PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
November 20, 2000
I have a day job, so I need to make it clear to anyone who comes here that the opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer, my family, or your great-aunt Mathilda. Offer not valid in Wisconsin. You must enter to win.
Table of Contents:
I'm Taking Next Week Off
I will be working only one day next week, then will take some vacation at home and some vacation in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving with my mother-in-law. As a result, there will be no new column posted on Nov. 27. Happy Thanksgiving!
One more housekeeping note; I have some cool stuff to hand on the election, and my opinions about it (including an essay I was going to write, before the results are known, entitled "No Matter Who Wins). I had some good humor, and reviews of Cabaret, Kiss Me Kate and Music Man, the three Broadway shows I saw with Rae, Marlow and my mother last week. I was going to explain what a blogger is, and then tell you I am one. I had some interesting URLs, and some cogent post-election commentary from Jerry Pournelle, among others.
But I decided instead to break format (as I did last year at this time) and devote this week's column to Thanksgiving.
Some of the stuff will keep. Some of it will grow too old to use--a fate that awaits all of us, if we live long enough.
If this sounds familiar, it is because, in the great tradition of Herb Caen and Jon Carroll, I am recycling my two previous thanksgiving messages.
I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a great job, I have my health, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.
Don't get me wrong. I still love what I do for a living, but the greater meaning of my life, and my most important role, is as husband to Vicki and father to Marlow and Rae.
Which is why I took Tuesday and Wednesday off this week. Rae has the whole week off.
If it isn't too late, take an extra day or two off this week, especially if your kids get extra time off. (This doesn't apply to those of you not presently working. You know who you are). If it is too late, take some extra time around Christmas. Nothing happens that week anyway.
I think we all lose perspective sometimes, forget what's really important. We get wrapped up in our jobs and spend too much time working on them, both at home and in the office. I have two thoughts on this.
One is an old aphorism, nonetheless true for being hoary: no one ever said on their death bed, "God, I wish I'd spent more time at the office."
The other is something my mom used to say to my dad. My father was a dedicated and hardworking milkman. If the dairy called on Sunday to say a grocery store was out of milk, my dad would drive in and spend the several hours needed to load up, drive to the store, then drive back to the dairy and thence home. Periodically, mom would say, "Paul, 30 years from now, who's going to be there for you, your family or that damn dairy?" As it turned out, the dairy went bankrupt, but we're all still here for him.
I think of that often as I have to make choices between work and home life. Whenever possible, I choose home life. In fact, I work at home--have since 1979. In my case, this has erased the line between home and work, in time as well as in space. It has been worth it to me to be here to see my daughters grow up.
I eat breakfast and dinner with them every day. I see most of their concerts and sporting events. I help with their homework. Sometimes this means staying up until Midnight or 1, or getting up at 4:30 a.m. instead of 5:30 a.m. to get some work done. So be it. Working at home means a certain loss of professional companionship. It has required me to forgo several potential promotions. It has limited me professionally. So be it.
I begrudge, bewail, and bemoan nothing. I wouldn't trade the presidency of this company or any other for the years I have spent with the girls.
Not everyone can work in a home office. Some people aren't temperamentally suited to it. Some don't work in a field where that's possible. All I say is, if you can, do.
And the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.
And Public Service Too
In the words of the Bible, as rendered by Lyndon Johnson when he withdrew from consideration for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968: "Of those to whom much is given, much is asked." (The quote, as rendered in the King James bible, is actually much less eloquent.)
The best put-down of Dan Quayle I ever heard (and there are so many good ones to choose from) was that he was "born on third base and thought he hit a triple." If my daughters never suffer this delusion, I will consider myself a success.
During this Thanksgiving season, I give thanks, as I often do the rest of the year, for the many benefits bestowed on me by society and my family.
I don't believe in self-made men and women. Yes, our choices and actions have a lot to do with where we end up in life. I am not advocating some kind of laid-back, que serra approach to life. But no one is an island, complete unto themselves.
Those of us born white, American and middle-class, raised in safe neighborhoods by intact families with reasonable incomes, who attended public schools that were still reasonably well funded and safe, have a leg-up over about 99.99 percent of the world's population that has nothing to do with how smart or hard-working we are. Maybe I wasn't born on third base, like Dan Quayle, but I was born somewhere between first and second, and I had a hell of a lineup in front of me and behind me to insure that my team won the game. Some of the win was the result of skill. Some of it was luck of the draw. Most of it came from society, which built the stadium and wrote the rules, things I could never have done by myself.
So, I have always felt a requirement to give something back to society. I gave more time and effort when I was younger. Since Marlow got active in basketball five years ago, I scaled back on outside commitments, first quitting the MIT Educational Council, then stepping down from the Orinda Planning Commission at the end of my one-year term. I plan to give more time when I am older. For now, I give money. There, I violated one of the rules I gave Marlow for her college essay; don't mention the negative stuff, just the positive stuff.
I threw the negative stuff into this essay to let you know we all fail to live up to our expectations of ourselves from time to time. No shame in that. As they say in the dieting game, if you missed a freeway exit, would you drive home and start the journey over? No, you'd get off at the next exit and do your best to get where you're going by another route.
Richard Dalton, a friend for most of my adult life, says he never took a consulting job where they wouldn't let him start with an assessment of the present situation. "You can't get where you're going until you know where you are." The next thing he required was a clear goal. "If you don't know where you're going, you can't get there." He probably lost a lot of business by asking for these things.
This is all by way of saying that many of us were more idealistic when we were younger, and once gave more to the community and the world than we do now. Take stock of where you are, and where you'd like to end up. Try moving towards your goal. Don't give up if you miss your exit a few times.
The period from Thanksgiving to Christmas is the one time when this dog-eat-dog society actually sends us messages that remind us to think about someone other than ourselves. Listen to these messages.
Give thanks for your family, your friends, and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can.
Get Ready In Case You're Asked
This is, of course, the time of year when most of us are given a few days off with the suggestion that we consider what we're thankful for. Many of the tables at which I sit on the holiday have a tradition of going around the table to ask each person what they're thankful for. If this is a tradition at your table, or you're headed for an unfamiliar table where it might crop up, you may as well start thinking about it now, because otherwise you're liable to say something spontaneous (that's good) and stupid (usually less good). Not to mention more revealing, perhaps, than you intend.
I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life. In many ways, mine has been a charmed life. I try very hard to avoid the sin of hubris, which I remember reading about when I was 14. While I don't believe in the panoply of ancient Greek gods, and don't really think I'll be directly punished for thinking that I have earned and deserved my good fortune, I've still always thought it unseemly to take it for granted.
I know I was blessed with the head start of loving parents, married to each other and supportive of education. I will be thankful for that all of my days.
I am thankful for my health, which may seem odd to those of you who know that I was recently [Now a year ago] diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. I'll spare you the details. Those of you who know about it know that it's easily controllable, and for those of you who don't know about it, don't worry, I won't be checking out any time soon. In fact, if I lose weight [not much yet--still working on it] and watch my diet [that I've done], I'll live every bit as long as I would have otherwise, maybe longer.
In essence, the diagnosis makes me thankful for several reasons. First, if could have been worse. Second, it serves as a wakeup call. As a friend of mine who had a heart attack told me, "It beats the hell out of a heart attack." And, by the way, I'm grateful this guy wasn't killed by his heart attack, because we've got a lot of mileage left in our friendship.
I am thankful that I have two living loving parents and a loving brother. I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.
I am thankful for a job that involves no heavy lifting and no dirt under my fingernails, that still thrills and excites me and makes me want to get out of bed every morning and do it. I'm no fool. I know for a fact most people are indifferent about their jobs and a significant minority loathe their work. I know I am blessed, thank you.
I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance.
I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you who is reading this column. Have a great Thanksgiving! I promise to be much less serious next week.
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