Thinking on Memorial Day
We have weekends, and they are supposed to refresh us for the work week. The time that is significant, where we go out into the world and work at whatever it is we do. Long weekends are supposed to be best, because there is that extra day. An extra day! That belongs to us! A bit of time, fought for by unions, commemorating servicemen and women who gave all the time they had.
So many adages about time. “A stitch in time saves nine.” “Idle hands are the devil’s plaything.” Those are the old-fashioned versions of the mini-exhortations we get now from people in their sports clothes, out running or in the gym. “Start the day right.” “Work smarter not harder.” So many lessons about time. I once received an email containing the last phrase from someone in another office who couldn’t be bothered to format something in the way it was needed. They told me that they were finding another way to do it. After 10 emails, I did it myself. And perhaps that was really the point of the exercise.
Dreading Mondays. But today is a Monday. It’s a holiday, but my body says wake up – do something.
Is the real problem the legitimacy of what we decide to do? Some people swan right into a role – I am a this, or that – and people seem to agree. Others always question. And people don’t like questions – they like certainty. But nothing makes people more certain about something than money. How many copies, how much money, how much an hour, how much a year, how much did that cost. Easy benchmarks, so you can judge if something is worthy of time or attention. The absolutism of a nice round number.
And back to time. Why devote time to something if there is no promise of return? Most people would agree. Of course, the hidden unpaid labor that goes into so many activities is always ignored. Yet when you write a business plan for a bank, in order to get a loan, they tell you to be sure to factor in your own time. Now, when the return to in-person work is being pushed, the time spent working is easily erased. But the promise of seeing someone in a chair, in person – that’s the normal they want to return to. Making sure you’re there where they can see you.
Childcare is another activity often mentioned, but rarely weighted evenly against other, more “productive” forms of activity. The money-making ones. Imagine this scenario – a kind of CEO of a company announces that everyone must return to work during the summer. This is debated at individual section levels. At one section level, it is pointed out that “people” need to find childcare, in order for this to happen. The head of the sector is a woman. However, she asks the group, angrily, why people with children should be given special treatment.
Another meeting – general laughter about how babies were not good conversationalists. A woman was planning to come back to work after two months. “I know myself,” she said. “I’ll want to come back.”
This is a general reality. Work more important than family. The ambitious aren’t blind, just blinkered.
Another meeting had this statement. “If people want to get paid, then they need to work.”
Perfectly reasonable – on the surface.
And so it trickles down, or sideways, or in whatever direction you like. Art and Music curriculum is cut from schools. Even in the UK, Drama became an unnecessary bolt-on. Land of Shakespeare, etc. Here in the US, college curriculum is being looked at from a workforce perspective. Colleges rated on their graduates getting jobs. Graduate schools know there are no more tenure-track positions – so are scrambling to find jobs for the newly minted Ph.D.s. No doubt they will take some of the jobs that used to go to people with mere B.A. or B.S. degrees. Research measured by number of grants. Nothing worth doing unless it makes money.
How many people spend some of their weekends catching up on work? “I fell behind.” Behind what? Cutbacks mean more work. No one can complain. We’re all so grateful to be able to pay our rent, our bills, go out and buy more things that make people say – ah – now you’re getting somewhere. If that means we try to do the work of two, or three – well.
Art and music have become an illicit activity. Done in the shadows, until someone sells something. Then – then it’s real.
Children are problems to be solved, given to underfunded schools, taught by underpaid teachers. Then a multitude of op-ed writers ask how we can teach people to use critical thinking, tut-tutting at the rise of propaganda, as they write to order.
Good things – maybe the best things – take time – grow away from the headlines of reality – frequently have no measure other than the infinite.
On this holiday, where people are still working, and we honor those who have fallen, after hours of time devoted to bringing them up, and hours of time devoted to their memory, perhaps it is a good day to question reality. Ask why some lives are so little valued, ask why the care of other humans is downgraded, ask why our efforts to find the beauty in life are allotted an hour or two on the weekends, after the cleaning, before the shopping.
Maybe that explains the rise of TikTok and similar platforms. Millions of people desperate for followers – so they can believe their lives have meaning.
Everything turned into currency. Followers equal money – ask the publishers who they pick first. But the psychic damage of weighing everything, judging everything, sorting everything – that may be a price whose cost is yet unknown.