Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Monday, January 08, 2007

In Slavery is Perfect Freedom

So, when you're a workaholic and you've hit bottom, what do you do? Probably the greatest thing the recovery movements have accomplished is that they have drilled the first step into the collective psyche of the culture: "Admit you have a problem. Acknowledge that you are powerless over the addiction and seek help." Or something like that. There's a "higher power" in there somewhere, too, but without flipping to Wikipedia I know the geist of the process: surrender.

So I did. I called my boss and told him that I was compulsively working. He took exactly the right tone: "Well, you could just not take a vacation. I don't think that's the very good option, though." I called the client, told them I couldn't deliver on time. They accepted it . . . actually, I lot easier than I expected. I managed to get through the second week of my vacation with a minimum a job-related strain: a few phone calls, a specification document, nothing too taxing.

I met with Harry for lunch later that week, and we talked about our goals for the coming year. I told Harry something you rarely tell your boss: "I want to work less this year." He knew what I meant, which is the measure of what a great manager he is. He was struggling with work balance issues himself, since running the business and selling the services was still the work of two people instead of one. There were some things we could immediately agree on: schedule a real vacation, one where you pay money to go away for a week, and don't take the computer. "If you were in the Himalayas, we wouldn't have to have this conversation. You'd be on vacation, and that would be that."

We disagreed somewhat on the systemic cure. "I remember once," Harry said, "on a Dr. Phil episode, there was this girl who was always late to everything. Fifteen minutes late, two hours late, but always late, to absolutely everything. I thought Dr. Phil would tell her that she was obsessive or something, that she couldn't stop before something was finished, or something like that. Instead he told her, 'I think your problem is arrogance. Whatever you happen to be doing right now is more important than anyone else in your life, and that's arrogant.' I was stunned, it was so unexpected. She was a nice girl, sweet and soft-spoken ... but I think he was probably right. He went after the psychological motivation that made her that way. He treated the disease rather than the symptom. That's what you've got to do. You've got to figure out what it is about your thinking that makes you overcommit."

"Yes," I agreed, "but knowing what's wrong with you, and changing the way you act, are two entirely different things." This wasn't merely rhetorical, but scientific fact; researchers have studied the process and saw that conscious understand and decision-making really were in two separate parts of the brain. People with damaged decision-making centers could recognize pro and con for any decision, but could not bring themselves to act on it. Addictive personalities showed similar symptoms: they usually knew exactly why what they were doing was destructive, but they couldn't stop doing it.

"I know where it comes from," I said. "I've done the whole self-knowledge thing long enough to know. But I've tried to think differently for the last ten years, and it hasn't worked. I need to act differently, and trust that the thinking will follow. And I don't think I can act differently on my own. I need to give up some control."

As I drove home, I knew what I would have to do. I would have to make a Schedule, with a capital "S". If I couldn't trust myself to make the right time-management decision in the moment, I would have to take away right to do so. I felt like a fugitive driving to the police station to turn myself in. The heaviness of dread was miraculously suspended from a single wire of hope, whispering, "Thank God, at last, it's over."



Blogger Bob said...


This sentence -- The heaviness of dread was miraculously suspended from a single wire of hope, whispering, "Thank God, at last, it's over."-- is golden.

I've been enjoying your reflections.


10:42 AM  

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