Why I hate the American work ethic

Because even though I work until nine at night, I feel guilty if I’m not working by nine in the morning.

Easter in Orange County

Last Sunday, sitting on the steps next to my container garden outside my Long Beach apartment, I heard a group of people singing in the next building. I thought of the seder I’d had a couple of nights before; my friends and I had sung the Ma Nishtana, which I only learned a few years ago and forget every year. Only two of the guests remembered the melody at first, but it only took a line or two for it to come back to the rest of us. I wondered if the neighbors could hear us. I’ve never had an anti-Semitic incident in this neighborhood, so I thought it’d be kind of cool if on the other side of our open windows, people were listening to us sing.

I watched families walking in and out of apartments, carrying children, greeting relatives. I smiled as I listened to the singing. Then I realized it wasn’t a hymn or some other Easter song – they were all singing a pop song. Blink 182 or something.

Oh. Well, it was still nice to hear singing. Yellow jackets buzzed around my bacopas. My bean seedlings were just starting to twine around the railing, and my lavender was blooming like the world was going to end.


According to the Slingshot Collective, “the modern world is the ugliest, saddest, dirtiest, and most stressful and dangerous place humans have ever created.” I don’t know if it’s the ugliest, the saddest, or the est of any of those other things, but many parts of it certainly are ugly and sad. I was thinking about that quote, along with various discussions I’ve witnessed about the “lack” of white American culture – whiteness as negative space – and white Americans’ need to appropriate more exotic cultures, when I tested a theory out on my husband: that the United States has one of the shallowest national cultures on the planet. Continue reading

my garden

Image description: close-up of a calendula blossom in a basket hanging from a rail.

Image description: close-up of a calendula blossom in a basket hanging from a rail.

Continue reading

What to do when you’re jobless

From Day to Day:

“Make really nice breakfasts. I mean, breakfast is one of the most underappreciated meals in the world…. So the first day you wake up after you’ve been laid off, go to the market, get nice fresh ingredients, and make yourself just the biggest, banginest breakfast you could ever imagine. Get a real paper, read it, and enjoy yourself, you know, because the reality is you can send a cover letter at 10 p.m. the same way you can at 10 a.m. So you might as well enjoy it.”

– John Henion, co-creator of unemploymentality.com

I know few jobs give you the severance package necessary for “the biggest, banginest breakfast you could ever imagine,” but I like the sentiment behind the advice. Check in with yourself. Make sure you’re all right. Your job shouldn’t be your identity.

UPDATE: Looking at what I wrote in this post, I feel like I still didn’t quite get at the privilege in the quote. I know this advice is probably only relevant to people with class privilege. I’ll leave it at that.

Reapportioning Our Lives

From the AP wire:

Unemployed use time for health, hobbies and family

FOND DU LAC, Wis. – Jay Capelle would give anything to get back his factory job of 32 years. At the same time, he’s grateful to have extra time on his hands these days to care for his ailing wife, stay in shape and work on a long-planned baseball documentary.

The unemployed are stressed out about unpaid bills, dashed retirement plans and the loss of workplace camaraderie. But many say life minus work also has its bittersweet upsides, including more time with family and friends, learning new skills, focusing on their health and pursuing hobbies.

All of these people said they would give up their newfound free time in a heartbeat if they could land jobs. And most spend hours each day trying. But as unemployment spells drag on longer than anticipated, they have allowed themselves to enjoy activities not directly related to the job hunt without feeling guilty.

Others are spending time in the classroom.

Andre Lovato, 55, of Waukesha, Wis., who was laid off from his job at a signmaking company in 2006, earned a degree in printing and publishing from a technical college in December. Lovato, who has applied for 35 jobs since then without any luck, devotes his free time to woodcarving, sketching and computer illustrations.

Here’s a gem from the Slingshot Collective:

You might think that with all the technology and abundant material possessions capitalism has created at the expense of the earth’s environment that people in developed countries would be the happiest people in the history of the world. But capitalism – with its constant competition and insatiable appetite for more – corrodes the human spirit and human cultures just as surely as it destroys the natural environment. We have undergone the greatest speed-up in the history of the world. Time to spend with our families, time to be in nature, time to learn about the world for its own sake, time to make music, time to master a craft, time to just sit and be still – capitalism rations it all.

I’ve been officially underemployed (sort of – I have a wee bit of freelance work for pocket money) for a couple of months now, and honestly, I’m loving it. I’m finally making headway on my novel. I’m gardening, knitting, learning to bake bread. My apartment is actually clean most of the time. I’m reading, reading, reading, reading, reading. I don’t have a whole lot of money, but that just means I don’t buy a whole lot of stuff.

Of course, if I had a major illness, a child to feed, or even just a more expensive apartment, I wouldn’t be singing the same tune.

To everyone out there who’s looking for work – I hope you find happiness and security very soon.

When Palestinians Die, Americans Eat.

On the radio today: news about the recession. Story after story about dismal holiday sales. Explanations of why it’s not a good idea to be thrifty when money’s tight: if you don’t go out and buy stuff, people will lose their jobs! Why is it that our very survival depends on accumulating and then discarding useless luxury items? How did we get to the point where my lack of interest in a plasma screen may eventually lead to my starvation? What would happen if we decided that some of our needs and wants would be bought with currency, and some we would make or procure ourselves? What if the workweek was only 20 hours long? Why have we forgotten how to grow our own fucking food?

The military industrial complex: a mutually dependent relationship between a government, its armed forces, and the commercial sector producing weapons and other equipment. According to the documentary Why We Fight, every single state in the union has a stake in keeping this industry healthy – and, consequently, every single legislator faces pressure to green-light wars. Why do you think democrats cave so easily every time hawks want to attack someone?

As an interviewee in Young, Jewish and Left points out, Israel has never benefited from the occupation of Palestine; it’s the American weapons manufacturers who are making a profit. Could it be that the US, happy to have a foothold in the Middle East, isn’t just giving Israel its blessing – but actually pressuring Israelis to keep driving those tanks, keep using those bombs? Because when Israel attacks, Americans keep their jobs. When Palestinians die, Americans eat.

When will we figure out that capitalism is killing us?

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)