This morning, scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I saw a post that said, “one of the biggest lies humanity is living right now is that your human value is connected to how productive you are. It’s hopeless. For YOU will never ‘have enough value’ when your value is tied up in always having to produce more, work more, earn more, create more, etc. What would you do every day if you were finally free from this lie?”
I sat with that question. What might life look like, what might I look like, if I could somehow relax into the knowing that just being alive, breathing air, contributing my natural and unique gifts, and simply BEing in a natural state would somehow ensure that I have a home and food and my basic needs fulfilled? I’m not talking about a free ride. I’m talking about finding my place in the world. I know I’m not alone on this quest. So many of us are searching for our “corner of the sky,” and Lord knows I’ve had a fascinating ride searching for mine. From waiting tables to playing on the air in drive time radio shows to door to door book sales to colon hydrotherapy, TV reporting, admin work, marketing, acting, dancing, logo design, being a stay at home housewife, a divorced catering waitress, cashier, and sales of various and sundry products throughout the years, my career has been a patchwork quilt of questing.
So the question, “What would you do?...” in the above post landed in the center of my heart. And this is how I answered.
“The newly forming lines on my face might fade again. Stress for survival has become pervasive, like the low hum of a refrigerator in the background of my mind.
If I could just be, and feel free from this self imposed human condition, I like to think I’d spend more time singing, dancing, playing, GIVING AWAY my art to those who might enjoy it, volunteering, painting, going to museums, maybe working in a garden, doing plays that don’t pay, doing films that don’t pay, doing concerts that don’t pay because it wouldn’t matter how much I could GET for my innate gifts. I think I’d be making more yummy food in the kitchen instead of quickie food because I’m just too tired at the end of a long workday to make an intricate dish. I’d be creating more productions that might flop simply because my Spirt was built for sharing expression, and I believe art heals both the artist and patron.
Perhaps I’d let go of the shells I’ve built over the past few years and the masculine push that has been imposed upon my extremely feminine self to work, work, work at jobs that leave me aching for individual expression and more time to simply create, produce, and share. I’d stop trading precious irretrievable hours of this fleeting life on toil and devote more hours to labors of love that might make a positive difference on the planet. I’d sweat for my purpose, I’d stay up late and get up early to WORK on my soul quenching projects that might never turn a profit, because something within me drives to to do so.
And if I’m blessed enough to have one, I’d spend time with my family in loving connection, knowing I had ENOUGH to actually afford to be a human being living in the country of my birth.”
I’m sharing this because I think it’s a valid question to ponder, and because I know I’m not the only one who comes home at the end of a “blue collar” work day with aching feet, a sore back, or a fatigued Spirit. The disparity between what many are paid and the cost of living simply does not add up, and it can be exhausting. I know what it feels like to be paid a lot for easy work, and to be paid a little for hard work. I’m fortunate to have seen both sides of that fence. If I’m honest, I preferred the former to the latter. It felt good to do a job I enjoyed for 6-8 hours a day, get paid enough to take care of all of my needs AND still put my dog in daycare so I could take tango dancing lessons in the evenings. I enjoyed going to a grocery store and simply filling my cart without too much concern about how the final total would impact my basic bottom line. I made more money in a week then, than I do in a month now… and I work far harder now than I did with my easy-on-the-body, white collar entertainment job.
It’s true that money can’t buy happiness, but the lack of money in an ever increasingly costly country can sure buy stress, which can impact health and an overall sense of well being. And it affects us across generations.
My father has always been a hard worker. He worked HARD to provide for our family, trading his health and his sleep and time with his family for hours behind the wheel of a big rig so he could bring home the paycheck that provided our basic needs. But he aways wanted to entertain people, and when he had a guitar in his hands he did just that with charm and a genuine love of performing. While growing up, I saw rooms of people light up with smiles, hands clapping and feet tapping when he sang and played guitar. He still plays for friends and at nursing homes for those who can’t get out to enjoy live music, because he just loves it. His band even brought in enough money on the weekends to keep our family financially afloat during the big economic downturn in the 80s, but he was never able to stop driving until his recent retirement that has left him living on a very fixed income.
My father was changed by his need to work and provide for his family. He became stressed and edgy from carrying the weight of our little world on his shoulders. He seemed to be exhausted all of the time from the sleep depravation of a truck driver’s life. The happy go lucky fellow he was at his core, seemed to become weighted down by the need to “be a good provider” and his stress began to spill over into the family. For a period of time, we all waked on eggshells because he was so easily triggered into a rage, and I still experience occasional PTSD from the outbursts which had a profound impact how I viewed myself in the world. And I KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was always doing the best he could do at the time with the tools he had at the time, so I can not blame him. Blame is useless, especially when I question the true origin of a thing. How many generations back must we blame for our current situation? And what good does it do?
Even though I occasionally find myself angry or sad or impacted by how stressful things were growing up, I love and forgive my father for his outbursts of rage, because what I see now is that his anger and frustration were stemming from his unrequited desire to simply entertain people and be with his family, and he did not have the tools to deal with his sense of loss. The toil took a toll on him, and trickled to the rest of us. He was grieving the loss of his songwriter musician dreams. He was in turmoil over having to “work so hard at a J-O-B to simply get by.” I understand now, and have so much more compassion and understanding for him because I experience it too at times with my current situation of trying to balance making a living with being an artist, and he was doing it with a family, which is more than I can imaging having to carry as a sole provider. I wonder how many others are going through the same experience.
I wonder how we made such a mess of “the garden.” We live on this amazing planet that offers so much to us freely, and yet we’ve made it nearly impossible for many folks to ever feel truly valued in a world that equates value with perceived productivity, or economic status. There has to be more to life than this.
I’m grateful for that Facebook post this morning, because it set me on a course of thinking that has somehow given me a sense of peace about the war that lived within my father, and now lives within myself. For this moment, I’m waving the white flag and allowing myself to write a blog that pays me nothing because in doing so the writer within me is paid in the invaluable currency of self expression.
What invaluable currency can you give yourself today that will somehow fuel your Spirit? I wish this for each of us. As Joni Mitchell wrote, “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”