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. But work has lifted me into the highest levels of mastery that I have ever experienced. I want to stop working right now. I never want to stop working.
These statements are contrasts, technically opposites. But they are the contrasting tones that together create a single image — this American life. Our economy, executed in the medium of our lives. 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 the output of this work belongs to me. I work not for something someone else believes in, but what I believe in. Which makes it both easier and harder.
To serve the idea of working without working, I conceived a project centered on people who work. This project has been a good soul searching exercise for me. I have met great people. I have seen really interesting things. I have been allowed to set this interest down in indelible memory. I have thought deep thoughts.
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 him in negative spaces. Not spending a lot of time directly together but still engaging indirectly in the day to day of living within one building. But in pursuit of this project I was able to experience Andy in positive spaces and actually get to know him.
Andy Phillips, Metalworker, Black Fin Design.
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 person 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.
Sean Moore, Auto Mechanic.
Sean Moore. A complex man. Like many of us, he likes to stay interested in what he does. He’s been a salesman, a fisherman and other things. He’s now a mechanic because he realized this is something he can care about. It’s something that provides enough interest to balance successfully on the tightrope 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, Gear Manufacturer.
Ryan Tabb is a man chasing his dreams. Sheltered in the structure of someone else’s garage he sews and creates gear he enjoys using. He’s excited 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 community; Ryan sees the latter and he has his eyes on the work.
Carrie Lewis, Natural Builder and Plasterer.
Carrie Lewis defies structure. Since she was a child in her large family she has had to compete, to find herself, not be afraid to work for what she wants, and escape the place she was born into. 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 everything else.
Katie Johnson, Artist and Painter.
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 Faiola, Business Owner. Soap Queen.
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 thing 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 I often hate — you can reach happiness. If you are paying attention, if you really care enough, you can find a place for you and 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 structures, if you 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.