Saturday, January 7, 2012

What Do You Call Work?

Just read an interesting post.  Miss Snark's First Victim - Friday Fricassee  In the post, Authoress asks the question of writers, when someone asks what you're doing, do you say "writing" or "working"?

An interesting point made is that a lot of artistic types, don't say "working".  An actor may say they have a rehearsal or are practicing lines.  A painter is painting, a writer is writing, etc.

So why is creative work labeled differently than "normal" work?  And should it be?

I can see why people use other terms than "work" for artistic work.  I think part of it is that most people can't do it, so they don't relate to it like they would to a "real" job.  They see it as doing something you enjoy, so how is that work?  It's even worse if you're not supporting yourself financially through your art.  Then it's just a hobby, right?  So how is that work?

To be fair, I also know a lot of people who have similar impressions of professional athletes, they're just playing games, so how is that work?  Especially, why do these people make all that money for playing games?

So maybe the real question should  be why do we have such an ambivalent attitude towards work?  

There was a guy I used to work with, many companies ago, who was called (for reasons not related to this story) Crazy Jeff. During the time I knew him, Jeff was probably in his early to mid 30s, and we worked at a chemical plant.  Nothing too hazardous, especially compared to some of the places I've worked since.

While I knew him, every time someone left the company (voluntarily or not) Jeff would always say, "They can't leave, they haven't suffered enough yet."

The weird part was, while no one really would say they agreed with him, no one really objected to the idea either.  It was like they all felt it was unfair that they had to stay in such a crapsack job, while these people got to leave, probably for somewhere better (better pay, better benefits, better conditions, etc.).  The interesting part, to me, was the automatic assumption that anywhere else would be an improvement.

To be fair, I have worked at places since then that have been both much better and much worse than that one was, even for the guys in production.  But I've seen the same attitude at many of them, even some of the better ones.     

So why doesn't everyone follow the advice of Joseph Campbell: "Follow your bliss"?

Of course, who's bliss would involve most of the jobs shown on the series Dirty Jobs?  Seriously, there are a lot of jobs that are necessary for our society to continue, even ones that aren't so obviously disgusting, that I doubt most people would qualify as following their bliss.  Maybe there are some people who would love to spend their days amortizing mortgages or typing and sorting employee records.  But I've never met ones that really love their factory jobs, at least not at the chemical plants I've worked for.  Some did feel they were the best jobs they'd had, but it was still just what they did for a paycheck.  It's not like they'd do this on their own time.

So maybe that's part of the problem, we view work, to paraphrase Twain, as that which we have to do, while play is what we choose to do.  So if you love your job, it isn't work.  But since so many of these jobs have to be done, we have this idea of the superiority of suffering.  Those with the worst jobs, who suffer the most, have a certain pride, because those with easy jobs are just playing.

It seems kind of screwed up to me.  But then again, without that sense of pride, how could you keep on doing those kinds of jobs?  I mean, is it really worth the paycheck?  I've even had jobs where I had to justify to myself why I was doing them for the crappy paycheck I was getting.  So I tell myself the job was important, or that there was something good about it.  I had to convince myself that it was worth spending my time doing it, in direct contrast to the obvious fact that it was a crappy job, I hated it, and it didn't pay me nearly enough.

So is it okay to say we're working, even if we love what we do?  Personally, I think so.  I think if it is what you are doing, especially if it is something you get paid for, then it's work.  If it's something you are doing that you aren't getting paid for yet, I think it can still be work, especially if you are trying to get paid for it.  I am writing.  I haven't sold any of my books yet.  However, it's still work, because I'm trying to sell them.  I also include the time I spend researching agents, preparing queries and so on as part of my work as well.  I'll also count the time I spend studying the craft of writing, editing, publishing and so on as part of my work, because it is.

But I also love doing all that stuff.

So what about everyone else?  Work, play, hobby, love suffering, what are your thoughts?

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