Punishments do not change behavior. Punishments only change the costs of behavior.
For example: Say that your older child is teasing, tormenting, bullying or otherwise picking on your younger child. In an attempt to stop this behavior, you tell Older Child, “if you treat Younger that way again, you’ll lose computer privileges for a week.”
A few hours later, Younger is in tears. You confiscate Older’s phone, expecting to “teach them a lesson” that results in a behavior change.
But what is the lesson? How will it be learned? For that matter, how exactly was it taught?
Since the crash, my fiction writing has been hit or miss. Drawing, however, has become a daily habit.
I’ve never been exceptionally gifted – or, indeed, gifted at all – in drawing. I’ve also never been particularly skilled at it, because I have so rarely practiced. And during the period of my life in which I got interested enough to practice daily, I also encountered an art teacher who announced loudly, while “fixing” one of my projects to suit herself, “You really can’t draw!”
I regret the literal decades in which I did not practice drawing, thanks to those four words. (Though I did write that teacher a nice poem a few years later, which appeared in the Muskegon River Review.)
Since the crash, words have been hard. Hard enough that even with my lack of practice or skill, drawing has appealed to me as a more accessible and expressive language for my situation.
It’s still not good. In fact, I often make fun of my nightly drawings in the same journal in which I am drawing them. A drawing of my soap and washcloth, one day after a shower (a Herculean feat when one has only one weight-bearing limb), is captioned “Am I improving yet?”
This morning, I decided to practice shading – the particular skill my long-ago art teacher was criticizing when she announced I “really can’t draw.” It is, of course, still bad some 25 years later.
Those intervening 25 years and a successful writing career, however, have taught me things about the nature of bad art.
Here in the US, we are obsessed with work. We consider it among the highest virtues – if not the highest. We automatically ascribe the “hard worker” trait to anyone we consider successful, and the corresponding “lazy” trait to anyone we don’t. And we persist in these beliefs despite reams of evidence that billionaires don’t actually work harder than the middle class, but the working poor do.
I’ve written about my work addiction before. I continue to write about it precisely because it is the end result of a society that applauds working oneself to death. “Workaholic” is not a badge of honor; it is a sign that something has gone very, very wrong.
I went into rehab for chronic pain in November 2015. It ended up being rehab for my work addiction as much as anything else.
Five and a half years later, I have mostly accepted that my work addiction is a chronic condition. It will never be cured. The urge to overwork myself will always be present to varying degrees; I will always be managing it within the context of the rest of my life.
Now, for instance.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve noticed myself backsliding on the whole “keeping work under control” thing. I find myself too fried from work to have a conversation with my spouse. Household chores have gone un-finished because I used all my energy on work. I’m increasingly snappish when ordinary, normally joyful things like a friend’s visit or garden work “get in the way” of working. I’m starting to think of the rest of my life as “getting in the way.”
Those are all red flags that it’s time for me to reconsider how I’m doing this whole work thing.