Archive for the ‘work’ Category


The Lost Blogs of W-OZ

June 30, 2010

Don’t be too harsh to these poems until they’re typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction. • Dylan Thomas, letter to Vernon Watkins, March 1938

I write. If you know me, you know that no comments you make are safe because if you say something even mildly amusing I’m likely to record it on an ever-present 3×5 card. My family knows this is true. I remind them by quoting them, providing the date and other provenance for their bon mots. (Josh, remember when you told your dad and I that you didn’t want to work in a group with someone who thought Art Deco was a big band leader?)

I write. I write to comfort myself. I write to remind myself. I write to record things that I want to remember. I write to think. I write to create. I write to discover why. I write to save moments I don’t want to forget. I write because it is the only way I will be able to recall what it was like to be me, now, in this moment. I write to capture silliness like the Real Housewife of New Jersey who said of another that “she’s like parsley; she’s everywhere.” A real-life example of a simile is hard to come by and now I have one. Bravo, Bravo!

Writing is not my problem. Word processing is.

As an artist who works with pen and ink and scissors, I am keenly aware that I need to preserve my ability to use my fine motor skills, yet as a twenty-first century worker, I am also keenly aware that the demands on my hands have never been greater. My ability to record, to respond, to generate, to immerse myself in a sea of words of my own creation has never been greater. The temptations and possibilities and expectations of electronic communication overwhelm me.

I write. I write my blog with a Pilot BP-S fine point pen. Black ink. In a dollar store journal. You know the kind. The one with the old familiar black and white cover that provides two-hundred pages of lined paper to fill. Sometimes I write directly on the keyboard that leads to the screen, but before I can, I have to generate the ideas and the blank screen seldom inspires my creativity. Blank pages do.

I have tried dictating my thoughts, but I’m not an oral/aural writer. I need to see what I am thinking. And I need to capture it quickly before another thought overtakes it. There’s something about the connection between my brain and my hand that works differently than when I try to use voice recognition software to record what I want to say. When I try to speak my thoughts without writing them down, I am quickly lost in not-remembering.

And so, I write. And someday soon they’ll appear, The Lost Blogs of W-OZ. The missing days of band names and travel thoughts and written ramblings about this and thatery that I’ve been writing, but not recording here in the certainty and seriousness of type.

What is your writing process? What are your writing challenges?

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. • Vita Sackville-West


Where I Am, Where I’ve Been, And Where I’m Gonna Be

June 24, 2010

For Thursday, June 16, 2010

Most of us just want to do what we can in the best way we can and we hope others will understand. We get damn tired of explaining, though, what we can’t do. It’s not excuse-making, it’s not oppositional behavior, it’s not reveling in being difficult, it’s us knowing who and what we are and trying to survive. • Dr. Pauline Wayne

Between prepping for courses and for conference presentations and grappling with registration challenges, I’ve been spending way too much time on the computer lately. I’ve been reminded of why I quit the world of graphic design some years ago, foolishly thinking that teaching would mean less time onscreen. And it used to. But no more. Pushing back is all I can do.

Too much time focused on the technological blessingcurse of the computer can trigger visual disturbances and migraine headaches, not to mention pain in my hands and wrists if I overindulge in keyboardery. I do my best to manage these problems by stopping, commonsensical advice provided by a doctor more than two decades ago.

I’m on such a stoppage now, doing only the absolutely necessary computer stuff.

And that brings up a bit of student success information. Sometimes teachers don’t do what you would like for them to do, but sometimes they have reasons for not doing it. For example, I do not take student work electronically because I cannot read it onscreen and I am not willing to expend time and energy trying to print it out so that I can look at hard copy. Some files open. Some do not. And by the time I get work printed, I could have read and commented on it, a far better use of my time.

Not everything that others do is intended to make your life miserable, nor does it provide evidence of their unwillingness to be accommodating. Sometimes it has to do with their well-being and their ability to sustain a productive life.

What accommodations do you make with life in order to sustain your energy and enthusiasm for the things you need to accomplish?

It was ability that mattered, not disability, which is a word I’m not crazy about using. • Marlee Matlin

P.S. I’ve been writing old-school—pen and journal—and will be slowly catching you up as I can.


A Job Well Done Is Its Own Reward, but I Like Money Too

May 10, 2010

Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.
• Horace

All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.
• Aristotle

Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy. If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you’ll like yourself, you’ll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined.
• Johnny Carson

I just tried to make a list of all the jobs I’ve done for pay in my lifetime. I’m doing this because yesterday was Mother’s Day, a celebration of the unpaid work of millions, and because I’m reading Gabriel Thompson’s (2010) book, Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs [Most] Americans Won’t Do. Thompson reports from the front lines of picking lettuce, working in a poultry slaughterhouse, and tempting death as a Manhattan bicycle delivery boy.

Unlike Barbara Ehrenreich’s (2001) minimum wage adventures in Nickel and Dimed, Thompson isn’t attempting to live on his earnings; he’s just trying to survive the work.

I’ve been a babysitter, a seamstress times two: designing and making clothing for other people and sewing pockets on pants in a huge warehouse with dozens of other women. I’ve been a short order cook and I’ve made chocolate- butterscotch- and strawberry-dipped soft serve ice cream cones. I’ve sold fabric and radio advertising. I’ve been a graphic designer and worked a cash register.

I’ve written newspaper columns and feature articles and radio advertising copy. I’ve created character voices for radio commercials. I’ve painted houses and cleaned them. I’ve picked strawberries. I’ve taught high school English and radio and lots of college courses. I once got paid fifty cents apiece for calligraphied names and titles on certificates.

Until I went back to school to become a teacher, my jobs were sometimes interesting yet mostly paid minimum wage (the piecework of pocket sewing paid extremely well if you were fast, ditto painting houses). Ehrenreich’s essential question, from the introduction to her book is this: “How does anyone live on the wages available to the unskilled?” (p. 1) Sometimes low wages go to the skilled as well. There are many jobs that do not pay well and I have worked a number of them. Interesting work is purported to be its own reward, but I have never found this to be entirely true.

In the foreword to Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, Studs Terkel’s (1974) interviews with people about their jobs. Terkel’s quest to understand people and their work is described: “Mr. Terkel found work was a search, sometimes successful, sometimes not, ‘for daily meaning as well as daily bread.’”

I want both. Meaning and bread. I imagine most people do, yet the disparity among wages is particularly dramatic in this country. I don’t have an answer for this problem. The outrageous salaries of sports figures are justified by those who support them because the players’ career lifetime is short, but the ability to do backbreaking minimum wage jobs is also time-limited. Teaching is not poorly paid compared to many jobs, yet it’s considered overpaid by some very vocal commentators.

Read Johnson’s book and you’ll realize that even a task like lettuce-cutting is artful work, requiring practice and skill. Regardless of the job someone is doing, s/he deserves a wage that will provide what the striking textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, wanted in 1912. “We Want Bread and Roses Too,” the mill girls’ signs proclaimed.

What are you looking for in a job? If you had to choose between an extremely generous salary and boring work or a barely adequate salary and satisfying work, which would you choose?

It does not seem to be true that work necessarily needs to be unpleasant. It may always have to be hard, or at least harder than doing nothing at all. But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life.
• Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990),
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience