Monday, November 7, 2011

Rien à faire : The Importance of Not Working

The 1995 remake of Sabrina is highly-underrated movie. What's not to like? Harrison Ford is charming, Julia Ormond delivers a simultaneously delicate and self-possessed performance. Greg Kinnear is quirky and fun as only he can be. The script is smart, the characters are engaging and funny. Moreover, it's light years better than the stodgy, formulaic, and down right misogynist 1954 original. And let's face it, despite the presence of the ever-charming Audrey Hepburn, Humphry Bogart is just old and creepy. Old and creepy.
All of this to, yes strongly recommend what is possibly the only "romantic comedy" that I like (though Definitely, Maybe has its merits...), but mostly to be able to talk my favorite quote from that film, one that somehow escaped the rather encyclopedic (and yet somehow repetitive) IMDB quotes page:
"The French work as hard any anyone else. They just know when to stop."
In a economy where employee productivity is up but employment is thin, in a space of the Internet where my artist acquaintances (you know, those wonderfully right-brained folks?) make public to-do lists, in a metro area where you need to zip about in a car to get anywhere (and people seem to drive by feel), on a day dedicated to meetings and pressure, I'd like to place one more thing on your agenda:
  • Stop working.
Take a break. Step away from the computer. Leave your office. Have a long lunch talking about last night's football game. When you finish your last email of the afternoon, close your inbox. Stop by a bar and have a drink on the way home. Chat up the bartender. Flirt innocently with the wait staff. Go home and make dinner, or order some Chinese. Talk with you family. Or pick up a phone call a friend. Watch Castle tonight while you're on the phone. Laugh. Cry. Get in a heated discussion about Star Trek captains. Anything but work.

American society is so performance-driven that it seems to drive us a little insane. I know, I've been there. I almost burned my life to the ground my first year of graduate school. You see, I'm one of the lucky people for whom most school work was easy. I had a knack for language and literature and book-smarts. So, grade-school was a snap. Most of undergraduate was easy, too. Grad school was an entirely different ball-game, one for which I was not prepared. Making lesson plans, reading hundreds of pages of literary theory a week, grading papers, preparing for comprehensive exams; I dove into it all with such frenzy that I literally blew my eyes: I've had bifocals since I was 22. The problem was, I didn't realize that graduate school was a job. So, I constantly brought my job home with me and it took over like kudzu. It wasn't until I started treating my graduate studies like a 9-5 job that life became sane once again.

Now the trick here is that I started treating it like the French treat their 9-5 jobs: I left the work at the office. I put down the lesson plans and research papers and went out to live life. I took long lunch breaks. I didn't think about Monday morning's class on Saturday afternoon.

It's not slacking; far from it. This principle was a key survival technique for my Doctoral studies. When I was at work, I was able to the be completely at work and I was quite productive. This "rest-ethic" allowed me to teach not only several very good intro French classes, but some courses on French cinema and world literature, and to craft a dissertation that eventually became a book in its own right. It continues to serve me well here at KSU. I don't slack in the office, but I do take a break about every two hours. I go outside, talk with the students, have a cigarette and recharge. And when I get home, I don't carry the stress of the day with me, nor any worries about tomorrow. That's tomorrow's problem.

So, this Monday, plan to do a little something that's not work. I know, it can be hard. Take it in small steps, an extra coffee in the morning. Leave your Blackberry off during dinner. Steal some email time and check out Icanhascheesburger instead.
See? It's worth it. Work hard and know when to stop.

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