For the last week I have been mulling over a decision that could, I fervently believe, affect my life for at least the next year. For that reason, I have been doing my research, looking through magazine ads (especially the airline magazines) to see what's available and, of course, conferring with people who know something about the subject. I am thinking of of changing appointment books.
My present appointment book has let me down. The year has not gone as well as expected, and try as I may, I have been unable to organize my life the way I think I should. Although I have written about 150 columns, a few magazine articles and been insulted at least twice by Robert Novak on national television, I have the lingering feeling that if nly I had a better appointment book I could be better organized, more productive, richer and therefore (it says here) happier.
This, I'm sure, is a feeling left over from my school days. Then, I looked forward to starting the school year with fresh notebooks. I used to take those notebooks home and just stare at their virgin pages -- a vast prairie of unlimited (although lined) horizons -- and vow that the coming year would be different. I would be disciplined. My notebooks would be organized and neat and, it went without saying, they would always be up to date. In short, I would no longer be me.
No miracles ever transpired, of course. For maybe a week I had a perfect notebook, with all the tabs in place and no doodling in the margins. Then life would overwhelm me. Friends would demand that I play with them. The television set would lure me with incredible programs that just had to be watched that instant. Fantasies and daydreams would intrude into my workday, and without even knowing it I would be transported to a far, far better world where, as a crime fighter, I was a hero and where, routinely, I astounded the sports world with my feats. I held many, many world records.
Of course, my notebooks would suffer. After a while, there would be missing pages and my neat little sections would run into each other like foods on a plate. Occasionally, I would make a desperate attempt to bring order out of chaos, but usually it was impossible -- too big a task for a mere human being, even one with so many world records to his credit.
But the wonderful thing about school was that, like those notebooks, there was always next year. It promised renewal. Every year, new teachers. Every year, someone who did not know how you did last year. Every year, someone who for a couple of weeks at least had no idea you were different, who did not know you were worse than dumb, but a genuine underachiev part -- had never heard your repertoire of excuses and did not know therefore that your grandmother was already dead. May she again rest in peace.
Life -- which is to say "work" -- is not like that at all. Every year, the same boss. Every year, the same supervisor. There's a book on you -- charts, forms, evaluations, word of mouth, gossip. The frontier has closed and with it has gone its promise of a fresh start. Your bosses know who you are, know that your grandmother is already dead (at least once). Even if you quit and go somewhere else their malicious evaluations will eventually catch up with you. So the only thing that's left for most of us are these desk diaries.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American life and maybe he was right. But with the right desk diary, at least there's lunch.