Guilty Pleasures

So, it’s Thursday at 5:00 in the morning and I’m speeding along at eighty miles an hour, in the pitch black, to a burg called Vallejo, which is about an hour and a half from my house. I’m keeping watch in my rear view mirror for “CHIPies,” (California Highway Patrol), who will pull me over in one hot minute if they clock me.

But should they race up with the red and blue flash of their light bar, my heart will not pound because I’m about to get hit with a $266 ticket, a point on my license, and a hike in my insurance rate that could be as much as $300 every year for five years. My heart will pound because if they stop me I am going to be late.

Where could I possibly be speeding at such an ungodly hour, on a deserted highway illuminated solely by my headlights? What could be so incredibly important that I dare fate, safety and the cops to stop me?

I’m on my way to a dog show.

No! No! Now hang on! This isn’t one of my essays about dog shows–or even my dogs themselves. Except in a peripheral sort of way. It’s really about the parrot who sits on my shoulder, squawking away with a diatribe that goes something like this: “Thursday! Thursday! Thursdays are for work!”

And what does the parrot shout out to me the following day? Well, on Friday he is still perched there with disapproval as I make the same drive all over again. The game hasn’t changed one bit–except that this time I’m speeding along at five a.m. instead of six. All this for a set of dog shows that runs throughout the weekend–though on Saturday and Sunday my parrot shuts up and flaps away, and it is not until Sunday, in the sixteenth hour and last lap of our four day journey, that the cops finally buzz up behind me with the threat of that well-deserved ticket. The irony is that it was on Thursday and Friday that Cody performed amazingly well, winning one of his obedience titles and making serious inroads into another.

But that’s not the point. The point is how I am feeling as I speed along in the dark. Which is guilty–that dirty little word. And not because I am breaking the laws of the highway.

No, in my mind, it’s just not acceptable to be taking time off from work for something “frivolous” (aka “pleasurable”) in the middle of the week. It means, “you’re not a serious person.” Or, “you’re not a serious writer.” Or something along those lines. I know dozens of other people who think just the way I do. They probably have squawking parrots of their own. And broad shoulders for them to sit on. Even Ringo Starr.

Why are we so hard on ourselves? What happened to the old fashioned notion of playing hooky? What about “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?”

Maybe we feel this way because we are so afraid of being judged. After all, what do some people think of dog shows–even those held on a weekend? Perhaps that they are a silly pastime. Of course, if I stop to think about it a bit more, I realize that no one else in the world really cares if I want to exhaust myself driving to a dog show at five a.m. in the middle of the week, instead of sitting down at my computer to work on my novel at nine. But oh, how I positively do not want to be seen as a lightweight! And so I must plead guilty as charged–for feeling guilty to begin with, over what is, to me, such a pleasurable diversion. And it’s such a waste of energy to worry about such things. As someone said, a day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work.

But I don’t think I’m alone. Don’t we all want our accomplishments to be those society deems acceptable–and in the eyes of some, a dog show may not qualify as a step along the road to professional success. Is it any real surprise that I wound up telling certain friends about Cody’s weekday successes in a somewhat sheepish tone? Or that I didn’t explain how I often work just as hard at training with him in practice sessions and lessons as I do while putting in hours at my computer creating characters and plots?

“One of the greatest tragedies in life is to lose your own sense of self and accept the version that is expected by everyone else.”

On Twitter today, I read the above quotation, written by K. L. Toth, and asked myself if that one concise sentence didn’t convey exactly what I was trying to say here. Maybe I’ll Scotch tape it above my desk, shove the infernal parrot off my shoulder, and finally learn that a guilty pleasure can be both a worthwhile and respectable weekday accomplishment.



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