We Have Met the Scab, and He is Us: Shadow Work and the Internet

You are a sucker.

Every day, you work for free, doing work that used to be done for a wage.

You work for nonprofits, government entities, wealthy companies. And you don’t even know that you’re do it.

This work is hard to track. There’s a Bureau of Labor, but no bureau of this kind of work. There aren’t any unions that can represent you, labor laws that can protect you. But this work has a massive effect on your quality of life. It’s called shadow work: the small pieces of unpaid labor we do in our day-to-day lives. Continue reading

Proper Dreaming

If there were ever a place for dreamers, it would be a college commencement speech.

After four or more (never less) years, a college student is ready to bound out into the world, armed with knowledge, pep, and a quickly deteriorating set of skills. But probably the best dreamers among all college students aren’t engineers or the English majors. No, that title in particular would belong to the art students.

Robert De Niro gave a commencement speech to the graduates of the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. It will go down as a classic commencement speech because of the way it begins:

“Tisch graduates, you made it. And you’re fucked.”

Continue reading

6 Reasons Being a Farmer is Terrifying

You might think being a farmer is a pretty sweet gig. From a cubicle, things look pretty nice: you’re working outside, one with the land, a  Wendall Berry poem come to life. But being a farmer is an insane profession; the job goes out of its way to make them as terrifying as possible for the weirdest of reasons. Like…   Continue reading

Mystical bookshelves full of magic

Elders

It is important to have elders. One of mine is Ray Bradbury.

He was one of the best science fiction writers that ever lived. Countless short stories, television scripts, plays, and books flowed from his pen. He also had a love of life few had, or will ever, match.

This shines through in a book of his called Zen in the Art of Writing. It is the best book about writing anyone can read. Oftentimes such work can fall into dull introspection, cynicism, and tactics; Bradbury doesn’t waste his time with any of these things. He is unabashedly in love with writing and wants you to be too. Continue reading

(Actually) Living Walden Two

A utopia is, by definition, nowhere. But that has not stopped people from trying to make it somewhere.

Most attempts throughout history to create such communities separately from society were done so for religious or political reasons. More recently, such communities were created as scientific utopias. Many of them were inspired by a single book called Walden Two, by B.F. Skinner.

Skinner was one of the most prominent behavioral psychologists of the 20th century. Turns out he originally wanted to be a novelist, but went into behavioral psych instead.

Its thrust is that human society is grossly inefficient, and that all of us working against each other makes a society where nobody is happy. By living communally and using behavioral psychology to shape human expectation and behavior, a planned society can make life better for everyone. It presents a completely different way of living than we experience now. Continue reading

Why Stop Asking?

Walden Two is a novel about an intentional society, or what we’d call a commune, based on scientific principles.

Its writer, B.F. Skinner, supposed that people could thrive while living communally. He wrote this book in an attempt to rewrite all our current social rules about work, love, and play.

I was at the dinner table last night discussing it with my folks and my fiancee. It was a good discussion.

What surprised me was that my folks knew about Walden Two. Though the book was written in the fifties, it really found its footing in the late sixties and early seventies, when they were growing up. There was a lot of talk about experimental ways of living during that time. People knew there was something wrong with society and sought new ways of living. They experimented. They asked the question “How is it that we should live?”

Something stuck in my craw during that conversation.

Continue reading

3 Ways to Help a Job-Seeker (And One Important Caveat)

Changing careers is difficult. Anybody who’s ever come home from a long day of work and had to search job ads can tell you how goddamn tiring it is.  

But how do we support those people? Especially if they’re trying to find new work, and might not know where to even begin?

There’s a lot of ink spilled on the job search, how you personally can switch careers, do a search, snag the best interview, etc. But there’s very little written on how to help, how to make sure that you’re supporting the people in their lives to be their best selves.

I used these tactics to help someone close to me in the search; hopefully somebody out there will find them useful too. Continue reading

Three Flags

The room was regal for the Midwest.

There were plaques and awards on the walls, and shelves full of unread books. A typewriter sat on the desk, the newest, best, and lightest model, given to him by the local paper on the day of his mayoral victory. Tobacco smoke lingered, thanks to all the cigars stuffed into the ashtray. The moonlight was bled away by the incandescent bulbs that were installed only a few years ago, after the boys came back from France.

“It’s Roosevelt, I’m telling you.” The mayor took a long, nervous drink at the seat of his desk. “He gets elected, and he gives these fucking Communists ideas,” he said as he set the glass down. He poured himself another with the decanter on the desk. Sweat was pouring through his collar, which was loose. “Why can’t they just go to work like everybody else?”

The chief of police sat across from him, uncomfortable but buttoned up. His back was ramrod straight. “Mister mayor, it’s dynamite out there. You got to bring them both to the table.”

The mayor looked up at the ceiling, like he were trying to find God. “I told you, we don’t need anybody at any tables.” He stabbed his finger at the chief on the beat of his words. “Your boys need to disperse the crowd.”

“Look, Terry…”

The mayor glowered. “Mister Mayor will do fine.”

“Mister mayor, I told you before” said the chief as he swallowed. “We’re not strikebreakers.” Continue reading

Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life 

A good book on writing needs to do a couple of things.

First, and most books get this right, is to instruct. It should teach you something about the craft of writing. It should tell you things you didn’t know before, or make the invisible visible.

Elements of Style is a great old stand-by of this type, and probably one of the first writing books you read. ‘Omit needless words’ still rings in my head every time I try to edit something.

The second, and this is harder, is inspire, to actually make you want to write.

I always looked at Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury as a shining example of inspiration. It’s really, really hard to read it and not want to write with gusto. It’s less successful in instruction, but that’s not what he’s going for, really. Ray Bradbury let all his subconscious do the work; we mortals need to know how to build houses before we burn them down.

The book Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life by Nick Mamatas is one of the few that does a good job of both. It’s an excellent book, well worth the time of any writer interested in writing things so other people will read them. Continue reading