Faces of Work

In my experience, what we might call the architecture of work is not the same for freelancers as it is for full-time employees of organizations. The idea—and the doing—of work hang differently on a sole proprietor’s frame than they do on a company’s. For one thing, when you’re on your own, it’s your job to build the frame itself—as well as to make whatever you’re going to fill it in with!

Powersuit Making Workshop at the Wassaic Art Festival 2012

Maybe you’ll make a powersuit!

When you start out to work for yourself, there is no path or plan ahead of you. There is no preexisting ladder to climb or maze to figure out: you have to make your own goals and your own route to reach them. There are no preordained titles to aspire to: you have to decide what you want to be called. There are no rules to chafe against: if the company culture sucks at You LLC, it’s YOU who has to change!

Woman standing in a green garden with a rake

Sarah, YOU should never change! You’re great.

These and many other aspects of work have been on my mind lately. Simultaneously, I’ve recently found myself captivated by others’ musings on work. Rather than try to deduce whether the chicken or the egg came first, I’ll just share two perspectives that have most recently tugged at my brain-strings.

Blonde woman with sewing machine

Another Sarah tugs at another type of strings.

  • “The Spirit of Work” by Marie Corelli. The variously regarded English novelist and mystic touches on lots of potent themes in this fin de siècle essay, such as the attitude of the worker determining the quality of the work; the weirdness of humans trying to elevate and separate themselves from the brilliant workings of nature; the notion that the having of love makes anything easy and the lack of it makes anything hard; the recommendation that everyone should learn a trade as part of their education; the misuse of the word “common” as an insult; and the fact that “‘gentlemen’ are not made by position, but by conduct.”
    Man holding cup on roof

    Neil T is a gentleman whether he’s working or working it

    Among many other gems (and some hyperbole I am actually not down with, such as basically suggesting that people never take a day off), Corelli also invokes Goethe, whose “inspiring lines should animate the mind and brace the energies of every worker :—.

    ‘Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute,
    Whatever you can do, or dream you can—begin it;
    Boldness has genius, power, magic in it;
    Only engage,—and then the mind grows heated;
    Begin!—and then the work will be completed.’ ”

    If that doesn’t get you jazzed to do something, perhaps you would feel more at home in the company of the “toadies, time-servers, and hypocrites of the community” whom Corelli depicts as crawling “before a trumpery ‘title’ as abjectly as a beaten cur trails its body along in the dust under the whip of its master.” Dang, girl! Sing it. Nice use of “trumpery,” too.

    Woman opening bottle of wine while camping

    Cynthia has never committed trumpery in her life.

  • Jerry Seinfeld interviewed by David Remnick. A century or so after Corelli, top-tier funny guy Seinfeld dropped such interesting insights about work during this exchange that I listened to it all the way through twice. When Remnick asked him what made him think he could be a comedian, he said:
    .
     ………“The truth is, I really didn’t think that I could. And I didn’t really care whether I could or I couldn’t. I just got to this point where I was so in love with it that I just decided, ‘What’s the difference?’ It seemed much more important to me to do the thing you want to do than success or failure.
    .
    ……….“This is 1975, you know, and we were still [in] a little bit of the vapors of the ’60s, where you did what you believed in. It wasn’t a ‘success’ culture, it was more of a ‘soul’ culture, I think.”
    .
    Soul culture!! Who among my fellow Gen X’ers—we who are coming to terms with our vocational destinies while wading through a waist-deep culture-sea frothy with vocoded singing, native advertising, and a bank storefront in every formerly vacant lot—does not envy this description of someone’s adolescent zeitgeist?!

    Man with headphones and laptop in easy chair

    Drew’s productions might occasionally involve a vocoder, but they remain excellent.

    A bit later, Remnick asked Seinfeld how long it takes him to prepare an hour-long stand-up show. He replied:

     ………“That’s like asking God how much time goes into an oak tree. He says, ‘I don’t know. I do it every day, I do it all day. I don’t know, I plant the tree, it grows, eventually it’s an oak tree, who the hell cares? It’s all I can do. I don’t know.'”

I think all of us—freelancers or employees, plumbers or pundits—do well to meditate on work and our relationship with it from time to time. Whether it’s been hunting our food to eat, breaking rocks in the hot sun to appease the man, or selling insurance to yacht owners, people have always spent lots of our time working. Let’s do what we can to make it time well spent.

Woman standing in office Lichtenstein

Yours truly working hard—or hardly working?!—in arts administration circa 2006.

2017: Greatest Hits

Is there a five-second rule equivalent for saying, “Happy New Year”? Like, is it still reasonable to say it on January 13? I guess I’ll find out.

Happy New Year, readers! Let’s celebrate the arrival of 2018 by kissing 2017 goodbye in style: with my annual end-of-year newsletter!

I Peace NY sign in lights

Hark! The holidays!

This year, I got into…

  • Women with guns
  • The art(s) of community development
  • Fighting plastic waste in oceans
  • The future of work
  • Audio engineering day camps for girls
  • Ridiculous party games
  • A 26′ moving truck… for 2,000 miles

If this year-end-stravaganza didn’t already hit your inbox, you can peep it here, and even sign up to get one next year!

Peace out—or really, peace in! I’m psyched to be starting 2018 with you.

2,000 miles of driving, 26 feet of truck, & uncountable marionettes: Mom’s miraculous move to Brooklyn

My mom had thought about moving back to Brooklyn, New York (from whence she came in the 1940s) from her adopted home of Colorado for many years. But when the time finally came to load up a big, bad Penske truck and drive it the 2,000 miles over here, my husband and I noticed something.

She hadn’t packed. At all.

Man and woman standing in moving truck

Arthur & Mom share a “ruh roh” moment in the Penske

As we walked around the large house she’d owned for almost 40 years, the house we’d budgeted about two days to liquidate before starting our drive, our thoughts were roughly split between, “Whaaaa?” and “How in god’s name are we going to do this?”

I chalk my mom’s lack of prep work up to a few things: not having moved in decades and forgetting how long it takes; deciding to take the relocation plunge on relatively short notice; and having struck an agreement with the buyer of her property that she didn’t have to leave it empty. Still, it was something of a jaw-dropper.

Fortuitously for us, my best bud from junior high, pictured above (who served as Gay of Honor at our wedding last fall), has orchestrated a few large-scale events in his time, and knew exactly how to pack a moving truck to perfection. Equally wonderfully, my mom was decisive about what she wanted to keep and what could stay behind, and my amazing huzz shuttled furniture and boxes to and fro for two straight days with a smile on his face.

After I’d snapped photos of my childhood home from every angle I could imagine, and taken one last soda-buying trip to the 7-11 behind our house (site of untold quarters spent on video games and untold numbers of dental cavities brought about by its bountiful, cursed pouches of Big League Chew), we were all loaded up and ready to go—a whole half day ahead of schedule!

Man screaming as woman drives moving truck

Mom takes the wheel

Farm silos from a car on the highway

The great Midwest

The week that followed, as I look back on it now, was a blur of $100 diesel fuel tabs, nights spent on midwest relatives’ couch beds, and the seemingly innumerable marionettes that hang from the ceiling of Rudy’s Tacos in Waterloo, Iowa. In other words: an ideal vacation.

Now it’s back to work (which I love), fixing up our house (which is fun), and teaching my mom how to use her new smartphone (which is… gratifying, at times). But a little piece of me will remain back at Cubby’s Convenience in Gothenberg, Nebraska, reflecting on our miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime road trip over a burning hot basket of fried something.

Colorful bunny shaped Easter treats

Bye for now, road bunnies

How my wedding was like The Rocky Horror Picture Show

No, not the outfits!

Well, maybe.

Happy wedding couple with smiling officiant

We got all the colors?! Yay!

Initially, I was thinking about the Time Warp factor.

For many months, I’d known I was going to take two solid weeks off in mid-October to host family and friends from out of town, do the nuptial deed itself, and spend a handful of days chilling out in Canada on our honeymoon. All of which I did and enjoyed! However, I did not expect that also:

  • My fiance would get his right pinky finger shattered by a blindly-opened car door while riding his bike a week before the wedding; that we’d spend half that day in the emergency room and another whole day at a surgery center on the other side of NYC; or that we’d have to employ two friends with sewing skills to modify his dress shirt and suit jacket so he could fit into them on our wedding day.
  • My Gay of Honor—who was slated to do my hair and help us with about 1,000 other things—would burn the crap out of his left hand (and of course he’s a lefty) while making dinner the night before flying into NYC to stay with us.
  • The kind soul who offered to ferry our wedding clothes to the venue would unknowingly drop Arthur’s suit pants off their hanger, and no one would notice until approximately an hour before photos were to start being taken, and Arthur would wind up getting married in a pair of Uniqlo jeans.

So I guess all of that accounts for some of the time-suck. But how did I not write a blog post for a whole month? How have my first few days back to work flown much faster than usual, even though I’m still ramping back up to full work capacity? How is it that one day, I’m eating delicious maple cookie ice cream in sunny Montreal, and the next, I’m warming up leftover green beans in my kitchen in rainy Brooklyn??

Clearly, we’ve been busy. But I do think there’s also a psychic time-warp element to this experience… Perhaps not unlike the one portrayed in The Rocky Horror Picture Show??

Rocky Horror Picture Show time warp

With a bit of a mind flip / You’re into a time slip / And nothing can ever be the same!

Indeed, as the song goes, I have felt “spaced out on sensation” for much of the past four weeks—which I suppose is kind of the point. While it’s been a little disorienting coming back to normal life and work, it was a very worthwhile and gratifying experience to plan, execute, and now come down from such a ginormous, once-in-a-lifetime affair. I know I’ll be drawing on it in a myriad of ways for many moons to come. Especially after reality sets in and I’m fully able to believe it wasn’t all a dream.

***

p.s. I owe a hat tip to the aforementioned Gay of Honor, who brought Rocky Horror to my attention back in high school, and who recently attended a live screening in our native Colorado looking like about a trillion dollars in this homemade Madonna getup:

noah-as-madonna

Go, babe!!