I’ve been thinking about summer vacation this week, and how it’s so conceptually at odds with how we think about work in this country. I mean, when you’re a kid, having summers off from school isn’t regarded as some kind of radical notion — it’s just the way things are. It’s normal. But as soon as you exit the education-industrial complex, the societal expectation is that you are going to work at least 40 hours a week for the next 50 to 60 years of your life, with a couple of weeks off a year. And that’s if you’re lucky. Too many people have to work two jobs just to pay the bills and survive, working weekends, overtime, second shifts, third shifts, split shifts. As an adult, the notion of taking leave from one’s responsibilities for two to three months in the middle of the year — ostensibly to rest, to relax — is antithetical to capitalist ideology. Offer such a proposal out loud with any degree of real ingenuousness, and most people will look at you like you’re a goddamn crank, or — gasp — a socialist.
What a person does for work monopolizes so much space in our self-identity that it overshadows almost everything else about us. Think about it: when you meet someone for the first time, odds are one of the first get-to-know-you questions they will ask is: “So, what do you do?” You’ll instantly know what they mean, because that’s how we’ve been conditioned to think, and you’ll respond with something like: “I manage a team of developers at The Rabbit Company.” Your answer won’t be: “Well, I’m a gardener, and I spend most of my weekends in my backyard tending to the 15 types of produce I grow. Oh, I also pay my bills working being a middle manager at a company that peddles vibrators. But I loathe that place and Ted, my colossal anus of a boss, so instead I prefer instead to talk about how well my cucumbers and tomatoes are doing this year.” Because if you say that to a stranger, they are not going to think, Wow, this guy’s radical candor is so refreshing. Let’s be friends! Instead, they will smile and nod, and describe you later to their loved ones using adjectives like “weird” and “off-putting.”
It’s an extreme example, yeah, but I bet you’d never think to describe yourself as a gardener — your passion, hobby, etc. — first, and a manager of whatever — the thing you do to stay alive — second.
We give so much of our time and energy to our jobs, wrapping our identity and self-worth around what we do, what we produce. It’s dumb and sad, and so many of us do it, even if we don’t want to and try not to, because… that’s the capitalist society in which we live.
I’m not suggesting that one can’t or shouldn’t strive to find a job they like. If you’re going to spend at least one-third of your life at Job, ideally you should find one you like, or at least don’t hate. I really like my job, a circumstance that I never take for granted. It’s okay to like your job. And, in the very unlikely event you think you love your job — that’s okay, too. So long as you always keep this one immutable fact in mind: A corporation doesn’t care about you. You are a means to an end for it. You and a corporation are not “fambly.” The moment the cost of employing you becomes less than the perceived value of what you produce, the sand in the hourglass that is your current employment starts trickling down.
So consider this affirmation. Repeat it to yourself every day: You are not your job. You are so much more than “what you do.” And never, ever forget (to paraphrase the labor writer Sarah Jaffe):
Work will never love you back.
Columbus Pride was yesterday. It was nice to march with our friends in the ECLA and show our support. The turnout was amazing. Watchers along the parade route were six or seven people deep the whole way. I espied only one small group of sad bigots that were protesting. The hate emanating from their shitty PA was subsumed by the cheering and happy noise of the crowd.
On Friday, I went to my first Creative Mornings Columbus event. The guest speaker was Karen Hewitt, who gave a talk on the topic of “Reverie.” It was a really fun and fascinating talk. Karen’s ideas on the difference between dreaming and dream execution, and how each requires different tools, resonated with me quite a bit.
All of this shit — thoughts on summer break, Karen’s take on creativity, plus the normal rotgut my brain generates — has been swirling in my head of late, so I’ve decided that, beginning tomorrow, josh bales [dot] net is going on summer vacation for the next month. (Yeah, it’s not two to three months, but a shorter break feels right, so I’m going with my gut.) For the next four weeks, my hope is to redirect the creative energy I typically put in here to other writing projects. My goals are to clean up and try to publish the essay I alluded to last week, and to finish a short story that has been languishing in my brain for a while.
See y’all on July 23rd.