Thursday, September 2, 2010

Work vs. Play... Oisiveté à éviter?

So this past week or so my thoughts have turned to the idea of leisure.  How much work is the appropriate amount to be happy?  How much leisure is enough to drive you to want to work?  How does this vary from individual to individual, from person to person?

Take myself for instance... I do my most productive work when I'm busy, busy, busy.  Or, even if my work isn't at it's best, I ENJOY feeling busy, since it gives me a sense of purpose.  I start to feel restless if I'm idling around the house for too long, maybe because  I sometimes (though more recently less so!) define myself in terms of what I DO (and if I'm idling around the house, I'm doing NOTHING, ergo, I AM nothing).  In Madison, what I did was very concrete--I worked at the FBI office at least 20 hours a week, I volunteered at Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, I worked events at L'Etoile, and I served and bartended at Bellini. Frisbee Monday-Thursday rounded out the list (with occasional misses for things like Concerts on the Square or a birthday festa), or yoga/running/dancing if frisbee wasn't in season.  Oh, and throw in working on my dissertation in there somewhere (right now, that is the work I am AVOIDING). 

Don't get me wrong--I also enjoy taking naps and hitting the beach (or maybe both at the same time, since I am a multi-tasker :)), but too much of anything is a bad thing.  Too much work?  Makes Mary a dull girl.  Too much play?  Makes Mary a bore. This translates to my academic ideology as well--the idea of reading French literature for the rest of my life and writing academic articles about it that will simply gather dust in some journal on a back shelf in the library, well, strikes me as my anti-life-dream realized.  I like my academic work to be productive and serve some kind of purpose, too.  French literature does have its place in the world--it opens minds, introduces people to new forms of clarity in language, it expresses things in ways that English or other languages cannot--and it's just beautiful.  Its functionality isn't just in its beauty though... Jonah Lehrer talks about how Proust's literature anticipated major leaps in neuroscience and the study of memory.  It can unite, divide, provoke, or bore (though RARELY, as a Francophile :)).  

The thing is, all of those work obligations are also fun for me (at least most of the time).  Maybe the key is to find the kind of job that drives you to work, fulfills your passion.  That's why I came to graduate school in the first place.  Two quotes heavily influenced my decision and choice of field:

1.  Gil Bailie, "Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive."

Things that make me come alive?  Foreign languages, especially French; meeting new people; helping others...

2.  Paolo Coelho, "You'll never be able to escape from your heart.  So it's best to listen to what it has to say."

A nagging sensation haunted me a lot when I was working at Kirkland and Ellis.... what was I DOING there?  I slogged through the LSAT and hated every minute of preparation.  That didn't bode well for law school.  The brightest days there were when I was correcting translations from an outside firm.  And then--I went to a concert by Padam at the French Embassy.  Rien à voir avec le travail des études supérieures... But the next day, when I was headed in to the office to put in some (non-)quality OT, and the band just happened to descend at my metro stop as I was getting on?  I just didn't think that was coincidence.  And I couldn't be happier with my decision... I'm not sure if my ultimate stop on the job train will be a professorship in a university (a lot depends on the job market and how picky I am geographically), but these past five years (and I'm sure the remaining year and a half to come!) have been thoroughly enjoyable.  I like what I do!  And that in itself is something...

The past two weeks at home have been about relaxing as much as possible before dissertation writing goes in to overdrive!  The funny thing is... I needed to take on a side translation job while I was here, or I would have gone crazy.  Fortunately, I have not!  And have even begun to enjoy the vacation.  Nine days left to squeeze out every ounce of leisure. :)

So enough about me, how about some of those questions about OTHER people and cultures?  That will come in the next post.


  1. Mary, I really enjoyed reading this post. What you say about yourself is true for you and many others. We tend to do more when we've got tons to do. On the other hand, I've always admired your ability to be every where at once. You land the best gigs - how on earth did you get the translation Deborah was talking about? You never cease to amaze me!!! I can't wait to hang out with you on the other side of the pond. As for other cultures, I can't wait to read your take on it. Bises.

  2. I am all about the leisure. That "doing" gene completely skipped me. I love the being. :-)