Working Together

"We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again..."

Excerpt from "Working Together" © David Whyte
in The House of Belonging

Many Rivers Press

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I am on the cusp of being unemployed with my position being eliminated due to budget cuts.  Consequently, I'm up at 4 AM  this  morning .  I'm 57 - not old enough to retire - not young enough to hire.  I'm not marketable. That is the fact of it.  What I bring to the work place of skill, enhancements and vision are not recognized as valuable by current standards.  In the bleary predawn I was trying to amuse myself  after a restless night by scrolling through songs.  I spent some time watching Johnny Cash videos, seeing as how that is the only cash I can spend right now.  I then moved into songs about the heart of the matter:  work and the economy...

For a long time I have been thinking in terms of the last twenty years when I think of America's dependence on oil and an inflated economy but as I looked at this video I realized that our dependence is really embedded deeper within the American psyche and it goes back farther than that.  It actually seems to reside on the level of myth for those of us born into the automobile culture. 

Given that the oil industry provided the groundwork for the American economy for so very, very long, it stands to reason it will take some time and creativity to realign the structure of the economy on a new foundation.  With all the pressure for social reform, tea parties, posturing, posing and denial it seems I am part of a collective group of people who have driven the combustible engine to the end of the line and we just can't stand it.  Right and left both seem apoplectic over how they have been "wronged" by each other. I contend that the arguments are somewhat distracting from what has really happened to us all.  The gas guage is empty and we have run out of road. 

Just as sure as I have skittered along as a wage slave all of my life on the high tide of other people's wealth, taken my directives as a worker bee and carved out my niche of happiness, so have I reached the end of my working day as I have known it.  Nobody took me where I didn't want to go and the same goes for my post-war baby clan because on some level, we flow together and we are identified as a group.  We are the aging; we contributed ; we deserve respect for that because our work added to the greater good. We will never be young again and...I must say it, though it raises the shackles of my friends who design their very lives around raging against the tide of age, "I'm sorry, but young is NOT better than old; it is other than old".

When it comes to speed and efficiency in the workplace, we are not young and uncomplicated.  We bring the depth of experience into the bigger picture.  In most work environs, the older worker spells problems and without an understanding of the need for depth and value in the work environment, we become parodies of ourselves and a farce in the workplace.   We are living history and history has a vital and rewarding place in all aspects of society.  Not recognizing this fact is not only ageist (and a financial bonanza in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic field), but it is detrimental to the greater good of any organization or nation.  Elders are in jobs or needing work to make ends meet.  Some of the ends are not going to meet because, frankly, some people just don't "get" it. Sadly, some of the worst offenders are the old themselves who are so afraid of their own reflection that they can't stop staring at their wrinkles long enough to recognize the strength staring back at them.

Clearly these are hard times for everyone but if we do not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed and defeated over the loss of what was by busying ourselves with criticizing and commiserating over bits and pieces of our lost youth and arguing over our entitlements, we may just find the things that are possible and have enough strength left over to help develop positive changes.  I see this economic stop as a chance to build something not born of war or built on greed, self interest and suffering.  Anyway, this is my strategy for the time between now and my next mortgage payment.  ( I hear a Greek chorus in the chambers of my mind chanting, "Good luck with that.")

This flashback of Lucas' film "American Graffiti" as it is edited into this song inspired these thoughts in me. The combustible engine gave us a tremendous lift, didn't it?  Look where it took us all!  Some made piles of dough that they spent right away on novelties or adventures.  Some made a haul that they saved and lost in the stock market by trusting people who were greedy and disguised themselves as the status quo.  Some made the money and invested it in a better future for others.  Some made so much they did all three and then some!  I think it is time to park it and take honest stock in what we think is our entitlement here.  It seems to me, if we did not enjoy the ride we were given when we were given it, we should check our complaining at the door. Whether we get paid for it or not, there is elder work to be done.

Thanks to AK47bandit for the "Get a Job" video


Crockhead said...

Very well said, Cile. Sorry, you had a hard time sleeping, but you seem to have a good perspective on things. (Not that perspective will pay your bills.)

cile said...

Thanks, Crockhead. I trust I will find a way to get by.

Esther said...

Hey - if you had a paypal button up for your readers to show appreciation for your great, insightful writing, I'd be clicking right now to pay a little somethin-somethin for that gift... just a sort of solo-preneur thought... ;-) (And yes, you deserve it!)

Mark said...

From someone who has been riding the downsized train since I was 46 and am now 52, I can tell you that it is both better and worse than it seems right now. I still have not found my way in all this and in some ways I am surprised and bothered that at such an age I seem to be struggling with the question 'Who am I?'

As to the petroleum age you identify, I can only say I just don't think it is that simple.

We were taught to get our college degree or learn a trade and A Good Job would be ours. The fallacy in all that was that earning a paycheck would be security.

Working for someone else has never truly been secure, but less and less so since the 60's. Depending on some company to stay in business or keep needing your skills as you got older and more expensive just wasn't the security we were taught would be there.

You and I may struggle, or we may find our way, but whatever we do, let's try to teach those that follow behind to become business owners and job creators rather than insecure, vanishing paycheck slaves.

cile said...

Here, Here Mark. I know it is not all that simple. I'm just chewing on what is ruminating through my mind in reacting to a change in plans. We were promised things - learned to expect certain things. In my case, I have to wonder about how much questioning of this established status quo should have happened with me earlier. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

I'm not sure today that my quest for a secure job was anymore successful than a quest for comfortable shoes. Fashions and expectations change.

I think that expectations must be reevaluated constantly. We were not told that growing up. It is natural to feel tricked if you invested in an expensive education that was delivered with the promise of happiness and security. The truth is, no one knew what kind of future we would inherit. I'm totally with you that respect for workers must be a priority in all these changes. I also contend that workers need to be clear and not expect policy to magically appear to reflect their benefit. I have discovered in my experience in taking a "secure" and "safe" government job that I had to face my expectations of my employer. They were unrealistic and designed in a different time for a different set of personalities.

We need to be active in rebuilding what an American worker actually is. I think what is different is that each American needs to define it anew and interact with the their bread and butter in new ways.

Employers need to understand they are working with people and stop reducing them to being just numbers and statistics. Recognize that they are people; people who actually brought a lot of skills to the table when they were hired. The hierarchy gets away with murder and the expectations of workers tangle everything up unmercifully.

Thanks for commenting.

Esther: I am going to have a PayPal button tattooed on my chin. Be my pimp. You are too sweet for biscuits; you must be a jelly roll! (;-D )