Pat Robertson, the TV evangelist, got me thinking. Another sign of the apocalypse possibly, but there it is. I saw him on The 700 Club this morning after a channel-flipping moment of desperation born of Katie Couric's absence on that other show (The Specialist calls it "The Yelling Show" because of the ring of non-paying audience members yelling in the background for no apparent reason), which would have been my usual morning television routine -- a first-time admission. Pat was talking about how you can get fat as a result of sleep deprivation and how a lot of people these days sacrifice sleep to their pagers and cell phones and e-mails and Blackberrys and whatnot. In other words, he tagged a large chunk of the population for whom TGIF (the concept, not the column) has no meaning. For several years I dismissed most cell-phone users as pathetic, needy losers with such low self-esteem that they had to proclaim their importance and connection with humanity to strangers on a bus or in a restaurant by gibbering inanities at an inappropriate volume into their cameras. Now I'm forced to the conclusion that many of these poor fools are actually working in some way or other, and they are eking out some form of gratification in what is ultimately a sad, compensatory form. I know this because I'm one of them.
I'm glad it's Friday because it gives me a rubric (kind of a gray rubric, I guess) to hang some thousand words or so of prose onto what might otherwise appear in crayon on the one-ply toilet tissue requisitioned for some state home for pale neurotics suffering from a vague sense of existential malaise -- or in the parlance of our time, some bonzo bin for manic-depressives. I blithely assumed, in some unattended Recess of Unrevised Assumptions, that the equivalent of Joe Lunchbox was still living for those Friday-night bowling tournaments, and indeed some may. But a greater truth lies somewhere in the area of many thousands now for whom the work week is just an arbitrary slice of life, a happy snapshot of a moment on that Hamster Wheel O' Fun that is the Prozac-sodden, networking-nutty, deal boogie to the grave.
What Pat was getting at on The 700 Club was, of course, that these compulsive Blackberry brandishers and cell-phone obsessives are chasing down money. (When I included myself as one of them it was not for this reason; my "ultimately sad" compensation has more to do with the nature of writing itself, another Freudian kettle, no doubt.) As Aristotle pointed out, "It is not wealth but character that lasts"; and Schopenhauer followed up with, "Fortune may always change, but not character.... We should be more intent on promoting and preserving such qualities ['a noble nature, a capable head'] than on the possession of external wealth and external honor."
But does the work ethic really count for anything if you love your job? The question reminds me of a scene in some Woody Allen film, Love and Death, I'm pretty sure, where Diane Keaton says something to Allen about sex being dirty, and Allen replies, "It is if you're doing it right." So, yeah, I think your job should challenge you -- even to the point of being a kind of cross to bear at times. But if it is only for money, that is, beyond what you need and at reasonable intervals that which you desire, then it is probably an indication that you should look at it and also an indication that you may not want to.
If one of your New Year's resolutions was to work more, then it is likely born out of a practical and apparent need to do so. If, on the other hand, you felt the need to resolve to work less, it's probably a good instinct and again, maybe an indication that you would find examining your motives for working so hard in the first place worth looking at.
Myself, I'm off the hook. I need to work more and I'll enjoy doing so. To look at why I didn't work more in 2006 (with the exception of about six weeks of personal chaos), I only have to go as far as someone's anonymous saw about working smarter rather than more or faster or something. I probably worked as much as I ever did last year, but all of it was aimed in the direction of love rather than pragmatism. Yes, labors of love. Hey, they count, don't they? To put it simply, I put some time into writing fiction with no guaranteed paycheck. I'm sure I'll do that too this year and maybe even more of it, but I'll be doing more of the work with a reasonable expectation of payment involved, too. I will just do more, period. At which point I will be even more firmly ensconced in the ranks of those both Pat Robertson and I consider a little ridiculous.
With one exception.
I promise you will not hear me answer my cell phone at Starbuck's by saying, "Hello...[pause] Nothin'. What are you doin'?"