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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Guilt is a great motivator. I'm lucky, I guess, to have grown up Catholic, where at seven years old you're told that God is quite capable of sending you straight to hell unless you "examine your conscience" and tell the priest every vile thing you've done. And just in case you don't have the imagination to dredge up a list of sins, they help you out.

Did you lie? Did you take something that wasn't yours? Did you say a bad word, or take the Lord's name in vain? (You can imagine the image of intravenous soul-blackening that concept might conjure in a child whose grandmother watched hospital shows on TV. Religiously.)

Did you have impure thoughts?

I had impure thoughts long before I even knew what they were. The power of suggestion is strong when a stern-faced adult in habit and wimple is talking to a seven-year-old. "How could you have had impure thoughts?" the priest demanded (or rather the shadow of the priest behind the veiled confessional window). "Has anyone told you about the birds and the bees?"

"Oh, yes," I assured him. Another lie that would have to be confessed next week. That's how they suck you in. It's a vast conspiracy to spread guilt from one generation to the next. It's how the nuns and priests maintain job security.

These many years later I've escaped from most of the horrors of a Catholic childhood, but I still have the residual guilt. And sometimes it's a good thing, like today when I felt absolutely justified in doing nothing. I'd spent the whole morning furiously preparing the payroll, because it had to be done today and I didn't get the time cards until this morning. (Why can't somebody else feel guilty once in awhile?)

Then petty requests and demands kept popping up, preventing me from getting on with the work I'd planned to do this afternoon. Why should I bother starting something I know will be interrupted before I can gather the momentum to make enough progress to justify the time it takes to get set up and started? Why indeed? Why not just relax and wait for the next fax or phone call?

Well, guilt. That's why. Thanks to Sister Bertrille and Father O'Malley (not their real names or personalities), I went back to work today and nearly finished a project I've been working on since January. A few more days of residual guilt should be all it'll take to get me to the end of it. Being haunted by the ghosts of your childhood can be quite productive if you take it the right way.


The oak behind my garden, on a cloudy day.

It's not an actual feeling of guilt that keeps me motivated. I don't say, "It would be a sin to take the Boss's money and not earn it." I think I earn my salary, and I know I get my work done. There's just that something always makes me feel I should be doing more than I am, no matter how much I'm actually doing. I'm not sure this is an entirely good thing.

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Okay, I have one problem with Unfaithful right off the bat. If that's the title of your movie, it shouldn't take forever to get where everybody in the audience knows it's headed. The movie has some intense scenes (sex and violence, duh), but it's really a pretty straightforward narrative that depends more on style and image than actual storytelling.

Near the end of the film I found myself wondering how the situation would be resolved, but then it occurred to me that it wouldn't matter. There were two ways it could end, and either would have been valid according to the flow of story and character to that point.

In the final analysis, the way it actually did end might be the most brilliant decision made in the movie.

Recent recommendations can always be found on the links page.

One year ago: Pulling the Plug
"Most of them are under 21, so they probably had fake IDs, but nothing the bank could use."

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