Work is what is on the other side of sleep. It is everything I do when I’m awake. Work is a kind of consciousness; a way of approaching activity that requires motion, of a physical or mental sort. Work is motion with a purpose, unless meditation is your work. Meditating monks work to stop all physical and mental activity. Work, the word, enjoys interoperability as a noun or a verb. One can work at something; with something; for something; because of something. You can work up, or work down, you can also work around, but there is no getting around work. Work has to be done. That is why it is work. Work takes one outside and inside at the same time. Work can be a Zen experience. Work is what someone else tells you it is. Work comes with rewards as part of the physics…Action begets reaction. Satisfaction and money are two big ones. Sometimes culture determines the reward target. Sometimes need does. For me it has been mostly need. Show me the money and I’ll figure out the satisfaction.
I’ve had a lot of jobs. I got my first regular paychecks when I was fifteen. It was 1960. I sold patio and unpainted furniture in a store in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, in North Hollywood, California. The inventory was displayed in the front, and in a shop out back I assisted the boss when he built the unpainted furniture that we also sold. We made bookshelves, cabinets, and wardrobes, that sort of stuff. My high school found it for me and I got credits toward graduation because I worked there during some school time. The boss lived in a small house next door with his girlfriend. She was an ex-bargirl. Shortly after getting my driver’s license the boss began to let me drive the delivery truck, and once a month or so—always on a Saturday—to drive his girlfriend to Santa Barbara to see her children. I would leave early in the morning and her time was arranged so that I would get back by closing time. It was a good job. I kept it for a couple of years. I got money and satisfaction. The satisfaction had a longer and deeper effect than the money, and that shaped my future in a way that I only recognized in hindsight. Besides the experience of “selling” someone on the merits of one patio umbrella over another, or wood versus plastic in the battle for survival in a San Fernando Valley backyard; I got to build things with my hands. That link, hand-mind-eye, and the realization of objects that resulted from such activities gave me a satisfaction that guided some of the most important choices I would make regarding how I was going to be spending a lot of my time in the rest of my life.
Work is an addiction. It is something I need, like a fix…an injection of a sense of accomplishment and progress. For me work is linear, implying going from somewhere to somewhere different with the implication of progress except in circumstances where one takes the proverbial two steps forward and one step back…in which case work is like the “two-step,” a dance move made famous by cowboys and early Latin American tourists. Recently I had such a day. It began smoothly enough. Up at 5, double cappuccino, some reading and emails. Then, as I was leaving, my phone slipped out of my hand and into the toilet. The trip to Verizon was pointless. I had no insurance and to replace it was prohibitively expensive. The service department did not offer to dry it out or clean it. Indignance welled up in me and an image of my mother came to mind, repairing a vacuum cleaner rather than discarding it. I went home disassembled my phone and repaired it. The question is what to call the repair, was it work or was it sport? In the larger picture I set out at the beginning of the day with an agenda, the work plan. I got ambushed by the phone repair which isn’t much different than getting a call from my youngest daughter’s school. Then I am reminded that children are also work, a nice sort of work, however as a teenager she has developed her own orbit in her own universe and, not-so-slowly I find myself, a parental CEO of sorts, being challenged by a new junior executive in what has become another independent-minded division of the old pater familias.
People often equate work with career. If that is the case then I have not really worked at all because I have never really had a career, other than trying to be myself. Would this constitute work? Judging by the ever-expanding rolls of mental health workers from the psychiatrist to the social worker with a Masters Degree, it is certainly work for some and if you polled those supine patients (some are called clients), they would probably all say that what they are doing is work. And let us not forget that recently expanded definition of the two-word couplet, “Body Work,” to include human beings as well as automobiles.
Wardrobe and work…one defines the other. Today was a day that, for me, exemplified the tight fit here. The day began as most usually do now; I leave my GV apartment and head to my apartment uptown. I am dressed in my red Wrangler jeans and quilted vest. My first change is into a pair of wool gabardine trousers, cashmere sweater and suede jacket for a meeting with a property developer in midtown who has made an offer on the brownstone apartment building I live in. When I got back from that meeting I changed into my black Levis work pants and headed to the next work, plastering a fresh wall in my gallery. From the plaster spattered Levis I hurriedly changed into my chalk-striped Versace suit and black Bally demi-boots for a Technology Conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel over Grand Central Station, where the Chief Executive of a public company I consult for is speaking. Afterwards it is dinner at Docks, a popular NYC seafood restaurant. By the close of my day I was back in my Red Wranglers and 8th street garret.
The fashion industry has made billions of dollars decking out people to look like something they are not. The modern wardrobe reflects the work ethic at every turn. Think on the state of Levis—black for formal and blue for sport—accepted in posh quarters, from Beverly Hills to the Upper Eastside of New York City.
How many kinds of work are there? Hard, easy, good, dangerous, fun…the list goes on and on. Is it an ethos? An ethic? A philosophy? Work can be devisable. Is work always productive? Is there a work gene? Are some people more prone to work than others? Is getting well work? What role does meaning have in work? Does work imply reward? Is some work nobler than others? What is the relationship between work and responsibility? If idle hands make work for the devil, who do active hands make work for? What is the devil’s work? Is there a difference between working on a job and working in a job? Have you ever worked work? Is work more important than play? Maybe one of the most important questions about work is; “Do you have to think about work? Or is work just the other side of sleep.