I thought it might be interesting to ask our team to reflect on the world of labor and work, and received some wonderful responses. (Ken Weene)
A NOTE ON LABOR AND WORK by Kenneth Weene
Some ideas stick in a person’s mind and change the individual’s weltanschauung (worldview). For me, one such idea presented itself in a “social philosophy” course sophomore year of college. Two years earlier (1958), Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition had leapt onto the political theory stage. It was, according to the professor, a must read. She wrote of the social realm and the political. Her book made me think and reflect. Perhaps no distinction she offered hit me more forcefully than that between labor and work.
To paraphrase: Labor is that which we must do to earn our bread, to make our necessary contribution to the physical needs of others and by doing so to meet our own. Work, on the other hand, had lasting value; it was the creation of substance and meaning. Of course, some people were able to unify the two things, to earn their way by writing poetry, sculpting, perhaps by organizing a community, or providing political leadership. Most of us, however, must labor in order to have the freedom to work. If there was one person who personified that disconnect, it was another political thinker, Eric Hoffer, who wrote The True Believer while working as a longshoreman. (Yes, his book was also recommended.)
So what has that to do with me and with The Write Room Blog?
The effort is the same: my fingers tap at the same keyboard; my eyes strain at the same screen; my time passes with the same finality. BUT! What about within my head? That is where the difference lies.
Watch my brain at work. The neurons flash with pride. Another sentence has been crafted for that so valued imagined reader. I see her/him smile in recognition of an idea, a symbol, perhaps a unique turn or phrase. “Ah, it succeeds,” I think, and it is my work.
Now consider my brain at labor. “This will do,” is the thought. The image is not of a reader but a looker, a glancer. “That will catch attention,” I say to myself as I click “send” or “post”. “Arg, there’s so much marketing to do”: tweet after tweet, comment after comment, request after request. I can imagine myself as longshoreman, lifting bales; that they are filled with letters instead of cotton — no, not even words — makes those bales no less heavy to the mind. I strain beneath the weight. Oh, to get back to my novel, to that poem, to that short story or essay.
A postscript for those who appreciate irony: The final exam, not a question about Arendt or Hoffer. I ignored the questions and wrote about them anyway. Received an A. I guess that was because I really worked at it.
Besides novels, short fiction and poetry, Ken Weene occasionally decides to consider serious issues. You can learn more about him and his writing at http://www.kennethweene.com
WORKING ON THE WRITE GANG by Clayton Bye:
Work … It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I lost count at 50 different jobs. And this during a time when people stayed with one corporation for most of their lives. But not me. I’ve been a cleaner, construction worker, cook, factory worker, farm hand, financial products broker, manager, mechanic, personal trainer, private detective, public speaker, social worker, tutor, vacuum cleaner salesman, waiter, weather man and, of course, writer—just to name a few. Why so many? Well, it’s like this … I’m a problem solver, and since business is all about solving problems it turns out I can work virtually anywhere. This discovered, when I became bored or unchallenged or was put into management (which I’d rather not do), I would give my notice and go in search of something new. It worked for me for a long time.
One day, I realized I had figured out a model for running my own business. So I tried it. The experiment worked fairly well, but not enough to give the kind of money and freedom I wanted. Back to the drawing board. The end result was working for a multinational company that let me run my position as a separate but related business. I did very well. But it wasn’t where I now knew I wanted to be … having a writing business that supported me in the style I had dreamed of.
So, I had a business system, and I could write. I put the two together to see what would happen. The business model didn’t really work for writing, but I was hooked on the work. What to do? I spent many years chasing after that fabled bestseller that was supposed to launch my career. While I never wrote a book that lost money, neither did I write a bestseller.
Back to the drawing board … The problem I discovered with my model is that it requires other people to work the system for me. Hard to do when you’re a writer. More years passed, and I managed to become an expert in the business of producing deliverables like books, manuscripts, reviews, short stories and so on.
“How do I hire people to do that for me?” I asked? “Become a traditional publisher,” came the answer. That didn’t work either, because the writers didn’t want to use my system. No, I needed actual employees.
By sheer luck, my next job was as a ghostwriter. A very busy ghostwriter. I don’t know when it finally clicked (when I had 20 clients all at the same time, I think), but I said to myself: “Self, why don’t you hire some ghostwriters to work for you?” All I would need to do is to manage the funneling of clients and the rest could become automated. I could even use the model to hire a pen of copywriters, something new I was trying.
I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Clayton Clifford Bye has written 11 books and at least as many ghostwrites. He also writes short stories, poetry, occasional reviews and publishes the work of others when he finds a property he likes. Clayton now spends most of his time ghostwriting. You can find his website at http://www.claytonbye.com, his store at http://shop.claytonbye.com
A MOST LABORIOUS DAY by Micki Peluso
It’s 1979. We’re in a recession and feeling it the hardest in our country home. My six kids are old enough that I can leave them home alone. At least that’s what I tell myself. I find a job as a morning prep person and night dinner cook in the small town’s favorite Italian restaurant.
I’m not a morning person. The rooster next door crows at 6:30 AM, waking the neighborhood dogs. That’s my alarm clock. Rousing the kids who sleep through the racket, I get them moving, dressed and breakfasted as I gulp down my third cup of coffee. They all pile into the local school bus and go off to their various schools.
I get to work at 8:30 AM and begin making mountains of meatballs as ‘Aunt Mary,’ the mother of the restaurant’s owner, stirs a huge cauldron of red sauce and rolls out sheets of pasta dough. Hours later we’ve made hundreds of homemade ravioli and rolled so many meatballs that my hands are cramping. It’s 2:30 PM. I leave to get home in time for the 3:30 PM bus and onslaught of starving kids rushing through the front door. They head for the fridge and snacks laid out on a table, while telling me all about their day at the same time. I’ve learned to listen to all of them at once, a gift that may come in handy one day — or not.
It’s Friday, one of the three or four nights that I work as a cook at the restaurant. Homework gets done or so they tell me, chores when I can catch them, pets cared for, and last night’s tuna casserole set out for dinner. I’m off to work again at 5 PM. The summer heat registers 95° in the kitchen of the restaurant and it feels like 110° or more. I’m dressed in short shorts, tank top and flip flop sandals like the other cooks. Massive vats of boiling water for pasta and sauce simmer as the Friers and range emanate even more heat. God is good. Tonight I get to work the salad bar and scrub huge pots and pans.
The bartender/owner brings me a mandolin to slice the salad veggies. I prefer a knife but he’s the boss. Within minutes, I manage to slice off the tips of three fingers on my left hand – not completely off but hanging and bleeding all over the wood cutting board and vegetables. The grill cook rushes to get our boss, Donnie, and after appraising the situation, he leaves and returns with a roll of black electrical tape. Whatever works, I think, and struggle to carefully place the tips of my fingers back on and tape them with my right hand. The pain is fierce.
Donnie pops in to tell me to switch places with the Gopher cook so I don’t bleed on the food. I realize then that he’s not sending me home. The dinner rush hits and I’m soon busy working the microwaves, getting food out of the huge walk-in, and setting up plates. That’s the job of a gopher.
Wild storms strike the area, breaking the heat wave and slowing business. Donnie sticks his head into the kitchen. “It slowing down, Micki. You can go home now.” The man is all heart. I grab my purse, say goodbye to the cooks and dash out the back of the kitchen to where my car is parked. The storms have slowed to a few rumbles and flashes of ground lightning as the rain tapers off to a fine drizzle.
Home looks really good — a deception of course. I walk in to find eight-year-old Nicole crying on the couch. The heat made her sick and triggered a migraine. “I told you girls not to let her out in the sun,” I snapped at her two younger sisters.
“She got away from us,” Noelle says, looking upset.
But 15-year-old Kelly has a bigger problem, forecast by wracking sobs. She’s holding Puff, my oldest daughter, Kim’s, white rabbit;, he doesn’t too healthy.
“It’s my entire fault,” Kelly sniffles.” I left him outside in the storm. Kim is going to kill me.”
I figure the poor little guy was either traumatized or struck by lightning. He begins screening, which rabbit’s do before dying. I try pouring whiskey down his throat and then warm tea but he lets out a final shriek and dies in my arms. 16-year-old Dante suggests laying him out on a table in the basement until we can bury him the next day. Kim comes home from her date and that scene isn’t pleasant. She stomps up to her room and slams the door. Mike ambles in a little later on and we all sit on the long red velvet sectional couch watching TV until my husband walks in. The recession makes it necessary for him to work five hours away in New Jersey and come home only on weekends.
We are a sorry lot that greets him with our tales of woe. First thing he does is rip off the black tape on my fingers, removing the tips that I had secured so well with the tape. I refuse to scream from the pain as he pours salt on the wounds but tell myself that it’s good that I won’t have fingerprints left on those fingers when I strangle him in his sleep. I sip on some scotch and water — not a very good year — to ease the pain and tension from this laboriously horrible day.
I get to sleep in tomorrow and don’t work Monday, which is Labor Day. The next day I can collect my paycheck. At a $1.25 an hour comes to about $40 a week. Reagan’s trickle-down economy has not yet reached the tiny town of Williamsport Pennsylvania – or me.
Micki Peluso, author of the award winning memoir, . . .And the Whippoorwill Sang, writes slice of life , humor, short multi-genre fiction and commentary. Her collections of short stories, “Don’t Puck the Duck’ will be published in 2015. http://www.mallie1025.blogspot.com/
LABORS OF LOVE By Nancy Cole Silverman
I have been hunkered down – like a World War I foot soldier in a foxhole – putting the last edits together on the final draft of my next manuscript due to my publisher the end of the month. I write this very tongue and cheek, because I know a little about fox holes and World War 1 soldiers. My Great Uncle Henry was a member of the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders out of Canada, and while I’m hardly fit to compare myself to my great uncle, he and I do share a similar fate. He was a writer, and so am I. And it is from that shared and fated talent from wince I have my understanding of history and a healthy appreciation of the craft.
Like many authors I waited until after I’d completed the final version of my work in progress, and sent it off to my publisher before I began cleaning out my files and cluttered drawers. My office was a mess. My desk piled high with unanswered mail, stale coffee, and littered with scraps of paper and illegible notes. It was then that I landed upon a package of old, onion-skinned, carbon copied news stories my aunt had transcribed as a girl on her Underwood typewriter. They were stuffed in the back of a drawer and I’d nearly forgotten about them. She had given them to me for safe keeping. I hadn’t looked at them in years and scarcely remembered the promise I’d made to do something with them – in this lifetime.
Let me start by saying, my Uncle Henry was a member of the Scots-Canadian Royal Highlanders. His unit, the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders, were part of the Allied Expeditionary Forces from 1914 – 1918, during what was then called the Great War. Often referred to as the “Ladies from Hell,” the 72nd was known for their Mackenzie tartan kilts, their bayonets, their bagpipes, and the action they saw while stationed in France where most of the Great War was fought.
My great uncle was also a war correspondent, and throughout the war sent home a series of missives, he titled, Little Memories, about his experiences. However, the stories Childs chose to tell in his columns from the front, were not those of brutal destruction and bloody battle scenes, but more personal moments. Moments when he crouches nervously with his comrades in a foxhole before “going over the top,” or where he sat alone, quietly on a hillside and unearthed a small doll while viewing the ravages of the village below.
Writers write. So I grabbed these letters and assembled them, as best I could, for a self-publishing in time for Veterans Day. I’ll release them then. Until then I labor, like all writers. Hammering away at my next work, certainly under better conditions than those my great uncle wrote, but like him, it’s a labor of love, pulling ideas from the world around me, no matter how ugly or difficult, and trying to find the humanity of it all.
Nancy Cole Silverman writes the Carol Childs Mysteries. After working in news and talk radio for nearly twenty-five years, Silverman retired to write fictional stories similar to those that took place not only the air, but behind the mic as well. Her first book in the series, Shadow of Doubt, debuted in December 2014. Her newest book, Beyond a Doubt, was released in July and the third of her series, Without a Doubt, is expected out next year. For more information about Nancy and her work, please visit her website: www.nancycolesilverman.com
PAPA ON A MISSION by Sal Buttaci
I believe my father was on a mission to do all he could to interest me in acquiring a college education. A former seminarian in Sicily, he had studied Latin and Classical Literature to which he attributed his intense love of learning. If he‘d had the power, he would’ve passed on those genes to me. Instead, in the pocket of my jeans I had no room for college aspirations. I would remind Papa that he never followed through with his own future plans of becoming a priest, so why not let me live my own life. He would wink and remind me in turn that it was quite fortunate for me and my siblings that he had opted instead for a wife.
At fifteen I joined the Police Athletic League because Papa wanted me to learn how to protect myself from the bullies who literally looked down on me for being so short.
That kind of abuse particularly bothered him because he too was short, but unlike me he never came home from school crying over a few bruises. He was a scrappy kid who grew into a scrappy guy with enough self-confidence to go around.
He wanted me to learn how to box, to show the bullies that being short did not mean being weak. But what he did not count on was I’d come to love the sport so much I wanted to jab my way into being professional one day.
“What about college?” he asked, interrupting my report of the evening’s match.
“I don’t want college, Pa. I want to fight in the ring.”
Papa decided to talk to the P.A.L. police captain about sending me into that ring I loved so much but to box with a fellow half a foot taller than I who had an arm’s reach long enough to have me swinging at air like a puppet on a short string. Needless to mention, but I’ll mention anyway: he won; I lost. And boxing became an event to watch safely on TV.
The following year I got a summer job as a baker’s apprentice at the Central Bakery in Union City, New Jersey. Papa had been a night-shift baker years before and following in his floury footsteps seemed a good idea. One day I reached up, lifted the oven door, slid the peel inside to retrieve a hot pan of baked cookies, and my asbestos gloves fell off. I reached up with both naked hands to catch the falling pan. They swelled into oversized mitts which I waved while screaming loud enough to summon the bakery boss. “Rub some butter on your hands and get back to work,” he said. I did neither.
“You’re not meant to be a laborer. Not tough enough,” Papa said. “Not like me. I helped build the Queens Midtown Tunnel with all them other immigrants. We made America what it is today. You? Queens, New York, would still be waiting.”
“My gloves fell off, Pa. The pan was hot. I didn’t want to drop it and ruin the cookies.”
Papa laughed. “Think about college. Let us workers take up the hammer and wrench. You pick up the pencil and paper. Hit the school books.”
Papa was right. Laborers were a special hard-working breed who deserved more respect than a once-a-year Labor’s Day. He believed in labor unions to protect workers from those who historically mistreated them. Still, he wanted us to go to college. “Two things nobody can steal from you,” he’d say more than once, “your name and your education.”
Over fifty years later I thank Papa for his persistence.
Sal Buttaci is the author of two flash-fiction collections Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, both published by All Things That Matter Press and available athttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Salvatore%20Buttaci
His book A Family of Sicilians… which critics called “the best book written about Sicilians” is available at www.lulu.com/spotlight/ButtaciPublishing2008
He lives in West Virginia with Sharon the love of his life.
LABOUR DAY FROM A BRITISH PERSPECTIVE by Jon Magee
Thomas sat in the back of his car, studying the plans drawn up for the building he was involved with. His daughter, Violet, was driving. It was not unusual that he would ask her to drive in order that he could make the best use of his time driving from one meeting to another. What was unusual was the revelation of a past that Thomas never spoke of before. It was just one sentence, but that sentence, along with the tone and the expression of sadness said so much to his daughter. As such, it was a day that would stand out for her for the rest of her life. She recalled driving past an establishment hidden to the outside world by an extremely large wall. As they passed, so Thomas looked up from his paper work and said “It was behind that wall that I spent the worst days of my life”. This was the only time Violet could recall her father speaking of his childhood.
Thomas, born in the British Victorian era, had a poor start to life. His father died tragically in an accident at work. With no one able to bring money into the house they knew the reality of poverty that few in the western world today could really comprehend. He was one of three boys and two sisters, and they and their mother were to begin life in the Work House, as it was known. Such were the harshness of the conditions they lived in, that the mother of Thomas was to soon pass away as well. In the wisdom of the authorities of the day, the brothers were to be separated from the two girls and were never to be told that their two sisters also died as children. At one point there was a thought that he was to be rescued from this harshness by one claiming to be a relative. However, they claimed him as one who, they thought, would be cheap labour in their business, and hard tough work it was too. These are not the tales of fiction, for Thomas was my grandfather and his daughter, Violet, was my own mother. However, though it was too painful for Thomas to say much more, clearly the tales of Charles Dickens may have been far closer to the truth than we might realise.
The novels of Charles Dickens, the most popular author of the Victorian era, reveal an intense concern about the vulnerability of children. When Dickens was twelve, his father was imprisoned for debt and he was sent to work in a blacking factory, an incident that haunted him his whole life. His novels are full of neglected, exploited, or abused children: the orphaned Oliver Twist, the crippled Tiny Tim, the stunted Smike, and doomed tykes like Paul Dombey and Little Nell. Dickens was galvanized by revelations of real-life horrors facing the poor. Oliver Twist (1837) was written in response to the draconian New Poor Law of 1834, which had been inspired by the theories of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. This law relegated the needy to prison-like institutions called workhouses, splitting up families and subjecting them to repugnant living conditions and hard labour.
As we consider the theme of labour and workers, two thoughts come to my mind. The first is a sense of gratitude that the Work House has been relegated to history and current laws address the need for workers who may be at risk of injury or death. Thankful also that following the 2nd world war a health system was brought into place to ensure no one need say they could not see a Doctor due to lack of finance, or being too high a risk for insurance companies to consider them. However, that gratitude must also be tempered with the need to always be vigilant, looking for other ways to be found to support those who are most vulnerable in society
Baptist minister Jon Magee’s writing reflects a lifetime spent living throughout the world and dealing with the vagaries of historical events. You can find his work at http://www.amazon.com/Jon-Magee/e/B003VN33WA