The work of being complete…

the work of being complete
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“I was alone and split in two. I don’t want to be two people. I want to be one person. I want to be whole. But, I have no choice it seems.”

Alex Michaelides, The Maidens

I believe in reading with a pencil, and most of my writing emerges from the conversations, or arguments, I’m having in the margins of a text. Even when the margins are digital and the pencil is too.

On any given evening after dinner, you’ll find me on the couch or the patio, iPad and Apple Pencil in hand, Instapaper on one side of the screen, GoodNotes open on the other, reading and scribbling in tandem. This is where, and how, reading becomes a form of creative collaboration; a co-authoring. Austin Kleon says “The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice.” It also means they can’t reject you as a writing partner.

In this particular ‘writing session’ Toni Morrison shares four lessons her father taught her about work, and I share some marginal thoughts on wholeness:

“1. Whatever the work is, do it well-not for the boss but for yourself.”

I understand this one well enough. I’ve always gone above and beyond. Done more than was necessary. More than was expected. Not because I anticipated being rewarded, it’s rare that I have been, or because I hoped the higher-ups would take commendable notice of me, it’s rare that they have. Instead, I do it because I don’t know how to work any other way. Much to my constant chagrin and behest, I don’t know how to give less than my best.

“2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.”

This one I only understand cognitively, not experientially. That things are what you make them. That life, itself, is what you make of it, is a perspective I often lack the aptitude for, especially when it comes to work. How do you find fulfillment in something that is utterly unfulfilling? How do you take pride in work you’re almost ashamed to admit you do? How do you get satisfaction from a job that doesn’t sate your soul?

“3. Your real life is with us, your family.”

This, I’m sure is meant to seem comforting, or reassuring, but it’s neither. The plain fact of the matter is that I’m at work more than I’m home. I spend more time with co-workers than with family. If my real life is what happens outside of work than I am rarely real, and the vast majority of my day is given to something artificial and inauthentic. My trueness, it seems, is not only fractured, it’s fractional.

“4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.”

I’ve heard this one, or something like it, so much, and so often, the words have become banal and meaningless. ‘You are not defined by your job description.’ ‘What you do for work is not the sum total of who and what you are.’ Work and life is a bifurcation meant to be balanced. But, I want to be defined by my work. I want my job to be a reflection of who I am. I don’t want to live divided. I don’t want to live and work in separate spheres, no matter how well balanced. I want my life to be my work. I want my work to be my life. I’m tired trying to live split and being torn apart in the process.

But, perhaps this sense of desperation is so angst-ridden and palpable because it is indicative of something more amiss, something deeper and more askew. What I really want, what I really need, what I am severely lacking, is ikigai: literally life-worth, a calling, a reason for being, an energy and operative significance built into the motion of all I do and everything I am. Maybe I’m still just too naïve in thinking that it’s something that could ever come with a comfortable salary and a 401k.

T.K. Coleman says that “the universe is bigger than your job” and, not only is it bigger than your job “It’s bigger than your job plus all the other jobs that will ever exist.” He says that “being human means you’re bigger than all the jobs and all the passions you’ll ever have.” I’d take a sense of purpose over paid vacations and a dental plan anyway.

Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles explain that “Only things that are imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral can truly be beautiful.” Maybe wholeness never arrives fully formed. Maybe it’s an afterthought at best. Life is a mosaic of moments, built up bit by bit. We live in the interstices of the in-between; the interstices of the infinite. Shaped by the shards, formed in the fissures, we live in the pieces filling the fractures of our aliveness until at last we are home.

Maybe in being made Legion we are made complete. Maybe each one of our divided personalities provides a shelter in which the other divisions can find rest.

Maybe we might still be mended. Maybe we already are. Maybe we were never broken. Maybe we always have been. Maybe there is no hope for wholeness, but then again maybe hope, itself, is the work of being complete…


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