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03/28/2005 Archived Entry: "Jobs, Vocations, Frenzy, Reflections"

THE GOOD VS. THE BEST. Jobs vs. vocations. Gary North expresses some concepts I've been wrestling with.

I've been working on two big projects lately. One is the Great Mystery Project, which is staggering to a finish and has been difficult, but satisfying. The other is a book for Loompanics on meaningful work vs. jobs.

Although I haven't had a job for many years, and even though I've aggressively sought a simple, quiet life for the last decade, I found myself feeling more "jobbish" than "workish" as I began writing this book. That is, the satisfaction, pleasure, and meaning of good work eluded me. I was writing merely to get the damn thing done and get the rest of my small advance so that I could survive. I was also writing in a hectic atmosphere of pressures, e-mails, phone calls, and demands (from a source not related to the book) to think about 40 things at once.

Though sitting high on a hill in a cabin in the woods, I might as well have been in a gray cubicle.

I'm in awe of my friends who can do six things at once. They're like many-armed Hindu gods and goddesses. I have never, ever, ever been good at thinking about multitudes of things simultaneously. Even in high school, I was never

one of those enviable students who can do homework and watch TV at the same time. I can't listen to music while I write. And even in my 20s, when I had an extreme high-pressure, "fast-lane" sort of job where chaotic frenzy was a way of life, I would periodically go non-linear and hurl a ringing phone against the wall when it interrupted my thoughts.

That job, which I held for three years, and at which I made more money (in absolute, as well as inflation-adjusted terms) than I've ever made since, taught me what I didn't want in the world. Since then, I've increasingly sought peaceful, focused work. In the last decade, and particularly the last five years, I've achieved simple-living conditions that should make that possible.

Unfortunately, chaotic work has continued to seek me.

The need to survive has something to do with it. (Playing faux Thoreau on Walden Hill doesn't pay.) My own nature also gets me into trouble. So does the fact that I'm competent and reliable (the latter not a notable trait among most freelancers). That often leads clients to rely on me more heavily than I want them to, and sometimes pushes me into types of work where I may not be so competent or for which I have no passion.

Periodically, I have to extricate myself from the chaos and resolve anew to continue the quest toward focus.

As I write this I'm picturing some reader responding, "Well eff you, you self-indulgent weenie. Why should you have this luxury that the rest of us commuting, over-committed, over-bossed, underpaid, daddy-mommy, volunteering, chaos-living worker bees don't have?"

Can't answer for why others have too little peaceful focus in their lives. I can only say for me that: 1) writers need focus; 2) there are stages of life at which focus is essential to growth; and 3) since I've labored diligently to reduce my living expenses, I shouldn't have to put up with a bunch of nonsense merely to earn my simple living.

Over the weekend, I read a passage on a website that hit me like a lightning bolt. I stopped, read it again, and felt as if I'd been handed one of the golden keys of life.

But I was busy that day (dealing with some angry chaos, as it happened). So instead of reflecting on that message and its meaning, I dashed ahead in the good old American unreflective way. Forgot all about it. And only at 3:00 this morning did I vaguely recall that, yes, I'd read something important. Where did I read that? What was it now ... ?

I finally remembered I'd read it in the Raven's Bread newsletter for hermits. But what that great revelation might have been, I can't recall. I'll go back -- one of these days when there's time (riiight) and see if it strikes me again. Insights are elusive, though. Once the golden moment is lost, it's often lost forever. A message fraught with Significance at one moment can be merely a pleasant agglomeration of words on another day.

So it's foolish, dashing past a moment of insight like that. But it's too often The American Way. And too often it's my own way, for sure.

Over the weekend I made some decisions that will once again put me back on the path to Holy Focus. A week from now, when I get my next chance to go back to that jobs v. work book, I'll approach it with an entirely different, and more whole-some attitude.

Who knows how long I'll stay on the path to focus this time? It's a strange journey. And perhaps straying off into frenzy serves a purpose of its own. Being reminded of what you don't want can be a bassackwards way of getting a periodic reality check on what you do want -- and why it's worth seeking even when the quest is full of pitfalls.

Posted by Claire @ 07:41 AM CST

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