Thursday, August 17, 2006

Living to Work

Yesterday's post about how we spend our lives generated a lot of email, some of it rather defensive about how their kid is going to be the next Shaq. Yeah, right. There's only one of him. And if my limited email is any indication, about 1 out of 20 parents believes this to be true.

No wonder we're a nation of disappointed people. It ain't happenin' for the vast majority of people. When your kid is playing pro football, please feel free to email me and tell me how I was full of it and I'll gladly apologize. I won't even say he has to be at the top of his profession - just if he makes it to the pros in any field - even if he's just a bench warmer - I'll still apologize.

This is all part of our foolish belief in the US that we must be busy all the time - working or working at something that's not supposed to be work.

I saw a reference on someone's blog late last night - I believe it was adayinthelife - to this piece in the SF Gate by Mark Morford. Anyway, it's a beautifully written piece about how we live our lives to work. This is only part of it but I've provided a link where you can read the rest and it is well worth it.

Why Do You Work So Hard?
Is it maybe time to quit your safe job and follow your path and infuriate the establishment?

- By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, July 8, 2005

There remains this enormous and wicked sociocultural myth. It is this: Hard work is all there is.

Work hard and the world respects you. Work hard and you can have anything you want. Work really extra super hard and do nothing else but work and ignore your family and spend 14 hours a day at the office and make 300 grand a year that you never have time to spend, sublimate your soul to the corporate machine and enjoy a profound drinking problem and sporadic impotence and a nice 8BR mini-mansion you never spend any time in, and you and your shiny BMW 740i will get into heaven.

This is the American Puritan work ethos, still alive and screaming and sucking the world dry. Work is the answer. Work is also the question. Work is the one thing really worth doing and if you're not working you're either a slacker or a leech, unless you're a victim of BushCo's budget-reamed America and you've been laid off, and therefore it's OK because that means you're out there every day pounding the pavement looking for work and honing your resume and if you're not, well, what the hell is wrong with you?

Call it "the cafe question." Any given weekday you can stroll by any given coffee shop in the city and see dozens of people milling about, casually sipping and eating and reading and it's freakin' noon on a Tuesday and you're like, wait, don't these people work? Don't they have jobs? They can't all be students and trust-fund babies and cocktail waitresses and drummers in struggling rock bands who live at home with their moms.

Of course, they're not. Not all of them, anyway. Some are creative types. Some are corporate rejects. Some are recovering cube slaves now dedicated full time to working on their paintings. Some are world travelers who left their well-paying gigs months ago to cruise around Vietnam on a motorcycle before returning to start an import-export business in rare hookahs. And we look at them and go, What is wrong with these people?

It's a bitter duality: We scowl at those who decide to chuck it all and who choose to explore something radical and new and independent, something more attuned with their passions, even as we secretly envy them and even as our inner voices scream and applaud and throw confetti.

Our culture allows almost no room for creative breaks. There is little tolerance for seeking out a different kind of "work" that doesn't somehow involve cubicles and widening butts and sour middle managers monitoring your e-mail and checking your Web site logs to see if you've wasted a precious 37 seconds of company time browsing or reading up on the gay marriage apocalypse.

We are at once infuriated by and enamoured with the idea that some people can just up and quit their jobs or take a leave of absence or take out a loan to go back to school, how they can give up certain "mandatory" lifestyle accoutrements in order to dive back into some seemingly random creative/emotional/spiritual endeavor that has nothing to do with paying taxes or the buying of products or the boosting of the GNP. It just seems so ... un-American. But it is so, so needed.

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