Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Work and Value. Y'know, the little things.

I've been looking for work for about 2 months, and have become increasingly discouraged. What's been hard to explain though, to myself as well as those around me, is that the primary problem is not a lack of jobs. Granted, I haven't been offered much and the jobs I have found have had so few hours (or such insulting wage) that they don't solve the paying rent problem (the constant problem!), but still, it's something else that is even more discouraging.
I am seeking community, communality, collectivity, and mutual aid. I am seeking these in a job because I am not experiencing them in my life. Until last winter, I had always experienced these things to some degree, but when some shit fell apart, and spaces where I thought I'd find those things proved to be less thriving than I'd hoped, I was left with a distinct lack of belonging. For someone whose anarchistic values are founded on ideals of collectivity and who has been privileged enough to always have it, this is a pretty awful position to find myself in.

Yesterday my mother asked me what job I would have in my dream world, realism aside. Well, first we had to amend the obvious problem with that question which is that in my ideal world jobs wouldn't exist. Work*, of course, would.
So what kind of work would I be doing? I'd be doing the work of every day life. I would be looking after people, cooking food for myself and hopefully many others, as well as contributing to the rest of the things that make things go. Not go towards progress, or capital, just go, to the next minute and the next.
I sobbed as I pictured my ideal world but spoke quite simple words. When I've told people what I would be doing without capitalism, often the response is "Well great, those are employable things!"
And I shut down, because we obviously aren't understanding each other.
Why was I crying when I told my mom about my dream life? Because all I am trying for right now is a toxic mimic of that dream. I will go to school so that I can get better jobs taking care of children. My work and my home will still be separate things, I will remain an isolated individual struggling to get by in a system I can't stand.
Though it is capitalism that is suffocating me, I feel drowned in my own ideals. The more idealistic I am, the harder it is to live with the world as it is.

I have always been someone who has a hard time getting over things if I don't feel like I have changed the situation. When the situation is the world as we know it, things start looking mighty dire.

*I make a distinction between jobs and work. While I know many anarchists deplore the idea of work altogether, with the idea that the stuff of life outside of capitalism shouldn't be associated with the words we use now for job-work, for ease I prefer to simply think of work as getting things done, which can be a super positive thing to go along with play, love, etc if we take capitalism out of the equation.


It's been about two weeks since I wrote the above, and things have changed a little.

1. Through choices, support (professional and personal), and a whole lot of effort put in to functioning/coping, I have gotten out of the pit of depression, for now.
2. I decided to go to school as soon as possible in order to get better* work sooner than later.
3. I found pretty decent temporary work until school starts. In fact, it's pretty ideal as far as jobs go.

*What is good work??
The more I think, talk, read and cry about it, the more I am finding hope or at least solace in the idea that work (job-work) is meaningless (and that this is okay).
My priorities for jobs are currently as follows:
-Do work that doesn't make me miserable
-Make enough money to feel comfortable and safe, and save a little so I can stop working sometimes or eventually
-Get paid enough that I don't feel terribly resentful (see first point) and undervalued, and so that I can work very little to earn the money I need to get by

That last point has been difficult to come to, as my anti-capitalist ideals make wanting a higher wage feel really weird. The reality is, though, that we live in a capitalist society. Job-work is inherently within this framework, and we are not doing ourselves or our fellow workers any favours by accepting unfair pay. Obviously, the whole system is unfair, but allowing our employers to profit off of our labour without struggling together for our share of it just fuckin' sucks. Many people work for exceedingly low wages and in awful conditions, and I am privileged to be choosy about making more than minimum wage, but this doesn't make me a capitalist. Like I said, it helps no one (except the capitalists) to accept unfair wages. If our culture equates money with value, then our labour and time is being undervalued when we are paid poorly. In the realm of work, we have to see value like this or get exploited.

Outside of work, however, we get to decide what creates value. What makes my life valuable is not my job, or even what I do (in so much as what is typically considered action is limited to a patriarchal and dis/ableist idea of such). I don't think it's my place to say what makes life, objectively, valuable. Make your own meaning! To get out of my own aforementioned pit, though, I'm deeply considering the meaning that I make.

My life is meaningful because I share laughter, food, space and time with people. My life has value because I am learning, and because I share what I have learned.  Every time I ask for help, I am doing something radical. I open space for others to be equally vulnerable, and we create the much sought after mutual-aid by just extending generousity. When I am honest and imperfect, I am being generous. When I set boundaries, I am doing radical action. Living my queer fucking life, dancing, creating home, and loving my mom a whole fuck of a lot are all actions in defiance of dominant culture. Every step I take towards solidarity, away from the isolation that capitalism imposes on us, is radical.

I found that, in my depression (and this is a pattern), I become very stubbornly defiant against politics of love, happiness, or hope. These are all things I believe in, but so often, as radicals, we are told by more dominant left-wingers (and just about everyone) to look on the bright side, that love will heal all, blah blah blah and it's really fucking dismissive and often bullshit. This outlook is used to silence dissent, further silence oppressed folks, and shut down any ideas that involve destroying what destroys us. In the face of this, I tend to swing to the extreme which similarly lacks complexity. Fuck you, the world is getting worse a lot faster than it's getting better, and it's hopeful fuckers like you who are ruining everything.
And so I convince myself that if I have hope, if I look for silver linings, or if I believe that joy and love can heal and even destroy what destroys me, I am on the side of the enemy who seeks to sustain the current systems by silencing unrest. No, no, no.

Neither of these positions reflect the complexity of the world, the complexity with which I believe we MUST perceive the world if we have any fucking chance at changing things for the better.

So I'm going to go to work cooking for people and supporting families. I'm going to acknowledge the privilege of making more than minimum wage, and know that if within my work life my value is made up by how much money I make then yes, I am still being undervalued. I'm going to go to fucking school so I can get higher paid work, work which might bring me some joy and that I don't think will make me miserable, or at least not very. And I'm going to keep resisting the idea that meaningful work is the fucking be all end all. No! The work I hope to have after school isn't going to make my life meaningful, just like the work I haven't had the last few months hasn't made my existence meaningless. I'm going to keep fighting patriarchal notions of what valuable participation in resistance communities looks like, and I'm going to keep participating in the ways that bring me joy and that don't feel like work. I don't want to work for a non-profit making bullshit wages, work my life away, and feel fucking righteous about it. I don't want to do work that hurts my body or soul if I can avoid it, and it wouldn't make me more radical to do so in order to not exercise my privileges. When people ask me what I do I'm going to keep telling them what I really do ("well, today I cooked all the meals I ate, tomorrow I am going to go to work, and right now I'm reading a really good book") and exploring the discomfort this brings out in myself as well as the asker. I'm going to work on deconstructing the identity I've created which says I'm valuable because of the groups I'm part of, the activist work I do, or my work and how it's like, somehow better than service work (which I was doing not so long ago) and somehow better than high-wage career work like "ooh aren't I radical for refusing to be valued in capitalist terms?"

And I'm going to keep hurting from the blows that capitalism throws my way on a daily basis. I'm going to keep trying really hard to ask for help when I need it. I'm going to see beauty and ugliness in the same gaze, and keep fighting (which usually looks like making lunch).

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