November 30, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)


The greatest analgesic, soporific, stimulant, tranquilizer, narcotic, and to some extent even antibiotic known to medical science --in short, the closest thing to a genuine panacea-- is work.

Thomas Szasz, 1990

Last summer I worked my tail off. Of course it wasn't with the energy that I put into it when I was younger. At my age, a morning or less of hard work is enough. Still it was more physical work than I have done in more than 10 years.

I did not set out to do it in the same way as people set out to do exercise, I did it because I wanted something. In this case, I wanted to extend the balcony that I had built on the east side of my house to two more sides. My wife wanted it as a place to do things, like entertain people, and I wanted it because it would give me access to the upper part of my house without having to erect a scaffold. The siding was deteriorating for lack of wood preserver and I had a kitchen exhaust fan that needed attention.

The person I wanted to hire to do the job was unavailable so, on impulse, I decided to do it myself. It was one of the better decisions of my life.

After planning it and deciding how much material I needed, I ordered a unit (120 pieces) of 2" x 6" x 12' Douglas fir, a dozen 4" x 4" x 12's and a box of 3 inch galvanized screws. I hired a neighbor for a few hours to help me to stack the lumber and then I set to work on my own to construct it.

I like making things, in part because of the pleasure that I get when I look at the finished product and think that "I made it!" If it is really well done, so much the better, but even if it isn't, it is mine and I love it. Unlike most of the pleasures of the moment, something built or written can give me pleasure over and over again. Often it can cure or prevent the depression that is inevitable when you get old and consider the future.

I learned to enjoy the things that I made at a very early age, as I suspect do most people who enjoy work. I think that it was Freud who pointed out the pleasure that an infant gets when it sees his first production, shitty as it may be.

What is the difference between work and play? I suspect that it is attitude. The act of playing ball is the same whether you are a kid playing sandlot baseball or a major league player. To the kid, it is play and to the professional it is work. The same thing is true for writing, research, music and just about any human activity that involves activity and concentration. By definition, if you get paid for it, it's work. even if it gives you great pleasure. If you need the money, it's a good idea to do something that you get paid for, but the person who enjoys what he gets paid for has it made.

A major factor is whether you enjoy what you are doing. If you enjoy it, it's play; if you don't it's drudgery.

I suspect that a lot of people are put off by the perfection of the professional and prefer to buy something rather than make it. There are so many things that can be bought rather than made; but there is so much more pleasure when you make it yourself.

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