Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"The Labor We Delight in ..."

A good FB friend wrote the other day to ask how I was doing, medically and otherwise.  I wrote back, mentioning a line uttered by Macbeth (that great role model) in the eponymous play: "The labour we delight in physics pain," he tells Macduff (2.3).  He is being a bit flippant (we know what's on his mind at the time) and disingenuous, but even the social banter of a brute can--now and then--make some sense.  In my case, it makes great sense.  The work I love to do ameliorates whatever physiological discomfort (small) or psychological stress (lots) I feel.  And so I hurl myself into it, every day, dawn to dark.

Quite by coincidence, there was in the New York Times today a piece about ill people who work ferociously until they can't.  (Link)  Called "Sprinting Toward the End" (by Dwight Garner), the piece mentions Nora Ephron, Roger Ebert, and Christopher Hitchens--all are recently deceased, and all continued working and writing until their bodies and minds simply refused to obey.  The piece goes on to talk about the psychological benefits--and problems--such an approach produces.

There is nothing really new about it.  I am sure that distressed members of our species have always found comfort in hard work--especially in work that they love.  In 1822, for instance, Mary Shelley lost her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, in a boating accident off the western coast of Italy.  She was devastated.  She had already suffered at least one miscarriage and had buried three other young children lost to illness.  Mary was still only in her mid-twenties.  Some months after the drowning, she wrote this in her journal:

Yes; I am calmer.  For some days I could neither read or attend; my feeling of wretchedness clung to me, nor could I even with my utmost endeavours rid myself of my agony.  Now I recur to my studies.  I find desultory reading adds to, instead of alleviating my sorrows; but I find a balm in serious & deep study, & to that I shall addict myself (The Journals of Mary Shelley 460).

Mary Shelley--who suffered far more than I could ever dream of--is, however, my older sister.  I've learned from her.  I am up at dawn--or earlier--and reading and/or writing by 6 a.m.  I work nonstop until noon, have a quick lunch, and work 2-3 more hours in the afternoon before heading to the health club, where I ride an exercise bike as hard as I can (I try to do eleven miles in thirty minutes) and recite memorized poems in my wee little head until my body cries, Enough!  Then it's home for supper, lots of conversation with Joyce, then more reading until my eyelids decide they've earned a rest.  I'll watch something mindless on TV for my last hour of consciousness, then fall asleep with the hope I will not have dark dreams.  I usually don't--a blessing.

Next morning ... it starts over.

As long as I keep working--reading, writing, reviewing, planning--I find that thoughts of Thanatos recede into the shadows, which is precisely where I want to keep them (and him).  It worked for my sister, Mary; it worked for Nora Ephron, Roger Ebert, Christopher Hitchens.  It is working for me.

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