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AFTER THE NEED IS PAST
January 5, 2004
 
With the amnesia of middle age come its own special Attention Deficit Disorder. I notice a shocking decrease in my ability to multitask, of which I was always proud. Switching from one thing to another quickly is hard, now, and vaguely distressing. Listening to music while writing is a new challenge: I must choose very carefully, now, or what I am playing while I work will distract instead of nourish me.

I used to be able to do so much. I used to be incredible. Honest.

But really -- so what? Why do we need to count up all we do and give ourselves a grade, as if we were still in school? Isn't it better to savor each thing and see it through, and leave the totals up to somebody else? My current position is that this new way of working isn't actually a diminution in my powers, but a Deepening Maturity. Yup. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Panic attempts entrance, but I bar the doors successfully, no matter which one she tries. What if I don't finish this on time? What if I forgot something important? What if it's not good? Well, then, you'll just fix it and get with your life, I answer with as maddening a calm as I can muster. Did you really think you were so important that the world would come to a standstill without your work?

I do my best, and it will have to be good enough. And, if it's not, they can always find someone else who's better. If I were dead, I wouldn't be writing this. At the very least, then, this essay is probably better than one written by a corpse.

For many of the folks whizzing by in their cars, this is the first work day of the New Year -- they said the hell with it and took all of last week off. Now is the first Monday in science-fiction-sounding 2004, a chance to make a fresh start. But I hope they will let it be truly fresh, not yet another in a long line of failed intentions to do the exact same thing. If you have resolved to do the same thing for twenty years in a row and never do it, then perhaps it's not in God's plan for you. And perhaps something else is, but you're so fixed on the grail of your unfulfilled ambition that you can't see it.

If you weren't trying to do what you can't do, what might you be doing instead? If you didn't do what you've always thought you were supposed to do, what would you do? Where is the path you have regarded with curiosity and never walked? And might it not be calling you now, inviting you to turn off the familiar road and go somewhere new?

What a frightening thought.

We have to live. We have to eat and pay for somewhere to live. We have to take care of those who depend on us. Many things in life are fixed.

But some things are not. And we hang onto some of the fixed things long after the time of their necessity is over. If you haven't used it in two years, maybe you don't need it any more.

There is a sailboat in our basement. It's about ten feet long and made of some kind of foam, the kind of boat a young person might practice sailing with. Q's kids used it when they were young. It came apart for ease in storage. It was fun -- you could portage it down to the water, like you might a canoe, and just put it together right on the spot and take off. We haven't used it for fifteen years. Its centerboard broke in half.

I suppose we could construct another centerboard. It's just a piece of plywood in a vaguely triangular shape. But then again, it just might be time to put it out on the curb. Think of all the room we'd have in the basement.
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