Friday, September 27, 2013

A Working Issue

Punchin' that time clock

Work -- what constitutes it, and how much it is valued by society, is something that all of us grapple with at one time or another.  People tell us to "do what we love" when it comes to a career choice, but paying the bills, having decent health care, and earning enough to provide a semi-comfortable lifestyle also all factor into the mix.

When I was younger, I worked at a couple of jobs in the city where my work space was a cubicle.  At one job, my cubicle had no view whatsoever, and in the other, I had a window which overlooked the employee parking lot and the city beyond it.  Both jobs were miserable for me, however, because I am simply not a cubicle person.  I vividly remember sitting in my cube and staring out that window one Christmas Eve afternoon, in tears, realizing that, once again, my son would be the last child picked up at day care.  I vowed to get out of cubicle work at that moment, moving towards a life where I had more independence and didn't have to punch such an unforgiving time clock. I eventually made good on that promise by getting hired as a substitute teacher, and going back to school and getting a full teaching credential.

But I know people who are not bothered a bit by working in cubicles.  They stick pictures of their latest vacations, of their kids, and of scenic vistas they hope to visit someday on their walls, along with the sticky notes about upcoming meetings and people to call back.  And they keep their heads down and put in their time, almost happily, it seems. Almost.

Cubicle Land would never be a place that worked for me, and I was lucky to realize, eventually, that anything requiring 8 hours a day of your one and only LIFE should be done in a place you either find beautiful or at least exciting.  And so I left the cube forever. The jobs I was happiest at where always the ones where I could be outdoors for at least part of the day, anyway. As a teacher, I had the freedom to take my students outdoors on nice days and sit under a shady tree to read our library books, and when there was a thunderstorm I relocated them to the cafeteria, where the windows were big and they could watch nature's light show safely.  

But to be in a cubicle, where the sunny days and thunderstorms passed unnoticed?  That was no life, in my book.

And honestly, if teaching had not been an option, I would have become a minimum wage gardener rather than remaining in a cubicle as a highly paid office-type person.

But what exactly is Work?  Homesteading is work -- hard work, too. But no one I know is able to actually make living at it.  You need to be doing something else: consulting from home, writing bestselling books about Peak Oil, or living off a spouse who has a good job outside the home in order to make successful homesteading happen.  

Our great-grandparents discovered the same thing; it was what led them to take jobs in town while still doing a little farming on the side.  The old joke my great-grandfather told about farming turns out to be true:  Q: What does it take to be a successful farmer?  A: A wife with a good job in town.

And so it's been with some trepidation that I've cautiously returned to work -- work with a small "w." No all-consuming career for me at this point in my life, please.  And not too early, either. I absolutely hate getting up before the sun does and I hate making a dawn commute, rushing into town with everyone else so we can all get wherever we are going by 8 a.m. sharp, only emerging from our little cubicles as the sun is going down and another day is over, forever. I will be the first person to tell you I'm lucky to have a spouse who happens to love his job and loves putting in the long hours it takes to do it, and luckier still that his job pays well.  Because I'm just not an 8 - 5 gal, and probably never will be.  I'd be a teacher again, or a gardener, or a freelance writer.  But I can't live in a cubicle.

And so, work outside the home has become an afternoon occupation...I work at the winery, which I love, and other afternoons I substitute teach, which I also love.  And that leaves my mornings for caring for livestock, watering crops, hanging wash and processing tomatoes.  

Sometimes it's not one, all consuming full-time job we need, but rather a series of small, part-time ones, where we are doing something different every day.  And when you're working your land and living simply, what you do at home matters enough to count as a job, albeit one where there are no cubicles and no windows; just the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.


  1. Such a wonderfully crafted post. As I often say I just so appreciate the detail and skill of your writing. This is actually something that has been on my mind a lot lately. I've been trying to figure out my personal balance of money and time. Too much "time" for passions and hobbies and one doesn't have the money to support them. Working too much one may have the money but not that time. Obviously not a new concept but I think it's a different balance for everyone. Sometimes I think what good is the money to me if I get home and I'm too tired to go out and tend the property I'm working so hard to afford? If only I were more patient and less irritable I could just marry rich. Haha!

    1. Oh you are so right. It IS all about the balance. Time and quality of life versus money is a huge life issue for creative people like you and me. And it's true that having a spouse does make it easier (financially and otherwise), it's got to be the *right* spouse and finding that takes time! But you will make a wonderful husband, so I know you will find him eventually! I have no doubts about that.