Last night I read the chapter on “Good Work” in the Monks of New Skete book. It says, “Rarely do people today seem to appreciate the relationship that work, even in its most allegedly menial forms, has with spirituality and with healthy living.” This chapter attempts to show that when we feel like we are lowering ourselves to do our work, that’s exactly when we can find the most centeredness and spirituality in our daily grind.
The fortunate minority who genuinely enjoy their work, who earn enough money to live comfortably, and whose job is also a source of deep personal growth is vastly exceeded by the great majority for whom work is alienating, whether they make loads of money or not…
I feel very lucky that I get to do what I do every day. I took the big scary leap into full-time freelance back in 2000, and I haven’t regretted it yet. I do have to take the occasional temp job to keep myself afloat, and it’s terrifying not to know how I’m getting paid two months from now, but I really enjoy working at home. I am good at structuring my day and getting things accomplished. I enjoy the work. When I was at the Big Corporation, or the Struggling Dot Com, I was completely miserable. I attempted to do as much of my own work at my desk as possible (the pamie.com home office was started there, as I recapped and had a weekly column and created this website). I needed it to feel like I had my own identity in a building that made me wear a badge and often had armed security guards by the doors (there were enough daily lay-offs they figured someone was gonna snap soon).
It isn’t simply that so many people seem alienated from their work — they truly loathe it. Work has become and inescapable drudgery, a soulless exercise, meaningless except for earning a living.
It got to where just getting to work made me itchy, miserable and exhausted. When I was a personal assistant when I first got to Los Angeles, I felt like a failure. I always thought I’d make a great PA — I’m attentive, smart, quick with the Internet and have a deep, dark need to please those who don’t outwardly give affection. But I was terrible at it. I would argue the menial tasks, the ones that were clearly time-wasters. This job is a completely different entry entirely, one that I do believe the confidentiality agreement expired on just this month, so perhaps I’ll tell the legend of PseudoJob soon. In any event, working for the Big Company was inescapable drudgery, working for the Struggling Dot Com was completely soulless, and being a PA made me feel meaningless. Every minute I got to work at my home, writing stories, or getting on stage I appreciated even more once I got out of those jobs.
Misguided, cynical thinking hides from us the inherent dignity of work. It squelches the inspiration that can free us not only to view work more positively, but in fact to use it as a way to put into practice our own spiritual convictions. Work is not punishment. Whenever we exert ourselves, whenever we strive to accomplish something, whether for ourselves or others — whether we get paid for it or not — we are in the realm of work.
People often brush off what I do for a living, as if it’s not truly that difficult, or it doesn’t actually count as “work.” This is until they actually see me working, or get a grasp of how much work I do in a day. In order to live this freelance life, I do have to take practically every job that comes my way, and in the world of a screenwriter, I have to throw myself at every almost-job that comes my way, including some that are completely uninteresting to me, or that I’ll never land in a million years. So then I hear the, “You have thirteen jobs!” comment, which is closer to the truth.
Certainly none of us is bound to a specific type of work, as if in some slave state. We are free actively to pursue work that pays better and that best reflects our talents and real interests. But it’s a further principle that is so crucial: In public and private, in our workplace and at home, whether we like what we’re doing or not, work can be made into a holy activity, something satisfying and enhancing of the whole of our lives.
I worked at a Taco Bell. Once I almost careened into vats of boiling water, I must admit I had some distance from the satisfying and/or enhancing part of that experience.
So the monk does not see work as an intrusion into his prayer, but as a support and balance. Work causes the monk to grapple with issues provoked by its demands; it also gives him the opportunity to overcome latent attitudes of selfishness, egocentricity, and self-pity (which we all have to some degree) that would otherwise not be visible. When we work, we see what we are made of — just as in prayer. When a novice takes his turn cleaning, it is not unusual for him to feel resentment. “Why do I have to do this?” he may think, or “Aren’t there better things for me to be doing? And anyway, isn’t this kind of demeaning?”
No doubt all of us have had similar feelings, yet if we stop and think, we can see what the novice doesn’t yet understand. He still thinks there are different grades of work, that some work is better, more sophisticated, less degrading, than others. He can envision himself being the cook, perhaps, so his immature self rebels: “Where is God to be found in cleaning toilets? Is there anything that could be more ungodly?”
This passage goes on to explain that you should feel a profound sense of joy whenever you clean house. I have never been the kind of person who enjoys cleaning. I give up on the act halfway through. Yesterday I did all of the laundry in the house. But there’s two laundry baskets full of folded clothes sitting on the floor of my closet. Stee, I think, finds a peace and serenity in cleaning. I have never enjoyed cleaning a toilet.
If he’s open, he’ll discover God waiting for him right there in those toilets he was assigned to clean. God is not some object to find, but a living presence. And when we are able to break out of our own restricted world, to view things in the light of God’s presence, we find ourselves able to make peace with even the least pleasant tasks.
Let me tell you where God is waiting for me these days. I mentioned I took a night job at a reality show. I am a logger.
Normally when I say that people think, “She has big arms, but I didn’t realize she was so strong!” But what I do has nothing to do with trees, other than the print-outs I make at the end of the night.
I watch the unedited, raw footage producers and crew record. Hours and hours of unedited footage, which I then document into a database so that story editors can cull together the good bits and make a show. I flag moments I think are pretty good, and mention whenever something episode-worthy happens between cast members.
On a show I did last year I once watched a man make a salmon dinner. For an hour. I’ve watched Lorenzo Lamas ride his motorcycle down the street. For half an hour. While typing, “Lorenzo speeds up. Lorenzo slows down. Close up on Lorenzo. He gives a thumbs-up to camera.”
The logger watches this stuff so you don’t have to. For every time you shout, (as I recently did while watching “Newlyweds”), “How is this television?” there’s a logger who suffered through an additional thirty minutes of Jessica Simpson not saying stupid shit, not being half-naked, and pouting about things somehow even more boring. The logger sits through hours of mixers and drunken parties, waiting for a moment when two people might kiss, or talk shit about each other. The logger has no benefit of subtitles or nametags, and must identify people by hairlines and tank top colors. The logger suffers permanent hearing damage from straining to hear whispered conversations when cast members think they’re off-camera but have forgotten they are still mic’ed. The logger ruins his or her eyes from leaning their faces inches away from the screen to read the lips of slurring drunkards engaging in awkward mating rituals.
According to the monks, God has me logging so I not only appreciate my own work on a deeper level, but so I am more deliberate in my writing, more attentive to my goals, and write everything with purpose and intensity. God is apparently hiding in B-Roll footage of beaches and bars. God is there when Meredith rides a rickshaw. God wants me to see that even when my life becomes difficult, it’s still better than living in Omaha and auditioning to be the hottest person on ABC.
Wait. I’m a logger… and a blogger.
And when I go for a run… I’m a jogger.
This is what the monks would call, “God’s sense of humor.”
- In the Spirit of Happiness: A Book of Spiritual Wisdom, by The Monks of New Skete. I’m just about finished with this. I picked it up in Katy because the cover was very soothing to me. I realized I very rarely read positive religious material, and I certanly had a negative experience with many, many religious people over the years. After all the anti-Mormon stuff of the past year (it was a rough year for Mormons), I figured reading a book that explains the basics of meditation and the monastic life would be… enlightening. Heh.
- Debt Free By 30: Practical Advice for the Young, Broke and Upwardly Mobile, by Jason Anthony and Karl Cluck. I didn’t spend a dime yesterday. I did that by not leaving the house. Then I tried to make myself a face mask using food in the house because I’m trying to use every single beauty product in the house before I buy more (I’m down to the guest shampoo at this point), and ended up making a nasty mess that made my face break out in a rash. Debt Free With Acne by 30. Whee!