Work was school, homework, mowing the lawn, and Sunday school. (I eventually traded one job for another, being allowed out of Church/Sunday school in exchange for mowing the lawn. I regarded it, and would still regard it, if there were anybody around to force me to go to church, as a good swap.)
Play was going into the woods in the morning and not coming out till dark. (Kids could do that then.) It was reading all day, preferably some book that my mother did not approve. Later, it was girls, and after that it was theater. I still don't know a more magical space than a theater as a play comes together. Also, theaters are a great place to meet girls.
And then I hit the tough twenties with college behind me, and work was anything I wouldn't have done if they hadn't paid me. It meant selling my life, one day at a time, whether the job was enjoyable or not. Even now, with that period far behind me, I regret how many years I devoted to working for a living when it was clear that that the living I was working for wasn't worth the work I was doing for it. If there were any way to buy those years back, I'd give most of my earthly goods to do it.
You're probably saying--those of you who have made it this far--"But when you love your work, it's different."
I'm at a point in my life when I literally don't have to do anything for any length of time, any day of the week, that I don't want to do. I get up, caffeinate, talk to my wife, go for a run, do some email or other e-chores, caffeinate again, and write. All my life, I've been saying, "If all I had to do was write . . ." and now all I have to do is write. It's close to being my only responsibility.
And I'm turning it into work.
The distressing truth is that I find myself delaying writing: reading a little extra of whatever's at hand, making lists of ditsy little things to do just for the pleasure of crossing them off as the day ticks on, and by the time I get around to making up a story, it's often three or four PM and I've only got a few hours at the keyboard before I hit the 7 PM do-not-cross line. If I write much after seven, my gears won't disengage and I lie in bed for hours, thinking, "What happens if he goes to a bar instead of a restaurant?" or "Maybe she isn't who she says she is." And I'm up all night.
It would appear that I've misunderstood all my life the fundamental difference between work and play. Work is whatever you're supposed to be doing. Play is everything else.
This is a disconcerting realization. What happens when you finally get to do what you've always wanted to do and it turns out to be work? Does that plant you permanently in the Dull Boy side of the room? (Or Dull Girl, of course; dullness is definitely not a sex-linked trait.)
Well, maybe not. One of the oddest things about life--my life, anyway--is that I forget that some things are only momentarily unpleasant. Starting a diet, for example, since I've started so many of them; it always looks like a vast wasteland dotted with salads, and the only people in sight are those who have been sent to pick off the croutons. In fact, once I start, it's exhilarating; I'm actually doing something right. Or running--the image of me plodding along, red-faced and panting, doesn't yield to the sheer joy of piling up a few miles on a perfect day until I've been doing it for a week or two.
And I know that If I sit there and slam out one word after another for a while, I'll suddenly realize that it's been a couple of hours and that these people are interesting. (And that I have virtually no control over them.) Jeez, look where the story went. And who knew that was coming? It becomes both a joy and a mystery, since after all these years I still have no idea how it works.
Yet I persist in putting this "work wall" around it. Something is fundamentally wrong when I'd rather play another meaningless hand of Texas Hold'em on my Kindle or Google "antidisestablishmentarianism" or the original date of Christmas than do the thing that actually gives me the most satisfaction. Maybe it's the fear of failure, disguising itself as reluctance to--here's that word again--work.
A while back, I wrote a blog that said I was going to try to think of writing as play. Guess it's time to give that a try again.
Tim -- Sunday