On Not Working

Cary Tennis' columns at Salon are a reliable source of juice on dry days. And boy, was today ever a dry one.

It's way meta, but Tennis had a great response to a person who wrote to confess that all of a sudden, she just stopped working.

"Why do we suddenly stop working? Sometimes it is because some essential linkage to us has broken or worn down; the cam that was to prod us into movement no longer brushes against us, and so we come to a slow halt, and freeze, and find to our amazement that as the rest of the engine hums with admirable harmony, we sit quietly, doing nothing, untouched, unsupervised. Or it may be that rather than a physical cam or rod that no longer prods us, it was a link of information that has decayed, so that we are no longer receiving instructions. Again, in the lack of instructions, we simply stop working. Or we may be receiving instructions, but in Mandarin. We do not speak Mandarin. How odd. But we wait. We wait for better instructions. Or the instructions may be in our native language but indecipherable, written by another cog who was daydreaming.

"So we simply stop working. Those adjacent may be too busy to notice that we have grown quiet and still. In fact, because the machine was poorly designed, it may turn out that the machine works better when we do nothing..."

Tennis confesses that once he did the very same thing -- came into work faithfully every day only to sit there, shoving his mail into a cardboard box underneath his desk.