Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Sky Fell While I Was at Work

Bear with me, there is a long wind up coming before I get to where I'm trying to go on this one, but I've been contemplating the work v. life balance conundrum lately.  This is what I've been thinking about it...

Falling Skies, Dark Horse Comics

There was a human interest article in the paper the other day about this guy who looks to be about my age  who hasn't taken a day off in almost 2,000 days.  He's gunning for one on day 2,001.  When asked why he does it, he said something about wanting to use it to illustrate to his grandkids that you can achieve what you set your mind to.  Wow, I thought I was read it.  What exactly should they set their mind to?  No quality of life?  A mind numbing existence?  A loss of sense of self?  A dumbing down of the senses since there would be no time to go to plays or read a book or even take in a Pirates game every now and again?  You want your grandkids to aspire to that, really?  Shame on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for glamorizing this man who apparently even worked before and after he had some minor surgery one day.  Granted it was day surgery and he runs two little cafes, not an aerospace division at Carnegie Mellon, but I can't imagine he was in top form afterwards and you've got to wonder how productive he was.  And, you've got to wonder what all of this drive has done to his prospects for a long life.  Granted, people around here are as tough as nails, so he might live to be a ripe old age, but on the other hand, if I see his obituary in five years, I'm not going to be all that surprised.  Speaking from experience, when your work ethic is that far into hyper-drive, your sense of self-preservation and well-being is on the other end of the pendulum.

And this disdain is coming from a woman who once had a reputation as a work-alcoholic.  But even at my worst, I took most Sundays off.  Of course that was generally so I could clean house and do laundry, leading me also to conclude that this man definitely does not do much around the house.  I got the impression that his wife works at the cafes too - she must be loving life.  And, yes, I am joking.

At the same time as this article comes out, the fate of Dale Barbara now known to me, I moved on to finally reading Flyboys by James Bradley, which chronicles a little known World War II story about Navy pilots captured and killed in the battle for Chichi Jima.  It's a brutal story, but what sets is apart from many other tales of the Pacific theatre, which was a brutal war, is the background James Bradley provides before he launches into a tale of the enemy doing horrible things to innocent, upstanding Americans.  That's all true, they did.  But, how did a noble, civilized people like the Japanese become so barbaric and how innocent is America as a country anyway?  The author clearly felt we needed to understand that background to fairly judge what would take place on the small island all those years ago.  It's an unflinching look, albeit brief, of brutality that will turn even a hardened stomach like mine.  So, I sat in my comfortable rocking chair reading about the Rape of Nanking and thought that working 2,000 straight days is nothing compared to the horrors that some people have endured over the span of human existence, and any of us who have jobs in a city not racked by war and brutality should be damn grateful for them and should work hard to earn that peace of mind.

Of course, then it occurs to me that if Pittsburgh was suddenly overrun by some alien hoard a la Falling Skies and we were all scrambling for our very lives, what would that man have to show for all his hard work?  As his life flashes before his eyes as some slimy, beastly alien reaches down to rip his face off, what would he conclude?  Would he like what he saw or would he regret not spending more time with his family?  (The fact that aliens are suddenly all portrayed as horrid, ooze producing monsters who speak in guttural monster noises, yet possess high enough intelligence to travel through space and conquer an entire planet is a whole other topic...)

All of this is bouncing around in my brain because I'm a little worried about my job stability currently.  There are reasons for it as rumors about some bad news reached me all the way up here this week, but if I were to get laid off, we're in deep, super deep, shit.  Hence the panic attacks which strike for a number of reasons, and sometimes no real reason at all.  I'm smart enough to know that they all stem back to that predominant fear.  No one's told me I'm in line for a layoff.  As far as I know, no one is.  It may be a totally irrational fear.  But, let's just take it on faith that there is good cause to be nervous in the current economic climate.  Remember that I've been laid off before.  So, it's not like it can't happen.  I respect who I work for.  They will do what they have to for the good of the company.  Therefore the question is:  do I do work that's valuable enough to fit that goal?  Do I work hard enough?  Can I step up so that I do?  If I can't, at my age can I reasonably go out and compete with young, hungry, attractive college graduates and find other work?  To compensate for skills and youth I don't have, can I be like that man and work 2,000 straight days?  But, if I can and if I do, is that the kind of life I moved to Pittsburgh to have?  And really, at the end of the day, if some snot-nosed alien comes looking to suck my face off, will it matter?

As I explained to a friend the other day, now I get the stress that people like my dad carried around with them as the sole breadwinners back in the day.  One more reason I was so super pissed at Hines Ward, I guess.  What does an Astin Martin sell for, do you think?  Enough to keep my bills paid for a pretty long while, I would imagine.  And there he is, out driving it like a dumbass.  If he wants to throw that kind of money away, throw it in my direction at least.

The bottom line is that I have to live life assuming that there will not be any face-sucking aliens coming along anytime soon.  I have to worry about bills and planning for the future, but I have to balance that against what my family needs emotionally from me, and I need to do to be emotionally able to provide it to them.  I've got to remember that I worked obsessively once upon a time and look where it got me.  The money I earned and saved from that period is long gone toward trying to save my children from the fallout of that neglect.  There is enough of my reputation left to have landed me this job to begin with, but it wouldn't save me if the economic best interests of the company are to cut me loose.  So, I tell myself to stop worrying, do a good and honest job, but don't buy back into the notion that the man working toward his 2,000th straight day at work is a hero because he's not.

1 comment:

  1. I think of people like the 2,000 day man and Ayn Rand as sad. They are so afraid of not being adequate or equipped to engage in the emotional side of their lives that they are willing to just amputate it in favor of the more easier managed "work/intellectual" tasks and call it success. The goals of industry are easier to meet and have a much more tangible and immediate reward than say, making and keeping friends, falling in love, or even just making interesting conversation.

    I know the time I spent leaning over a velvet rope to stare at the brush strokes of a Kahlo painting were not productive in the cost/benefit sense of the word that Rand or 2,000 day man would understand, but I know the power and beauty of that image will stay in my mind forever. If you asked me to describe one of the hundreds of budgets, reports, letters, and charts I have produced in my work life, I am sure for the "life" of me, I would not be able to do so. I doubt 2,000 day man could either - or maybe he could. I don't know which of those two outcomes is worse.

    “The contemplation of beauty causes the Soul to sprout wings” –Plato