The Protestant Work-Study Ethic

Recently, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has been getting a lot of attention—and a standing ovation at a recent debate in South Carolina—for his insistence that students in low-income schools be given jobs to encourage their work ethic and to discourage them from lives of crime. Here is part of the original quote:

 “You have a very poor neighborhood. You have students that are required to go to school. They have no money, no habit of work. What if you paid them in the afternoon to work in the clerical office or as the assistant librarian? And let me get into the janitor thing. What if they became assistant janitors, and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom?”

Now, even though Gingrich’s most recent religious affiliation is Catholicism (he has changed denominations over the years), his proposal reflects the Protestant Work Ethic as originally set forth by the German socio-economist Max Weber in 1904. Yes, despite its later association with the Puritans who came to America, the idea is a relatively recent European import. Simply put, the Protestant Work Ethic connects hard work with earthly gains that reaffirm one’s spiritual salvation. It is also, in Weber’s understanding, the foundational core of capitalism.

Gingrich’s remarks led me to recall several experiences from my own past that shaped how I would subsequently perceive issues such as labor and class. Since many of these relate to the idea of work in school, or “work-study,” I thought they might be useful in exploring the topic from another angle. (Note that these are primarily anecdotal responses; they are not meant to be definitive studies of the sociological or economic theories at play here.)

The hard work paid off...

I was relatively naïve about issues of class (among other things) all the way into my late teens. The people in my neighborhood, a somewhat distant suburb of Boston, all seemed fairly equal in terms of family income and social status, as did most of the students in my public school. In my limited experience, “private school” meant “Catholic school,” and so seemed more of a religion-based option rather than something based on economic opportunity or educational ideology.

That all changed when I went off to college. I had worked hard in school, and my diligence paid off in the form of scholarships and financial aid awards. The prospects of having to work while I studied were nothing new; I had worked part-time as a dishwasher and record store sales clerk while attending high school. I understood the character-building significance—and financial reward—of earning my way, if only partially. After all, college wasn’t cheap, and I had my heart set on Middlebury College, one of the more expensive ones.

While at Middlebury, I held down various jobs: dining hall food-slinger (and later shift manager), professorial assistant, music librarian, data processing keypuncher, residential house director, janitorial helper, student tour guide, reunion host, and term paper typist (to pay for the typewriter I had purchased for school). As you might imagine, many of these were simultaneous, so my schedule was a patchwork of classes and work commitments. Thank God I wasn’t on a sports team, because there wasn’t much time left in the day or on weekends for practices and games. At the end of most days, while many of my peers headed downtown to drink or off to parties on campus, I finally had a chance to hit the books and do my homework. Around midnight, it was not uncommon for a last-minute “rush” typing job to come in, and so I could often be found at 2 or 3 in the morning, typing another student’s paper while they slept. We had no Red Bull back then, and I hadn’t yet begun my coffee addiction. For me, the work ethic boiled down to this: Work hard; then work some more.

Before you conclude that this is a “woe is me” tale, let me state this: I loved being so busy. Sure, I complained about some of the long hours and overcommitments, but I also met some of my best friends (both students and staff members) on the job, learned how to prioritize and multi-task, and got an insider’s education on how an American college operated. Many of these new friends were from backgrounds completely unlike my own, which broadened my perspectives in all directions. Plus, there was the pride of the paycheck at the end of each two-week period, even though most of it went right back to the college. (I guess this truly distinguished me from the “elites,” who, according to Gingrich the other day, are the only ones who “despise earning money.” Perhaps he meant that they prefer inheriting it? Like many others, I’m still scratching my head over that comment.)

At first, I was under the impression that everyone worked this hard at college. (Yes, Mr. Gingrich, the Protestant Work Ethic values had been instilled in me from an early age.) Then I learned what a “legacy” was: someone who got into college based, in no small part, on previous family ties. I learned what a “trust fund child” was: someone who had seemingly unlimited income from their parents, none of it earned through hard work. I came to understand more about private schools and how they functioned, to some extent, as a feeder system for the Ivy League and other top-quality colleges—if one’s family could afford private school tuition in the first place. This was all new to me, and so it took a while to adjust to the idea that friends of mine had multiple homes, routinely flew to exotic locations, or had jobs waiting for them the moment they stepped out of college.

That said, I often look back and wonder how much better I could have done in college if I hadn’t been scooping out mashed potatoes and ice cream for three to four shifts a week. I wonder how many more networking connections with influential people I could have made if I was hanging out at the local bar or fraternity at night rather than typing up those fellow Midd Kids’ term papers. Even though I managed a fair number of extracurricular activities, I wonder how many more I could have undertaken were my schedule not so riddled with the responsibilities of the jobs I held. I also wonder what post-graduation prospects a final, senior-year semester might have yielded. (I graduated a semester early to save some money on tuition.) And when Mr. Gingrich suggests that low-income students should be saddled with similar responsibilities while simultaneously trying to get an education, I wonder if he realizes what an unlevel playing field he is proposing, and the extent to which such a field favors the already-rich.

This was never more apparent to me than the day I was asked to sit down with Middlebury’s financial aid director to address a problem with my assistance package. Her reason for seeing me was short and sweet: I had to stop working. I had reached the upper cap for my work-study aid, and so could no longer receive any paychecks from the college. Slightly confused, I asked if I could continue working outside of the auspices of the financial aid office, as some other students did. The answer: No. Why? Because I was on financial aid.

“So let me get this straight,” I said to her, struggling to comprehend the conundrum. “Because I don’t have much money, I’m limited in the amount of money I can make. But if I did have money and didn’t need financial aid, I could make as much as I want.”

That was correct. But, of course, she pointed out, if I didn’t need financial aid, why would I work in the first place?

Hmmm. As Spock, the intergalactic king of logic, would say, “Fascinating.”

(As it turned out, the director’s paycheck was, in some ways, reliant on my own. Remember that job I had in data processing? Part of it was the computer entry of faculty and staff time sheets and salaries so that their checks could be printed on schedule. As my supervisor in the computer center pointed out to the financial aid director, I couldn’t be let go without jeopardizing the entire college payroll system. Somehow, over the course of the next few days, an “adjustment” was made to my financial aid work-study limit. Interesting side note: one of the other student keypunchers, likewise entrusted with some rather hefty responsibilities as part of her work-study award package, still works in that department to this day.)

Since that encounter, I remained keenly aware of how work-study programs affect the college community. It didn’t take long to witness a casualty of the program.

Based on how well my work-study experience had qualified me for post-college positions (another plus of the system), I was hired as something of an apprentice dean at Middlebury. I was mainly in charge of student housing, but my job description also required that I serve as an academic adviser to members of the incoming freshman class.

That was when I met Rachel (not her real name), a smart and vibrant first-year student with the instant likeability of a budding movie star. She was also a financial aid recipient and holding down a work-study job while meeting the demands of a rigorous academic schedule. Rachel had been incredibly nervous about starting out at Middlebury. She had also been accepted to a state school, and her family felt certain that they could afford four years there. Middlebury, however, with its higher prestige and much higher tuition, was a gamble, especially since financial aid at the time was awarded on a year-to-year basis. Who knew what assistance, if any, Rachel might receive in years two, three, and four? (I liken this, in some regard, to all those corporations demanding that tax rates and government regulations remain the same for years on end so that they can engage in long-term planning. Seen from this perspective, you can understand their point.)

Fast-forward three years from my one-year position at Middlebury. Back in Massachusetts, a friend and I had just seen a movie and were settling into a booth at a fast-food restaurant for post-film discussion. Who should come up to take our order but Rachel.

I was incredulous. This was the middle of the school year; why wasn’t she up in Vermont attending classes? As Rachel told me, she hadn’t received nearly enough financial aid assistance to afford a second year of Middlebury. Her grade-point average had slipped due to her work-study overload, which in turn made her ineligible for a merit-based scholarship. As a result, she had dropped out of school completely. Her family didn’t have enough money left over from the first year at Middlebury to cover the tuition at the state school. Now Rachel was living back home, working multiple jobs, and trying to make enough money as quickly as possible so that her Middlebury credits wouldn’t expire before they could be transferred to another college. Simply put, her earlier financial gamble hadn’t paid off.

As you might imagine, the entire college financial aid process has changed a great deal over the years. Some of it has no doubt improved upon the earlier models, while other changes (such as the relationship to need-blind admissions policies) have led to greater uncertainty and unpredictability.

Even so, Newt Gingrich’s comments reminded me of another, subsequent episode at Middlebury College. This time, I had returned to the campus to become administrative director of the Bread Loaf School of English, a graduate program of the school. Based on my earlier experience as a “baby dean,” I was invited to join the college’s Diversity Committee. At one of those meetings, I raised the matter of work-study and how it reinforced some rather negative stereotypes and expectations on campus in regards to minority students. One of my former colleagues from the Dean of Students office disagreed with my observations, and so I invited her to join me on a quick tour of the campus.

Together, we walked into the college snack bar and the main library. I asked her to look around and tell me what she saw. It took only a moment for the shock to appear on her face. Behind the counters and scrambling about the stacks, foreign and minority students were working hard, taking orders and reshelving books. Their “customers” were mostly white and affluent-looking students. There on campus, the intersection of diversity initiatives and work-study programs had created a microcosm of the American service industry. White, privileged students enjoyed the luxury of free time between academic and/or athletic commitments, while nonwhite students labored to meet those same demands in addition to burdensome economic challenges.

This, too, has probably changed over time, or at least I hope that it has. Mr. Gingrich’s recent comments, however, raised concerns that some of those lessons remain unlearned.

College costs continue to rise; student debt grows more difficult to manage. As our country’s income inequality expands, the very idea of a level playing field for all, at least in the educational context, remains at risk. With it, some of our nation’s best and brightest—perhaps those most capable of envisioning and implementing solutions—may never rise to their full potential. For them, despite what politicians like Gingrich believe, the selective application of the Protestant Work Ethic just compounds the problem—and in the end, doesn’t really work well at all.


American Anger, Part One

Preface: This is Part One of what I hope will be an ongoing, potentially year-long exploration of this subject. The topic seems well-suited to the “blog” format, serving more as a catalyst for conversation rather than a definitive treatise on the topic. I look forward to continuing the conversation in hopes of reaching some constructive insights, conclusions, and potential remedies.

As you’ll no doubt quickly note, my take on American anger is a rather personal approach; your choices for taking on the topic may no doubt differ. Despite that, I’ll be using terms like “Americans “ and the first-person-plural pronoun “we” rather liberally throughout the entries. I do this merely as shorthand, fully aware that it’s literary sleight of hand, both a contrivance and a conceit. I don’t intend to suggest that there are absolute universal truths here, especially since the insistence on universal absolutes in society tends to generate the very anger I’ll be analyzing.

As always, thanks for reading, and even more thanks to those who respond to provoke or inspire further insight.

 1. Use Your Words

American anger fascinates me.

Here we are, billing ourselves as the “best, greatest, richest, most powerful” nation in the world, and yet people all over the country claim to be angry. Watching the growth of the Tea Party movement in 2010 was like watching the now-famous scene in Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film “Network” in which unstable talk-show host Howard Beale inspires his viewers to lift up window sashes across the country and shout out into the night: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!” Everyone was mad as hell for different reasons, but there was a feeling that bringing all that rage together into one unifying cry might make it either coherent or effective. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.) In many ways, it echoed a couple of the poet Walt Whitman’s famous lines from “Song of Myself”:

            I, too, am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,

            I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.

It was not a specific word or words that Whitman called out into the night; it was not an intelligible phrase or clause. It was a sound, an utterance, savage and undomesticated, more animal than human. In a way, Whitman was suggesting, people had been making those sounds for years and would continue for many more, well beyond his own eventual death. We might never come to know who he was or what he meant, but discussion about it “shall be good health to you nonetheless.”

In this election year, 2012, we are hearing quite a few YAWPS across the political landscape, some less tamed and translatable than others.

In addition to all the contemporary social and political dissent, there is a perhaps an even more powerful undercurrent of dissonance—the lack of a rational link between one’s beliefs and one’s reality, however either one is perceived. It’s the feeling we get when we pay top-dollar for something only to find that it’s cheaply made or ineffectual. We vote for a candidate based on his or her promises only to find those promises later ignored. (To provide some continuity between this blog and an earlier entry on football’s “Tebow Time” phenomenon, dissonance was that sickening feeling the hyper-religious quarterback’s more fanatic fans experienced when the Denver Broncos were humiliated by the New England Patriots in a recent playoff game. For the sake of divisional fairness, it was also the sickening feeling the Green Bay Cheeseheads felt when Aaron Rodgers and the nearly-perfect Packers succumbed to the New York Giants the very next day.)

I’ll be talking much more about dissonance and its relation to anger later on, but it’s worth mentioning here just to keep the idea in mind as the discussion of anger progresses.

As Americans, we see anger glorified throughout our culture, from movies to music, sports to politics. Despite our supposed Judeo-Christian foundation, we have movements in the country that promote violence and greed over diplomacy and charity. As our young people’s generation comes to define itself (or, to put it in the passive voice, lets itself be defined by others) as “ironic,” it also grows indifferent to irony’s cousin, hypocrisy. Sarcasm provides an easy segue from skepticism to cynicism, providing many a political pundit on both ends of the political spectrum with the equivalent of sniper’s bullets.

When anger wears us down into a numbed state of depression, anger’s inward-turned doppelganger, we shrug our shoulders and try to focus our attention elsewhere. For some, this may translate into another glass of wine, another dose of Xanax, another marathon session watching the Real Housewives of Whatever County spit their venomous barbs at one another. Other folks may start in on the next level of “Angry Birds,” one of the highest-grossing games in our country. Or perhaps you want to take a virtual trip around the world—killing people and blowing things up along the way—in America’s top game of the Christmas season, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. What a wonderful gift to commemorate the birth of the Prince of Peace. (See how easily the sarcasm comes?)

Many players of these games claim that such pastimes are cathartic—that they help “release tension” and “blow off steam” at the end of a stressful day. If that were truly the case, violent movies and first-person shooter games would leave viewers and players in states of blissful repose. Instead, they ramp up the emotions and boost the adrenalin. (Full disclosure: I play an occasional hour or two of “World of Warcraft” myself at the end of a busy day, so I know that to be successful as a warrior, you need to “generate rage.” It’s right there in the game manual.)

So maybe the term cathartic is a canard when we choose violence-based entertainment as a relief or release of our internal anger and frustration. I’d argue that the proper word is indulgent. Pressing further, I’d express concern that a more appropriate adjective might be catalytic. America seems to like things super-sized and hyper-accelerated, so it’s no surprise that when it comes to anger, amplification isn’t just acceptable; it’s preferable.

An admission: cathartic, indulgent, and catalytic are big words. I’m a writer, so I sometimes use big words. That’s because language, like anger, fascinates me. They’re both acts of expression that have rich, sometimes hidden, roots and origins. Example: I wrote a poem about one such instance, the word decimate. Many people think it means “to destroy completely and indiscriminately.” In fact, the word is based on the Latin root for the number ten and originally meant a methodical act of slaughter in which exactly one victim in ten was killed. (Ironic, eh?) The meanings of words may evolve over time, but the origins of their species are there for all to comprehend and appreciate.

But I digress. Let’s return to the notion of anger as a cathartic force and set forth a little thought experiment. Imagine that you’re a parent dealing with a red-faced child whose inexplicable rage has sent cereal, milk, and orange juice flying across the kitchen. To calm the child, would you—

  1. put on some soothing, New Age music and send the child into the corner for a five-minute “time out” period of self-reflection?
  2. tell the kid to march off to his/her room and go the f*ck to sleep?
  3. tell the child to imagine having an automatic weapon in his/her hands during a stressful, high-stakes combat mission whose outcome will determine the fate of all mankind?
  4. ask the child, “Why are you so angry?”

Now imagine America as a red-faced child.

Modern child-rearing gurus recommend option d. Many advise parents to respond to their children’s extreme behaviors with the expression “Use your words.” This doubles as both an encouragement of self-expression and a redirection of energy. It’s a graceful dance step that moves the child away from visceral reaction toward more cerebral creation. Emotions, meet intellect. Intellect, say hello to emotions.

To some, however, “use your words” is just so much poppycock. To quote the blogger MetroDad, a rather literate and opinionated New Yorker: “I think it’s a bullshit mantra that only helps raise the next generation of pussies.” Like it or not, that’s using your words.

In some ways, “use your words” promotes a form of therapy. It seeks to replace the outburst with what we might call the “inburst,” a breaking-and-entering of the psyche in order to see what secrets are hidden in the closets or nailed beneath the floorboards. We ask a child “what’s really bothering you?” with an expectation of stolen snacks or missing pets, but sometimes the answer shocks and surprises. I’d argue that this is true even when we as adults ask the question of ourselves.

It’s no surprise that many people view creative expression as a form of therapy. Just read the inexhaustible output of writers writing about writing, a quite profitable if overindulgent niche market. We’ve even “verbed” the word “journal.” Did you know that people who journal frequently are able to reduce their stress and manage their anger more efficiently? I could say the same thing about blogging, but then there’s that quote up above from MetroDad. (I kid MetroDad. His blog entries are actually quite amusing, entertaining, and even insightful.)

Too often these days, when it comes to using our words, people settle for quick fixes rather than deep introspection. It’s the 140-character Tweet of the daily pet peeve versus Plato’s lifetime of examination. I’m not suggesting that everyone sign up for therapy sessions, but I do ask friends and colleagues to strive for clarity and honesty in their communications. That often requires work. True expression isn’t effortless.

Even as I write this, I am surrounded by reference materials. As a writer, it often isn’t enough simply to “use your words.” As you’ve noticed, I often rely on the words of others, be they expressed in song or psalm, poetry or prose, book or blog. I would be lost without the dictionary, the thesaurus, the atlas, the encyclopedia, and the patient guidance of my editor/husband—even though all of those things can tempt me along time-consuming tangents with their fascinating insights. Likewise, I am inspired and guided by the works of scholars like Geoffrey Nunberg, whose books and NPR spots on language have both educated and entertained me. Honestly, how many of you get excited when you see an essay entitled “The Politics of Polysyndeton” Hands? Hands? Hello?…

My own fascination with language started in second grade, when my wonderful teacher Miss Burke introduced me to bookmaking with the simplest materials, and it has grown deeper ever since. Even so, one catalytic instant stands out. (Please, if you still don’t know what catalytic means, either look it up on your iPad’s dictionary or ask your car mechanic. After all, these elite, ten-dollar words aren’t reserved for professors holed up in their ivory towers. If you truly love your country, learn the English language. Have I made my appeal clear in both liberalese and conservatese?)

Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and the holder of a Congressional Medal of Honor, is another humanitarian hero of mine. Wiesel spent most of his life coming to terms with the violence, anger, and despair he witnessed as a concentration camp prisoner during the Holocaust. I heard him speak about his experiences shortly after he received the Nobel Prize. One of his responses during a question-and-answer session has haunted me ever since.

“Americans,” he stated matter-of-factly, “have one of the most violent languages in the world.”

The truth of that comment struck me. No…it hit me in the face. No…it blindsided me. No…it knocked me out. No…it fell on me like a ton of bricks. No…it blew my mind. No…it bowled me over.

Everywhere I went and everyone I talked to—suddenly, I was keenly aware of the insidious presence of anger and violence in everyday American language. On one occasion, I felt compelled to alert a pacifist minister to her repeated use of violent idioms and imagery in a sermon on compassion. She stood there dumbstruck (as we say), amazed by the horrible truthfulness of the comment.

For a while after hearing Elie Wiesel speak, I too felt dumbstruck, “made silent by astonishment” (to quote Webster). As a writer, I also felt aware in a way I had never felt or experienced before. The Buddhist in me smiled silently. Mindfulness, after all, is one of the key concepts of the practice, summed up simply in the popular mantra “Be here now.”

And so here I am, now, in an American culture defined (in part) by its reactionary anger toward so many things—including each other. I’m struggling to understand that anger, both in myself and in others, and to use my words to describe it. But what do we talk about when we talk about anger?

Defining anger, as I hope to demonstrate in the forthcoming part two, is no easy task, but it’s well worth the effort. Our fate as a nation, if I can ramp up the election year rhetoric, may actually depend on it.

• • •

Playlist for “American Anger”

“Music is food,” says my artist-friend James “Mayhem” Mahan, and so this post comes with a playlist for the full multi-media experience. These are songs that fed my mind as I considered this post and its upcoming parts. It’s also collaborative, so if you’re on Spotify, I encourage you to contribute as well as to listen. Mostly it’s for fun…testing once again how all of this interactive interconnected technology works. Enjoy.

  1. Green Day, “American Idiot”
  2. Public Image, “Rise”
  3. Nine Inch Nails, “Terrible Lie”
  4. Kanye West, “Monster”
  5. Florence and the Machine, “Kiss with a Fist”

(You can listen to and help build this playlist on Spotify here:

American Anger)

The Best of 2011…Is Yet to Come

"Opportunity for Reflection"

First of all, happy Gregorian 2012 to everyone!

In this season of endings and beginnings, I’ve been thinking instead about continuity and the hope that it offers us. After all, just a few weeks ago many of us were celebrating the winter solstice, that annual moment when Earth’s perpetual journey around the Sun begins to favor daylight over darkness. We could say with scientific certainty that brighter days were ahead. Ecologically, this is also the time when seeds stir in the earth and prepare for the upcoming growth seasons, even though their first green shoots are still a few months off. We celebrated that cycle of life along with the turning wheel of the seasons—the ongoing recurrence of natural patterns over time.

From the winter solstice, fast-forward a few weeks and the focus shifts to the close of the calendar year, a somewhat arbitrary and historically variable marker. After all, if you so desired, you could celebrate New Year’s Eve throughout the year, as long as you researched all of the lesser-known calendar-flips (Happy Gudi Padwa, everyone!) in addition to the more well-established date-changers, such as Rosh Hashanah and the Chinese Spring Festival. For much of the world, however, the calendar established by Pope Gregory XIII holds sway, making us all followers of the Catholic tradition, if only for a short time. This might explain all of those confessions of guilt and penitent vows of self-renewal associated with New Year’s resolutions. (Religious history purists can make what they want of the fact that January 1 also marks the supposed anniversary of Jesus’s circumcision. Perhaps that explains the noisemaker tradition?)

In western culture, the end of the calendar year has also become a time of retrospective judgment. “Best of” lists vie with “Worst of” lists for our consideration. Many of these seem contrived solely to boost sales at the end of the fourth business quarter (or second, if your company uses the July-to-June model). It’s probably no coincidence that the holiday season segues so seamlessly into the “awards season.”

For a long time, I was a huge fan of year-end best-of lists. Reading them was like sneaking a peek at the teacher’s edition of some cultural textbook: Had I chosen the right movies to watch? Did I memorize the words to the most worthy songs? Would reading the highest-rated books provide clues to help propel my own to the top of the list some day? One of my friends, a film studies major, regularly sent out a detailed report of his top-rated movies from the previous year, and I learned a great deal about cinema while studying his reviews and rationales. For weeks afterward, I sought out the films he had mentioned—no small feat, given the obscurity of some of them and the occasional lack of comprehensible subtitles.

Then, one year during graduate school, it all went sour. A film critic published his “Best of the Year” list in the city’s newspaper. There were just a few slight problems. First of all, he hadn’t screened all of the movies that had been released that year (but then again, who could?). Perhaps more importantly, he confessed that he hadn’t yet seen some of the films topping the box office charts or other critics’ “best of” lists. Furthermore, several of the movies that he mentioned were well over a year old, and the reviewer admitted to having only SEEN them during the course of that calendar year. In short, his list was a sham.

A subsequent exchange of letters between the reviewer and me was quite instructive and forever changed both our minds about end-of-year pronouncements. During our conversation, we noted that a movie often takes years to produce and premiere. The film itself is, in turn, based on a screenplay that may have been written and developed for several years prior to that. By extension, some films are based on pre-existing stories and novels (and, in more recent times, comics and board games). Those original artistic creations themselves might have required years of germination. The date stamped on such a film (or novel or musical composition) masks years of hard work and risks becoming, as dates sometimes do, misleading and meaningless.

Based on these musings, I will go out on a limb and suggest that Jane Austen did not fret over the fact that Pride and Prejudice was not named “Best Novel of 1799,” the year in which she completed the first draft of the manuscript. In fact, she would have to endure another fifteen “not-best-of” years before the book was even published. This should serve as an inspiration to all of us who labor on long-term projects like novels, child-rearing, and the deployment of particle accelerators. Some things just take time. To appropriate T.S. Eliot, those of us who craft lengthy books should measure out our lives with coffee spoons and printer cartridges, not calendar pages.

So, for many who look upon the start of a new year as a time to “take stock and start anew,” I counsel patience and perseverance instead. There is no reason to pause at this specified instant and judge what we did or did not achieve in 2011. Opportunities for reflection will no doubt come in 2012, and we can decide for ourselves which moments and contexts best serve our current endeavors.

In the meantime, here’s looking forward—perhaps far forward—to those future years in which the seeds we planted all these past years bear fruit.