I love and hate work. I feel like I have been working since the day I was born and I’m tired of it. I feel like without work, I couldn’t understand the world. Work has dragged me down into the deepest depths I have ever been in, emotionally. Work has lifted me up into the highest levels of mastery that I have ever experienced. I want to stop working. I never want to stop.
These statements are contrasts, technically opposites. But they are the contrasting tones that together create a single image — this American life. Our economy, executed. I dwell on work because of how much I have experienced it — and yes, because of how much I have hated it. And loved it. That conundrum, that conflict, that unsolvable riddle is why I can’t stop working. I have left my work and begun a new work — my pursuit of not working.
But to be successful, I must work. I must work harder than I worked at my previous career, which I left because of overwork. I must put my head down and take step after step into the blizzard of work ahead of me. The important thing, now, is that this work is mine. I work not for something someone else believes in, but what I believe in. Which makes it both easier and harder. Money is not yet involved in this state I seek. For now, I seek it solely because I believe in it. Yes, I hope that money will find me down this path, but that isn’t what it’s really about.
My work in pursuit of not working continues visually as well. This project has been very good soul searching for me. I have met great people. I have seen really interesting things. I have been allowed to set this same interest down in memory. I have thought deep thoughts. It feels so good and I am glad for it.
Andy Phillips. Andy and I used to be neighbors. He lived with his partner in the apartment above mine. I witnessed his life, at the very least by ear, for a time. We spoke occasionally but really I saw his life in negative spaces. Not spending a lot of time directly together but still engaging indirectly in the details of living within one building. But now in the pursuit of this project I get to see his life in the positive space, to participate in it.
Andy is a metalworker. He welds, cuts, carves, polishes, shaves, etches and just generally fastens the heavy, long-lasting materials of our society into structures that serve us. He is a man that seems very genuine and honest. He is what he seems to be. This is a man easy to like, even as he uses a hardened wheel spinning rapidly enough to defy perception to sever a piece of the hardest material available. He works in an environment that is both cultivated and raw. He is as he is and he makes no excuses. It is beautiful.
Sean Moore. A complex man. Like many of us, he likes to stay interested. He’s been a salesman, a fisherman and other things. But now he’s a mechanic because finally, he realized this is something he can care about. This is something that provides enough interest to balance on the tightrope that exists between making money and creating brain cells. He works on cars not because it pays the bills alone but because he has decided that it is the best compromise between boredom and income.
Ryan Tabb is a man chasing his dreams. Sheltered in the structure of someone else’s garage he sews and creates the gear he enjoys using. He shows excitement at the idea of making things for other people. A friendly, open man he focuses on what he knows to get ahead. You can get involved in business by competition and enjoying keeping others down or you can see business from the angle of taking care of yourself and the people connected to you; Ryan sees the latter and he has his eyes on the work.
Carrie Lewis defies structure. Starting as a child in her large family she has had to compete, to find herself, not be afraid to work for what she wants, and to get out and find a place elsewhere in the world other than where she was born. She is a jack of all trades, a person of many skills. Plaster is one tiny part of who she is, but it fits into the whole. She executes it with the same skill and focus that she does anything else.
Katie is a free and open person. She struggles not to smile. She paints portraits with the same method that she uses to live her life. Trying to leave the restaurant industry behind she is focused hard on getting ahead and being able to integrate painting and illustration into her life in a way that creates stable income. Not to get rich, but just so she can relax. The service industry can sap your ability to live a healthy life; she rebels against this.
Anne-Marie has a strong energy. She is a confident person of ideas. The Soap Queen, she moves about her social media studio with a focus that she brings to everything about her business. She cares for her employees and understands that running a business isn’t about making money but about taking care of the people who help you and using your collective to build something.
But the problem is Andy, Sean, Ryan, Carrie, Katie and Ann-Marie — they are so much more than the work they do. This is only one facet of themselves. Sure, it shines hard — this is why I sought them out. But it isn’t their whole being. They are just people in the structure of our society. Wanting to be themselves but not wanting to be homeless or poverty-stricken. Their work is important to them, but it is not who they are. They’re just good people, existing inside a culture of work.
There is some other plane of existence inside our culture that the people who struggle most efficiently can reach. It is a combination of work and love. It is the whole comprised of the duality of struggle and rest. Within the structure of our economy — that maybe you hate, that often I hate — you can reach happiness. It is like sudoku — try something and then check it. If you are paying attention; if you really care enough, you can find a place for what you love. Perhaps you will have to let the market refine it, have to adjust the dream to make it fit, but there is a way. These people demonstrate that.
Maybe this is what they are experiencing. That look on their face. Maybe this is what speaks to them from the next level of existence. They’ve found the way to get ahead. The structure of our economy can be a barrier to how we want to live. But as with most structure, if you stop raging and find a way to use your intellect within its boundaries you can find a way to get what you want. Accept this is the structure of our lives, love the hate you have for it. Game it. And win.
The most interesting part or perhaps greatest danger is that when you win the game, you may find you have come to love the rules. What once you would have changed, its changed you instead.