Thursday, April 19, 2012

Making a Living

I´ve been focusing on job-related stuff lately. Business cards too Dickensian? Linked in instead? Facebook? Tweeter? Resumes, forums, blogs, social media, selling yourself, marketing, positioning, strategizing, honing, targeting. Glossy websites with endless photos of smiling manequins bathed in the cool glow of computer screens and artfully seated around shiny plastic conference tables.

And I happened across a new blog - Of the Hands. Joel is working on a farm with a CSA in the northwestern United States. He presents an interesting reflection on the difference between what´s thought of as making a living as opposed to having a job.

I’ve played this game. I worked in the electronics department at Fred Meyer, a general retailer here in the Northwest, doing a variety of jobs over the course of six years. I made an hourly wage and received benefits and this job allowed me to continue to legally live on this planet, in this society, and gave me the means to distract myself from the various ways in which my life failed to satisfy me. The job was a slot and I filled it. It didn’t particularly make me happy and it certainly didn’t provide me with fulfilling work. It was a means to an end–it was a job to be worked, not a living to be made.

I think of making a living as something different. In my mind, there’s more meaning to it. These days, I don’t want a job. I want to make a living. And there is a certain literality in that term. In making a living, I want to be making something and I want to be making my life. This is why, in the last few years, I’ve turned to farming. With farming, I’m helping to make food while simultaneously crafting a new sort of existence for myself. I am making meaning within my life and creating happiness and joy and a connection to the land upon and community within which I live. In as much as this is the case, I then gain satisfaction from my work.

I have spent a lot of time in cubicles shuffling papers. There was that brief flash of the revolution in the 90´s when it looked like creativity and individuality and bringing your dog to work might have a shot at succeeding, but that turned out to be all smoke and mirrors. But the job finding process has become completely ridiculous and adversarial. Writing a resume has devolved into an exercise in justifying your entire existance. The HR dept is looking for reasons to ¨screen¨ or reject any applicant. There are 30 minute interviews during which no one, neither the employer nor the potential employee gets any sense at all of what the job is or if either suits the other.

I think the process of applying for a job speaks to how inhumane many jobs are. You first find an open position that seems as though it might not be entirely soul-destroying, then put together a resume and write a cover letter for that job–which is, essentially, an act of advertising oneself, often in a whorish manner. Then you wait too long for a response that may or may not come and hope for an interview, which–should it even occur–will often lurch its way through awkward questions and suffer from anxiety and terrifying optimism, quiet desperation and need, and will almost certainly bear no resemblance to normal human interaction. . .

This is a horrid way to find work. Granted, I realize there are plenty of people out there who experience the above process in a more positive manner and there also are those who feed off the challenge of it. Even so, what is particularly human or humane about this process? There is rarely any sense of honesty or care to it, and it most often serves as a winnowing–a battle, a competition.

It seems to me there is profound consternation, that now even the cubicle drone jobs are disappearing. Spain has produced an entire generation of educated youth who stand ever-shrinking chances of finding ¨a paying job¨. Especially in the all-austerity-all-the-time world we live in. And yet, society is still focused with laser-like intensity on contemporary western lifestyles with the city/suburban flat, car, job commute, and electronic toys.

I think the ¨recortes¨ or cuts are going to be ever greater and arriving ever faster, and we´re going to have to reconisider what is generally regarded as a viable career. When we see V´s 20-something nieces and nephews, it´s hard to know what to say to them. They´re studying, and traveling and full of half-sketched plans to graduate and work, and perhaps emmigrate. But where? To do what? For whom?

Joel again:

In fact, I have little faith that a traditional job would provide me the sort of security that others think it would. I see us moving toward a future in which we will have dramatically less access to wealth and energy. In such a future, most of today’s retirement schemes will have ceased to exist but the sort of retirement scheme that has existed throughout most of human history–a base of knowledge and skills through which to prove and provide your worth–will be particularly relevant. So rather than build a 401k, I am learning how to grow food and raise animals, how to work the land, how to live with little money and energy, how to enjoy physical labor, how to be okay with extra blankets and less heat, how to entertain myself without benefit of TV or video games (cats work wonderfully in this regard, as do various kinds of poultry, as does observing and interacting with the land) and how to set up and piece together alternative energy systems. I am also learning to figure it out as I go, and I think that’s a skill that will be overwhelmingly useful in the near future.

I want to go north and get dirty (actually muddy because it´s finally raining again in Galicia) but instead I have to proofread my resume again.


  1. Hey, good luck with the job-hunting...

    I've thought for a long time that this situation where everyone is employed by someone else is simply a blip in the history of humankind. It's hard for us to adjust, because it's all our generation has ever known and come to expect, but I think we have to be more flexible in our "making a living" choices (and I don't mean flexible in the way that the new labour reforms in Spain are going).

  2. It does seem like flexible these days is just another way of saying ¨bend over¨.