Monday, March 22, 2010

From your lips she drew the hallelujah

Unripe daffodil

Today I am going to blog about money again. Sorry. I suppose Jesus talked a lot about money, so I’m in good company. There aren’t very many ways to earn money. I’ve been thinking about this idealized village in my brain, the ideal way I think civilization, or people in community, should function. The idealized village in my brain is half tribal settlement and half feudal walled city. Whichever way suits me.

So here goes. Here are the ways to make money.

1. Make things. As exemplified by the carpenter in the idealized village of my brain. (Henceforth abbreviated as IVB.) It makes sense that Jesus earned his living as a carpenter for twenty years or however long. Aside from his long furlough to the Ganges to learn yoga, of course. Although he probably sold woodcrafts out there, also. Making things seems to be the most basic form of earning a living--it’s so simple. You take something, you turn it into something else, and then people pay you for it. I like how Etsy has given this option back to the people. I now have friends who make their living making soap.

2. Grow things. Here are the farmers. This is where I’d like to be, if I wasn’t so bad at it. It’s great that you can sell things just by getting them to come up out of the ground. It’s also what most of our great-grandparents did for their livings.

3. Sell things. Here’s where things begin to get fishy, and the beginning of the downfall of modern civilization. Because the salespeople take the things that other people have made or grown, and then they try to sell them to other people, who are really giving them money they’ve taken from other people by selling them things that other people have made. Ad infinitum. By having broker upon broker we become so removed from the actual fruits of our labors (the actual wood carving, for instance, or tomato) that we aren’t connected to our work at all. Oh, wait. Maybe that’s Marxism. Definitely on the terrorism watch list now.

4. Ask people for money. Now things get interesting. I get this attitude from people when I say I want to grow my own food or make a living as a writer is: why don’t you get a real job? By that they mean: get a job with benefits working nine to five, preferably with a large multinational conglomerate. What’s funny is that about half of the people I know ask people to give them money for a living. Instead of earning a living, they just say: give me money. And then they get given money, and that’s how they live. My father, for instance. The missionary. He asks people for money for a living, as did all of the other missionary families I knew growing up. All of the pastors you know. My brother works for a university. How do universities make their money? They ask for it. We don’t accuse people who work for any number of charities of sloth or indolence, but if I sat on my five acres in Alabama and just asked people to give me money because I believed in myself, I can’t imagine the blowback I’d get.

5. Work for the government. Here’s where the Republicans get angry. But seriously--half of the people I know work for the government. Everyone in the army? They work for the government. My friend in the Peace Corps. My sister consulting for the city of Chicago. Etcetera, etcetera. Why is it so reprehensible? It’s funny to me to think back to the IVB. There have always been tribal leaders, no matter how far back you go. What they did was redistribute wealth. Instead of taxes, they collected gifts in tribute. Instead of providing health care or roads, they handed out the money to their cronies. You can argue that government is worse or better now, but the point remains. It’s been in place since the foundation of civilization.

6. Shuffle papers around. I’m half-sarcastic here, but I do feel like it’s what ninety percent of Americans do for a living these days. These are the people who I can’t figure out exactly what they do, how they earn their paychecks. Most of my professional life involved moving paper from one stack to another. Or moving emails from one folder to another. How do we expect our civilization to survive on that? If we’re not making anything except stacks of paper, how do we expect to sustain ourselves?

7. Creative life. Here, of course, is where I’d like my life to be situation. The funny thing is that creativity was essential in the IVB, but we’ve completely lost it now. We not only won’t pay artists and creatives for doing legitimate good work, but we accuse them of insanity and laziness and suicidal tendencies. In the IVB, they were sitting t the right hand of the tribal elders, informing every decision that was made. The tribal artist was the historian, storyteller, musician, herbalist, doctor, and dancer. Now we’ve lost all of that. It’s not so much the role that’s been lost--I, for one, believe the creative impulse will always find a way to be felt--but our culture’s perspective on its importance. The storytellers and dream-walkers and singers used to be right up there next to the president in terms of cultural value. Now we value them so little that we don’t even think they deserve health care.

Until 2014. Go, Democrats. I, for one, am happy that even as a working artist I will be able to be screened for cancer before I die of it. I’m not sure what my point is. I just want the work I do, at my desk, to be valued. To be valuable to someone. That’s what’s more important, even, than being able to afford a new rain jacket or a dinner out. What’s important is feeling like one’s life work, anyone’s life work, is important.


ef said...

I like your list...but just wondering where taking care of people fits in? If you work in health care are you selling something? It seems to fall between categories. Whaddya think?


Melissa said...

Yeah, I've had others make that comment, too. The service industry is difficult to fit into my architecture--what about doctors, lab techs, teachers, etc? Maybe I need another bullet point.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm going to be a critic. I don't think this will hurt you too bad. Check out your last paragraph. I disagree with the statement "What is important is feeling (fill in the blank)". Feelings are a tool, not an end in itself. I can feel worthless, and not be worthless. Feelings are useful, often helpful, reinforcement, a huge part of life, but not the end all. There should be a standard outside of feelings. I hope I'm not being nit picky. You probably just typed it not exactly like you meant it. You are putting your thoughts and ideas out there. It is so much easier for me to criticize one little sentence, then to create an ongoing blog of open, heartfelt thoughts. This criticism is of course rooted in our ongoing discussion about truth and standards to measure truth. Anyway, whatcha think?