Post 147

A Bottle-Cap Speaks:
Reflections on Inspired Work

The problem with so many writers and artists is that they aren’t actually inspired. They write stuff and they do supposedly artistic-ish things with a strange kind of motive.

They like the Idea of being An Artist.

They like the Idea of being A Writer.

They don’t even necessarily like writing or painting or drawing or sculpting or directing or anything like that.

But they like announcing that they are A Writer, A Painter, A Sculptor, A Director. They assume you care.


It happens all the time, as a matter of fact. Law schools are filled with men and women who really Have No Clue about being a lawyer (they don’t know one, they’ve never needed one, they’ve never visited one, so on and so on.) Their entire education about law school, prior to admittance, was a movie they saw once, or a novel they read, or a television show (in my day, it was LA Law – remember that one? I saw a few of those. I also loved staying awake to watch Paper Chase – can’t remember if I liked the show or just the idea of being up late like that just me and my dad. Happy belated Father’s Day by the way – as far as I’m concerned every day is Father’s Day, though I’m not saying it’s bad to have a day marked that way – such a day on the Hallmark calendar makes a lot more sense to me than those weird ones like Dental Hygiene Day or whatever. But as I was saying, a show like Paper Chase made law school seem like a most interesting place, and LA Law made the office seem like a free brunch at an upscale hotel.) It was from such non-reality sources that many lawyers got the Idea of Being A Lawyer.

Ah, they said to themselves – the money, the status, the prestige.

Sounds good. Sounds real good.

Those careers that “sound good” or “look good” will always attract more than their fair share of unsuitable applicants.

So, beware.

Be honest with yourself. Do you really, really like the idea of counting out pills, and talking to strangers about their bladder issues? Does the thought of peering into the jaws of people of all shapes and sizes actually seem like a pleasant way to spend the rest of your life? Your days, weekends and nights? Does the thought of looking at foot warts and writing up prescriptions all day feel like the way that God gifted you?


Well then, perhaps you should think again. Maybe God’s not calling you to be a pharmacist, a dentist or a doctor.

On the other hand, maybe he is. If your secret, number one reason for doing any given career is to make this world a better place, then I think you’re close to striking gold. Or if your secret, number one reason for choosing any work-related vocation is that you actually like the thought of that kind of thing (example: the thought of doing surgery seems wildly appealing; conquering warts and bunions and corns seems like quite a great feat ;) then do it. Chase down that degree, that diploma, that apprenticeship. Do it.

Fine. Good!

That is good, and that’s entirely the way. Don’t be embarrassed that God has given you that inclination in particular.

And if your girlfriend thinks that’s weird, get a new girlfriend (but please, ditch the first one first – overlapping is gross) because the first one obviously isn’t ready to accept something basic about you. Pursue it and let others watch, years down the line, as you rise to the top of the game. You will rise, because your intention was pure. The stars will align (as they say) in unpredictable, unforeseen ways.

Meanwhile, those others, who entered law school or med school thinking they were just entirely cool and proven and smooth, will find, over time, that they never should have done it. They never should have applied. They’ll discover that prison time comes in many sizes and disguises. A day at the office isn’t entirely so great when it never actually suited you. Your career will sputter and stall. (If you’ve chosen wrongly, make your escape now; there’s no shame in changing one’s mind when it comes to career choices. Give notice, if that’s fair, then go. Waffle not.)

My point is, when you choose your career with a proper consideration of what you like to do, you’ll be set up for both happiness and success. And here, yes, I include earthly success.

Work, in the end, is an exquisite mix of pleasure and pain.

And the pleasure and pain blend and switch, even over micro-seconds.

“It hurts so good” were the words of a massage therapist I once heard.

Entirely right.

Work for two minutes in the garden and watch your emotions; you’ll see what I mean. You see a weed, you feel dismay (didn’t I just do that area yesterday?), you sigh (the lie has arrived in your head that this will take 2 million hours and a horrible trip to the garage to get your trusty shovel or knife), you begin (here I go – hmm let me see – I shall attack you thus, Mr Weed), and you win. (The root I do seize!) Victory! Look at me! Look what I’ve done!

And lest you think this is entirely hypothetical, I remember Tammy B. holding up a gigantic dandelion specimen she had just caught. She stood there like a fisherman posing with his fish; she showed it to us, huge root and all. I was happy for her. I exclaimed “Good for you!” because I really, honestly, did share her joy.

You see?

Whether it’s writing a homily or battling, for a moment, that ingrown hair on your knee, we humans are meant for this thing we call Work – that exquisite blend, that strange battlefield.

And we don’t lose it – we don’t lose the need and inclination to work, for our entire life.

Work is part of God’s gift to us on this earth. Consider the story of Adam and Eve, and note that the punishment of God for Adam, in part, was exclusion from God’s tangible presence and an increase in difficulty in carrying out work. But the work itself – Adam’s work in the garden – wasn’t a punishment. It was part of the privilege of being in the garden, just as naming the animals was a privilege. Work isn’t the enemy. And while you’ve got your bible out, consider the words in Ecclesiastes, where Quoleth talks about one of the few joys in life being the doing of work. (For mothers, this includes the wild adventures of living with and laughing with the Inside people in ways the Outside people cannot even imagine. They get the Inside Joke, I shall say. They sigh and nod at the Outside Poke, I shall say.)

But anyway, consider those kids on the beach. For how many minutes will you catch them roasting themselves on a towel? Nah, it’s not their cup of tea. (Not that I begrudge you some rest, if that’s what you like. And I won’t lecture you about sunscreen – I don’t believe in the stuff. My only complaint, upon meeting you at the beach, is that you’ve shown up, well, um, Largely Undressed and I’ll wish you had noted the gorgeous and up-to-date methods of staying beautiful and rather decent at the beach. Thank you, Lands’ End, for doing what you do – a clothing company I actually rather admire.)

A child won’t rest at the beach. A child will, within minutes, find some Project – some type of castle to build, some fort or some barrier to make. If not that, then it may be a hunt of some sort, some gathering or collecting or amassing of shells. It’s natural. Don’t laugh at their busy hands and busy feet. They do something now more suited to human dignity than you do, you ‘Lady’ with more covering on your face than on your bikini-‘covered’ breasts.

And on the other end of life’s spectrum, how often have I reminded people that the Catholic Church doesn’t hesitate in giving its most difficult job (Pope = Servant of servants) to men who are 78, 87 or something like that. Ha! A man aged 65 is entirely young in the eyes of the Church. (Gary Larson, I see you ‘retire.’ Is this true? Why? Where do you now put the ideas and jokes that bubble inside?) In the eyes of the Church, a senior is not ‘spent’ in the least! Are you kidding? A man aged 65 is a baby, not ripe enough yet! Move over young man, we’re going for that fellow seated next to you – he’s 85 and God will make sure he stays a while.

(If that’s His will.)

He’s got work to do!

My point is that work is good, and it fits like a glove, from the beginning of our lives until our very last breath.

Choose it well.

Don’t consider what others will think. Don’t think about your mother bragging to her friends over lunch. She’s not the one who’ll be chained to the desk when you’d rather be holding your first-born or taking photographs of a bright-eyed girl with wooden spade at the shore.

Don’t think about impressing your friends with your stories of Great Conquest as a Scientist. They won’t care about your hours in the sunless place you call the Lab.

Do what you would love to do, without your eye on the money, the status or the prestige. Consider those things as nothing, as distractions. Don’t think about society’s current adulation and worship of the Career of the Day. (What is it these days? School teachers? Forensic scientists?)

If you’re not planning to be a mother, and if you’re not planning to enter religious life, then you need to think about a career. Think: what activities do you prefer? To what area or endeavor are you inexplicably drawn? What did you like to do when you were a child, before you found out that Some Careers were More Equal than others? Consider that.

That’s how you’ll ultimately get satisfaction.

After all, God is good. He’ll arrange things so that what you love to do works into his broader plan for the world, and his specific plan for you. He’s like that. Making things fit – his specialty, his Area of Expertise, you could say.

But anyway, back to Missy Look at Me I’m a Writer and Mr Look at Me I’m an Artist, the thing is, they so often aren’t actually inspired.

(And for the record, any person in any line of work can be inspired. A cake decorator can be inspired to make things look entirely fresh and madly appealing. Mel Bartholomew, garden planner, was inspired when he realized the beauty and usefulness of a square in the garden. Gary Larson was inspired in his work as a cartoonist. No legitimate career is excluded – house-painters, welders, car mechanics, garbage-collectors.

And speaking of this last one: how rarely do we pause and consider what the city would look like and smell like and be like if the collector DIDN’T show up? Thank God these men are as reliable, strong and fearless as they are. If ever there were such a thing as an unsung hero, that would be them. Yet note, my thoughts are about admiration and not pity. Why feel sorry for them? I know the good ones have fun, taunting the others jovially about finishing first or boasting good-naturedly about being entirely unphased by The Things that One Sees. I know a videographer who switched to this kind of work; last I heard, he now had more time for his wife and his many beautiful children. Good for him and his family; I’m entirely glad.)

And the same goes for priests. Instead of being excited about being in the spotlight in front of the crowd, you should be excited about working for God. After all, we are here attending Mass because it’s a Mass. Sadly, in many cases we are attending Mass in spite of you, not because of you. You’re not the reason we’re here. We’re here for Jesus and the Mass itself.

How sad it is that so many of the priests seem to entirely forget that the very best homilies come by spending time with the Lord.  Buried in the Word, with an open and prayerful heart – that’s where inspiration begins. The focus needs to be in the right place for the results to be good.

It’s not about “Being Dynamic,” Father. It’s not about “Hey look folks! No papers in front of me! I’m just like some Hollywood Actor, some Stand-up Comedian, some Dr. Phil Show. Got my weak lines memorized, baby!” Please, settle down. Go back to that lecturn-podium-ish thing (I don’t recall the proper name but please don’t be snobby that you do). Settle down. Go back to the Lord, be prayerful and listen. What does he want you to say? He wants you to tell the people something. Christ’s the dynamic speaker, not you. Let him use your voice, not your Body Language. And by the way, Father, why do you kneel while giving out the Eucharist? A blessing for a child during distribution of the Eucharist should be done from a standing position, and the child needn’t even be touched. Make the sign of the cross. Be discreet. Move on. It’s not about you, remember? Quit the posing.

The best homilies I have heard have been well-constructed and beautifully true. They were, in short, inspired. It was obvious, and it didn’t matter to me that the speaker had papers or whether he did it on the fly, lectio divina style. Standing or sitting, papers or not, inspiration is the key.

And speaking of memorization, I don’t know why some restaurants insist that their waiters memorize the orders of customers. Sure, if that’s the preference of the waiter, that’s great. But when I was a waitress, I realized that I was far more reliable if I had a pen and paper. It’s how my brain works. I realized that the customers couldn’t care less about Great Feats of Memory. They just wanted their meal to arrive, as specified. It wasn’t about me. You could say that the moment I realized that, I was inspired. I was inspired as a waitress as to how to give better service. Having my paper and pen at the ready made me faster and more reliable. And, as a matter of fact, the customers seemed rather pleased that I cared enough about what they said to write it down, to record as requested.

When you really want to do a good job for the right reasons, you will.

God will help you.

That’s what he does.

It’s his line of work, you could say (as I’ve said).

But anyway, I don’t want to leave this topic without challenging you further.

If I say to you, “I’m inspired,”

How do you take that?

Do you take that as me bragging to you (oh look at me, God has chosen ME not YOU)


Do you take it as me giving credit where credit is due (I couldn’t produce this stuff on my own)?

What’s an artist to do?

You see, you just can’t win.

If you like what I write, and admit it, then I’ll say to you that I wouldn’t, on my own, write like this. I’ll tell you that I’m inspired. What would you think?

Ah, look at how she brags! Now she has the nerve to say that God blesses her words!

Ah, look at how she brags! Now she has the gall to say God has chosen her!

Perhaps that’s what you would think.

So then shall I do the opposite thing?

You go first.

Tell me you like what I write. (That would mean, first, admitting to me that you read my blog.)

Now I’ll respond.

“Thank you.”

What would you think?

Ah, look at how she acts as though she came up with it all!

Look at how smug she is! She won’t even self-deprecate on cue as expected!

She’s missing the modernish script! She was supposed to say, “Nah, it’s just some trash I threw together.”


I’d rather go with Method A, because that’s what I consider the best way

To say what is true.

No matter how braggy it sounds.

After all, the Magnificat, spoken by a girl, wasn’t a request for you to praise her for herself. She wanted you to praise God because God had raised her, someone lowly, to a place she couldn’t have attained on her own. God had raised a mere girl, someone who didn’t consider herself worthy for anything more than she already had, and she was astounded at his choice.

And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
For he who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted those of low degree;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,
In remembrance of his mercy,
As he spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his posterity for ever.

— Luke, 1: 46-55

The proper response to The Blessed Virgin’s Magnificat (the modernish script, if I am not mistaken) is genuine and heartfelt and goes something like this:

“You go, girl!”