Monday, April 25, 2011

Why I'm a Writer: Work of the Heart

Recently, I've been reading Lapham's Quarterly, the Spring 2011 issue "Lines of Work." (Lapham's Quarterly is a trade paperback sized journal that includes contemporary as well as historical essays on a given topic; it's a wonderful and rich potpourri of ideas, a cross-cultural education in itself.) One of the recurring themes that struck me was how work that is meaningless ends up alienating the worker from himself. "Putting in time," performing tasks that have nothing to do with who we are, that offer nothing of nourishment to us except a regular paycheck, all these things mean that we are not and cannot be ourselves for the greater part of our days. Life is difficult enough and short enough as it is. What a waste of something precious.

Most of us need to work, in some form or other. The tragedy is that neither our culture nor our education helps us to discover and trains us for work that brings joy, not just a paycheck.We all know people in high-paying professions who are miserable, who long for retirement, whose inner lives are "on hold." And people who find pleasure and delight in work like house-cleaning. I suspect that most of us who work day jobs are somewhere in between.

I consider myself twice blessed in my work. I was able to find a day job that was interesting and appreciated. Not well paying by any means, but rewarding in other ways. It was not, however, the work of my heart. This is the second and fundamental blessing, that I have found work that is integral to who I am, that when I do it, my entire life becomes bigger and richer. It's not easy. Easy has nothing to do with joy. Easy has nothing to do with real. For me, writing is a path to leading "an authentic life." Even when I'm writing to invitational guidelines, I uncover hidden gems, insights, moments that make my heart sing.

I've had occasion to reflect that, had things in my life gone differently, writing might have faded into a "might-have-been," a yearning so long denied that it faded into echoes, a veil dimming the brightness of the world around and inside me. I would have been productive and probably better off financially. But in terms of spirit, of heart? I wouldn't have it any other way.

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