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Roadmap to Happiness

Artefact 1: Mr Muscle | Article 3 of 4

Drying dinner plates
Washing up. Source: Stewart Black, Creative commons:

Lawrence had the ability to absorb himself in the moment, performing mundane tasks ‘with a radiating creativeness which was contagious’. In the third of four essays, James Walker explores how intent was central to his work ethic.

James Walker

James Walker @memorytheatre

In 1908, at the tender age of 22, Lawrence wrote to Blanche Jennings, identifying the three components needed for a fulfilling life:

“But the folks who see the funny side of things suffer horribly at times from loneliness. It is a sad thing to be the only spectator at a farce. So religion is a most comforting companion; it is absolutely necessary to many who would drop and never recover without it; then love is next precious, love of man and a woman; one should feel in it the force that keeps the menagerie on the move; lastly, a passionate attachment to some work which will help the procession somehow is a safety against the loneliness of not wanting to laugh at the farce, and of having no one with whom to weep”

Having a ‘passionate attachment to some work’ is of most interest here. We all need a purpose in life. Even the act of cleaning our teeth in the morning is a reason to get up. But once this purpose had been identified, Lawrence believed it should be performed with alacrity.

In the 1929 essay ‘Men Must Work and Women as Well’, Lawrence is critical of Western civilisation, claiming that people can no longer abide physical labour. As so much work of the period was physical, this presents a real social problem. We have become obsessed with idealised visions of life – be that marriage, family life or work. When we live in the head we concede to other idealised notions, such as the myth of progress where ‘everybody hopes it is flowing towards bigger business and better jobs’ all of which will magically create ‘more money, more congenial labour, and fewer hours’ and eventually ‘freedom from all irksome tasks’.

Freedom from physical labour leads to conspicuous consumption and distraction. This is hardly emancipation. Lawrence continues with an uncompromising diatribe of the pursuit of pleasure:

“…men and women shall have nothing to do except enjoy themselves. No beastly housework for the women, no beastly homework for the men. Free! Free to enjoy themselves. More films, more motor-cars, more dances, more golf, more tennis and more getting completely away from yourself. The great goal of enjoyment is to get away from yourself. And the goal of life is enjoyment.”

Lawrence had no intention of amusing himself to death in this Brave New World. Rather than escape, he found purpose in everyday mundane activities which he performed with passion and conviction. Juliette Huxley said Lawrence cooked ‘as he did most things, with a radiating creativeness which was contagious. Even washing-up had its own charm, enriched with the satisfaction of putting everything back in its chosen place, glowing with fresh cleanliness.’ He transmitted energy into every task, often singing the evangelical hymns of his youth while putting the pots away.

Aldous Huxley (Juliette’s brother in law) noted Lawrence was able ‘to absorb himself completely in what he was doing at the moment’. Therefore, his strong work ethic allowed a meaningful connection with whatever was occupying his attention at the time while also bringing about a level of contentment. Indeed, Geoff Dyer argues a similar attitude is required when reading Lawrence. His writing enjoins us to read him with the soul: ‘either you surrender to him, and to a spirit that flings out every sentence as if it were its last, or you are condemned to remain forever on the sidelines.’ Or as Lawrence advised himself: ‘Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.’

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