Friday, October 29, 2010

Workday inertia

Inertia is an amazingly powerful force, I’ve come to realize. Especially on me.

And more so now than ever, it seems. These days, unlike when the kids were really little and I was home with them, or the years following that when I was working in an office full-time, I spend my work days at home, at my kitchen table, writing. For six hours at a time. It’s the solitude and uninterrupted writing time I’ve craved for years, and now that I have it, I don’t care what the assignment is – I can be working on an article for the Globe, or writing about varicose veins for my client who runs a medical website, or studying up on football stats for the next segment I need to draft for my client who is compiling a book about pro football, or revising my own manuscript-in-progress yet again – it doesn’t matter what the topic, I’m grateful just to have the time to write.

Sometimes a little too grateful. I find it very hard to make myself get up and do anything else.

I know that mental stimulation is important during the work day even when I’m on deadline. I just have trouble sometimes overcoming the urge to just stay where I am and keep writing.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine here in town hosted a midmorning gathering. I was in the middle of a writing assignment, and it started to rain hard. “I should go to this get-together, but it’s so tempting to just stay put,” I said to a client who called to discuss an upcoming project. Since Carlisle is almost entirely a driving town rather than a walking town, there’s always the additional excuse that staying home is more environmentally sound than going anywhere.

“Just go. You’ll be glad you made the effort,” she replied.

I was puzzled. The client hardly knows me; she doesn’t know the host of the party or any of the other guests who would be there; and she wasn’t even close enough geographically to see how hard it was raining. Why was she so sure I should go?

But then I thought about the note I’d have to write apologizing if I didn’t show up, and how sheepish I’d feel next time I saw the host. And so I reminded myself it was less than a ten-minute drive to the party; I could stay for 40 minutes and not be away from my desk for more than an hour total.

Needless to say, it was the right decision. The house was full of cheerful, welcoming faces, hot coffee and fragrant baked goods. I caught up with friends I hadn’t seen since before summer vacation. I traded opinions on local issues and heard updates on the construction project at our school that I should have known about from the newspaper but hadn’t taken the time to follow closely.

Best of all, I didn’t have to write a sheepish apology attempting to excuse my absence.

Yesterday it wasn’t a social occasion that pulled me away from my desk but an unexpected offer from my father to drive me thirty minutes to the repair shop where my car was being fixed. I could have just waited until the end of the day and gotten a ride from Rick, as I’d planned to do. As before, the lure of sitting at my computer writing was almost irresistible.

But so was the chance to have a few minutes to visit alone with my father, and doing that particular drive in the midafternoon was a much better idea than waiting for rush hour. And so I shut down my computer and climbed into his car.

We had a great visit. Not for any particular reason – we talked about an issue related to town government, recent segments we’d heard on NPR, nothing weighty – but it was just good to get away from the silence of my workday and spend a little undistracted time with my father. On the way back, having picked up my car and said goodbye to him, I even prolonged the trip with a stop at the supermarket, taking advantage of the midafternoon lull there to enjoy empty aisles and no lines.

It’s good to be able to focus on work. I’m really grateful that my workday affords me such solitude, but I’m also glad that once in a while something compels me to overcome my inertia. Thoreau wrote that he had one chair for solitude, two for company, and three for society. It’s a useful image to keep in mind. The work day shouldn’t be all about that one chair. Even Thoreau, who moved to a cabin in the woods to live deliberately and in relative solitude, knew that once in a while he should really pull out those two other chairs.

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