I spend a lot of time these days thinking about work. Not specific concepts, mind you, but the idea of work. If Edwin Starr was standing behind me, he’d be singing, “Work, huh! What is it good for? Absolutely somethin’.”
This is what working for nothing will get you: Existential conflict.
Because so much of what I do these days is unpaid, I find myself on long bike rides, trying to content myself with a stupid Socratic dialogue about it:
Why do you work?
Oh, you know, the usual reasons: sense of purpose, payin’ the bills, beats television.
But your husband is payin’ most of the bills, isn’t he?
I do my part. I contribute.
Would those dust bunnies blowing through the family room count as contribution? What about the refrigerator, that empty space you’re paying to keep nice and cold?
La la la la I can’t hear you la la la la.
So what do you have planned for this summer?
Well, I’m teaching…
How does that pay?
Not so great, but it’s something.
Writing, as usual.
The blog, of course.
How’s that Google Ads thing working out for you?
Year to date? Two hundred sixty-seven dollars.
And 54 cents.
Oh, freelancing here and there. Just finished an assignment the other day. I’ll be billing $400. And the night-shift editing stuff; pays well, keeps me reading the British papers, where you can learn all kinds of stuff. Did you know that Brits call vaccines “jabs?” On first reference? “Chickenpox jabs are available on the NHS.” Seriously.
How are you doing vis-a-vis your last year of gainful employment in newspapers?
I’m in the ballpark, but not quite to home plate. On the other hand, I no longer work for vindictive power-mad psychos, either. It’s a tradeoff.
So that’s it? So you spend huge amounts of time on two websites that pay, literally, pennies per hour? And retirement is on the horizon?
I have something else. Faith.
Faith in what?
Faith that some day my ship will come in.
Is that also on the horizon?
If you look very hard, you can see the tip of the mast. But really, isn’t work worth something in and of itself?
Tell that to the aides at the Medicaid nursing home where you’ll be spending your golden years.
I heard this thing on NPR last year.
It was about a retirement center for artists in New York. I can’t remember the details, but it was about a city-subsidized building where artists can live extremely cheaply, and some of them had been there for decades and were very old. These people were poorer than poor, lived in no more room than a wino could buy at a flophouse, but they were so incredibly happy. They were artists. They could make a walk to the corner store sound like a stroll along the Seine. The way the light hit a building at a particular hour of the day could fill them with joy. It’s all in how you look at the world. Do you ever listen to these Wall Street jerkoffs and their horrible wives? Do you think all their gold toilets and Bentleys and plastic surgery and private jets made them happy?
Did flying commercial the last time you traveled make you happy?
That’s not the point. My point is, work is its own reward, and the best work I do is on my stupid websites, and even if they aren’t monetized — there’s a real Wall Street word — they give me a certain satisfaction, and you can’t really put a price tag on that.
Whenever someone says, “You can’t put a price tag on that,” it means the price tag would read SUPER CLEARANCE! TAKE HALF OFF LOWEST MARKED PRICE.
As the Terminator would say…
What does the Terminator say?
Fuck you, asshole.
Do you have bloggage today?
I hope whatever Sandra Tsing Loh got paid for her piece in the current Atlantic, it was a whole hell of a lot, because in the last 24 hours I’ve heard others describe her as everything from self-absorbed to smug to a narcissist to a bitch and — this is never far behind when you’ve got two X chromosomes — ugly and unattractive. On the other hand, the piece, about the breakup of Loh’s marriage, wasn’t so great, either, but am I the only person in the world who thinks “pleasing everyone” should never be on a writer’s to-do list? Also, because I read the British rags, I have learned to appreciate the bomb-throwing essay, which is designed purely to rattle windows and make the world a little less boring and predictable. (This is a stock feature of the London dailies: I hate kids and they should all be quarantined! Fat people are a plague and a pox and should wear burkas! And so on. They’re not policy statements, they’re conversation-starters. Deal.) Also, I met Loh once at a conference and really liked her, so foo.
I also hope FiveThirtyEight takes a look at this NYT poll, which says people a) approve of the job the president’s doing, but b) don’t approve of the job the president’s doing. On the other hand, I heard a local councilperson’s vote on a particular issue criticized as being for “political reasons,” as though elected officials voting on the public’s business isn’t, somehow, political. I ask you.
A baby beaten to death is not classified as a homicide: Jukin’ the stats, Detroit-style.
Off to the gym.
basset said on June 18, 2009 at 10:23 am
don’t think I’d go as far as “ugly,” but she doesn’t do anything for me… and based on that one article I wouldn’t want to be around her even if she were drop-dead gorgeous and baying for impalement.
now to someone else who’s probably no fun at all in person, but for different reasons:
nancy said on June 18, 2009 at 11:11 am
I was going to blog that, Basset, but thought it would require too much background. (I’ve been following it from the beginning, drawn in by that amusing Photoshop.) Another triumph of on-the-ball management, it would seem.
Catherine said on June 18, 2009 at 11:22 am
Oh.my.god, that is almost the exact same conversation that plays through my head as I drive cars full of girls throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Mine goes:
How are you doing vis-a-vis your last year of gainful employment [at that entertainment giant]?
I’m in the ballpark, but not quite to home plate. On the other hand, I no longer work for [crazy nutjobs who don’t know what they want and don’t return my phone calls], either, [and I’m spending all this quality time…driving my children around]. It’s a tradeoff.
Haven’t read the Sandra Tsing Loh piece yet, but loved her last book, Mother on Fire. It made me laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page. If you aren’t familiar with her other work, she does a great 01:30 segment on life, politics, culture & parenting on KPCC, here:
She also does an amusing science segment called the Loh Down on Science:
brian stouder said on June 18, 2009 at 11:23 am
Whenever someone says, “You can’t put a price tag on that,” it means the price tag would read SUPER CLEARANCE! TAKE HALF OFF LOWEST MARKED PRICE.
As the Terminator would say…
At this point Anton Chigurh would pull out a quarter, and say “call it”
MichaelG said on June 18, 2009 at 11:26 am
For many years I’ve listened to Sandra Tsing Loh on NPR and read her essays in various publications and I’ve always loved her. Still do. The point is not whether she is or is not a beautiful physical specimen of femininity (those were not glamour pictures and she’s not an ingénue, though she doesn’t look all that bad to me in a sort of in the middle of moving her shit out of the house way). The point is what she says. The piece had a melancholic feel to me. She seemed sad at developments and while not regretting her actions. She was sorry that things had come to her having resorted to taking a lover. I think she did a good job of using the other women’s predicaments to present her own reasons for arriving at where she has come to be at forty seven years of age. I think all the people who populate her piece are in tough situations and while it’s easy to be critical of one or another party I don’t really see any bad people here. Just people who are not who they were twenty years ago. I’m sure not throwing any stones.
I think Loh’s assessment of how things go in a large number of marriages is spot on. Not nice, not fun, not pleasant to think of, but accurate. The specifics in her piece may seem a bit California or a bit yuppie to some, but the basics are valid. There are some things in there that hit a bit close to home for me.
When I first broke up with my wife or vice-versa, as she was the moving party, I encountered an amazingly large number of men who expressed a kind of jealousy at my new single status. Many of them spoke of their wives in the most disparaging of terms. All of them noted that it was the financial horror associated with breaking up and that alone which was keeping them together with their wives. I can personally attest to the fact that the financial realities attached to breaking up a thirty year marriage are not enjoyable for either party. I wonder about the conversations these men’s’ wives would have if they were talking together.
Follow Catherine’s links. You won’t be disappointed.
Notes from my ‘hood. I saw the electric meter reader the other day. He was motating down the street on one of those little kick scooters with skate board wheels. Made good time too. There are now hookers on Broadway in Oak Park. They’ve popped up in the last few months. Not many and they’re spread over several blocks but they’re there. Sometimes even at five in the AM when I’m on my way to work. What a tough job.
jeff borden said on June 18, 2009 at 11:35 am
There’s an interesting story in the NYT today about how the prostitutes of Berlin are dealing with the poor economy. Apparently, even the ladies of the night are offering discounts these days, but business is not good despite the price cuts.
I’ve now been underemployed for five years. I’ve had brief stints trying my hand as a speechwriter, p.r. flack and project manager for a travel guide. None of these efforts turned out well. The teaching gig is by far the highlight of my life, but it does not pay the bills and must be augmented by freelancing. This is not a life I would have chosen as, despite all my posturing in college about non-conformity, I really like having a job to go to every day. The stability meant a great deal to me. Now, I live life in two or three month segments, where I have some jobs lined up in the near future, but the horizon looks empty.
By now, I have more or less accepted that I’ll probably never have a job in the sense I always thought of a job: regular hours, good pay and benefits, a place to go to every day. It’s still hard to make peace with that future, but there you go.
Cathy D. said on June 18, 2009 at 11:40 am
Certainly we should all ponder the worthwhile-ness of work, but any blog post that mentions Edwin Starr automatically makes me feel 15 again and is okay with me.
Connie said on June 18, 2009 at 11:46 am
Jeff, I’m looking for a half time PR person myself. Commute would only be about 100 miles one way.
basset said on June 18, 2009 at 11:54 am
and that just made me remember hearing it on my parents’ Curtis Mathes “entertainment center” from WAOV at Vincennes University… we used to hook the TV antenna up to the FM antenna connectors so we could get a better signal. for some reason I remember “War” and Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Lucky Man”…
Joe Kobiela said on June 18, 2009 at 11:54 am
As I read Nancey’s question and answer I kept waiting for her to yell out SQUIRREL.
derwood said on June 18, 2009 at 12:03 pm
I ordered 100 bucks worth of Amazon stuff…hopefully I used the link correctly. That’s 4 bucks for ya!
ROgirl said on June 18, 2009 at 12:10 pm
It’s hard out there for a pimp!
If the oldest profession in the world is feeling the effects of the recession, where does that leave the rest of us? The uncertainty is the hardest part.
With that in mind, I’m going to use the state funds available for unemployed workers and go to my local community college for a certificate in web development (I already have a BA and an MA under my belt).
MarkH said on June 18, 2009 at 12:16 pm
Great topics and posts today. And, yes (sigh), what MichaelG said.
OT — This just in: what are the odds of this?
basset said on June 18, 2009 at 12:50 pm
LAMary said on June 18, 2009 at 12:57 pm
What MichaelG and MarkH said.
MarkH said on June 18, 2009 at 1:08 pm
BTW, Michelle Singletary, the WaPo’s economic columnist, leads off today with this very subject of working for free in a down market, with a couple of good links:
EDIT — True, Joe, but I’m still curious about the odds, given that commercial pilots are so closely monitored on their health and are always on clean bills. And, yeah, it makes no sense to announce to the passengers.
Joe Kobiela said on June 18, 2009 at 1:08 pm
Just a flashback to the movie up.
Passengers on Continental probable did not know the pilot died. Cross ocean flights carry relief crews, no worry’s.
Jolene said on June 18, 2009 at 1:20 pm
Yeah, it’s hard to see why people would go to the trouble of ranting about Loh, whether about her looks or otherwise. (Actually, especially about her looks. She looks pretty much like the rest of us to me, i.e., not heart-stoppingly gorgeous, but normally attractive.)
Seems to me she has an obvious and valid point: Very often, marriage doesn’t work out the way we’d hoped. Maybe we need new ideas about the realities of love, the needs of children, and the economics of an upper middle-class life.
Doesn’t really seem that controversial, but treating cherished ideals with disdain or, at best, skepticism, is, I guess, not a great way to win friends among those who still believe what they learned about love in junior high.
LAMary said on June 18, 2009 at 1:47 pm
Off topic sort of:
I’m listening at this moment to two people who outrank me substantially, who are the same age as I am, trying to one up each other about the number of Thomas Kincaid paintings they own, and how if you light the paintings just right, they look different at different times of the day. One of these folks has special dots of light painted on at the time of purchase by one of Kincaid’s appointed surrogates, making the painting worth even more.
Don’t feel bad about how much you make. Idiots make lots of money. People with crap taste make lots of money. I’m 56, these two make twice my salary and three times my salary respectively, and in their 56 years of life they never learned to look at a painting critically and see that it’s a piece of shit.
MichaelG said on June 18, 2009 at 2:04 pm
Kincaid’s a local guy (Placerville) so he gets a lot of play around here. Talk about somebody with a ton of bucks.
nancy said on June 18, 2009 at 2:07 pm
One of the funniest things I ever heard was the queeny home-furnishings buyer at the sporting-goods place where Alan used to buy fishing equipment, a man whose job it was to teach dull-witted housewives just how traditional “traditional” could be, declaim on the precipitous fall of Thomas Kincaid. How he shot his already-thin claim to true respect as an artist when he started “whoring himself on QVC.”
Jolene said on June 18, 2009 at 2:37 pm
That same Michelle Singletary column that MarkH mentioned also discusses the increase in the sale of garden seeds, which the venders say is being driven by the recession (with, presumably, some inspiration from Michelle Obama as well).
Is gardening really a practical way to save money on food? Even if you have available space, you have to buy seed and, depending on your gardening style, fertilizer, insecticide, and herbicide. Probably also need a modest amount of equipment–at least a hoe, a shovel, a hand spade (not sure that’s the right name), and a rake.
If you raise more food than you can eat immediately, you have to either give it away or put it up, which, again, requires equipment.
I dunno. There are lots of great reasons to grow fresh vegetables–good taste, healthfulness of fresh food, opportunity to spend time outdoors, exercise–but I’m not sure saving money is one of them.
What’s your experience been?
Connie said on June 18, 2009 at 2:53 pm
So what does any writer’s looks have to do with the style and content of their writing?
Danny said on June 18, 2009 at 2:57 pm
My gold standard with respect to artists is Dogs Playing Poker. That masterpiece just says it all. It belongs on a cathedral ceiling.
LAMary said on June 18, 2009 at 3:07 pm
Danny, the Dogs Playing Poker picture at least makes me smile. I respect it more than Thomas Kincaid’s cottages in the forest glowing paths.
4dbirds said on June 18, 2009 at 3:07 pm
“they never learned to look at a painting critically and see that it’s a piece of shit.”
Once while walking past one of Kinkaid’s stores in the mall, I mentioned to my husband that I’d divorce him if he brought one of those painting home.
4dbirds said on June 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm
As an avid poker player I love Dogs Playing Poker and it hangs above our fireplace in the game room.
Sue said on June 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm
Someone who gardens does not usually do it in an attempt to save money. One year I carefully weighed all my produce just to see what I came up with. It was hundreds of pounds, so technically I got hundreds of dollars of food for free. Add up a cost/hour for just the harvesting duties – picking, canning, freezing, begging people to take some of it off your hands (although not the peaches, everyone wanted those) and you’re behind within a few weeks. Pre-season planting and prep time and during-season maintenance – don’t think about it if that’s your reason. It’s a hobby like anything else. No one saves money sewing their own clothes anymore, or woodworking, or anything where the reward is the fun of doing it.
I just had five perfect little snap peas, right off the lovely green vine. ‘Nuf said.
jcburns said on June 18, 2009 at 3:29 pm
Here’s a fine venn diagram that seems to lay out the options for employment, creative fulfillment, and, well, survival in three simple overlapping circles. Mmmm, venn diagrams…is there nothing they can’t reduce to heartbreaking simplicity?
coozledad said on June 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm
Jolene: It’s surprising how much food you can grow in a limited space and offset your food bills somewhat if you desire is to eat organic, non genetically modified food. But no, you’re not going to save a huge amount.
A couple of things concern me about GMO seed stocks. One is introduction of cross-kingdom genetic material in long distance pollinators like corn and wheat. There are seedstocks that contain fish and hog genes. Tomatoes have been developed with hog genes for improved shelf life. Roundup-ready corn, genetically modified so it won’t be killed by glyphosate application, will open pollinate stands of corn growing miles away. The same goes with the stuff modified to produce its own bacillus Thuringiensis toxin. Not only does it desensitize pests to one of the few methods Organic farmers can use to kill soft-bodied insects, there are studies showing that prolonged human exposure to the toxin in the gut through the consumption of bioengineered potatoes is mutagenic.
I also have a problem with multinationals such as Monsanto attempting to secure patents for seedstock and developing strains that will not naturalize. It can destroy societies that follow ancient agricultural practices by forcing them to find cash to purchase seed. It’s criminal, really.
Probably the best reason to grow your own stuff is the chance of developing your own heirloom vegetables that may have specific genetic resistance to outbreaks of new or uncommon plant diseases or pests. It’s also good to know just how labor intensive the production of food can be, if nothing else.
Sue said on June 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm
Cooz, I’ve been growing and canning for 20 years, and it still amazes me the amount of water it takes for preservation prep. Pick, wash, prep, rinse, parboil/freeze or can (sometimes gallons here), clean up. Water water everywhere.
And Seed Savers Exchange is doing long-term good for everyone. I try to order from them on principle.
coozledad said on June 18, 2009 at 4:17 pm
Sue: I’m washing about 75lbs of potatoes I picked this morning when the temperatures were still in the low seventies. We’re going to hit 100 this weekend, and the ground is saturated. Surprisingly, we only lost about four or five pounds to rot in this planting.
Jolene said on June 18, 2009 at 5:03 pm
It’s also good to know just how labor intensive the production of food can be, if nothing else.
Indeed. Agriculture, no matter the scale nor the type, is damn hard work. It’ll be interesting to see whether these newly inspired gardeners keep up the effort once they see how much effort is required. Growing fruits and vegetables is a great thing to do. It was just the premise that this would be a good way for suburban families to cut their food bills that seemed implausible.
LAMary said on June 18, 2009 at 5:07 pm
We had a roof garden when I lived in Manhattan, and we had enough tomatoes and basil to share. The worst part of that process was dragging the dirt up to the fifth floor rooftop in a building with no elevator.
Sue said on June 18, 2009 at 5:17 pm
And let’s not forget while we’re scaring away any potential gardeners to warn them about the timing problems. The green beans will be too small to pick just before you go on vacation and horrible fibrous creatures when you get back. Leave the cukes or zucchini for an extra day and you encounter a piece of obscene lawn art when you go back to check on them. And the tomatoes and peaches will all ripen at the same time, screaming for attention when you get home from your regular job and just want to sit down and watch tv. Nothing ever waits until the weekend to be ready to pick. Ever. Run, potential gardeners, run!
beb said on June 18, 2009 at 5:20 pm
Dogs Playing Poker was one of the sight gags in “Up!”
coozledad said on June 18, 2009 at 5:38 pm
Jolene: Folks living in the suburbs could always use a vacant lot and a labor share system. Then they could sell the surplus, or give it to a food bank. Would that be anarcho-syndicalism, communism, community capitalism, or the underlying cause of a multiple homicide?
Jolene said on June 18, 2009 at 5:42 pm
I dunno, cooz. I haven’t ever talked to anyone who’s been involved in a community garden, but it does seem like a situation that could provide the context for several different dramatic and/or comedic offerings.
ROgirl said on June 18, 2009 at 6:08 pm
Thomas Kincaid is to art what cheezwhiz is to cheese, what Kenny G is to Miles Davis, what romance novels are to James Joyce, what breast implants are to the real thing. The people who buy the factory-produced canvases that are dotted with white paint are delusional if they believe it’s real art. Geez, buy a Monet print instead, not that kitsch. There’s more integrity in a mass-produced copy of a painting by Monet or Van Gogh than any of the crap that appears under Kincaid’s name.
moe99 said on June 18, 2009 at 6:53 pm
Thank you beb and Pilot Joe for the heads up on UP! Saw it and adored it.
Squirrel has been in my vocabulary for years–it gets my miniature dachshund running ahead of me, rather than me dragging him (and thus earning me dirty looks from passersby–who do not know that when we finally turn the corner to go back home he is SPRINTING fast as his little legs can go, wearing me out)
Catherine said on June 18, 2009 at 6:58 pm
What ROgirl said, or (and we’re probably starting to sound like broken records here): Buy local. Especially for LAMary’s co-workers here in LA, there’s just no excuse for buying that Kincaid crap when there are so many amazing artists right around the corner. They will open your eyes to media that never would have occurred to you. And you can actually talk to them and learn about their work — most of them are really nice, interesting people, even the gallery owners. And, and, it’s actually incredibly affordable. Last and: These artists exist nearly everywhere.
coozledad said on June 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm
Catherine: You might be interested in this guy’s work. Usually I like stuff done in more traditional media, but the outward simplicity of his work appeals to me.
His studio space looks like a museum tucked away in a catacomb.
beb said on June 18, 2009 at 10:05 pm
I love the American Light art movement (Luminism), which focused on light breaking through the clouds illuminated a rustic, wild landscape. Kincaid claims to be the master of light or some such bull but the Luminism artists were much better, more orginal and prints should be easy enough to acquire.
Catherine said on June 19, 2009 at 12:31 am
Coozledad, that is some freaky stuff! Thank you for sharing. I share his attitude that we are all in the process of dying, and appreciate how he expresses it.
I think if I were any good at all as an artist, I’d want to be exploring the intersection of art and NASA photos right now. I mean, the bits and bytes from space probes come back to Earth sooooo sloooowly, and they are usually b/w and kind of hard to really “see” when they get here. Then, people color them in ways from subtle to completely out there, and present them to the public as “data.” But if you know anything about the process, there’s a lot of human interpretation and enhancement that goes into it. Not only do I like the statement that they make about the twin notions of “data” and “art,” I just like to look at them.
LAMary said on June 19, 2009 at 12:53 pm
It’s accessible and lovely and real.