Delray Beach, Florida
Notes From My Journal: Struggling to make sense of harassment in the workplace
We’ve had some “incidents.” One woman said that being asked out on a date by a co-worker created a hostile work environment for her. Another claimed that being “forced” to undergo a performance review was a form of abuse. Still another said that seeing her pregnant boss in “inappropriate” clothing was so offensive that it made it impossible for her to do her job.
It’s possible to see this issue as part of a larger trend: that of the weak and/or disenfranchised giving the government the responsibility of protecting them from the strong and/or powerful. Is that good? I don’t know. On the one hand, it’s fundamentally what happens when a culture becomes civilized. On the other hand, from an evolutionary perspective it seems retrogressive.
Today’s Word: draffsack (noun)
Draff is what’s left of malt after it’s been fermented to make Scotch whisky. Draffsack – a sack filled with these dregs – is a Scottish expression for a lazy glutton. As used by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales(“The Reeve’s Tale”): “And I lie as a draff-sack in my bed….”
You can’t taste food unless it is mixed with saliva.
From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket:
How to Become What You Want to Be
I’ve wanted to be a writer for most of my life. I got the bug when I was 11 or 12 years old. I remember sitting in the kitchen, working on an assignment for English class: to write a poem. I had pretentiously entitled it “How Do I Know the World Is Real?”
My father walked in and stood behind me, reading over my shoulder. I felt anxious, with good reason. You see, my dad had serious credentials. He was a published author, an award-winning playwright, a Shakespearean scholar, and a teacher of literature. Many Saturday mornings I had seen him hunched over student essays, marking them up in red and shaking his head.
It must have been only a minute, but it felt much longer. Then I felt his hand on my shoulder, gentle and warm.
“You may have a talent for writing,” he said.
“That’s what I want,” I said, enthusiastically. “I want to be a writer.”
“If you want to be a writer, you have to write,” he said. “Not want to write. Not think about writing. But write. You have to sit down every day and write.”
Then he topped off his whisky and went back to his reading chair in the living room.
Buoyed by his assessment of my “talent,” I wrote lots of poetry in the months that followed. And I began to think of myself as a writer, an identity that made me proud. But eventually other interests – touch football, the Junior Police Club, Virginia Lanzo – moved into my life. And as time passed, I wrote less and less.
I still yearned to be a writer. So I told myself that my other activities were life experience. And that I needed life experience to become the writer I wanted to be. But deep down, I knew this was only an excuse. And eventually, remembering my father’s words, I had to face the fact that however much I wanted to be a writer and still thought about writing, I was just another wannabe.
Yes, life can get in the way
So many people live their lives failing to become what they want to be.
Sometimes, as it was with me back then, it is because of competing interests. Sometimes it is financial and/or personal obligations. Sometimes it is a prerequisite – such as a degree and/or license and/or training – that stops them in their tracks.
So what about you??
What is it that’s been keeping you from achieving your dream?
When my life got in the way of my dream, I deluded myself by building a comfortable structure of self-deception. I told myself that so long as I truly still wanted to become a writer and spent lots of time reading and talking about it, I could still consider myself a writer. Or at least a writer in training.
But, of course, my father’s definition of “writer” wouldn’t allow for that. Because I was not actually writing, I wasn’t a writer. It was as simple as that.
With that terse definition, my father was also telling me something that I didn’t understand until years later: that all the official, legal, and socially acceptable qualifications for being what you want to be are ultimately bullshit. If you really want to do something, don’t worry about formalities, just do it.
Just do it! That’s Nike’s slogan. And mine too. If you have a dream deferred, it should be your slogan too.
Accepting my father’s words was like learning to swim in cold water. Painful at first. But invigorating once I got used to it. After the initial disappointment of giving up the delusion that the state of becoming a writer was as good as being one, I had no choice but to jump over the becoming stage and simply be.
So I wrote. Every day. And when I learned the secret of getting up early and writing first thing in the morning… that’s when I began to really live my dream.
These days, I usually get to the office between 6:30 and 7:00. And the first thing I do is brew a cup of coffee and fire up the computer. There is no better feeling for me than to get going, usually by making entries in my journal but sometimes by tackling something tougher, like a book chapter, first thing in the morning when the office is dark and quiet.
I become a writer the moment I start writing and I cease to be a writer the moment I stop.
If you think about it this way, nobody can stop you from becoming what you want to be. You don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval or acknowledgement. You just make a decision to become and then you become.
And this is true, I think, for every skill or profession.
So what if your dream is to become, say, a doctor or lawyer or professional basketball player?
But here is where we run into a little snag. Certain professions do require degrees and certification. Others require extremely high skill levels. After all, you can’t become a doctor simply by doctoring. Can you?
Well I’d say yes, you can. If your dream of being a doctor (or a lawyer, etc.) entails getting paid for your work, you will have to go through the officially sanctioned process. But if your dream is to do what doctors are supposed to – to help heal people – then you can become a doctor, albeit a non-professional folk doctor, simply by helping people heal.
In choosing the doctor dream, I am purposely pushing this idea to its limits to make a point. I recognize that being a good doctor requires a good deal of knowledge. But I’m not talking about becoming good at something. (Just as my dad was not talking about becoming a good writer.) I’m talking about becoming what you want to become, about living your dream.
If you want to be a doctor in the sense of healing people, nobody can stop you. Yes, you can be thrown in jail for practicing medicine without a license. But if you do your healing within legal limits, nothing can stop you from becoming a healer. Just start healing.
Before you write in to tell me how irresponsible I am being here, I am not saying that anyone should practice medicine without a license. What I am saying is that if you want to be anything, even something that requires specialized education and official recognition, you can achieve that dream simply by doing the thing you want to do.
So what is the best way to become a guitarist? Start playing that guitar.
And what is the best way to become a lyricist? Just write those songs.
And what is the best way to become a basketball player? Start shooting those hoops.
Don’t worry about not being qualified. And don’t worry about not getting paid for it. If you have a dream that’s been long deferred, don’t spend another day talking about what you will do one day. Just do it.