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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Paulson

How many words does it take to cheer me up? Millions.

I had a blue, blue week, not so long ago.

I’d prefer not to get into the deeper reasons, but let’s just say I struggle with depression, and the book two thing was not going well. (Things are looking up a bit now.)

I’ve been stupid busy, and therefore tired. I have body parts that hurt. I am unimpressed with getting old.

If I think about it all too much, whammo. Blue. Dark blue.

This time, my husband took a different approach to cheering me up. I was whining about not feeling useful, vital, important — not to myself, not to my loved ones, and not to society. Where the hell is the point if you’re not accomplishing any of that?

Out of the dark blue (he does this sometimes — shifts gears, changes the subject before you can take a breath) he asked, “how many words have you written in your lifetime?”

Well, that shut me up. I had no idea, and after I quit being stunned, there was a secondary query which has come up before: why haven’t you kept every single thing you have ever written, my dear dope? Ken keeps a photo or a file of EVERYTHING. I’d repeat that to emphasize the point, but I already put it in capital letters.

The first thing I thought after the stunned moment was, does it really matter how many words? The important thing is, how good are those words? Have they melted prejudices, raised funds, created empathy, informed, entertained, saved lives, made anyone happy? Changed the world?

While I was mulling that over, Ken was quietly punching numbers into his cellphone. Apparently, into a calculator. He’s sneaky that way. I barely noticed he even had the implement in his hand.

“Near as I can figure it,” he said, “you’re at about 45 million.”


“No way,” I said. “Really? How did you figure that out?”

Well, he multiplied working hours by years worked by words usually written per hour. Or something like that. Then he subtracted some of the administrative time I’ve put in. Then he added the books and the evening and weekend hours I’ve logged. I don’t think he included rewrites.

Let’s stop right here and note that 45 million wouldn’t even touch the output of authors and writers like Isaac Asimov, who is credited with writing and editing 500 books or something. Holy cow. And that’s just the books.

Even so, it kind of blew me away. Again, quality is better than quantity; but it was an amazing moment when my husband shifted my focus to what I actually had done, instead of what I hadn’t. Everyone needs, and some people even deserve, a Ken. (I hope I do.)

Self-aggrandizement aside, here is my point, based on Mr. P’s lesson. When you feel like crap, try to think about what you’ve done, especially what you’ve done right. If you’re a doctor, how many patients have you helped, or how many babies have you delivered? If you’re a teacher, how many students have you prepared, with education and empathy, for life? If you work in an auto body shop, how many cars have you repaired so that they are safe for their drivers again? If you’re a lawyer, how many clients have you helped through a divorce, or some other awful events in their lives? If you’re a paramedic or a police officer or a fire fighter, how many runs have you made in an effort save people’s lives?

Seem like a basic thing? Not at all. Do we reflect on our accomplishments often enough? No. We fly through life, trying to get the work and the laundry and the cooking done, to get to social events and kids’ games and charity lunches, then fall into bed for six or eight hours (if we’re lucky) and do it all again the next day. Pedestrian. Necessary. The round of life.

When do we stop, and think, and ponder our positive effect on the world, or even on ourselves? Seldom, methinks. But we should, especially when the world looks dark blue.

So, being me, I’ve been mulling over how many of those words were any damn good, and how many were stupid or inaccurate or badly thought out, or even worse. Thirty-something years in, it’s a tough thing to evaluate. But I must say I take comfort, at least, from having churned out the 45 million. Maybe a few of them made a difference, even a little one, here and there. I can only hope.

Thank you, dear husband, for that reckoning. Making you mine, being yours, is my greatest accomplishment.

This column also appeared in the Saskatoon Express.

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