Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Meaningful Work

A friend, who is also taking my Introduction to Generation X class, sent me the following poem about the workers of the Great Depression.

My Father Teaches Me to Dream
by Jan Beatty

You want to know what work is?
I'll tell you what work is:
Work is work.
You get up. You get on the bus.
You don't look from side to side.
You keep your eyes straight ahead.
That way nobody bothers you - see?
You get off the bus. You work all day.
You get back on the bus at night. Same thing.
You go to sleep. You get up.
You do the same thing again.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
There's no handouts in this life.
All this other stuff you're looking for -
it ain't there.
Work is work.

I wrote back to my friend:

Thanks for the poem. I think that attitude made a ton of sense when work really was work, making something that people could use, or growing something that people could eat, or being something that mattered, like a doctor or a nurse or a teacher. Now the entire economy is built on imaginary jobs in finance, information technology, marketing/advertising and weapons. And that's why my generation is always so stuck on meaningful work. We're sick of living in a pretend world of numbers and computer blips that do nothing human - just make the income numbers, in the form of computer blips, go up and up and up for rich people.

I do ponder this issue, all the time. Would I have the physical and emotional strength to get up every day at the crack of dawn and raise my children while tending to a large garden and several farm animals, while making soap and canning fruit and making cheese and butchering chickensuntil nightfall? I don't know if I could handle that kind of back-breaking work, but it seems much more likely I could make an easy connection between my labor and the survival and thriving of my family and community, and that's a connection wage labor in an information/service economy makes very hard to see. That's actually why I've chosen, with Josh's full financial and emotional support, to do what I do now, even though it pays our family nothing in dollars. It's abundantly clear to me that child-rearing, social justice, community person-to-person education and connection-building is going to be the cornerstone of the next phase of human civilization (if we make it there) so I want to get started as early as possible.

I think we're headed back to mid-19th century standards of living, as the oil dries up, so I'm trying to prepare myself and anyone interested for making that transition. Plus, I think that it's possible we could set things up to be more like a combination hunter-gatherer-farmer culture, whose people, anthropology tells us, wind up doing an average of 4 hours of labor per day - more during the growing season, less during the off season, but still with a ton more time and energy for human connection than any of us have in America today.


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