|Smoke from distant fires --
A few disparate items had been tumbling around in my head, and for a few moments they seemed to come together under a topic heading. What was that heading, though, and what were the thoughts I hoped to connect? I’ll just start tapping away while waiting for a return phone call or e-mail and see if anything thoughts fly back….
-- I’ve got it! I’ve got it! (So I went back and added it into today’s post’s subject heading.) Work and Play!!! That will, I hope, tie together some thoughts on dogs, art, me, women in general, jobs, and business. The return e-mail came, too, so everything is back on track for the moment. Remember, though, that the moment is always fleeting....
Work and Play: Dogs
Sunny Juliet is an Australian shepherd, and many friends assumed (and still do) that her breed is the only explanation needed for her demanding puppyhood, but Sunny was something else! Yet, “She needs a job,” people kept telling me.
The idea that herding dogs “need a job” has entered the general American consciousness and is wisdom now repeated even by people who have no dogs of any breed. But practically perfect Sarah, hybrid border-Aussie, was “something else” in the opposite direction of Sunny, laid back and easy going almost from the day she came home with us at four months of age. Peasy, that beautiful Aussie boy with his tragic issues, learned quickly and was compliant in ordinary matters; his problems flashed out as unforeseeable exceptions. Sunny Juliet? I have never had such an opinionated dog in my life! She has settled down hugely in the past year, however, and we now live together in harmony most of the time.
Sunny loves to be outdoors. She loves to go rambling with me, exploring the world, and she loves to play, chasing tennis balls or a Frisbee or a stick or anything else I throw for her. We have yet to get back to the agility lessons, but she remembers “Jump!” and “Tunnel!” and does them beautifully on command.
The question is, does Sunny need a job? That is, does she need sheep or cattle or, at the very least, a flock of ducks to move around?
Here’s my answer: What Sunny needs -- probably what any herding dog needs and no doubt what most dogs need – is mental stimulation combined with physical exertion.
It doesn’t matter at all to Sunny if she “accomplishes" anything or not by chasing a tennis ball (or jumping a hurdle). Her little mind goes on high alert when she sees me preparing to launch the ball, and she readies her muscles to spring, run, and catch -- or run, chase, and retrieve. Which way will the ball go? Where can she interrupt its trajectory? Will there be a bounce first, or will she catch it in flight? This is more than a game to her. It is an opportunity to use her skills, and she loves it. Her eyes tell the story. If she were herding sheep, the same mental calculations and decisions about speed and direction would come into play. “Into play” = working.
You see my point? I absolutely believe that herding dogs do not differentiate work from play. They love activity and problem-solving, and they seem to love doing things with their humans. Right now Sunny is lying at my feet, waiting patiently for something to happen, some move on my part that gives her a reason to follow me curiously wherever I might go next.
Work and Play: Art
|Marsh marigolds, just because.
Many years ago, a guitarist in my life noted, “Other people work. Musicians play.” We do use those words. (“I have to go to work in the morning.” “Our band is playing at Music in the Park.”) And yet a musician, every bit as much as a carpenter or a nurse, has to learn and practice to acquire skills and keep them sharp.
Is it society’s failure to value musicians and other artists sufficiently that their work is seen as play? Or is seeing art as play a good thing, reminding the rest of us to find joy in our daily lives?
“How long did it take you to paint that?” someone would ask the Artist from time to time, and he would answer, “My whole life,” and when we were in the car, slowly driving our favorite county back roads, he was always “working,” in that he was taking in the colors and lines and shapes and richness of the land. When sitting quietly, he might be thinking through an idea for a painting, but when standing at the easel, he would tell me, “You can talk to me. I’m painting, not thinking.”
|Photograph of David Grath by David Brigham
Work and Play: Me
Someone at the recycling center north of Northport saw me the other day and asked, “What are you doing now that you’re not doing?” I was nonplussed. “Not doing”? It’s true that I took six months of seasonal retirement (maybe for the last time!), but I’m certainly doing plenty now! Cleaning and organizing my house after having to empty out the Artist’s studio last fall before I left; getting my yard and gardens in order; preparing to open my bookstore for the season – and that’s only a general outline, with none of the myriad details.
|And now we have a couple more cold nights coming....
Do I differentiate between work and play, or am I more like a herding dog, needing physical and mental activity but not separating it into work/play categories? That’s my question here.
Cleaning is definitely work. I won’t say that no thought and planning goes into it or that there’s no satisfaction in seeing the fruits of my labor, but I only engage in it as a necessity. Yard and garden tasks are different. Definitely work (my muscles make sure I get that straight!), but my outdoor projects are ones I choose, not burdens imposed on me, and even mowing grass is work I enjoy.
|I will be open as soon as possible -- but when? When the Fates allow!
My bookstore is chosen work, too (though not the cleaning part: that’s imposed by entropy, a fact of life). No one would start a bookstore and run it for thirty years without a love of books, and my bookstore is a world I have created over time, but it’s certainly more than play. I’m not “playing store.” Bookselling is my livelihood.
Robert Gray wrote a piece recently in the e-mailed book business newsletter, “Shelf Awareness,” about how annoyed he gets when anyone thinks booksellers just sit around and play with their cats all day. You can follow this link and look for the last article in the issue if you’re interested in what what else he had to say.
Work and Play: Women
I’ve often noticed that women tend to characterize their experiments and trials in the fields of arts and crafts or gardening as “playing around,” in situations where a man would never use such language. Do women (in general) take their activities less seriously than men? Are men (in general) more concerned with having their activities respected? Is “playing around” – with ideas, concepts, designs, arrangements – a belittling and overly modest way of speaking, or does it connote a joyful, playful, open approach to life?
|Just because I love them!
Work and Play: Jobs and Business
A job, even when a necessity, can be chosen work, and a business had better be chosen if the business owner is going to be happy in it!
While either jobs or business can involve pleasure and even love, though, they generally need to be taken seriously, and I’d say this is especially true of a business. A job you can quit. Give notice, turn in your keys, and hit the road. Closing and then dismantling or selling a business isn’t so simple. It's more like giving up a home. – And before I am besieged with questions, No, I am not thinking of closing or selling my bookstore! I’m just thinking of ways that a starting a business and keeping it going are a pretty serious commitment.
So what is my ‘play’?
If my business is my work, and this blog is related to my work (sometimes very peripherally, I admit), and if the outdoor jobs I love are work (albeit happily chosen), and since I don’t play bridge or softball, do I not play at all? That would be pretty pitiful, wouldn’t it?
Walking in the woods with Sunny, exploring and observing the natural world, my country drives and photography –all those I experience as play, so much so that I often feel as if I’m “playing hooky” from all work that awaits me in my house and my bookstore.
But no – you know what? Learning and appreciating the natural world is something I feel a joyful obligation to do -- as if it is, more than anything else, my life’s most important work. My way of practicing gratitude for the gift of the world. So I guess, in the way I approach life, I’m quite a bit like Sunny Juliet!
Informational Postscript: You wouldn’t guess from the foregoing that I am in the middle of an infrastructure disaster at home, a combination electrical/plumbing crisis. If my bookstore isn’t open on Friday, as I’d hoped, this is the reason. Wish me luck, send good vibes, don’t ask questions! My plate is full enough as it is! Thanks --
|Fleeting May! These blossoms are already gone!