Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Deep DO do

Buried in this article is a great point that I’ve tried to articulate for years: That the value of work should be far more than the sum of its parts and wages.

I’m not arguing that payment isn’t an important metric, or even the most important, when judging what is worthwhile work; after all, everyone likes to get paid. But if taken too far, it can lead to absurd perceptions:

“So what are you doing these days?”

“Playing music, making art, you know, chasing the dream.”

“I see. But what do you DO do?”

“DO do?”

“You know, what you really do. For money.”

“Oh, right. I sweep floors.”

“So you did finally land a job.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m so happy that you’re working!”

“I was working before.”

“Yeah, but now you’re WORKING working.”

“It’s tiring. Gives me little time for my music.”

“Well, the important thing is, you have a steady job.”

Yeah, that’s the important thing.

I have nothing against sweeping floors — someone has to do it, and sometimes, that someone’s been me. But we as a society do ourselves no favors by seeing someone who quits their creative pursuits for a dead-end, temp-type job as mature, or as a success.

Work is a complex beast. When I worked as a copy editor and as a reporter, I spent eight hours a day sitting in front of a computer, stroking keys, writing and editing. I’m not currently WORKING working, but I’m still sitting in front of a computer, stroking keys, writing and editing. The only difference is, I’m not making money at the moment. I’d argue that what I’m writing these days is more my style, but others might insist that I’m wasting my time.

If you asked me what I’m most proud of making, this blog would be right at the top of the list. Over nine years, it’s become a vessel for almost everything I create — writing, cartoons, graphics and videos. Having access to an instant and unlimited audience has given me the impetus to produce — in turn, writing daily for nine years has a way of flexing the brain. It’s practice that strengthens me for handling work that will count professionally.

And yet, indirect effects aside, I’ve never earned a dime from this blog. Sometimes I don’t even list it on my résumé, because one of two reactions typically happens: 1) it becomes a liability or 2) it’s considered inconsequential. Either way, I lose the chance to show off some of the work of which I’m most proud, because it’s never been “officially” published — never mind that it’s some of my sharpest stuff. I’ve actually been told at times that I don’t have enough writing experience. Well, if I have to dismiss 90 percent of my material right out the gate, yeah. To paraphrase what my friend said recently, that’s a hell of a body of work to discount just because I didn’t get a check for it.

Still, “blogger” is rarely a job title. It comes off even more desperate than “writer” in terms of what you “DO do.” Most of the time, it’s just easier to say, “I sweep floors,” because that satisfies people. Sweeping floors has a place in the rat race. Creating for the hell of it does not.

The Jacobin article states that we might consider a minimum living wage so that people can pursue their true talents without worrying about starving. I immediately see many holes in that proposal, but still I wonder how different America would be if so many people didn’t have to give it all up.

Think of the art. The music. The stories.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

If a person quits their creative pursuits for a dead end temp job...shame on them. There is time for both. One's priority should be meeting your basic needs...and to do so you need money. So, if you can't find it in a field you wan to be in, then a temp job is more noble than living off the system simply so you have ample time to continue your creative endeavors. While I think people should indulge their passions as much as possible (and find employment doing them if possible), you can't expect others to support you if that doesn't pan out. That's just selfish...and too often the case with an entitled generation.

Ian McGibboney said...

I don't see how that's any more selfish than a system where the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor and even college-educated people have to fight for scraps and are belittled for not loving it.

If this is an age of bend over and take it, then we just need to retire the tired old trope of the American Dream.

Anonymous said...

The system isn't ideal, that's a sad truth. And I do think the conservative vision of the "American Dream" is a notion that needs to be retired. However, there is work out there to be done and money to be made....and that beats the hell out of being broke. People want their dream jobs (and think they will get them) handed to them along with a diploma...it doesn't happen that way. I am a creative professional and have a job in my field now...this wasn't always the case. Many people do sock it out in jobs they feel are "beneath them" for a few years before they land a better situation. I'm sorry but I don't have pity for young, able-bodied, educated people like the hipsters described in the article who CAN work, but are too worried about selling out because they are not doing EXACTLY what they want to be doing at the moment. And yet, they will mooch off the same "system" or their parents while complaining about both. We absolutely need social programs like welfare and food stamps to assist people who truly need it...sick, elderly, disabled or single parents working below poverty level.

Ian McGibboney said...

Oh, I'm not defending idle hipsters at all. Make no mistake; I can't stand that either. That's why I said the point I liked was buried in the article — the one about what we consider work.

I love to work. Love it. I've had ideal professional jobs in my field and crappy jobs that had nothing to do with anything, so I don't judge. I'm always happier working than not working. I just happen to have been shoved - like an entire generation of Americans - into a job market where entire segments have been devalued almost to the point of nothing. This isn't limited to media, entertainment or art, either — manufacturing is another example. Even the thriving sectors are increasingly reliant on contract and temp labor, so forget benefits and pensions. No job security anywhere. A lot of us figure that if we can't luck out and are destined to struggle our whole lives, then we should at least be able to make something of our lives if we have the inclination to do so. (This is the difference between these teat-sucking hipsters and people like me - we want to be productive.) It seems to me that this would open up the filler jobs people take to those in need of them and with no creative juices. We pay for it one way or the other.

What gets grating is baby boomers and older generations insisting that there's nothing wrong with the job market, and that the problem is all us. That's sadly outmoded thinking. And it's wrong to lump us all together. I don't mind doing what I have to do to get by - and no, I've never been on AFDC - but don't tell me and millions like me that education and experience mean nothing. Or at least, say it earlier in life. Stop kidding us about the system you broke.