I had planned on a different and far more complex post today, but I woke up at six, went back to bed and woke up at nine thirty. This used to be a normal time to wake up in summer when I was a kid, but now it’s decadent and strange. It threw everything off. I’ve been running around getting caffeinated, etc.
Only I was reading your comments, and I thought there’s another aspect to “If you don’t work you die” which Kipling might or might not have thought about, but which to me and people like me is as important as the financial/productive side.
I don’t know how widespread this is, or whether it’s a human characteristic. As I said, I have friends who would gladly not do anything the rest of their lives, given a modicum of money to live on. BUT this seems to be true of me and a lot of other people.
I’d rather work scraping crap off shoes than sit still day after day, watching TV or whatever. Part of this is that I like feeling like an adult, and it’s been dinned into me since an early age that adults take care of themselves (and their own.) Forgive the crude image, but that’s the most offensive job I could think of. I suppose you could also say cleaning septic tanks.
When I was very young and had no work history in the states, I worked as clerk at a store that was like a discount pier one. The worst part of that job? It was boring. I mean, really rock bottom boring. They wouldn’t let me write, either, which I thought was dumb. I could stand behind the counter, writing on a composition book and put it away when the customer arrived. We were not allowed to read. And we could only straighten/clean if there were more than two of us there. If we had only two, one was supposed to stand behind the register, waiting, and the other was supposed to go walk around the store to … well, to prevent gay couples making out behind the baskets. (No, I never understood the attraction, except that it was very private behind the basket shelves. Eventually I became friends with a gay guy who lived behind the mall – and was the first other writer I ever met – and he’d cheerfully go and roust out “the people back there” a couple of times a day – he came in to talk writing, which made it easier – because it embarrassed me.)
As a result, I was tortured with boredom. There’s only so much I can make up stories before writing them down. BUT the money I made allowed us to buy groceries, so it was all good.
(I eventually got permission to polish the brass from the very tarnished brass shelf, while behind the register, and that allowed me to not go insane.)
My next job was as a multilingual secretary; after that I was a freelance translator, and I’ve been a writing bum ever since with brief intervals of teaching at college. What this means in practicality is that if I come on hard times and I can’t find an opening to teach in a nearby college or community college, I will be “unskilled labor.” The thing that scares me most about this is the boredom. Which is why I’m working on my sewing skills, my carpentry skills and my cleaning skills. If I need to, I can do stuff that will pay as much as minimum wage labor. Because I don’t like being bored.
But I keep hearing people say things like “I’ll stay unemployed the rest of my life rather than work minimum wage.” Well, minimum wage would seriously suck. If both Dan and I worked minimum wage, we might JUST survive, just. We’d need to take all sorts of assistance (and more on that later because it was the point I was going to write about today, in that longer, more complex post.) We wouldn’t starve (when Dan was last unemployed we joined a food buying cooperative. We’ve since left, because most of it carb intensive, but we know of other programs. It reduced our food bill to about $50 a month.) We might have to rent a studio apartment in a bad part of town. None of these compare to doing nothing and JUST living off charity. Why?
Well, first when you’re out there, no matter how menial the work you’re doing, you’re meeting people and sooner or later someone will say “Hey, you know, if you could do x” which either leads to another job or a supplementary contract type work. My international secretary job came about because a secretary who was working with me, (she took a second job after hours to pay debt) said “Hey, you know, we’re looking for—” Second because it’s not insanely boring. You’re doing something, no matter how futile it might seem, like me polishing brass. There is the possibility of something happening. You’re still alive and still struggling.
I’m not putting down the plight of anyone who can’t find another job (these days if you’re over a certain age they don’t want to hire you for beginning jobs) or people who are disabled, or people who have to take assistance. I’m fifty not fifteen. I can imagine circumstances in which the best I can do is stay home and take public assistance and/or charity.
As far as that’s concerned, that’s a legitimate use of ‘aid’ though I still think it’s a function better not done by the government.
HOWEVER even if, G-d forbid, that happens to me, unless I’m seriously ill in a mind-or-mobility reducing sort of way, I’ll be doing something. Why? Because I have to. Because otherwise it will be boring. Now the something I do might be knitting baby shoes, but at least it won’t be nothing. Even if I give the shoes away. (Of note, Robert volunteers at the hospital. A lot of the other volunteers are young, single mothers on public assistance. If that’s not a requirement in CO – x number of volunteer hours might be – at least these women are trying to do SOMEHING.)
What I’m trying to say here is what Jerry said in 08: learn another trade, learn another skill, take another job, do something. If everything else is barred, start cleaning your house and make it really clean. It will take your mind away from how much trouble we’re heading into, and it might give you another skill that helps you survive.
My other advice would be “don’t be proud.” Yes, I felt terrible, coming from a Latin country with its ideas of honor, with the equivalent of an MA + in my pocket, going to work as a clerk. I felt it was “demeaning.” (One is a fool at 22, okay?)
I no longer feel that way. Demeaning would have been sitting at home waiting for something magical to happen. (Starvation is pretty magical.)
Working retail took nothing off me, and it helped me a side of the culture I would not normally run into. It also helped me realize at an early age that intelligence, ability and employment are NOT covalent. Some of my co-workers were dumb enough you wondered how they tied their shoes. Some were brilliant.
You are not what you do. If circumstances close it off (and we’re living in a time of catastrophic change, so it’s almost guaranteed) you might have to pick up at a much lower/much weirder/much different job. You do it, and you move on. And you try to improve your lot every time. Flipping burgers or drawing coffees will not reduce your “Status” because that’s internal, it’s who you are. You do what you have to. What will reduce your status is failing to look after yourself and yours.
We have this idea of people getting a job with a company and staying there fifty years. Maybe this happened at one time, but probably not over most of the time, in history. For most of history people had work collapse under them and move, and learned new skills. And the high-performers were always those who jumped from job to job, bettering their lot. The ones who stayed in the same line assembly job for life might be secure. They were also, usually, stuck.
Yes, I know, it’s preposterous to think of starting again at fifty or sixty. But honestly, that’s a function of how long we’re living. We can now pick up a new career at fifty and work at it twenty five years, easy. This used to be impossible. I’m glad to live now, not then.
It’s good not to be old at fifty, and if I have to start again, I will.
Now, keep in mind this applies to me only marginally. Unless both traditional AND indie collapse, I should be able to write for money TM. And if they both collapse, I’m in more trouble than having to start a new career. BUT if my income falls below a certain level, I’ll have to find a way to supplement, so it also applies. (It might require a tardis, of course. I’m already full-up.) In my old age (ah!) I am writing non fic at beginner prices. And if you don’t think that’s a different art… let me tell you.
I hear so many people say “I was working, then my job went away, and I didn’t know how to do anything else” and I wonder if that’s true, if those people really exist. I can’t imagine one of us doing that. Because doing nothing is boring. If you don’t work, you die – inside as well as for lack of sustenance. And while there’s life, there’s hope.
We do, we try, we learn. And if the rug gets yanked from under our feet, we dust ourselves off and we go on. While there’s life, there’s hope.