Thursday, March 5, 2009

Day in the Life

I awoke in a bad mood today, and on the ride to work I looked at the mood with some diligence. I realized that a bad mood, at least for me, comes about when I begin to resist the world, to push back against it. My posture today is one of stiff-arming the world, or at least the people in it.

For tracking purposes, I keep pretty detailed logs of my daily work activities, and upon review this morning, I found that yesterday I received 67 E-mails (not counting those filtered out as spam), of which 37 required E-mail responses from me. I took 14 phone calls in person, called five people back to fulfill obligations from the previous day, and made notes to return calls for four messages that arrived when I was out of the office. Two authors called me to ask why I hadn't responded to their proposals for dreadful books.

There were four staff meetings of various types yesterday; my calendar for the week lists 19 total meetings for the week.

Sixteen different people sought me out informally yesterday, to answer questions, sign checks, make various decision major and minor. Three people felt the need to tattle on coworkers for a various transgressions. Some days, my job seems to be more about making decisions for other people rather than accomplishing anything real. This is one of those days when I'm reminded of Jean Paul Sartre, who I think may have been the one who remarked that "hell is other people."

No particular mystery to this bad mood. Spring is nearly here, and I am badly in need of a day of solitude in the garden.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ordinary Life

Life has been exceedingly ordinary lately, by which I mean it has been just fine. Utterly nothing in the way of excitement, but a good deal of satisfaction in the merely ordinary routines of life. When I was in my 20s, such a life would have struck me as boring. Back then, I was deeply attached to emotional excitement and drama, and created insecurity for myself as a means of entertainment. These days, I seek simplicity in all things, and have found that find territory is far more interesting than the world of adrenaline.

The economy is a bit nerve-wracking, and I wish economic times were better so that my son could be pursuing something other than the grocery-store job that lets him pay his basic expenses only. But we've been through such times before, and this recession will likely pass. He is getting by, which is more than many people can say, and will likely do just fine when times improve. My daughter is midway through her college education, which likely means she'll come out into the job market just about the time the economy improves.

I'm in the enviable position of having my health and my faculties, and a job that offers just enough challenges to be interesting without being overly stressful. My wife and I spend weekends cross-country skiing and taking in movies, and going to real estate open houses. Though we're not in the market to buy a house, years ago we routinely went to open houses as a low-cost form of Sunday entertainment. WE never lost the habit, even though we're not ready yet to downsize to a smaller home. There is something quite fascinating about going to real estate showings, especially about the little glimpse of a stranger's life you receive. Invariably, I glance at the books on the shelves to see what I conclude about the personality of the owner. This isn't entirely a voyeuristic habit. My career revolves around home improvement, and I study homes to see what kind of countertops are installed, what brand of appliances are most popular, what kind of styles the decor uses.

Not that there is anything certain about this life; nothing to be taken for granted. One of us could be diagnosed with cancer, or could find ourselves in a car wreck. Or I could lose my job. A fire could destroy the house. Any of a dozen different events could change life in a dramatic direction.

The uncertainty of it all is part of what makes this ordinary life so very precious. Making dinner while doing the dishes and watching CNN is delightful precisely because tomorrow it may not be possible.

This Sunday afternoon will see a two-hour cross-country ski session, followed by a visit to two or three homes on the Parade of Homes, which just opened here. Then we'll chop vegetables to make a home-made Mexican dinner, and settle in to watch that favorite show among middle-aged folks, The Amazing Race.

Life couldn't be better.