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?”
“You know, what you really do. For money.”
“Oh, right. I sweep floors.”
“So you did finally land a job.”
“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.