finished my first revision. It’s good to be back home.
How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you quit a thing that you like a lot?
You may talk of pluck; it’s an easy word,
And where’er you go it is often heard;
But can you tell to a jot or guess
Just how much courage you now possess?
You may stand to trouble and keep your grin,
But have you tackled self-discipline?
Have you ever issued commands to you
To quit the things that you like to do,
And then, when tempted and sorely swayed,
Those rigid orders have you obeyed?
Don’t boast of your grit till you’ve tried it out,
Nor prate to men of your courage stout,
For it’s easy enough to retain a grin
In the face of a fight there’s a chance to win,
But the sort of grit that is good to own
Is the stuff you need when you’re all alone.
How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you turn from joys that you like a lot?
Have you ever tested yourself to know
How far with yourself your will can go?
If you want to know if you have grit,
Just pick out a joy that you like, and quit.
It’s bully sport and it’s open fight;
It will keep you busy both day and night;
For the toughest kind of a game you’ll find
Is to make your body obey your mind.
And you never will know what is meant by grit
Unless there’s something you’ve tried to quit.
“On Quitting” by Edgar Guest nails how hard it is, generally, to quit something you love, and specifically, how hard it is for me to quit y’all, even on a temporary basis.
Maybe it’s fitting that the silencing of someone else’s voice should be the reason for breaking my self-imposed posting silence. I’m talking about Don Pardo, the sonorous voice of NBC, who died yesterday at the age of 96.
Pardo’s voice, deep timbered with a slight quaver, preceded things I have held dear for pretty much my entire life. His was the voice that introduced Jeopardy, the game show that not only shaped my existence, but respects the value of generalized miscellaneous knowledge. His was also the voice that introduced Saturday Night Live, the show that began my still extant adoration of topical, irreverent sketch comedy.
My response to Pardo’s voice was purely Pavlovian. I heard it, and was immediately suffused with anticipation. I heard it and knew I was about to learn something, or I’m going to laugh, or both. His voice held the gravitas of history and the sweetness of youth, both well and misspent. In his voice I heard my mother and loud, late nights in the TV lounge in my college dorm. In his voice I once again saw Art Fleming, Gilda Radner, John Belushi.
Mr. Pardo spoke not only for NBC but for the generations raised on the promise of television. His voice represented the golden age of that still-evolving medium, flush with content that was smart and creative. For millions of us, Pardo’s unique voice resonates in our collective cultural consciousness, forever in that moment of blissful expectation that something wonderful is about to begin, after this commercial break.