all workthat's what he said, by Frank Wilson

Back at work

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“Work,” Noël Coward once said, “is so much more fun than fun.”

Thomas Aquinas would have agreed. “Agere sequitur esse,” he declared. Action follows from being. You are as you do.

I also agree, especially now that I have returned to work (last week, I started a part-time, presumably temporary gig at the Philadelphia Inquirer).

Bear in mind that I have hardly been idle since I retired as the Inquirer’s book-editor two years ago. I continued to write for the paper, and for other publications. I have written this column pretty faithfully as well. And I continued to blog.

But the problem with being retired is that things you did in a couple of hours when you were working suddenly take longer than that to do. You have time to spare and you take advantage of that. It seems that the more you have to do, the better use you make of your time. Now, when I have some time, my reflex is to immediately turn to something else, not just take a break and loll about.

I don’t remember feeling any less energetic over the past couple of years, but I certainly felt a lot more energetic this past week. I was wide awake at 5 a.m., and did as much blogging as I could before leaving the house at about 7:20.

On the way to work, I would stop into St. Paul’s to attend Mass, then continue on my way, arriving at the Inquirer a little after 8:30. It’s about four-and-a-half miles from my house to the Inquirer and back, which makes for a nice daily jaunt.

Getting back up to speed using the paper’s editorial software took longer than I had expected. Apparently, I had purged every vestige of it from my memory.

My principal task is to edit the letters to the editor, and editing readers is quite different from editing reporters, columnists, and critics. No need to go into all of that, though.

A couple of odd things happened during the week, one on the very first day I was back. A letter was passed along to me that had been sent to the features department (where I worked when I was book editor). There was a note on the envelope asking that it be forwarded.

The letter was from someone I haven’t seen in more than 20 years. She was inquiring after one of her best friends, who happened to be my first wife, and who also happens to be dead. There was something uncanny about being reminded of a time in my life that now seems so remote, not quite real, like an old legend. That in itself is strange, since I still think of my first wife and was with her when she died (though we had long since gone our separate ways).

Perhaps that is why, when I woke up the next morning — and the morning after that as well — my very first thought was of what is encapsulated in the Latin phrase memento mori. Remember that you must die. I found myself powerfully aware that the time left to me was limited. What was perhaps most peculiar was the sheer matter-of-factness of it. I didn’t feel it was something to worry about, just something to make provision for.

In my last column I mentioned how intensely alive one can feel when absorbed in a task. Well, last week I was very much absorbed in work, and yes, I felt exhilarated as I walked home, and deliciously tired when I went to bed.

I have no idea what to make of all this, which is why I have brought it up. It seems that we have — or at least I seem to have — a natural impulse to seek for significance in whatever happens to me. I have felt this way all my life, as if I were living in some kind of story.

Perhaps I am. Perhaps we all are.

Frank Wilson was the book editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer until his retirement in 2008. He blogs at Books, Inq.

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