You can’t just get up in the morning and say to yourself, “Well, time to start saving the solar system!” Never mind the logic or illogic of it, never mind “modesty”; they’re not relevant. Even if you knew beyond all question that you had the power to do it, you couldn’t tackle the task that way and still function. You wouldn’t be able to tolerate even five minutes of leisure, you perceive…you’d be saying to yourself, How can you sit there and read (or take a bath, or talk to a friend, or anything else not indisputably critical to survival) when you could be saving the worlds? It would be like knowing that you were on the right track to finding a cure for a cruel disease, only worse. You’d work night and day. You’d work while you ate. And still, still, you would feel intolerable guilt.
That won’t do. The work will never get done, that way. You have to step outside what you’re doing, and look at it from outside, even while you are most deeply occupied with it. You have to learn to perceive it as a scientific project, as a theoretical investigation, as research for the sake of research. You have to rope it off in your mind as if it had nothing to do with anything, with maybe–maybe–a slim potential for practical application, far down a long and unforeseeable road.
From Earthsong: Native Tongue III by Suzette Haden Elgin (DAW Books, 1994) pp.46-47.
Originally published on FR on 5/28/2008