When Trent Reznor submitted The Downward Spiral to Interscope Records cofounder Jimmy Iovine, he offered an apology. “Sorry,” Reznor remembered saying in a 2016 interview with Beats 1 host Zane Lowe. “I had to do it.”
Apple Music liner notes to The Downward Spiral
It was June 4, 1979, the first time I went on stage. I didn’t know I could do it but I knew I couldn’t not do it. I quit everything in my life and this was the one thing I couldn’t quit.
We’ve all heard this from the heroes, the succeeding class, the Passionate People: that their work calls them, beckoning, that they literally cannot not do the work.
That…that must be nice.
I am a grown man, a husband and father with a few career changes, more than a few grey hairs, and a list of responsibilities that grows by the hour. I am in the extraordinarily privileged position of being able to choose my work: having the expertise in a pretty broad set of fields, running my own tiny consulting firm with all remote clients, working with reasonably fresh technology to build new things.
Let it be known that I am fully capable of not doing the work. The first week back at work after my wife was recovered-enough from Covid-19, I think I billed something like $400. And I played a lot of The Witcher III (which is fabulously fun).
I have a list of past and potential clients to follow up with, projects to kick off, essential skills to learn, marketing and outreach and everything involved in growing a small business. And I love it. It’s work that excites me. And–again–I am fully capable of not doing it.
Messrs. Reznor and Lopez and so many others have a drive that I simply cannot relate to. My own truth was much better worded by the late Anthony Bourdain:
I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.
Let me be honest: being that guy for just a day sounds fucking amazing. The trouble, of course, is that it becomes a problem when it’s more than “just a day”.
My own strategems for self-care, -discipline, -productivity, what-have-you all fell on their face when I spent a few weeks on 24⁄7 (and I do mean 24 /7) childcare while scared shitless that my wife would die. And they don’t automatically come back. And then the second arrow strikes as I beat myself up for not getting done what I want accomplished.
So, where to from here? Still mid-pandemic, with mouths to feed and mental health to attend to. It’s starting here: with an unedited and rushed-out blog post to own that I’m running at half-capacity at best and that no one else will do shit about it. And it goes to what I know: to move anything, start by moving the body.
I have to run. Until my legs shake, until I’m scared my middle-aged knees will let go in mid-stride. I can’t not do it. Not because I can’t not do it, but because I know what lies down the path of not doing it–and that’s not living.