Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Wisdom of Wilkins Micawber

*Before I get into today's blog--I have an update from yesterday's: It seems the little boy I mentioned refused to go to school at all, and he actually started hyperventilating at the prospect of another day there. Not great news. The mother doesn't know how she's going to pull this off.*

Now to today's:  

I've been reading--well, re-reading for the third time--Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, my favorite of his books, and the most autobiographical of any of them. (Please don't tell me I don't have time to do this. I know. I'm at expert at filling my life with tons of projects I have no time for). 

Anyway, the characters are eccentric and funny, disturbingly real and joyous (no wonder I like them), and they are also full of good advice. One such lovely character is that of Wilkins Micawber, a man fashioned after Dickens' own father. David Copperfield lives as a boarder in this man's house for about a year, and when Micawber is about to move away, he gives him two pieces of great advice. Here's the first:

My advice is, never do tomorrow what you can do today. 
Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him! (p. 230)

Who knew that Micawber and I agreed on this. It's the reason I make obsessive lists, the reason I work hard every single day, blogging here before I've even dressed for the day, grading papers at the first opportunity, using every second of the day to do something useful and creative. But what happens if we procrastinate? I know exactly what happens, at least for me: the waiting projects loom over me, weighing me down, waking me in the middle of the night. Stuff undone undoes me, and my life is harder because of the put off tasks, not easier. 

Now to Micawber's other piece of advice, one most Americans could very well pay attention to:

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, 
nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty 
pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, 
result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, 
the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and -- and 
in short you are for ever floored. As I am!   (p. 231)

Obviously, Americans are not paid in pounds, nor are they likely to earn only the equivalent of twenty, but the point is still the same: live within your means, and you will have peace of mind, security, and resulting "happiness." Live beyond your means, and accumulate debt more and more each year, and your stress will grow with it, it will pull from future income, and you will be in "misery." In this case, Wilkins Micawber knew the truth of this because he lived it, spending months at a time in debtor's prison because he didn't live within his means, even while his wife was nursing twins and his family were starving.

I could rant about this for a while, but I won't. The quotes pretty much speak for themselves. I'll have more kernels of truth next time, different advice from another unusual character. 


  1. Ah tis true. My favorite quote of this sort is Lack of money is the root of all evil-George Bernard Shaw.

    Though I do like the one about just enough equals happiness and not enough misery. I think it is also worth remember that the rich old miser Scrooge was a Money Leander-so his stock and trade was debt.

    If only the wisdom of these words could stop me from my evil debtors ways.

  2. It's wise advice for all of us. But it's also food for thought for those of us who have more than we need. A luxury non-necessity might be the difference between survival and misery for someone else.

  3. agree with most of it. but i like doing nothing on the weekends, save work for week days.

    so let it be written, so let it be done...

  4. A weekend? What's that? I wrote two syllabi, designed two grading rubrics, and did all sorts of other things yesterday. I finally got to relax at around nine.

    Today I have to do a ton of postings for class, revise a play, and finish writing another one (along with weeding the entire back garden, doing dishes, and cleaning up the whole house).

    No rest for the wicked.

  5. Sunday is full of doing nothing at all, and includes a nap around noon... ending in a nice home cooked meal.

    just a slice of heaven on earth...