The snowball

Until last week, I was taking a night course in political science -- pre-graduate type of thing. I handed in my final essay at the last class last Thursday. It was a cool essay, looking into issues of law and democracy; whether it is democratic for the judiciary to overrule the majority (parliament) in Canada.

Metaphorically for me, the content was pretty interesting but the process sucked -- I crammed it out in little more than a week of late nights, staying up till 4:00 am the night before I submitted it. But after I handed it in, I didn't actually feel exhausted. I felt refreshed; in the wake of a week of little sleep and long hours reading dense legal theory, (on top of a day job and parenthood), I felt as relaxed as I might after a week of vacation. Creative new ideas are popping into my head that have nothing to do with legal theory. I slept 6 hours last night so I could watch a move and don't feel the least tired.

This got me thinking. I saw Reservation Road last night -- ho hum. But a plot premise is that a bored, under-employed suburban father about my age believes to some degree that he could find his true calling in life by spending six months or more unemployed and promenading or journaling in Paris (family in tow). I used to do this very thing (sans famille) for this very reason.

So which is it? If you really wanted a sense of "otherness" -- a separation from monotony -- a new, vital clarity, creativity and sureness about yourself, should you do a lot of nothing or a lot of something? Should you bake, or break, your brain?

Let me be clear, forgetting my exhaustion Thursday night (and subsequent debilitating neck spasm ;-), I felt about as good from Friday till now as I would after resting totally on a dock by a lake for five days. Normal life feels easy after hard thinking.

Of course, I worked really hard on this essay, and learned a lot of new things; I was passionate about the subject and about getting the argument right. Work is rarely like that. So then the issue becomes: is it more "living" to -- take an easy job that permits you to travel or write or play sports or do whatever feels like real life to you; or, to find a passionate vocation and work exceptionally hard with brief breaks.

I remember the economic theory I read years ago describing the trade-off between work and leisure; economics made a moral assumption that all people prefer unpaid leisure to paid work, and that they trade some leisure for some income; economics assumes "work to live." Common Sense today talks about not working too hard and smelling the roses. But maybe it's more tangled than that.

I called this post The Snowball because I think that's a nice label for the effect of working hard; you don't get tired, you get bigger. You know a little more, have a little more experience, and have a little less to do -- everything else should be a bit easier, and so on. A snowball rolling along gets bigger.