Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Puritan ethic

The things you want to do and the things you think you should be doing . . . I’m English, my mother was a Methodist, and there’s this Puritan strain I subscribed to for a very long time: that pleasure is something to be earned, that work comes before play. But it doesn’t work like that: you do the work, and then there’s more work, and the pleasure gets deferred, squeezed out.

I’m getting better at this, a lot better, but this week I had a relapse: as well as sitting for two days ten-to-five in a very dull office (something I seem to have to signed up to), and paying some bills, and blah, I’ve typeset (and done a rough copy-edit on) four books (with footnotes, running heads, the works) that are not CBe books, and still, past midnight on Friday, I haven’t got round to the things I want to do. And now of course I’m too tired to do those things, so instead I go looking for a particular Hugo Williams poem.

I’ve found it. It’s called ‘Everyone Knows This’. He has at least two poems with that title, but this is the one I was looking for: ‘You get to your feet, having accumulated / one nice and one nasty thing to do / and do the nice thing first.’ Yes.


Paul Groves said...

We aren't here to work our socks off. The meaning of life is to APPRECIATE - a sunset, a cheese sandwich, a good night's sleep, a symphony, a comfortable pair of slippers, conversation with a neighbour.... The list is endless. Max Weber's concept of the Protestant Ethic and Capitalism has been all very well, having given rise to the world we enjoy today, but killing yourself to achieve or maintain material success is silly. Diogenes replied when Alexander the Great asked if he needed anything, 'Yes, that you don't block my sunlight'. He wanted to appreciate, and that alone.

charles said...

I asked a friend, who was buying a tiny dilapidated house for a tiny amount of money in a remote village in Hungary with the intention of putting the place back together, with local materials, what he was going to do when the place was livable-in. He looked at at me as if I'd asked the most stupid of questions. Read, listen to music, entertain ladies if he got lucky. He's right. But for those of us with families, mortgages, the deal, it's tricky. For starters, the whole concept of work needs redefining. (That 'What do you do?' usually means Who do you sell your daylight hours to? is just daft.) The banking crisis is now four years ago, and that there's been no big challenge to the status-quo way of doing things is hugely disappointing. On the other hand, many good things in individual lives, and maybe that's the best way of change. End of sermon.