Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Wages of Sin

Work is employment, an occupation, consisting of tasks that one must do, usually for pay.

Work is also a calling, something that occupies your mind and heart, made up of things like imagining, researching, trying out ideas, and enjoyment of these undertakings, not always for pay.

I do not like to work. I work because, living under late capitalism, I have no choice. Work seems to be full of sin to me, full of pressures and punishments that cause me to rehearse penitent emails constantly in my head, awaiting the axe. I do this work for money. I must have money in order to live my life. I do not earn much money, and I have some physical problems that have made it hard to work a full time job for the last few years. I work at home. I am good at what I do, but I fear that what I do does no good.

My calling, as if you have not guessed, is writing. I want to connect, to discuss, to consider, and I do not want to do that alone. You may think this an odd statement considering that most people think of writers as solitary. I assume most of us are when in the physical act of writing, but I am always writing. As I walk down the street, ride on the bus, pick out produce at the Farmer’s Market, I want tell others about the world as I experience it, and I think about how I want to say it.

As a young mother I was home for the first years of my son’s life; I began working (only part time) in a health food store when he turned four. This was a vast improvement over my previous status as mother at home with small child without pay. I did not expect to be paid to be a mother, but it would have been nice to have respect. At that time women were fighting to be treated with dignity for choosing to stay home with young children. I was writing then, but it seemed to me that my writing was considered by many not to be real work, because I was not being paid for it. Just as the volunteer work I did with at-risk youth later on was not real work. Just like working with homeless women for free was not work. I am not trying to make the point that I am a saint. The point is that, essentially, most people think of work as what you are paid for. And when I have stated that I need a job that I can love, that matters, I was told with contempt, “That’s why they call it work and not play.”

I am suspicious when someone says they love their job, especially when I understand, after some talking, that they love it for the perks, and the money. It’s true that most people do not really love their jobs, but in place of a calling, I have seen that humans absolutely do need to do work that matters, they insert the job.

I have said that it is hard to locate myself without inhabiting a body I can be at peace with. I have found it hard to occupy my calling without pay. For as much as I have said that my writing is important to me, I have never really had a firm belief that my work matters without it. Writing is hard work, but not real work unless you are paid for it.

I have worked with two men who became successful writers. They were at the job, but working on their writing; I heard how they pushed some of their work onto naive co-workers so that they could leave work earlier with more time to write. When they became successful, and it became known that this was part of the path on their way to accomplishment, they were lauded with the title “ambitious”.

I think of women who wrote (or did not have time to write but wrote about that years later) through the hardships of raising families, like Tillie Olsen. I don’t know if those women felt that they could take the chance of jeopardizing a job to write rather than do that job. Perhaps it was because many of the women had jobs that made it impossible to hide, the service positions, or support positions in offices, where one is constantly needed—like mothers.