Unloved labors lost
Now that Labor Day is safely past, a word should be said for the loyal opposition -- for those who are not all that keen about laboring. Not to worry. We aren't about to make a dated appeal in behalf of dropping out, '60s style, or even laying back, '70s style.
In fact, we'spurious about Walt Whitman's boast, "I loaf and invite my soul" -- at least as a full-time occupation. It is our experience that to grant people the wish for endless leisure -- the year-around vacation -- is no particular favor. One thinks of that horrible invention for those who do not labor -- the 24-hour waiting room known as The Lounge. It is always twilight in this limbo. Nobody knows what time it is, or even what season. The world turns to the retarded tempo of a bored pianist. To paraphrase two of the tunes the lounge pianist is certain to render: Time on your hands makes for a very melancholy baby.
Still, having said all this, we have an impression that there are more workaholics than playboys. Maybe it's the company we keep, but most of the people we know don't need any Labor Day pep talk. Quite the contrary. And so we're proposing that the second Monday in September be proclaimed Entropy Day. Our working motto -- excuse the expression -- for Entropy Day goes like this: Everything in moderation, especially work.
Entropy Day, we must emphasize, is not envisioned as an anti-Labor Day. But it would supply the occasion to pause and consider the second law of thermodynamics, otherwise known as the law of entropy, which reads: "Spontaneous processes tend toward a maximum of disorder, and work must be expended to maintain systems away from this undesirable state."
We owe this definition to Harold J. Morowitz, professor of biophysics and biochemistry at Yale, who certainly ought to know. The idea that work can get pretty immoderate came to Professor Morowitz, not in the laboratory but on a day off, when he was laboring to repair his disintegrating porch. As he sawed and hammered away to catch up with the shocking things that the second law of thermodynamics had done to his steps, he was struck by "the sudden realization of how many of life's activities are directly tied up with our unending effort to slow down the increase of disorder in the immediate surroundings."
We all know from daily life what Professor Morowitz is talking about. It can also be described as the Sisyphus factor, encompassing all those talks that must be repeated, as Sisyphus had to repeat rolling his stone up the hill. The moth beating its wings against the cedar-closet door, the rust creeping up the car fender, the dustball in the corner of the living room, the checkbook that was balanced last month -- all must be attended to again and again.
Entropy is what made Shakespeare cry, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day."
Entropy Day will ask the bold question: Are all jobs that are worth doing really worth doing right? How obsessively should one pursue that last blade of crab grass? How total must one's victory be over the bathtub ring? Does a basement window really needs to be spotless? Is the perfect shave a proper goal for a serious man?
Entropy day is noat an excuse for laziness. But its celebrator will stand on the platform that the preservation of things is less important than the preservation of human beings. Faced with the alternatives of executing a flawless shoeshine or flying a kite with a child, the Entropy Day observer will ask himself: Which will matter ten years from today?
On Entropy DAy we are planning to look at the slightly less than perfect gleam of our kitchen floor and repeat out loud: The work that I do is also the work that I do not do.
We rehearsed the speech on Labor Day, and there was still enough shine on the floor to see our lips move.