In honor of our labors…
I see them all hanging up before me, like clothes on a rack, all the jobs, tinker, tailor, soldier, and you have to pick one and then you have to pretend for the rest of your life that that’s what you are.-Graham Swift, Last Orders
How many people are unhappy with their jobs? Fifty-one percent, according to one poll.
So what am I?
- Animal Shelter Employee (before no kill): “We wanted our children to experience the miracle of birth.” Said a woman as she dropped off a litter of puppies. Her children didn’t hang around for the exit of life, though. Life is a miracle not to be thrown away or dropped off at a shelter.
- Pet Shop Employee: I knew shit, literally. I might make a difference if I educated pet owners, I thought. What average person is capable of caring for a caiman (smallish alligator, less than 13ft.)? No one I met.
- Retail, part-time: I watched grown adults tear off the front door to grab a toy and then attack each other for an ugly doll. Besides the consumerist greed crap, I left for a full-time job.
- Lunch Lady (a.k.a. galley wench): I never saw a paycheck (or minimum wage). I traded labor for my daughter’s school tuition, kindergarten through eighth grade. (best trade ever)
- Artist: I taught myself to paint for joy. Then I sold art at craft shows for lunch money while being a lunch lady/mom/wife.
- Real Artist Gig: An architect hired me for a church renovation. I earned the best paycheck of my life. While on scaffolding under a crucifix, the song Nearer My God To Thee ran through my head. The architect would’ve kept me on if I was willing to travel. I stayed nearer to God and chose to raise a family with help from family.
- Greenhouse Worker (two different garden centers): Hard physical work made harder by unethical practices (second greenhouse) and a boss who wondered why I didn’t answer when he called me Nancy (first greenhouse). “Why aren’t you answering me?” He asked. “Because my name isn’t Nancy.” “Are you sure?” He asked.
- Custom Drapery Representative: Second best paying job, commission. I worked weekends and evenings. This didn’t work for my family. Gosh, and I despised draperies especially pinch pleats.
- Support Team in Retail: Unloaded freight for a company that stated; Employee Appreciation Luncheon, bring a covered dish. Also, a male employee and I received the same level of review. He received a .41 raise, me .14. I asked if the numbers weren’t accidentally inverted. They were not.
- Cleaning Lady: People look down on you and walk over you, literally while on your knees scrubbing their floor. Plus, the boss refused to pay us for the time to unload our equipment and launder the rags. He expected thirty minutes for free from each of his employees every day. I asked for the fair treatment of my coworkers before I left. As I walked past the BMW he bought his sixteen-year-old son, He said, “Sorry, I can’t do that. I have too much overhead.”
- Writer: I woke at 4 a.m. to write before other jobs. I’d do this work for free. Mostly, I do. Most humbling, most rewarding, and also hardest. Writing: a fun job with no dress code.
There were more jobs. Many times I worked jobs in pairs. Full-time was hard to find. Benefits were non-existent in service jobs. I never chose a career, one-size fits all that lasts forever. I feel that I traded a career for education in the human condition. The education gave me a degree of fearlessness. I was never afraid to change or try to change what no longer served.
What am I? Based on my sordid work history, a galley wench and cleaner of shit artist who loves plants and animals but despised draperies doesn’t know her own name and is less than a man and/or everyone else? Confusing, huh?
What am I? If I define what I am by societal standards, then I am a failure.
If, instead, I ask myself, “Do I like who I am inside?” and, “Did I give the best I had at the time?” and answer yes, I am successful despite what I do. Success and what I am then defy the standards set by society.
I hope your Labor Day was a happy one.