11 May 2010

If Not For Money

My new friend asked: "If money were no object, what kind of work would you do?" She is retired now but worked as a career counselor for many years. She hired me to help declutter her home office and, among the debris in the bathtub of the bathroom adjacent to the office, I found a copy of Thomas Moore's "A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were born to Do."

It's a good question. She posed it two weeks ago and I am still thinking about it. Of course, "work" has been an "issue" for me for most of my life. The difference is that money is less an object now than ever before. The question moves from academic to practical. In the moment, the apparent answer to the question was "When money is no object, I help people bring order to the spaces where they live and work."

With a longer view, thinking back on all the jobs I've had and hated, jobs I took because I needed the money, a different answer surfaces: If it weren't for the money, I wouldn't work. But those were "jobs"...which is not the same thing as "work." I find the question more inspiring when it is reframed as "If money were no object, what would you do with your time?"

Looking at my life now, in this amazingly graceful period where my material and creature needs are met, I spend my time

  • thinking about what to do with my time
  • playing piano
  • hired out to help bring order to other people's chaos
  • reading
  • working logic puzzles
  • taking walks
  • filling bird feeders
  • pulling weeds
  • watching movies
  • exploring the Internet
  • smoking and thinking
  • writing correspondence
  • writing music
  • sifting through boxes of stuff from storage I haven't seen in 6 years
  • playing guitar

Lately, a conviction has begun floating alternately between The Back of My Mind and The Front of My Mind; a conviction that this chapter of my life has a title: Alex Finds Her Life's Work and Begins It. But how exactly does one do that?

Moore writes about alchemists whose laboratories contained precious books, a tiny oratory with an altar where they prayed for success and a big book containing a log of the experiments conducted. They used "liquids and solids, pure stuff and rotten stuff, ordinary material they found...and more refined chemicals," placing the materials in beautiful, glass vessels and subjecting it to various levels and periods of heat. They consulted ancient books and watched for changes in color and texture.

The entire process was known as the "opus," the Latin word for "work." "Work" was "the long process of refining raw material, going through many phases identified by colors...and reaching an end point described variously as a peacock's tail, the philosopher's stone, or the elixir of immortality."

Moore says
It has long struck me that these details of the alchemist at work say something profound about anyone's quest to find a life work. It is deep and mysterious. It involves changes and developments. For it, you will need patience, good powers of reflection and observation, and the courage to keep going when it seems nothing of worth is happening. There is a surface activity and an underlying meaning to this work, and to remain on the surface takes you nowhere.

...the alchemist approached his work as though his life depended on it. ...Your work is equally important...not just as a means for making a living but as the medium through which you
become a person [italics added]
This perspective is not new to me; but Moore says it so beautifully
and it is significant for this book to come to me at this time in my life.

I don't have a job.

I have time and love and shelter and food and companions of exceptional talent and intelligence and integrity who treat me well. And I am listening, watching.

When I feel anxious or unfocused I take a deep breath and stretch and then focus

on laundry or weeding or playing piano or reading or walking.

I am the alchemist. Combining elements and observing. This is my opus, my calling, my self. What do I do with my time, my life, when money is no object? Continue the experiment...

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