Thursday, June 25, 2009

To Be, Or Not To Be

Brent Auernheimer is a guy I've known since about kindergarten. He's one of those guys with a million megawatt brain. He writes a blog, and I occasionally venture there to see what subjects currently occupy the brains of the intelligentsia. Back in May Brent posted the link to an article by Matthew B. Crawford that I actually could understand titled: The Case For Working With Your Hands. Crawford was a PhD who abandoned his cubicle career to open a motorcycle repair shop. I abandoned my law practice in 2004 to become a property manager.

Crawford's article is about doing real work that engages you and is meaningful. In making his case, Crawford references the poem To Be of Use by Marge Piercy. The poem ends like this:

"Hopi vases that held corn are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

The question I am circling around here is when does one become irrelevant? On death? Or when one ceases to feel useful or to be useful? Piercy says that a person longs for work that is real, but really not all people seem to do so, and Piercy acknowledges this in the beginning of her poem. More, she states a strong preference for people who "jump into work headfirst" and she implies disdain for those who "dally in the shallows."

"The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows ...

"I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

"I want to be with people who submerge in the task ..."

If, as I suspect, Piercy's sentiments are commonly shared by those who submerge in the task, where does this leave those who, like the Hopi vases, once held corn and once were of use, but due to circumstances are relegated to being non-working museum pieces? In some native-american cultures, those who couldn't contribute to the community were expected to leave the community and quietly die. Is that what we want from the non-contributors among us? Or is it enough that the vase is simply interesting or pretty or that we like having it around?

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