One problem with working at home and setting your own schedule, especially for writers, is that it can prove to be quite hard to shut the shop down and take time off. Even if a piece isn’t due, it often forces itself into your unwilling consciousness and insists on being written right now. I ran into this problem last Friday, a day on which I had no show to see and no deadlines to hit. Having spent far too much of the first part of the week driving from Connecticut to New York and back again in order to see a Broadway play, I had every intention of taking the whole day off. That worked pretty well for a couple of hours, but then I realized that I’d started writing the first paragraph of my review of the play in question in my head.
One might call this a Happy Person’s Problem: I know it’s churlish to complain about a life that I find so profoundly fulfilling. I remember what it was like to have a nine-to-five job, and I give thanks each and every day for no longer having to live that way. But it is not in man’s nature, I suspect, to rejoice evermore and give thanks without ceasing, Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians notwithstanding. We accept good fortune as quickly as we grow used to the taking of opiates, and no sooner do we do so than we seek to increase the dosage. Having written a successful play and directed it no less successfully, did I fall down on my knees in gratitude for being so implausibly lucky in my late middle age? No, I sat down at my desk and wrote another one, and now I grow restive because nobody has asked me to direct another show.
Inappropriate discontent is surely a fundamental part of human nature, a compulsion against which the wise person wars ceaselessly, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it had much to do with how hard I find it to close my laptop, walk away from the writer’s life, and immerse myself in unprofitable pursuits. When I woke up this morning, I saw a stack of unread books by my bed, none of which is likely to issue in an essay, article, or review: I want to read them simply for my pleasure, and I fully expect to be pleased once I get around to doing so. So why have some of them been sitting there for a month or more? Why on earth, for that matter, am I writing this posting instead of diving headfirst into Jeffrey C. Stewart’s The New Negro or Christopher Bonanos’ Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous?
I know, I know: the solution to my problem is to solve it. I need to shut down my MacBook Air, do the dishes that I promised Mrs. T I’d do first thing this morning, shave and shower, and open up a book or put on a piece of music. Or both. But instead I sit here and write for no good reason, even though I finished writing this week’s Wall Street Journal drama column last night and needn’t step up to the plate again until Tuesday, and I have no better excuse than the one the scorpion gave to the frog after stinging him: it’s my nature.
The good news is that I’ve now finished saying what I meant to say, and that I need to get those dishes done at some point in the next half-hour, at which point Mrs. T is scheduled to emerge from her bedroom. And the bad news? I’ll get back to you on that.
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Diana Krall sings Nat Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” at the 1996 Montreal Jazz Festival: