(22 March - 20 April 1991) after William Wordsworth

Last week at work Doug said to me, “I joined the department only a year ago, and now there are only four who have been here longer than I.” Four out of fourteen; it’s been a difficult year. But if we can work smarter, we can still do more. Each success should pose a greater challenge. Our efforts and attrition should diminish the numbers of those who know more than we. And the younger members of the department are full of the wisdom of youth. The wisdom of youth. I’ve always thought I could teach my grandmother to suck eggs. You can’t learn except by teaching, but I’ve never looked back at happier times. Each time I read the book I wondered how I neither understood it nor realized what I was missing. Was I happy only in my mind? I was happy in my friends, but preoccupied with myself. Preoccupied with myself, yet unaware how far the self extends into things I don’t control. Chance events—my hands, my thoughts. I didn’t choose the world or form into which I was born. But did I choose the miseries that awakened my love of music, my love of difficulty? I have felt the necessity of feeling, lonely before a TV with a dish of ice cream in my lap. In retrospect, I have benefited. That’s when I thought to say what I should have said; that’s when I felt what was not too late to feel. Blind, blind, blind! Inside this little mind is another mind, being watched and watching the next one, and which one made the decision? If Dad didn’t have curly hair, would I have applied? Would I have been working here for seven years? Would I be asking these questions? Work hard and pay attention— next time the job is easier. But success should never be easy; the interesting questions are never easy. Stretched to the edge of control, I can get what I want from the other side. Out my office window, a hummingbird has nested on a slender limb of a young birch tree coming into leaf. Her head peeks side to side in the lull of a rain. If she doesn’t find the next drop of nectar, she could drop into the ivy and rot. The rain starts again, and I want to be more human, so I strive, and make mistakes. Explain the obvious! But get it wrong. Type something up and fix it later. Think until I devise a temporary survival. Among constant interruptions, the work is a kind of interruption. Emily wants me to explain the limit for string literals; Tom wants to discuss whether the inference engine should be in the data flow model; Gilbert needs to tell me the sample clusters don’t work; Jason needs to ask what my editorial circles mean; Frank comes in for me to sign my development plan; Gordon leans back in his chair when I pass his door and says he doesn’t understand what’s happening to our index. No office here for the soul’s immensity, unless it’s in the composition of a moment. I’ll talk about a moment’s thought for two hours in a meeting, going less on knowing what I’m doing and more on the habit of knowing. I pursue the power of oversight— having others do my work— and then I forget. I didn’t know what I would be when I grew up and chose a job in which I could defer success. A writer, unlike a mathematician, doesn’t invent his theorems before he’s 25. But one doesn’t succeed here, or the meaning of success is different; one adapts, and there’s no end to it, though adapting becomes the routine. If I believe them when they praise me for it, am I being egotistical? Scribbled and erased and scribbling, I keep trying, having taken too much for granted and slighted the details of the process and loved the wrong things too much and defended too little and praised too few, paying attention to the papers on the dashboard instead of what side of the road I was on, failing to commit my life to girls who didn’t want it, but at least I am trying. What kept me whole? Doing my homework? Or only stubbornness and embarrassment? I hoped I could figure it out later. When I was just beginning, Lionell used to tell me, “According to me . . .” something like: “You can write ‘IMS issues the message.’” That section took me two weeks to write and two months to get it right. And in the morning, in the lobby on his way up to his office, Lionell had a heart attack, in absence of the proof survival would have presumed. That’s not how I got his job. You would have to say I had the makings all along. The authorial fallacy is knowing what the author meant.