work – 3

Some stuff about my background in case anyone is curious.

I am a lazy person, in that I cannot stand unnecessary work, and I happen to think most of what we USA Americans call work is unnecessary, and I am very adept at avoiding it and helping others avoid it.

Leaf blowing: Just stop it! Pressure washing: stoppppp!!! I swear some of my fellow USA Americans would pressure-wash the Parthenon if they got a chance. Pulling weeds: The word “weed” shouldn’t even be in our vocabulary. Things like cleaning the bathroom are necessary, but if more of us had access to swimming in natural bodies of water or taking an outdoor shower as opposed to only getting to bathe indoors, we might not have to scrub the indoor bathroom shower tiles as often.

That said, I am also a person who cares deeply about meaningful work. Ever since a young age I have identified myself by various work labels: artist, writer, explorer, teacher.

When I was about 11 years old, I told my Dad I wanted to be a desert explorer. Our family had been camping out in the desert frequently. And I found the desert magically beautiful and mind-altering. Not just the nature aspect but its quirky human settlements too. My Dad broke the news to me that the deserts had been pretty well mapped out and probably explorer was not a career path. I was disappointed but still had plenty of other paths so it didn’t bother me much.

When we were growing up, our Dad would motivate us to study in school by saying, “if you don’t study, you’re going to have to DIG DITCHES when you grow up.”

At the time that seem like the worst thing in the world. To have to dig ditches! Not only the hardship of the labor, but also the indignity was somehow conveyed to us kids, such that we could not think of anything worse than having to dig ditches when we grew up. And therefore we studied.

One could hardly blame my Dad for not wanting us to grow up to do manual labor. He grew up in a town of Eastern European immigrants who had been artisans in their own countries but had to toil in factories or coal mines when they came to the US.

My parents always valued education, and they came from families that valued education. We grew up in a house full of books, and we got to travel extensively. Being a military family facilitated travel.

In school I was labeled “gifted”. (What a toxic label in retrospect, not only for the kids not labeled gifted but for the kids labeled gifted. But it was well-meant and I don’t fault the parents or teachers for having this label. Now that we know better, though, I hope we can do better by not saddling kids with this label. It’s great that we are learning about the many many forms of intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a huge one.)

But despite my supposed intellectual giftedness, my favorite subjects in school were art and Home Ec. The subjects that were thought of as not being for smart people were the subjects that I loved from the heart. Naturally I felt conflicted about this because I was supposed to be intellectual and was supposed to like the “hard” subjects. I did not like the “hard” subjects.

Actually I loved English class, but I only loved reading the books. I didn’t love writing papers about them. I was terrible at analyzing literature. And I really loved foreign languages. My language of choice was Spanish. But it wasn’t really considered cool to like foreign language class, so I could only dream of using my Spanish someday in the future.

I really liked sewing. If a career path of sewing had been offered, I might have jumped on it. No regrets though. I still really like sewing.

The phrase “emotional regulation” was not known back then, but in retrospect, sewing and other needlework helped me deal with my anxiety and depression, and with emotional regulation, in addition to being valuable skills that helped my self-esteem.

But, still buying into the programming that going to college and then working in an office was “superior” to going into a trade, I embarked on the expected track of college followed by office job.

A few years into it, I realized I just didn’t like being in an office very much. Pushing paper was another form of digging ditches really. And the fluorescent lighting seemed to bleach everything out including people’s dreams.

While continuing to work, I went to community college and got a degree in graphic arts. Very glad I did that; though I never did work full-time as a graphic artist I was able to use the skills at my existing jobs.

I was still bored and in some kind of existential crisis though, so in 1990 I escaped to Japan. It was an easy path for anyone with a college degree. You could go over to Japan and teach English conversation. Hordes of young people did this. In my off hours I dedicated myself to learning how to speak and write Japanese.

For a while I didn’t think I would come back to the US, I loved Japan so much. But eventually in 1995 I came back. The place I landed was Austin TX.

For some years after coming back to the USA, I earned my livelihood as a freelance translator of Japanese to English. This sounds way more glamorous than it is. People assumed I was translating the Tale of Genji or something. When actually it was chewing-gum marketing surveys and such. But some of the documents were at least entertaining, and this occupation afforded me a middle-class-ish income while I was trying to figure out what I really wanted to do in life.

I had always been passionate about the environment and in 2005 I stumbled on Permaculture, a design system for creating sustainable human environments. I went to a sustainability school called EcoVersity in Santa Fe NM for six months, which I was able to do pretty easily thanks to my portable, laptop-based work of translating Japanese.

After getting my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2005 and graduating from EcoVersity’s Earth-Based Vocations program in 2006, I gave myself an occupation that’s directly related to permaculture and the environment. Teaching workshops, organizing events, publicizing environmental stuff. The label I came up with for my tax forms was “sustainability educator, self-employed.”

I was very happy to have figured out what I wanted to do with my life.

I was still into the arts and other things that didn’t directly have to do with the environment. And had various side jobs such as working at a restaurant. I was a terrible waitress, friendly but very scatterbrained, and I will always have the utmost respect for people working in food and beverage service.

As part of my permaculture training, I chose to spend time volunteering on a local organic farm. This was very educational as well as being enjoyable, and came with a fringe benefit of fresh produce every week.

In 2011, a year after moving from Texas to Florida, I had my first solo art show. In 2017 I wrote my first book. (Actually if you want to get technical, my first book was a comic book titled “Why Go To the Beach?” — self-published in 1987.) And I had a side-job as a pedicabber from 2013-2015. And I’ve made and sold jewelry on and off since my 20s. And I did some outdoor odd-jobs clearing brush and, yes, digging a ditch or two. Sometime around 2018 I officially added “eco landscaping business” to my roster of work.

Fun fact about the era of my life immediately after my dad passed abruptly in 2010, and I moved from Texas to Florida in the same summer: At one point during that time I had exactly $.25 in my bank account, and $6000 in credit-card debt. A direct result of my failure to listen to my own intuition about how to run my business, and instead listening to “respectable” middle-class programming about what constitutes being a “professional.”

At one point I took a deep breath, and the viciously mean part of me laughed at myself: You fucking loser, you’re $6000 in debt. Your whole stupid-ass pathetic life isn’t worth $6000, and never will be, to the world or to anyone in it. I didn’t try to argue with that voice, but I did set about getting out of debt, one gig and odd-job and painting at a time. And was able to get to zero debt relatively quickly.

A positive thing that came out of that $6000 debt was that I had this flash moment of realization, that some credit-card company needed me more than I needed them or anyone else. It was a wildly liberating realization, and I was never afraid of debt after that — although I continue to be averse to incurring debt, and have managed to avoid it since then. Not having the fear changes the whole picture, but I still choose to stay out of debt.

Regarding work and laziness … I’m still very allergic to unnecessary work, and am militantly creative at avoiding it. However, there is a lot of work that does need to be done in this world. And there are a lot of things that I do that aren’t strictly necessary, but I do them anyway because they’re creative and bring me joy, and I hope bring other people joy as well.

By the way, speaking of laziness, there’s a book I’ve been meaning to write. Constructive Laziness: How to save the planet by doing absolutely nothing whatsoever. Maybe I’ll get around to writing that book someday …