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Oct 26, 2012


They say men are better at it than women. They say we can put work into one compartment, life into another, and just keep them separately. I don’t know about that, but we all have to do it, and I don’t think any of us are really doing it well.

You hear about a friend‘s tragedy, and within 30 minutes you have to go back to doing the most mundane tasks, or answering simple, routine e-mails. The people on the other side of these e-mails do not know anything, and don’t care you’re upset. Your mind wants to think about the life and death; it wants to reach out, to connect. Yet PeopleSoft sends you reminders twice a day – “you have timesheets to approve.”

We all can do it; it is not an issue of capacity. It is just somehow feels wrong, no matter how you justify it. There is a dissonance, a gap here between the unevenness of simple human experiences, and the routine of our lives, especially of work lives. We cannot stop.

Sometimes, going back to the mundane offers solace. It helps to imagine that life is back to normal. I will never forget the story I recorded from F.F.Briukhovetski for my Russian dissertation in late 1980-s. The Southern city of Krasnodar was destroyed before and during its liberation in the winter of 1943. One of the few buildings still standing was the school #58. People thought, if only children can go back to school and sit behind their little desks – it would the best thing. And they did make it happened first, before there was water or food, or anything else. There was no ink, and they had to brew it from a local kind of thorny bush. There was no heat, and kids, teachers, and parents cut and split enough wood to keep the building warm till spring, when the rest of the city struggled to keep warm. It was not because they valued education; they craved normality. The city still loved that school with unusual devotion forty five years later, although very few of them remembered why, exactly. There is such a thing as elevated normality; we just need to find another meaning in it. The compartments in our minds do exist; we just need to learn to connect them.

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