Soul-Crushing, Mind-Numbing, Work

I can tell it is a slow Friday at work for y’all.  My blog stats are up, despite only having one post up today on account of travel!  Stats are always highest during the work day.  When I used to work an office job I swear some days I thought I found the end of the internet.  I know what goes on out there.  They key is to position your desk in such a way that your boss can’t see what you are doing.  (That is if they can’t monitor you.)  That way you can be playing video games and shit, but you’ll be so quiet that they will think you are a diligent worker.  I once worked somewhere where there was an extremely high turnover rate.  After about a year, except for management, I was the longest serving worker.  Someone remarked that the reason I lasted so long was that I was always at my desk, quiet and hard working.  I was playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out when they made that comment!

So if you read my blog while you are at work I understand.  I support it.  There are a lot of soul-crushing, mind-numbing jobs out there.  American is full of jobs that bring zero meaning to one’s life.  As well as working office jobs I was also a janitor for awhile, among other things.  Today on the van ride home I was thinking that at least when you are a janitor and you clean something, or you mow a field, it looks nice.  Even if it doesn’t last you can be proud of it and it increases of the quality of other people’s lives.  Kids can play on a nice newly cut field.  I’m not saying you didn’t do a lot of stupid shit as a janitor, you did, but at least you had tasks where you could take pride in your work some days.  Some of those office jobs were beyond meaningless.  You almost felt that the work you did was so meaningless that you somehow were going back in time creating more work, instead of getting anything accomplished.

Why is it that we value some people’s jobs more than others?  Often that value has no real connection with a job’s value to society.  (Hey it’s Friday afternoon.  I thought it would be a good time to raise these questions.  If you try really hard you can black out enough over the weekend that this blog will be a long distant memory!)  All I’m really trying to get at it that we should not be so quick to judge those who have jobs that we find undesirable.  Society would be pretty bad if the blue collar workers all got up in quit, but the world worked just fine before the internet.

And don’t think I am casting judgment from down on high because for the moment I am making my living as a musician and don’t have to work a day job except for on occasion.  Even if you aren’t willing to hear the argument that being a musician is not as glamorous as you think, there is no guarantee that this lifestyle is going to last.  Second, I’m pretty sure that if the deal goes down, and World War III starts, that playing a guitar will most likely qualify you for cannon fodder!

But its ok.  I am used to non-sympathetic treatment.  I remember one time my brother and I were riding tractors mowing grass on a super hot summer day.  A local denizen, who knew we were both musicians, was jogging by and asked my brother how our day was.  Covered in grass, bitten by flies, and sunburned, my brother replied that our day was pretty shitty.  To which the citizen replied, “Why don’t you sing me a fucking song about it!”

Jobs Swallowed by Technology

I don’t mean to bum you out on such a day as Tuesday.  Tuesday is, in my mind, the worst day of the week. You at least get some Mondays off, there is Monday night football, etc.  Wednesday you are already at hump day.  Tuesday, even when I was drinking heavily, was a night I normally don’t go out.  My brother and I always joke about making a horror film called, “Night of a Thousand Tuesdays.”

Anyway, earlier this week, I downloaded an app turning my phone into a flashlight.  It works incredibly well, better than the last real flashlight I bought.  My current Kindle doesn’t have a light on it and I needed something to see my book when I go on tour.  But then I thought to myself, “What is going to happen to all the people that make flashlights?”  I have a guitar tuner on my phone as well.  What is going to happen to all the people that made and sold guitar tuners?  And I was thinking about how my phone does a thousand things that I used to need a thousand things to do.  On one hand, for someone that travels, this is great.  On the other, how many jobs is this technology putting out of business?  (How many people that worked for companies associated with books were put out of business by the Kindle and other reading tablets?)

I’m not claiming these are new thoughts.  These kind of thoughts have troubled people all along during our technological revolution.  What they make me think is that now, more than ever, we need a safety net for people whose work disappears as these tech giants kill jobs.  When the Republicans in power twist and twitch to dismantle every safety net they can, we need to think about how this is even worse than in the past.  We also need smarter consumers, that make decisions not only on what is based upon their needs, but the good of the community.  I’ll admit, I’m as lazy as anyone.  And to some degree the genie is out of the lamp.  But I think it is at least good to start thinking about these things.

This is just a hunch, but I feel like the places that stick together as communities are going to live lives worth living, and the places that let inequality be the law of the land are going to become more and more hellish.  Call me crazy.

Fun With Quitting

I’ve always believed that if you are going to quit a job that you should make an art project out of it.  “Punch through the mask”, as good old Captain Ahab once said.  Society is kept in order by rules, many of which are bullshit, that no one ever questions.  Quitting is a time when you can go can let go of these invisible rules, shake things loose, have some fun, and see what happens.

One time I worked at Panera for a week.  I started on the bottom rung, as one is likely to do at jobs such as these.  I was primarily a dish washer.  I was getting paid nothing.  I had been a janitor by this point, so it wasn’t as if I wasn’t accustomed to doing shitty jobs.  About a week in I showed up with terrible sunburn.  The dishwater was hot and my arms felt like they were on fire.  I was already in a “bad mood.”

The manager came up to me, and instead of just telling me what to do, told me to go outside and look at the dumpster.  Someone had not loaded the dumpster properly and there was rotten food all over the ground.  By the dumpster there was a snow shovel.  I put one and one together and realized that she wanted me to clean up someone else’s mess by using the snow shovel to load the rotten food back into the dumpster.

I walked back inside to complain that the shovel was inadequate for the task at hand, as when you tried to shovel the rotten food it simply pushed away from the shovel.  However, before I reached her I got an idea that made me laugh so hard I simply had to go through with it.

I went back out to the dumpster and took off my uniform.  I then, using the shovel as the basis for a sort of scarecrow, made a dummy with my uniform.  I then placed the “scarecrow” directly in front of the dumpster that I was supposed to be refilling.

After that I simply got into my car and drove off into the day, telling no one, and never looking back…

Care Downwards

I apologize to those of you that subscribe for getting this twice.  I accidentally deleted and wanted to repost it.  

I was recently talking to someone that worked for a large company that was laying people off.  They told me those who had been with the company the longest were getting laid off first, because they made the most money.  You know, the people that had been loyal to the company?  Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common.

Today I am staying at a hotel where the woman at the front desk is kind as could be.  She is very helpful, and I realized how rare it is that someone takes pride in their job and leaves an impression through great customer service.

These large companies often do not give a fuck about you.  However, usually if you are in a business, you are dealing with people who have problems and needs that depend on you.

I worked in sales and customer service for years.  I think people should follow a policy of “caring downwards”.  People that are dealing with the general public are often dealing with working stiffs just like them.  One should try to be kind and help these people, because often these people are frustrated, they sometimes have little money, and quite frankly could use the help of someone that cares.

However, while you are doing that you should stick the company in anyway that you can, without getting fired of course. (Although sometimes getting fired is a blessing.)  These companies, again, do not care about you, and will get rid of you as soon as they see fit, especially now that so many unions have been neutered.

When I worked in those professions I would always side with the customer when possible.  When you work with the general public in a sales or customer service context you usually have a certain leeway in how you treat problems.  Management does not want you asking a manager every time a customer has a complaint.  Not only are managers often lazy, but this is a money saving practice.  Every time you call a company it costs them money, this is why most companies try to shake you with long automated prompts.  The longer the call and the more people you talk to, the more expensive the call is to the company.  When I worked at a wireless company I had a certain amount of money I could credit a customer before going to a manager.  When possible I would always credit the customer as I knew not only did the company not give a shit about me, but they were trying to nickel and dime good honest working people as much as possible.  And trust me when I say this is a fact and not an opinion.

I want to make it clear that I am mostly talking about large corporations and not small businesses where personal interaction with top management is a much more personalized affair.

So I would like to spread that thought, like fairy dust, throughout the land:  Care downwards and stick upwards…

Why I Like Canvassing and Hate Busy Work

Lately I’ve been canvassing for a political group.  As part of my agreement with the group I can’t really divulge certain about them.  I don’t remember what is valid and what isn’t to discuss, so I’m just playing it safe.  This isn’t because I’m doing anything particularly secretive or important, it is just that we handle voter information.  It is a progressive group that works on political issues from campaigns to things that are more along the lines of informing the public of what is going on in the community.

One thing I have found myself loving, to my complete surprise, is canvassing.  I definitely have strong introvert tendencies in my personality.  This does not mean that I am shy, or that I don’t like to be around people.  It is simply that being around people for an extended period of time requires work.  Whereas an extrovert gains energy from being in the mix with a group of people, I find myself wearing out after a couple hours.  I need a certain amount of reflective downtime each day to remain at the top of my game.

So a job where you are going house to house, talking to strangers for several hours, would not seem a natural fit for me.  But I have found that I enjoy it.  I usually only do it for about four hours at a time.  In the Texas summer heat, this is plenty, trust me.

First of all I’m not selling anything or raising money.  I’m simply talking to people about issues.  This is a key factor to not feeling like a piece of shite when you bother someone at their home.  I’ve been out on door to door sales and I lasted half a day.  (Before I basically told my boss that he was a chimp and that I would walk home, not realizing when I first moved to Austin how long a walk from Elgin was going to take.) I have gone out canvassing for money before and I lasted maybe two days.  That work is important and honorable in any political organization, as it is what keeps that organization rolling, but I didn’t like it.  I don’t like to bother people.  However, what I’m doing now is more like keeping people informed.  They can turn me away at the door, but it there loss, as I am providing what is more akin to a public service.  The last campaign I worked on didn’t even require me to take a side on the issue, just to inform people of what is going on.  We also only reach out to people that are at least leaning in our favor.

Anyway, I have always been interested in politics, not that I would ever run for office.  There are plenty of pictures that would have me immediately disqualified.  I also couldn’t lie about so many things that politicians have to, to become palatable to a large amount of people.  I mean more that I have interests that I would like to see this country become a more progressive place and I am interested in what it takes to make it so.

So I enjoy playing a small role in possibly helping to make my community a more progressive one.  I find that despite being an introvert, I don’t really mind talking to strangers face to face and every so often you are surprised when you come across someone that is highly informed and likable.  I have found that most people, especially middle class and lower class people, are almost to a person at least courteous and polite if not outwardly friendly.  In the richer neighborhoods one tends to meet more people that simply slam the door in your face.  Again, I’m not really pushing anything on people, only informing them, so when they slam a door in my face they are really just taking themselves out of the political conversation.

But I also just like the honest work of it.  I like just being outside, walking several miles in the sun.  You have a certain number of houses to hit each day, and how hard your work depends on how quickly you get done.  I like jobs like that, that have a beginning and an end.  You have an electronic map and you can see the results of your work by the end of the day.  I used to mow fields on a tractor and whatever you think of a job like that, when you got done, things looked better than they did when you started.  This is opposed to so many other mundane jobs where the work never ends.  Nothing in this world, except death, sickness, and torture, might be worse than busy work.

We have almost all had bosses that want you to keep busy when there is nothing that really needs to be done.  I believe this comes out of their fear of losing control, that kind of micromanagement.  Or it could be they are just dickheads.  All busy work teaches one to do is to lean on a broom until the boss tuns the corner, stare intently at a computer and type something once in awhile until a boss can see your screen, and look for hiding places like the storage closet.  In fact busy work makes you become less productive, because you find yourself spending a large amount of time and energy learning how to fool your boss.  I don’t believe most people mind working hard if there is some sense to it.  If you are a boss and you remove purpose from the work people are doing, most workers will probably metaphorically shank you in the back.  I don’t mind working hard, I just want to know that there is some reason behind it other than looking busy.  There is no point working to keep up appearances.

Anyway, I have found canvassing, at least the kind I am doing, to be a good job.  It doesn’t pay a lot.  But if you want to do something positive for your community, get some exercise, and make a little money on the side, there are far worse ways to go.


Spoiler alert for The Artist at Work by Camus.  

One of my favorite authors is Camus.  I love his short story collection Exile and the Kingdom, among other works.  In the story The Artist at Work we follow the life of an artist as he becomes more and more removed from his family as he tries to create a painting.  The story ends with the artist creating a painting that is only a blank canvas, where it is impossible to tell if the word on the canvas is solidary or solitary.  Should his artistic responsibility be to go into his own inner world and create something or should his responsibility as a human being be to those people around him?

This is a common dilemma among creative people.  Should you put everything into your work or at some point do you just start progressing up your own arse?  Or as they say in Spinal Tap, “There is a fine line between the clever and the stupid.”

George Orwell said that, “any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”  When I am on the road there are times when I feel guilty about not being around to take care of my dog or not being there for a friend’s birthday party or whatever.  There are also times when I would prefer to sit around and write or play music when I should be out at someone’s event.  One wouldn’t even need to be any kind of artist to feel these feelings.  Anyone that might have a job that takes up too much time will probably feel this kind of thing from time to time.

A job, given there is some benefit to others in it, or a piece of art, may make many other people happy.  However, at the same time it may make those closest to you miserable from time to time.  Jackson Pollock was horrible to many people around him, but his work will live on for a long time.  Was it worth those people suffering so that he could create something that many other people would appreciate?  That is an extreme example, as most people can find some balance of the two.  However, because life is finite, I think it is normal to feel that in not having infinite time you are going to let someone down.

So how do you solve this problem?  Is there an answer?  I think not, only a series of questions that humanity will have to ask for as long as we’re around.