Keeping in touch?

Peter was a short, fast-moving in his 40s -- a pleasant man, a most obliging man. He had established a filing system, the aim being to gather snippets of information about subjects of possible interest to his colleagues in a newly formed writers' club. Members would go to him for facts and figures on anything from the Great Depression to the mouth size of the monarch butterfly; and if his files failed to produce the required data he would spare no effort to track it down.

Peter's filing system grew by leaps and bounds. By the time I was invited to join the club, on the dubious strength of my being a daily newspaper reporter in that northwestern community, and, as such, a full-time writer, Peter's filing cabinets had taken over his writing room and crowded into his bedroom.

Evening assignments prevented me from attending more than two or three meetings; however, I met club members from time to time on the street or in a restaurant, and once I encountered Peter. I asked him how everything was going and he said, "Very well." Then I said, "What are you writing these days?" He grimaced, barely perceptibly, and looked away. "At the moment I'm not writing anything," he said. "Too busy. I'm months behind in my filing. . . ."

To my knowledged, Peter wrote little, if anything, from that time forward.

I have since thought maybe Peter was never truly interested in the actual work of writing, and by maintaining mountains of files, ostensibly to serve his group, he had a built-in excuse that enabled him to belong to a writing fraternity without having to suffer the agonies and doubts of those around him. And I say this realizing how often "it takes one to know one."

For this memory of Peter came to me during what likely was my own diabolical excuse for not doing what I was supposed to be doing: I was reading. Let me clarify that.

Living and working in relative remoteness, I subscribe to a host of publications, necessary (I tell myself) to keep me updated on trends and developments in my areas of interest. As a result reading can, with no difficulty at all, become a ritual, not only when time permits -- a few minutes snatched from here and there -- but whenever I am faced with an obstacle in my income-earning labors. "I'd better update for a while," I advise myself when something isn't working out; so I drop whatever it is and get down to some "serious reading."

Exactly what I was reading when Peter leaped unexpectedly to mind is beyond recollection, so probably it had no bearing on my work or on writers; obviously, however, it was my reading, at that precise moment, that conjured him up. My subconscious mind had had enough of lounging around, ignoring that day's foremost challenge, and it reached deep for an instrument with which to jolt me, and it evoked Peter.

But it didn't end there, for, along with Peter came the thought that, notwithstanding his excuse for not writing, in helping other people by gathering information for them, hem remained caring and constructive. By contrast, I was being unproductive and seeking escape from caring.

While I continue to take a bit of a break from my work when it presents a difficulty, nowadays I don't reach for the nearest publication in which to hide. Instead, I endeavor to be useful in some other way. For example, halfway through this, I got up from my desk, went outside, and, to my wife's great surprise, helped her hang the weekly wash.

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