Work expands to fill the time available for its completion -- Parkinson's Law
The best you can do between now and Tuesday is the best you can do -- Charles Eames
Growing up the way I did, I learned to be happy occupying myself on my own. I spent endless hours reading, conducting various vernacular experiments, listening rapturously to remarkable music. My childhood taught me to be an academic, thoroughly happy to be immersed in my own projects and take them to obsessive levels of completion.
And then I entered the world of management and administration, and I've had to develop a whole new body of skills. As a college administrator, I'm essentially paid to be interrupted. A colleague needs advice, a student has a crisis, sixty or seventy e-mails a day come through, people at other colleges want me to come visit, my professional organization wants me to run a project. I no longer have the luxury of focused time, but rather have to attend to many projects for mere minutes each.
This is my work life, a form of vaudeville but with higher stakes.
And because I've now taught myself to do that divided work, it's presumed that the capacity is endless. I do a very little bit of juggling, and everyone who's ever juggled knows that if you can do three balls, someone will ask if you can do five. If you can do five, someone will ask you if you can do seven. If your high run at pool is 30 balls, someone will remind you that someone running 100 is a regular occurrence every year in major tournaments. Once you run 100, someone will remind you that John Schmidt ran 400 a few years ago, just as they remind him that Willie Mosconi ran 526 back in the 1950s.
We're about to put on an important national conference, from this afternoon through Saturday mid-day. I did most of the planning for the first one two years ago, and have attempted to not have as large a role in this one. But as the deadline has drawn closer, my e-mail traffic has grown, my phone usage is up, and I'm adding a few more balls to the mix every day.
There are some things I do where I get to re-claim that focal, attentive path. Teaching. Writing in this blog. Playing pool. Not nearly enough, nor any of those for enough time. They suffice to bring a bit of peace and pleasure, and simultaneously remind me of another way of life that I've temporarily left behind.
I have 40 minutes before I enter a weekend of politics, agendas (both written and unsaid), flattering, placating, fawning, reassuring, listening. I'll be spinning dozens of plates through the next two days, and this is my moment of meditative preparation.
And then I'll be home this weekend, which is its own reward and focus. The pool room is nearing readiness, which will be a thorough delight. I'm returning to the values of my childhood, after a long detour through adult life (which, it must be said, has given me greater capability to understand and enact my values more purposefully and fully). Work and rest, home and away, social and monastic, immersed and removed -- the eternal tensions that, at their best, act as the two poles of a battery, drawing power through ourselves and into the world.