Do the work | July 18, 2014
"Maria Bamford has a mantra of sorts, and here it is: Do the work. Three words, three syllables. An easy, orderly thing. She tells it to herself when she wakes up in the morning, whether it’s at her bungalow in a middle-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Los Angeles or at a Holiday Inn in Boston or a Marriott in Bloomington, or any of the other highway-side hotels she hits for one night before moving on. Do the work."
Sara Corbett wrote a brilliant piece for the New York Times about comedian and amazing artist Maria Bamford. The article is really well done, incredibly thoughtful, and does a great job of capturing Maria the artist, Maria the comic, Maria the mental health patient, and Maria the three-dimensional person. I love Maria Bamford’s comedy and I’m fascinated by/constantly doing battle with mental health junk so it’s no surprise this article would resonate with me but I’ve reread it several times and it keeps bouncing around in my head because it’s so full of so much good.
I could pluck a line from each paragraph of this article and write a post about what it gets and how it connects to our human power and frailty. Instead I’ll just suggest you go read the whole article and see what resonates for you. What I would like to touch on is the mantra Maria Bamford shared with this journalist, “Do the work.” That’s some obvious and simple yet next level thinking right there. Focusing on the simplicity of do the work makes continuing to move seem so easy no matter what kind of attacks one’s brain is launching against itself. Focusing on just doing the work creates a straightforward goal and next step in pretty much any situation.
I think a lot of the trick of getting things done is finding ways to not freak out or feel overwhelmed even though if you think about life and the world there are plenty of reasons to freak out or feel overwhelmed. Let’s not list them right because, arghh, full paralysis would inevitably follow. And telling one’s self “do the work” is a very clean way of saying “don’t freak out even though there is no such thing as normal and you may be a horrible person.”
But there’s something more, something deeply embedded in the phrase “do the work” and in this article about Maria Bamford’s life and art. She isn’t trying to find the good of her mental illness or looking for what advantages she can gain from how her brain is wired. Maria has gone in and out of depression, in and out of suicidal thoughts, in and out of being able to connect with the people in her life and not even really being able to connect with her self in any safe way and what she’s come away with is some stabilization in the knowledge that life is hard and all you can really do is the work.
It can be really hard to be alive for each of us for any number of internal or external reasons. Life isn’t about trying to figure out how to be happy or feel good. Life is about acknowledging the hard stuff and trying not to freak out so you can continue to Do The Work.