"He who has never learned the art of drudgery is never likely to acquire the faculty of great and memorable work, since the greater a man is, the greater is his power of drudgery."
My favorite blog, The Art of Manliness, this week posted a brilliant essay by William James Dawson, originally published in 1894 and celebrating the value of menial labor. Apropos, I’ve been spending my evenings crawling around in the attic of my neighbor, shoveling and bagging cellulose insulation.
Its an exhausting, muggy, cramped, dirty, sometimes painful, often frustrating, and always slow-going gig (14 hours and counting). But I want to learn about construction, my neighbor is rebuilding his place, and clearing out the cellulose is a necessary step before we can raise his ceiling -our ultimate goal. Its also a fine way to make a few bucks while guaranteeing I’ll get a full-night’s sleep.
Last night, before I disappeared into the rafters, my neighbor and I were chatting- about work, about marathon training, about some very exciting news regarding my involvement with the LLS Man & Woman of the Year committee (can’t tell you just yet, but its some really stellar news)- basically all the obligations that keep me from working in his attic every night. “And yet you still choose to be here,” my neighbor said, somewhat bemused. I didn’t have an explanation. Seemed kind of lame to declare a noble humility in toiling on one’s hands and knees, so I shrugged my shoulders, mumbled something to the effect of, “I could use the money,” and let the question knock around in my skull awhile: Why, really, was I choosing to spend my evening surrounded by cobwebs and exposed nails rather than, say, surrounded by hipsters at the Echo’s free residency show?
But you know what, there IS a certain noble humility in back-breaking drudgery! There’s tenacity in the willingness to start at the bottom. There’s endurance in dedicating hours of yourself to a project. And there’s honor in seeing your obligations through to the end. Dawson explains it all much more eloquently than I ever could, so just give his essay a read already. I’m fairly certain it was posted specifically for me, but I’m sure will take something away from it, too.