Send Your Ennui Packing
If you have had or currently have a job you loathe, or merely dislike intensely, you know how you feel at the end of the work day and at the end of a weekend. At the close of day, you are likely relieved. “Oh, thank the sweet Lord, I can go home now. Or stop in at the bar.” As weekend winds down, anticipation of Monday morning can make a lot of your Sunday miserable. Being unhappy at your work, much like being unhappy in your relationship, too often damps down the delicious feelings of joy and enthusiasm. Boredom leads to fatigue (or one drink too many if you head for the pub instead of, say, your bicycle)
“I’m too busy to be bored,” you sniff, to which I say: perhaps you’re too busy to
feel bored; but your mind still knows that ennui, not love for your job, has the run of your day. Ennui is the start of a dangerous path that leads to fatigue that leads to listlessness that leads to a lack of interest that leads to mild depression that leads to major depression, and that’s as far as I’m willing to follow the road right now. All the way toward the muddy hole of despair, other unsavory states take hold: resentment, envy, escapism--think overindulgence in TV, video games, food, satisfying your overactive libido, and half a dozen other behaviors that I know you can summon to mind. Compensatory behaviors that ultimately make you feel worse about yourself and about life are flimsy masks to your unhappiness. Neither do they help cure it. Tough-to-beat habits such as building up your cigarette intake to two or three packs a day and drinking an 80-proof dinner obviously do not erase your problem; they will inevitably make your situation worse.
How does this relate to writing? This is a personal answer. Even the best job or profession comes with tasks that are dull if not downright distasteful. Life will not treat us kindly if we walk away from employment because it fails to keep us blissful in our cubicles. Maybe the Seven Dwarfs can whistle their way through a work day as though attending a party; I couldn’t, I can’t, and I wager you can’t either. We’ve all heard the sampler speak: Take the bad with the good; Life is not a bowl of cherries; Keep a stiff upper lip. I prefer a saying I wish I could attribute to someone. It has wrongly been said to have been from the Buddha. It did not, although, to be fair, someone might have done a fine job of speaking one of ideas with concision. Regardless of origin, it’s a wise maxim: Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. Many years ago (I am quite old enough to say that), I had a job for which I was not well-suited. I made a commitment to stick it out for a year. This promise to myself was, I thought, ethical and admirable. I need a job; I was hired. I could pay the rent, feed my belly, and shell out for the other practical necessities. For this nobility, I had migraine headaches, stiff shoulders, and a ten-pound weight gain. People who knew me could see and feel my pain. One day, during my lunch break, I sat on a concrete bench with a spiral notebook and a pencil. For half an hour I wrote. It was, truly, every bit as nourishing as food. In those thirty minutes, an eight-cylinder engine replaced my weary brain. At that point, I wasn’t even sure what I was writing. Clarity began to emerge by around the third day, as I recall.
For the remainder of my metaphorical jail sentence, I stopped suffering, my pain cured entirely by the excitement and purpose of writing a novel for juveniles. Glasses was for the thirteen-year-old me. Writing it put a boost in the middle of my day as potent as a drug. Did the writing make my drudgery more interesting? Did I find myself eager to hang out with co-workers at the end of the day? And did I write off the headaches as past aberrations? No, no, and no. What changed is that I no longer suffered. Frustrations with the work came and went. The headaches did diminish dramatically. Waiting for me every Monday through Friday were lunch time, a notebook, and a pencil. By the time I gave notice a year to the day after I started working for the company, I had produced a decent draft of Glasses: An Ace and Monroe Story.
The president of the company didn’t want me to leave, which I found both amusing and touching. He offered me a more engaging job with a modest raise in my salary. Though flattered, I turned it down. Two months later, after training my replacement, I said my goodbyes. On my way out the front door, with my insecurity about rent and food and the other practical necessities of life glaring as the sun, I held onto my manuscript and the desk set given me as a going away present.
The anxiety and frustration of finding another, less contrary job, were painful; I was sometimes afraid. I second-guessed my exit more than I want to admit. All the while, placed where I could see it from anywhere in my studio apartment, was my book. Glasses saved my soul and soothed my pain. I knew that I would write more about its primary characters because they were in a way my angels. Tenacious, courageous, moral beings, my friends on paper were and are as real to me as any human friend I know. Ace and Monroe have waited a long time to see the light. With the third in the series nearing completion, the trilogy is forthcoming.
If you languish in your job, may I gently suggest taking a walk during your lunchbreak, blowing bubbles in the parking lot, roller skating … or picking a spot where a pencil and notebook are your best nostrum for ennui and for suffering? Whether you stay or go, you can have a better work day if you decide you’re worth it. I think you are.