A Life’s Work

By the time my father was in his late fifties, he’d calculated the number of days of work he had left until he could retire; it was somewhere over eight hundred. I remember being home on a visit from college and coming downstairs to his early-morning math calculations. This was my weekend father: sitting at the dining room table, stubble casting a shadow across his chin, in jeans and a white tee-shirt, barefoot, sipping black coffee from his blue willow mug. He was always scratching numbers, filling up loose sheets of paper with a chaos of numbers, the pages scattered across the table and his yellow, three-sided ruler and tiny solar-powered calculator lost in the mix.

During my childhood, our table became his makeshift desk and his weekend mornings were filled with taxes, finances or house plans. But in those years, his project was retirement: how much time left, how much he would earn from Social Security depending on which year he retired, what he would earn versus what my mother would when she finally retired from her nursing job. He was still in the habit of waking up at four or five am then, and hours later while I blearily poured myself coffee, he’d cheerily rattle off his latest figures, showing me his equations—what he got if he included all his sick days, or if he took absolutely no vacation days. Then he’d pause, lean back, and announce the point of all his work:

“Only eight hundred more days that I have to go in and deal with all those bastards.”

 

Work is a four-letter word. It’s just what you’ve got to do. Nobody likes it, everybody does it. As Studs Terkel says in his introduction to Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, “No matter how demeaning the task, no matter how it dulls the senses and breaks the spirit, one must work. Or else.” These were the refrains of my childhood.

During my teenage years my parents prodded me to start thinking of college, of “what I wanted to do with my life,” presenting it as an exciting choice. As a kid it was easy: Veterinarian! Dog trainer! Dancer! Librarian! But by the time I was in high school, I was on to what adulthood was all about: behind the regal curtain of higher education, of majors and credits and diplomas and course loads, I saw the drudgery it led to, and it wasn’t at all “what I wanted to do with my life.” No, I did not want the boring nine to fives, to be an adult who complained about coworkers and abbreviated lunch hours, who took embittered smoke breaks on back stoops and lived with an aura of regret for all the things I didn’t do before I went and got myself chained down to a career.

What I did want was—and sometimes still is—as hazy and elusive as a desert mirage. As the youngest of four siblings, the daughter of parents who dutifully worked at the same careers for thirty years, I felt the ominous doom that was adulthood, the undertow that was the workforce, society tugging at my ankles to join, to contribute, to play my part. It was like jury duty, my civic obligation, except instead of one day of service it was a lifetime. But it all sounded so fucking depressing, the idea of conducting the same task day in, day out. I didn’t want to ever count down the days I had left at a job, counting down to when I could quit doing what, by then, I’d spent the majority of my life doing.

“Ought not there be an increment, earned though not yet received, from one’s daily work—an acknowledgement of man’s being?” Terkel asks his readers, as he lays out the patterns he sees in all the stories he’s collected. Work is demeaning because people feel like “machines” or “mules,” like “robots” or “farm implements;” they feel “caged” and find ways to make the hours go by. This is what I disliked, the sense of being less than human. And like a typical teenager I was determined to not become my parents, to etch my own way into this world that would be different. I don’t have to suffer, I told myself. Through all my teenage odd jobs, I kept a sliver of my mind focused on the someday, when I wouldn’t have to do menial tasks that felt meaningless or degrading.

“Those bastards” were the managers at the company where my father worked. A trained electrician, my father’s job was purchasing electrical supplies from wholesale suppliers for the company. A desk job, filling out orders, speaking with agents, “dealing with assholes.” And as it turns out, he never had to finish out his eight-hundred odd days. About a year before he was ready to retire the company cut him loose. After over thirty years of service my father was called into the manager’s office and told that he wasn’t needed anymore.

 

I’ve often tried to parse out what work means, particularly in a North American context. Something so mundane, so ubiquitous, so much a part of our social fabric—yet the idea of work is so riddled with existential dilemmas. A person needs to be kept busy, and a person needs to feel that her work is meaningful. Two ideas that should be so simple, but have proved so difficult to fulfill throughout history. For me personally, it’s always been a question of finding something that won’t bore me to death. I find myself circling closer to it—teaching, I realize, doesn’t bore me. A roomful of people always has the potential to be unpredictable, and I like that.

“Find something you love to do,” my father always said. “But you hate what you do,” I’d say. And he’d always correct me: “I don’t hate what I do, I just hate some of the people I work for.” He had a cohort of equally disgruntled coworkers. They made their days more sufferable by doing things like hiding fake turds in each other’s desk drawers. Perhaps it was the practical jokes and a dose of denial that kept him from going over the edge all those years. That and the fact, probably the most important fact, that as he always said, he “did it for us kids.” Does a father of four even have a choice?

Perhaps the only thing worse than the drudgery of a job is losing the choice to hold onto that job. It was my dad’s last shred of decency—the power to quit. The power to choose to hold on just a little longer. They took that option away from him. He was mature about it—he knew there were workers who had young children, who had kids still in college. By the time he was laid off I was in the midst of grad school, my parents free of the burden of supporting their kids. But still. Behind his “I’m just glad to be done with those assholes,” there was hurt.

 

I spent a stint of my teenage years as a housekeeper for a small country bed and breakfast just up the road from where I grew up. When I started the job, I thrived off a particular voyeurism, curious about the lives of people I never saw, whom I only configured by the traces of their belongings—the way they left the covers of their bed (strewn across the floor or half-heartedly draped across the pillows in a moment of conscientiousness), by the clothes they left draped across the wing back chairs flanking the fireplace. Who were these people, I wanted to know, who came to spend a weekend here? As a teenager, the idea of spending a weekend somewhere was still a foreign idea—who went to a place just for a weekend? My family planned all year for a week in Cape Cod or Florida.

Mostly, my family worked on the weekends. We had a large yard, a line of Norway spruces up against the driveway, and I remember endless spring days spent collecting pine cones in buckets. Picking up branches. Winters spent shoveling the driveway—the Sisyphean task of pushing snow as it continued to fall around us. I remember long pauses to stare across the stubbled cornfield that stood beyond our yard, to the stand of woods behind it. Or tilting my head up to the sky to feel soft feathers of flakes melt on my cheeks—the irate sounds of my siblings caterwauling at me to “Move your ass!” But how, I fully I admit, as the youngest I sometimes got away with my daydreaming.

In those earlier years of childhood, I hadn’t configured the sweet feeling of work and release, that shoveling meant a cup of Swiss Miss with those hard little marshmallows melting into a froth at the top, and that it always tasted better if I’d felt I’d earned it. I didn’t know yet that work was really larger than the work itself—it was about the relationship of work to non-work. Like the way a sculpture is defined not just by the object itself, but also by the negative space around it. Work takes on an altogether different meaning when it is not endless, when the mind can focus on some sort of sweet reward. Then, I only knew where my mind wanted to be (or didn’t want to be), and that my body could not do one thing and my mind something else.

Who were these people whom I would sometimes glimpse lounging by the inn’s pool, or reading magazines on the front porch, which, from time to time, they could look up from to admire the sprawling magnolia tree dropping its pale pink blooms? Who were these people who shamelessly left dirty tissues strewn across their room’s floors, balls of hair clogging the drains, lipstick stains across their pillows? I felt so apart from this life that one morning I threw out an electric toothbrush a guest had left behind. It was a contraption I’d never seen, and I couldn’t figure what it was for. And since I couldn’t imagine it, I threw it into the dumpster just to be berated by the innkeeper hours later when the guest called and asked for it to be mailed to his house. It was general stupidity on my part not to have asked about it. But it was like this: I seemed to work in a haze, my world and the one I picked up after like alternate realities, two parallel planes that never crossed except in moments like this. I worked like an anthropologist, picking my way across signs and objects from some distant culture, trying to make meaning out of it all.

My first year back from college, I worked there again, but this time with a tinge of resentment. I returned as a shaved-headed, nose-ringed college student, fresh off my first dose of intellectualism. It would be my last year housekeeping, and now I stripped beds and folded sheets with a sort of indignation, which wasn’t without its own dose of curiosity. Did the bank executives and high power attorneys hate their jobs, too? What sort of freedom did money buy, and what sort of imprisonment? Ironically, they escaped to the place I felt trapped in. We found ourselves winding up the same charmingly creaky set of red carpeted stairs, except I had a duty and they had none, they had a lot of money and I had none, and those invisible barriers grew in my mind, driving me to a point of frustration, to bitterness at the unfairness of the world. I grew to resent wealth. Not in the way that some people do, with the drive to make as much money as they can; I decided I wanted to never want it, to never need so much money, to be happy living modestly.

As I walked the warped back halls of the inn, I focused on a Japanese print that hung on one wall. It was a painting of a landscape whose details I can no longer remember, but it looked ancient and exotic, quotidian and alluring all at the same time with mysteriously beautiful calligraphy down the side. I focused on what was foreign, a new curiosity budding inside of me, and I made a secret pact made with myself to flee, to never be bored, to never be like them.

That last season I worked with a small, hunchbacked woman who walked with a limp. She hauled laundry baskets up and down the narrow back staircase. I no longer remember her name, but I remember she was quiet, deferential, and we worked in a sullen silence together. I remember her as taking any shift eagerly, feeling lucky to have the work, and her quiet dedication was one that always silenced my inner rage. Guilt slipped in in its place as I acknowledged the fact that I knew I didn’t want to become her some day.

The realization was too much for me to handle, and after my escapades of loathing the wealthy guests I went on inner tirades admonishing myself for being such a spoiled, shithead kid who couldn’t handle the regular grind. The grind that everybody deals with eventually. And so I finished out the season, working dutifully, keeping my thoughts of escape to myself.

 

The fact that I have just spent fifteen minutes leaving my desk to climb up to the attic and rummage through boxes to locate a folder, which contains an excerpt from Antonio Gramsci’s Selections from the Prison Notebooks—can this be considered work? As I pushed my way into the attic, lifting both doors up high so my arms were over my head, I gave my hands a dramatic flourish as if to announce, sarcastically, in my own mind: Ah, now, just where did I leave my Gramsci? I think of my sisters, how they might roll their eyes. One is a mother and a gardener. If you don’t break a sweat, it isn’t really work. The other is a pharmacist who frequently works 56-hour weeks. If you can’t complain about it, if you aren’t hurting afterwards, then it isn’t really work.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Gramsci. Now it sounds like intellectual pretension, but the point is he wrote about work. Perhaps if I had been raised by academics or artists—and I’m not saying I wish this—the worth of these efforts would be more rewarded, and I might find it easier to trust that composing an essay is worthwhile work. At this point, at thirty-three years old, I’ve made the conscious choice to trust that yes, this is worthy. It’s taken years of convincing and two rounds of graduate school to trust this voice, and yet I almost wrote “work” in scare quotes, because, truthfully, the idea is engrained in me that this is in fact not worthy work. It’s work from which I receive little direct reward or compensation, something of little or no remunerative value. It’s not to say my parents find this pursuit fruitless—they know it’s what I want to do, and they’re never remiss to tell me they admire me for the grad school, for finding a way to do it without going into debt, for every minor publication, whether or not they read it. They’re proud.

Yet, there’s always that niggling question my father always poses. As I geared up for graduation from an MFA program—my final graduation, I’ve told everybody, simply to ward off any “perpetual student” jabs—he was already asking, “So what kind of work are you going to do?” “This magazine you’re writing for—what does it pay?” “Did you get that teaching job?” He’s proud of my passion but focused on my career.

Some time between grad school experience number one and grad school experience number two, I was talking to my parents on the phone. “I think I’m ready for a career,” I told my father. The bouncing around from shit job to shit job—saving up money and then spending it all just to repeat the cycle—was getting old.

“Hold on a minute,” my father said. “Allison!” He called to my mother. “Get out the calendar and write this down. Amanda said she wants a career!”

“Oh my God,” my mother mock exclaimed in the background.

“I never thought that would happen,” my father said with relief.

I read “Americanism and Fordism,” a chapter from Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, in the second year of my second round of graduate school, in a literature class that focused on the Modernist era and mass production. The notebooks were written between 1929 and 1935. Gramsci was an Italian communist, arrested by Mussolini’s fascist regime for his radical views. The notebooks were smuggled out of prison in the 1930s, not published until the 1950s, and translated into English in the 1970s. In “American and Fordism,” Gramsci presents his theories on how the mechanization of labor, as seen in factories like those Henry Ford had constructed for his automobile industry, could give rise to a new kind of working class.

He wrote during the height of the Industrial Era. Peasants were flocking to urban areas to work in factories, where anybody could do the work. Expertise was no longer of value—it was now about speed and quantity.

Frederick Taylor was one of the original designers of scientific management—the method that synthesized workflows, as found in factories, in order to provide efficient and economic production. He said that labor could be so simplified even “trained gorillas” could do it. Needless to say, this didn’t make factory work favorable in many intellectuals’ eyes. But Gramsci saw it another way. Yes, the work was simple and repetitive, but because men are not gorillas, once their bodies adapted to the automatic nature of this work, their minds would be liberated. Factory work did not have to mean a “spiritual death” for the worker, as many feared it would.

…what really happens is that the brain of the worker, far from being mummified, reaches a state of complete freedom. The only thing that is completely mechanicised is the physical gesture; the memory of the trade, reduced to simple gestures repeated at an intense rhythm, “nestles” in the muscular and nervous centres and leaves the brain free and unencumbered for other occupations. One can walk without having to think about all the movements needed in order to move, in perfect synchronisation, all the parts of the body, in the specific way that is necessary for walking. The same thing happens and will go on happening in industry with the basic gestures of the trade. One walks automatically, and at the same time thinks about whatever he chooses.

A healthy lifestyle (Gramsci believed that the return of Puritan ideals in the home—strong families, no drinking, etc.—was the cornerstone of a healthy society) will keep the worker from physically collapsing, and while at work the mind will be free to think, dream, philosophize. It’s an idea I’ve had in my head ever since I read it. I laugh at it, because I’ve spent over a decade trying to find a way to harness the wild thoughts in my mind as my hands folded sheets, pulled weeds, or scrubbed pots; I’m convinced it’s impossible. Perhaps with years of idle hands in prison, Gramsci convinced himself this could work.

But it’s an idea that’s obsessed me so thoroughly because I so badly want it to be true.

Terkel collected his stories in the 1970s. “In the thirties,” he wrote, “not very many questioned their lot. Those rebels who found flaws in our society were few in number.” But now, he wrote, “‘the system stinks’ was a [recurrent] phrase.”

Like so many of Terkel’s workers, I can’t get beyond the problem of the mind. Even if a person has a chance to think while the hands work, as Gramsci thought, he must sideline those ideas until they can somehow be manifested into some sort of productive thought, like being written down, for example. And so I can’t help but wonder: what’s the purpose of thought if a human can only think it, and never act on those thoughts? What if there is no one to tell the thoughts to, no way to write them down? How many of us have been determined to go home and write something after work and actually done it? At home, the relief of not-work becomes all-encompassing. The way Gramsci saw it, the man home from the factory has his wife, his dinner cooked and on the table, his children waiting as the reward. In my case, home from work—gardening, which is how I make my money these days—I sit on the porch with a beer, wait for an early-evening thunderstorm to roll in and cool me off.

 

Gramsci compares this moment in history, the rise of industry and the mechanization of labor in the 1920s, to the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic Era—about 10,000 years ago. The eras are similar because of the changes they require in humans—a complete reevaluation of the way we consider work, of how we occupy ourselves day to day for survival in this world. “Who could describe the ‘cost’ in human lives and in the grievous subjugation of instinct involved in the passage from nomadism to a settled agricultural existence?”

I’ve thought a lot about this. How evolutionarily speaking, the rise of agriculture makes sense. How settling, sowing crops, eventually domesticating wild animals, makes sense in terms of survival. How without agriculture and settling our most important civilizations may not have evolved, how we wouldn’t have created centers for learning and intellectual pursuit and artistic endeavors. How my mind wouldn’t be free enough to be sitting here wondering why it becomes so frustrated when forced to complete rote duties. With the rise of settled civilizations must have come the rise of the existential dilemma—curiosity about what else is out there, downtime to ponder existence.

I imagine a hollowed out cave on a steep stone cliff, full of sheaves of wheat or stalks of dried maize. A high place where the wind and dry air keep grains preserved, like the ancient cliff hollows in Ollantaytambo, Peru, where the train stops on the way to Machu Picchu. Stuffed with grains for the dry season, the people congregated, battened down the hatches to stick it out through the bleakest months, hoping their supplies would last. This sort of lifestyle introduced an element of waiting, and with waiting there’s impatience and hope and anticipation, which leads to…well, as the saying goes: idle hands are the Devil’s playthings. Yet it was idle hands that allowed ideas of the Devil, and many forms of religion, to develop in the first place.

Before that, religion was intensely connected with the natural world, and the settling of civilizations allowed for religion to become divorced from earthly, physical forces. Of course, many cultures maintained an animistic sense of the natural world even as they grew crops and domesticated livestock (praying to mountain gods, sun gods for good weather). But settling kept people more removed from forests. Clinging to a single plot of land there were fewer forces to reckon with, and rather than continually interacting with a spirit here, a spirit there, there was time to write stories—myths, or history, of how people came to be here.

I realize this is a simplified view. I know more recent studies show that there isn’t such a clear demarcation of when one lifestyle ended and another began. Some nomadic people also had civilizations, and some hunter-gatherer societies had also built temples, proving that religion did exist before agriculture. But still, I picture how it might have been to be a hunter or a gatherer: The mind quiets when the feet are perpetually on the move, when the mind is constantly in pursuit, in pursuit, in pursuit. Of water, of tubers, of game. The mind must always be paying attention because what’s wild is unpredictable, and a person who hunts or gathers or wanders must always be on the lookout for signs: Mushrooms grow under particular trees; deer make small, low, nearly imperceptible scrapes at the bases of small saplings; when a stream runs through the woods you may find wild onions growing along the bank in spring. When duties are not defined or demarcated or necessarily known, the mind is busy, in tune, always paying attention.

But when we don’t need to pay constant attention, a space opens up for the mind to wander, to wonder. The mind becomes unfocused, and therefore unquiet. The mind becomes separated from the body’s work, and we get bored unless we devise ways to harness its runaway galloping. And it’s here, in this space between mind and body, where dissatisfaction enters. A break in work allows for a simple question to slip in: What is my purpose here?

I’m not saying I want to revert, although in my twenties I became obsessed with a hunter-gatherer way of life, convinced it might be the only way I would never suffer existentially. Not that I really pursued it (beyond picking wild blueberries at the top of Brace Mountain); I just thought about it in an obsessive, unproductive way.

I yearn for a time when (I imagine) people felt more complete, more secure with their purpose in life because they were less concerned with their existence. I yearn for a time when people didn’t have to ask, “What am I going to do with my life?” Because what they were to do was obvious. Now, of course, it’s a privilege to be able to choose; the majority of the world still doesn’t have the luxury to ask such questions. But I wonder how much of a luxury this really is, because luxury (originating from a Middle English word meaning “lechery”) indicates excess, that I’m receiving more than the effort I’ve put in. Instead of this being liberating, it makes me feel burdened. There is the guilt of being privileged, and there is the pressure of making sure that my choice is a good one, a productive one, and a fulfilling one.

I owe more credit to Fordism for my work angst than might seem obvious at first. Fordism peaked in in the 1950s, when the U.S. was rich and on the rebound from WWII. Men flooded into the country again, went back to work; all the materials that had gone into war vehicles and military supplies were now turned into products for citizens. Industry boomed, families boomed, including those of my parents. Born in 1947 and 1948 respectively, my father and mother were raised in the era of Fordism by Depression era parents. The lessons for living that were instilled in them were passed onto me. I had my own sheen of apathy, like so many Generation-Xers raised in the 1980s, but I also had the generational dissatisfaction—with our politicians, with societal intolerance—that led to seeking out systematic change.

Nevertheless, I grew up with a strict work ethic: work hard, obey your boss, get a solid job, stick it out. Make a good living and save what you can. Their ethics seemed to be split four-ways between my siblings and me, each of us picking up maybe one or two of these, but none of us (except maybe my pharmacist sister) was really able to encapsulate my parents’ collective wisdom and advice. We were too removed from the Depression, that period of austerity like something we’d seen in a black and white movie once, a long time ago. And as for factory Fordism, we were living through its decline in the US, even if as kids we weren’t altogether aware of it. The miasma of dissatisfaction infected us, me. The nation’s attitude on work was changing. We were raised with “the system stinks” ringing in our ears.

In his introduction, Terkel quotes one of his interviewees, Nora Watson: “I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.” My goal is no longer to just avoid one kind of work, it’s to dig into another, to find my calling, to have a purpose.

“Things were better back in the old days,” my father says sometimes. When I ask him what he means, he says, “In the fifties. When women stayed home, people worked hard, when employers really respected employees.” He’s nostalgic for an era he didn’t entirely know, one he caught the tail end of, in the same way I’m sometimes nostalgic for a hunter-gatherer existence, because by the time he entered the workforce as an adult, the ‘60s were almost over. Our country had been through the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement, and factories were already shutting down and outsourcing production. Depending on my mood, I might challenge him: “You mean it was better with sexism and rampant industrial pollution and when a finger a week was lost at the steel mill?”

And he’ll shrug, with a parental evasiveness that suggests he knows when his kid is being a smartass, when she’s trying to one-up him, challenge what he knows about the current state of the nation. I always picture him in this lost nostalgic shrug, standing at our dining room window, looking out. It’s our old house, the one I grew up in until my parents moved when I went to college (I was the last to go). I picture him, his idle, unshaved weekend self, hands shoved into the pockets of his frayed jeans, looking out into the stand of woods beyond the cornfield. It was in those woods where, on his weekends off from work, once the pine cones were picked up and the lawn was mowed and raked, my father worked some more. Except this was the work he was passionate about.

As a kid I would go out with him, and he taught me the Latin names of ferns and trees. The only one I remember now is Polystichum acrostichoides, Christmas fern, although I suppose I didn’t actually remember it because I’ve always thought of it, until looking it up now, as christmasichoides. His favorite weekend pastimes were cutting trees, burning brush, pulling brambles. Doing this or that on his small plot of land, actions that took a little mind and a little body as he looked for clues as to what to do next: the rugosa rose is invading this path; the right-of-way flags need re-tying; it’s too dry to burn today, so instead I’ll stack firewood.

My father majored in business, became a tradesman in electricity, but his passion was forestry. Instead of pursuing this full on, he made it a pastime, joining the forestry club at Nichol’s College, where chopping wood and hauling trees had been reduced to races and games and weekend tournaments. I knew if he could have, he would have taken a job as a tree man, and when he can he inserts his expertise, like when he taught me to chop firewood. “Cherry chops the easiest,” he taught. If you hit it just so it pops right apart, the pinkish-tinted wood giving way to the axe. Nothing feels so satisfying.

During the week is was back to “those assholes.”

“Better than a sharp stick in the eye,” is what he’d say about his job. About a boss, he’d say: “Wouldn’t piss in his eye if his head were on fire.” These were my father’s weekend sayings, the ones he’d been building up to all week and which he could let fly out in the freedom of the woods.

 

When I finished my second round of graduate school, an MFA in writing, I returned to Massachusetts. In need of money, I picked up my old gardening job. I started with five days a week, eight hours a day. At the beginning of the season the work is the hardest—mulching and composting beds, which means hauling heavy wheelbarrows back and forth. Moving potted plants from inside to outside, digging, prepping, planting. By the middle of the first week I couldn’t sleep at night because a dull ache permeated my arms from my elbows to my fingertips. It was deeper than muscle—in tendon, or bone even—a constant, cold ache. In the mornings, I couldn’t feel my hands, and it took a half an hour of vigorous shaking before they were of any use. For days I had trouble tying shoes or doing buttons.

This actually happened to me every year I gardened, but every year I managed to forget until the pain was upon me. But this year it was different. Perhaps it is age, or perhaps it was the luxury of three years of having a teaching job, but I knew I didn’t want this in my life. A decade and a half of job angst had finally come to a head. I’m not naive enough to think I can just write and live off my words, although I’d like to try. But I don’t have to sell my soul, I don’t have to undergo spiritual death (and I won’t be saved from it via Gramsci’s methods). I can still follow my calling and trust that this is good and worthy work.

True, writing is unnecessary. Nobody really needs another essay. Nobody needs another book about the luminous properties of nature, about ideas on being human, about the romanticization of hunter-gatherer societies. And yet, nobody really needs a perennial border or potted begonias. Nobody needs to spend a weekend in a luxury bed and breakfast being picked up after. There are a lot of things we don’t need, but it doesn’t mean they are not worthy endeavors.

And so I told my boss I could only work two days a week, and the rest of the time I indulge in my creative self, my intellectual self. I love my boss. She’s not an asshole, or a bastard, or a mule driver. “I love the people, I just hate the work,” is what I tell my father now.

And if I begin teaching in the fall, as I hope to, then I only have to garden for three more months. If I don’t take any sick days, that’s only 24 more full days.

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