Weekend Update:
The Servant Problem


The most astonishing thing happened this morning. I not only remembered that I had had an idea just before going to bed last night, but I remembered what it was. I hardly know which is more remarkable! I remember pulling back the bedspread reprovingly: write this down, I said to myself. But I was tired and comfortable. Short of a brass band’s marching through the bedroom, nothing could have put my happy sleepiness more at risk than pen and paper. So I hoped for the best. What do you know!


Because I spent last week in funseeking-missile mode, there was an awful lot of housekeeping to see to today. Ordinarily, I go about my weekend chores with a determined resignation that is always disappointed. Permit me to unpack that clause. I’m resigned to doing the housework. I’m determined to do more interesting things when the work has been done. But I’m almost always disappointed, because three or four hours of dusting and vacuuming, while hardly arduous, drudges the brain.  You can imagine what it would be like to sit down and write deathless prose, but you can’t actually do it.

The servant problem is still very much with us. Oh, there are no servants — don’t misunderstand. That is, there are no people who are just servants. The result is that we are all servants, all obliged to see after ourselves. I don’t regret this — nobody’s life ought to be centered on the care and feeding of another adult — but I hope that the coming years will offer more in the way of on-the-job training. When I was young, I thought that the computer would pick up some of the slack. I draw a veil over my conclusions about why it hasn’t done so. May it in future.

Ordinarily, housekeeping and writing run on parallel tracks: whichever thing you’re doing, you can see the other thing, but you can’t do it. The sterling exception to this rule is library work. Every once in a while, it becomes imperative to re-shelve books that, over the past six or twelve or eighteen months, have stacked themselves in no very rational order. You find that you can no longer live with the Chaos Decimate system, which absolutely precludes finding any book that you’re searching for. So you set your jaw and have at it.  

Nothing looks more like “housekeeping” than library work. There are stacks of books on every plane surface — and on most of the upholstered ones as well. Five minutes into the project, and your rooms are a wreck; you have no choice but to stumble on blindly, as through a Siberian blizzard, in the hope that some degree of order will have been imposed by the time that you run out of steam and start throwing books back onto the shelves just to tidy the mess.

Unlike all other housework, however, organizing books is a Feast of Tantalus. For the most part, it’s true, you say of the books that you lug from pile to pile, “I wish that I could be done with these clods of printed matter.” You don’t really mean it, but you’re relating to the books as an Upper Parlormaid, not as Sir Leslie Stephen. For the most part only, however! Sooner or later, you will encounter a book that you’ve forgotten all about. Perhaps it’s a book that you have really and truly meant to read, honest; perhaps it’s a book that spontaneously kindles a desire for greater intimacy. Either way, you want to sit right down (if only there were an empty chair) and fire up peruse mode. But can you?

Of course you can. You may, even. But as the overseer of a very disorderly project — most of your books seem to be in places where no books belong dare you indulge yourself?

And that, my friends, is the servant problem.


The idea that I wanted to remember was this: even in a democracy, we don’t chose our leaders. Rather, we ratify choices made by the small coterie of gate-keepers and power-brokers who get to examine the political horseflesh up close and personal. I don’t take any credit whatsoever for this perception; it was written into the United States Constitution, whereby (originally) senators were elected by legislatures (not voters) and the President was elected by — the Electoral College, all by itself and not in spite of some popular vote.

If the direct voting that we favor in principle actually worked, then the gate-keepers and power-brokers would be free to choose men and women likely to prove to be excellent leaders. But it doesn’t. They have to choose candidates who will appeal to us directly — as if they weren’t there to do the job!

One Response to “Weekend Update:
The Servant Problem”

  1. Gerardus says:

    I am a cute girl from china, my english name is Eva, runinng more places to make more friends Now i am a senior student, my Hobbies is golf, design website, swim, drawing, photoshop, music, shopping, i just designed my business website over 3 month ago..And I just feel my website not getting that many views at all..It seem like they are staying the same How am i supposed to sell, if no one is really going thru my items I feel my website is website worthy, and have tried to remain confident, i will promoting website by myself, i think my website will more and more popular, fighting Eva!