Work Will Set You Free

My parents believed that work was the answer no matter what the question.

The path to virtue, the escape from pain (don’t try to figure that out), the proof to the world that you weren’t a lazy, good-for-nothing. So, in addition to coffee, cigarettes and alcohol, physical labor was always available to distract from whatever unpleasantness was at hand.

Sitting still was not an option.

Granted keeping up a house and two aging cars is no small task, but my father seemed to have a special knack for creating a level of work that now, as an adult, I see was both obsessive and freakish. A tree root once buckled a piece of sidewalk that was at the edge of our property. This small hill in an otherwise flat plane caused my father (with my brothers) to lift all the flagstone in front of the house, level the ground and replace the flagstone. A long weekend of back breaking labor and the buckle was back next spring.

My parents were angry all the time about the work regimen they imposed on themselves but they never figured out how to quit until they were exhausted – my mother dissolving into the couch with a chocolate bar (before she was diagnosed with diabetes) and my father dissolving into his vodka. If they had so much God-damn work to do, we sure better be doing something too.

So I developed a strategy for looking like I was “doing something” by reading a book on the swing in the backyard. I really wanted to read, but that was lazy, so swinging made it active. (I can now read endlessly on car trips and never get motion sickness.) This trick only worked to deflect them some of the time, but they had long banked on me being “the intelligent one” who would go to college, get a good job and help support “the rest of these idiots”, so I was sometimes allowed to read.

Like all of life’s lemons their particular work nuttiness resulted in my having a tremendous ability to whip through projects and organize this, that and the other. And the resulting black humor – work shall set you free – is kept mostly to myself and those close enough to me to know it is internally directed and not meant to be disrespectful.

Something that continually bugs me is people being so bowled over by my organizational skills. They mistakenly believe organization is a talent or an art where only the chosen few can create order out of chaos. What crap. What they should praise is my discipline at acquiring a skill. Organization is one of the skills that I acquired like a monkey to get my father off my back, a skill the world apparently wants me to keep exercising.

Unfortunately, its become a stone drag. Control has defeated spontaneity, crushed creativity and turned me into someone who no longer knows how to have fun. And its my own damn fault.