I am working this weekend on a work project that is "right up my alley". I'm doing an analysis on an issue I've in essence been addressing in one form or another for over a decade. I love intellectual problems with nuance. The rules are simple--and I've certainly journaled often enough about how I love simple rules. But the applications--gradations of meanings, arcane analyses, deep thought. This is what I love about my job. I also love working without the telephone ringing, working with only the ringing of my thoughts setting up the carillons of bells playing a music in my mind.
No matter what one's job, with any successful project, there's often that moment when "the heavens open". One crosses some imaginary internal borderline, from the kingdom of despair into the kingdom of clarity. What became unthinkable becomes inescapable, and so inevitable. It doesn't matter if one is painting a rocking chair, or analyzing a statutory construction. It's that sense of rightness, that sense that life has meaning, that sense that it can all work out. I think it's so important to avoid that paralysis--that feeling that "I'm not doing something really cool, so what I do doesn't matter". I'm really "into" cool things people do, but sometimes one has to accept that the work one does matters. It's not a pay thing, it's not a brilliance thing, it's not a featured in the New York Review of Books thing. It's a thing about creating one's meaning in life. That meaning is not based on paycheck size or admiring fans. That meaning is based on that inner sense: "I can do this!". Whenever we deride that inner voice of accomplishment, then I think the despair and boredom run rampage.
I believe that a sense of accomplishment is a form of grace. If one can choose a task, no matter how humble or good, and see it done, at least in some significant part, that's worth something. I believe that work can be important, whether it is highly paid, low paid, or even done without pay. I believe very much that work matters. I tend to think it's not so important what we do for pay and what we do for fun, as market forces and the general wickedness of the world may make our day-jobs unromantic. What matters is the "real work"--what we really create. Tiring jobs get important to put the food on the table to get us to the place where we can find our "real work". The real work may be just being part of a family. It may be creating mail art. It may be running ten miles. But the work matters.
I think that regardless of one's view of the mysteries and divinities, there's some point in which we are creators or co-creators or sub-creators of our own meaning. There's some point at which we must find our moment in the things at hand. Most of us are not granted the Sistine Chapel to paint. Few of us write masterworks such as the Canterbury Tales (though I love to stick my tongue at the back of my throat and recite "Whan that Aprille..."). Most of us log entries, write papers in established forms, for established purposes, give advice or succour or customer service in the established ways. But there's a solid salvation when a hammer squarely hits a nail. There's a way out of the woods when a client's need is met. There's an encouragement to take yet another breath when we close that thing our work requires us to close.
I sometimes think that dissatisfaction is not staved off by happiness or rest or even tremendous, wild success. I think instead when we can pause, just a moment, and quietly think "I can do something", that's the moment at which Hell is narrowly averted. It matters, of course, what the something is. We want to do things about which we can sleep at night. But within the band of Things Worth Doing, we have to make our choices, and do our darnedest and just realize that this is what we are "called to do". It may be the only Caller is our inner voice. It may be we are Called from a higher place. But I have become convinced that we must be creators of our call, and not just passive accepters of fate. When I can write something that achieves a goal I know I am trained to achieve, I feel I am creating something that matters, and I feel despair lift from me, like taking off a heavy quilt. I find that people have a way of denigrating their work. I even sometimes catch myself denigrating what I do and career choices I have made. The process of self-examination is good and critical. One wants to do what one thinks is meaningful work. But there's something to be said for doing a job one can do, even if it is not High Art or incredibly accomplished. I think that work is important as the grace of accomplishment, and that sense of doing something is an important thing. It makes us make compromises, sometimes--often disturbing compromises. We have to work tens of hours a week on other folks' things. But real life happens in non-ideal terms. The chance to do just a little of the work is worth ten times the trade off. In an ideal world, we could always do the work of "true gifts". But most of us have to do the other work that has to be done. The "real" work, though, is not in these corporate jobs per se.
The work is, well, the Work.
The work need not be a literal job. Sometimes the work is just the chance to do a simple kindness. the chance to think a much-longed for thought.
Kindness, work, thought, these three things matter. The greatest of these is kindness. But work is the Holy Spirit.
So I'm a happy camper today. It's not a "talent" thing. I wish I were so much better at what I do. It's not a "success" thing. I know tons of people who are much more successful than I am materially, and who also do much more for others than I do on the side. It's not a "gee, I've got it all together" thing, because my life has too many loose ends right now, too many things I could do to be a better husband, son, sibling, friend, lawyer, poet, dreamer, clown, janitor. I wish I were Mother Teresa, saving the indigent and starving, but without the reactionary beliefs. But to do something, and see that this little bitty thing can kinda work--that matters.