A short story from "Tenth of December" by George Saunders, winner of the inaugural Folio Prizeby George Saunders / December 12, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
George Saunders is one of America’s most celebrated short story writers. “Not since Mark Twain has America produced a satirist this funny with a prose style this fine,” says Zadie Smith. The story below comes from his new collection Tenth of December. Explaining the idea behind the story, Saunders writes: “I’m intrigued by the question of how people understand their own bad actions. I think very few people wake up in the morning fired up at the notion of being evil. So this piece attempts to mimic the voice of a pretty nice guy who is in the middle of some real filth, urging his colleagues to put their shoulders to the wheel.”
DATE: Apr 6
FROM: Todd Birnie, Divisional Director
Re: March Performance Stats
I would not like to characterize this as a plea, although it may start to sound like one (!). The fact is, we have a job to do, we have tacitly agreed to do it (did you cash your last paycheck, I know I did, ha ha ha). We have also—to go a step further here—agreed to do the job well. Now we all know that one way to do a job poorly is to be negative about it. Say we need to clean a shelf. Let’s use that example. If we spend the hour before the shelf cleaning talking down the process of cleaning the shelf, complaining about it, dreading it, investigating the moral niceties of cleaning the shelf, whatever, then what happens is, we make the process of cleaning the shelf more difficult than it really is. We all know very well that that “shelf” is going to be cleaned, given the current climate, either by you or the guy who replaces you and gets your paycheck, so the question boils down to: Do I want to clean it happy or do I want to clean it sad? Which would be more effective? For me? Which would accomplish my purpose more efficiently? What is my purpose? To get paid. How do I accomplish that purpose most efficiently? I clean that shelf well and clean it quickly. And what mental state helps me clean that shelf well and quickly? Is the answer: Negative? A negative mental state? You know very well that it is not. So the point of this memo is: Positive. The positive mental state will help you clean that shelf well and quickly, thus accomplishing your purpose of getting paid.