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Drip, drip, drip.

I had a dream, and I’ll tell you what it meant, because it might be meant for you.

Quick disclaimer: I think that dreams are mainly a way for the quieter part of your brain to tug at the sleeve of the noisier part of your brain, and to say, “Hey, shut up for a second. Here’s what we really think and feel about The Thing.”

As I’ve said in the past,

Sleep is a place where the supernatural, the natural, and the occult can all get a leg in.  Aquinas  acknowledges that God occasionally communicates with people in their dreams.  But I’ve also heard many people say that they or their children had persistent dreams of malevolent rats, spiders, snakes, or other fearsome creatures — and that these disappeared after the room was blessed or some occult influence was rejected.

But most dreams are just your own mind at work.  If my subconscious takes the trouble to put on a memorable show about something when I’m asleep, then it’s often something I really need to deal with; and so, especially with disturbing dreams, I make an effort to decode them.

The other day, I dreamt a long, long dream about running and hot air balloons and factories and meddling kids; but the whole time, I was putting off looking under the kitchen sink.

In real life, I have, in fact, been putting off looking under the sink, because I know it’s dripping. But in my dream, I got down on the floor and opened up the cabinet. I saw that there was a little valve controlling the drip, and I was pretty annoyed that it was such a simple fix. Why didn’t we just take care of this sooner? So I tightened it right up, and–

WHOOOSSSSSSHHHHH. The water came gushing out in a horrible flood. Oh, no, I must have turned it the wrong way! So I quickly tightened it up in the other direction, as far as it would go, and–

WHOOOSSSSSSHHHHH. Flooded again.

So, I put it back the way it was.

It wasn’t easy, either. You had to get the position just exactly right, and there wasn’t any wiggle room at all. It took a really light touch to get the balance perfect, to keep it from gushing and spewing and wrecking my entire kitchen.

And once I got it in just the right spot, it was still leaking. But at least it was a slow leak. And I knew I could live with that, at least for the time being. It couldn’t go on that way forever, but I was right up against the end of the dream, so I had to let it be for now.

I share this with you because it is November. Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas. For lots of people, this means yummy cinnamon smells and twinkly lights and hot chocolate by a fire. For lots of other people, who don’t live between the pages of Real Simple magazine, this time of year means having way too much to do. Way way way too much to do. Even way too many truly important things to do, even after we simplify and prioritize and trim off all the nice but extraneous things we’d like to do.

A good many of us are going to find ourselves not getting everything done — important things, vital things. We are going to walk around with a sense of guilt and dread because we know there is this steady drip-drip-drip of failures going on behind the cabinet doors; and we’re probably beating ourselves up for not getting down to business and taking care of it, you lazy, irresponsible bum.

But I’m here to tell you: It’s probably not your fault. It’s probably not a matter of just forcing yourself to squat down and adjust things until it’s all nice and tight and tidy and taken care of. Right now, probably that can’t be done. It’s just not a tidy time, and that’s not your fault.

Not only is it not your fault, but you’re probably already working really hard, and employing a lot of skill and talent and a delicate touch, to keep it that drip of failure as slow as it is. So let it drip! You can definitely revisit it later; but don’t blame yourself for not doing things that no one person could do. There is such a thing as doing everything you’re supposed to do and still failing. All of your hard work is keeping that drip slow. Good work, you.

Does this apply to everyone? No, it does not. Some people do need to work harder, get their acts together, and make a bunch of adjustments so that things get better. If you’re not sure about your own situation, then write down all the things you’re supposed do every day and ask yourself if you’d expect someone else to do them all perfectly. If not, then lay off yourself. Let it drip.

We’ll give the final work to the poet Spike Jones:

Maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe you’ve just met your Water Lou!

 

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Netflix, Microsoft, and the Working Mom

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Certainly Netflix and Microsoft are thinking of their bottom line, but they also seem to realize that their employees are people, not just cogs. Women (and men, of course) are capable of giving real attention both to work and to their children — but work and children can both be done better if working moms feel less torn, less rushed, less guilty, and less like every aspect of her life is getting short shrift. These are not impossible goals.

Women can’t have it all, and neither can men. Working and raising a family means making sacrifices — but, if employers are willing to be more flexible and imaginative, those sacrifices don’t need to be intolerable. The goal of making life easier for working moms is a very pro-life goal.

Read the rest at the Register. 

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My Dear Graduates

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For some reason, nobody ever asks me to give the commencement address at their local high school or college. This despite the fact that I promised to wear pantyhose and everything, and to leave the bottle at home. Bunch of anti-Semites.

Anyway, I’m not one to be bitter. I’m not going to let this snubbing gnaw away at me. I’m just going to go ahead and write that speech anyway, and print out several copies of it, and keep them in the diaper bag in the car, next to the Luger PO8 and the farewell note. Because you never, never know!

Here’s what I have to say. Graduates, as I look out over your bright, eager faces, my heart wells with emotion and a single phrase springs into my mind: Better you than me.

Gee, I would give anything to not be you right now. What a horrible time this is for you. I mean, think about it: You’re on the verge of starting a new life. The possibilities are endless—what the future holds is bounded only by the limits of your imagination. You can be anything you want to be, if you only believe in yourself. You can shoot for the stars!

I’m so, so sorry.

Because that’s what people have been telling you, right? Isn’t that what your guidance counselor said—that there are no limits to what you can achieve?

You know that’s crazy talk, right?

I mean that literally: Only people with a mental illness would truly believe that you can achieve anything. People who actually get things done are the people who look at themselves and say, “Okey-doke. There are some things I’m good at, and many thousands more things that I am and always will be utterly unqualified to do. Starting tomorrow, my job is do the least amount of thrashing around and wasting of my parent’s tuition money as possible, while I figure out the difference between my very few strengths and my billions of weaknesses.

“Then, I need to figure out if there’s any possible way I can do what it turns out I’m good at, and also be a decent human being. If possible, it would be wonderful if the things I’m good at, and which allow me to be decent, are also things which will earn me a salary.”

And after you have that conversation with yourself, and preferably after you come up with a better plan than scrawling “FIX LIFE” on your memo pad, then you can go out drinking with your buddies.

Because here’s the deal, you poor deluded masses of inchoate ambition: Freedom is for something. Freedom is so that you can get something done. Yes, it’s valuable and precious in itself—but it’s not a resting place. Having potential is like being hungry: You want to resolve that in some definite way. All the best things in life come when you tie yourself down in one way or another, when you accept some limitations.

Think about all the things that make life worth living—all the things that people you admire are proud of. A huge project achieved? They neglected other things—fun things!—to get it done.  A happy marriage? They forsook all others to remain faithful. A vocation of any kind? Saying Yes to one thing always means saying No to a dozen more. It doesn’t mean that all the rejected opportunities are bad. It just means that you’re only one person, and are here to do one person’s work.

This doesn’t mean you have to rush into it. There’s nothing especially admirable about going whole hog for the wrong thing (just ask the guy with the Betty Boop tattoo on his forehead). So take your time, look around, and don’t be rash. But for the love of mike, remember that this stage of your life is supposed to come to an end some day. Even if you never end up with a career at all, you will eventually have some huge choices to make.

Or you know what? You might not even get to make a choice: You might find yourself faced with some horrible situation, and guess who’s the only one who can fix it? That’s right, the guy in the mirror, the one who fell asleep in a trash can and his friend drew cat whiskers on his face with permanent markers. The lives of others may someday depend on you, Mr. Fluffy. Try to make at least some of your current behavior reflect that fact.

So congratulations, graduates! You did it. Some of you worked moderately hard to be here today, and I applaud you. Now go forth, act decent, call your mother from time to time. And remember, nobody’s life ever got better after drinking a rum and Coke.

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(This post originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2011.)

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But it’s not my job!

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Any normal person, when faced with a heap of excrement like this, would go get the shovel and clean it up. Maybe they wouldn’t be happy about it, but they would clean it up, because it is a pile of dog poop in the middle of the yard. Instead, I started listing all the things I had already gotten done that day, all the things I was still going to do, and I said, “No! It’s not my job! I had enough things that are my job. Not gonna do it. Not. My. Job.”

Read the rest at the Register.

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St. Joseph the Window Washer

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Happy feast of St. Joseph the Worker! I was a little confused (NOT THAT I’VE BEEN A CATHOLIC ALL MY LIFE OR ANYTHING) about the day. Didn’t St. Joseph just have a day back in March?

Yep, St. Joseph’s feast day is March 19. St. Joseph the Worker is a separate feast day instituted by Pius XII in 1955, “apparently” (according to American Catholic) “in response to the ‘May Day’ celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists.”

I came across this enormously encouraging thought on Facebook, via St. Zita Catholic Worker Community of Green Country:

Barely making it, for a family, is quite an accomplishment.” –A resident at St. Francis House in Chicago.

If you’re not where you want to be, relax! Keep working because God is in the work.

Somehow, that is a tremendous relief to hear. Relax into the work. Even if you’re not there yet, you’re there, because God is there in the work. This dovetails nicely with a quote from Catherine of Siena, whose feast day was yesterday:

“All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, “I am the way.”

To be clear, it may not feel like heaven, but that’s because the world is like a damp spot, and original sin is like a mold that keeps growing over our front window over and over again. It’s hard work to keep clearing it off so we can see, but we do want to see clearly, don’t we? St. Joseph the Worker, intercede for us, so we have the energy to keep cleaning.

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Working moms: what would help?

Children are good for society, fiscally and in every other way. Children who are well-cared for, who aren’t forced to go to school sick or spend lots of time alone, and parents who aren’t utterly exhausted and wracked with guilt at all times, make families who give stability and peace to society as a whole. So even if we’re only looking out for our own self-interest, it’s best for everyone when parents are given as much freedom and flexibility as possible to devote to their children. Children are not a hobby or a side interest: they are life itself. It only makes sense for employers to take that into account.

Read the rest at the Register.