where the writers are
Something I Can Hold

My youngest son manages a janitorial crew at the college he attends.  It's his college job, and he likes it, enjoying hard work.  When he was little and I had big trees to plant, I could pay him 20 dollars a hole, and he would spend the afternoon digging and digging, coming inside in the late afternoon dirty and completely happy.  He would rake the entire back hill, piling oak leaves into large piles.  He loves to hike, and on hiking trips was always in the front, loving to scout the trail, find the way, clear the path. 

He has always liked to pitch in, get the work done, and I think of the Marge Piercy poem "To Be of Use" almost every time I think of my son:

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.  

So much of what we do is hard to see these days.  Type words onto a screen, click a button, and the words appear on the internet, a mysterious place that often disappears and crashes and is taken down, or at least pieces of it.  Send an email into the void and hope the void answers back.  the work we do is often not evident before us, and I can't help but wonder if that makes us unhappy, not having tangible evidence of our labors.  I wonder if that is why writers are nervous about ebooks--the kindle or ereader may be in front of us, but our novel is downloaded and then erased, the hard work disappeared.I appreciate work done well, and like Piercy, appreciate something I can hold--a shoe, a ceramic mug, a chair.  We often don't value those who make these useful things, but in their absence, we mourn the things not done.  Lately, I've been paying attention to work that I can see, looking for competence, mastery, and skill, things I overlook, things I certainly need when drinking my coffee and the mug stays intact.This is why, I believe, my son loves his work.  There is use and there is beauty in something hard won and evident.Jessica

3 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

My oldest daughter is just

My oldest daughter is just now opening a fashion boutique in downtown Fairbanks. For the past ten years or so she has been sewing her own creations (she's pretty much a one-person sweat shop). From an early age she realized that it's one thing to have a fancy idea...it's quite another to actually make it happen.

With the manufacturing sector of the economy going away without anyone noticing, anyone who has a clue about what it takes to actually MAKE something is going to be a rarity. An economy not based on manufacturing a tangible product is no economy at all. This is why ENRON and their ilk went belly up. They never produced ONE IOTA OF PRODUCT...it was all vapor. ENRON's assets when it all came to light were ZERO. Nothing, nil, zip, zilch!

For those of us who have actually produced something....whether it's crankshafts or poetry....this concept is fairly self-evident. Which is why there's not a iceberg's chance in hell that any politician will ever grasp it.


Comment Bubble Tip

Good for your daughter! I

Good for your daughter!

I was reading an article somewhere about the fact that few of us can survive based on the skill sets we have. Grow food? Make food? Build anything? So many of have let these skills drift away.

I was in a cabinet maker's workshop last weekend, and it brought back 7th grade wood shop class. Do they offer that any more at all? I made a spice rack and a book shelf, though those two things wouldn't help me out much come the apocalypse.



Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Comment Bubble Tip

Actually, you don't need

Actually, you don't need every skill set to survive....you just need a skill set you can TRADE with someone who has one. You can trade spice racks for food or plumbing. You can trade tutoring for tomatoes.

The ones who will really have a hard time in the apocalypse are unelected bureaucrats who have no valuable skills in an actual market. They'll either have to become useful or starve.

As it should be. :)