Saturday, December 18, 2004

Selling coffeemakers

This is a poem I wrote when I was working for a construction company two summers ago, which is the same time I started this blog, and left it untouched till now. I'm scrapping everything else I wrote, but wanted to keep this. I like it.

An elderly man just came in.
His presence brought me to tears.
Not that it’s my business to decide that he needs tears
But his old frame
His stomach pooch
And thin comb-over
The fact that he was here to check and see if our coffee machine was working
An elderly salesman.
A job of frustration
Day after day, needing to make a sale to feed his family
Each day, desperation to sell.
Through the booming and the bust“please, sir, buy my coffeemaker, it’s top of the line”
I am labeling him with pity
But his eyes, his sad eyes
His posture speaks of these things

The Holiday Spirit

The Holiday Spirit has officially taken over me. I have been possessed, my sanity has left, and my worst attributes are shining through with megawattage.

That word, that nasty word has crept into the recesses of my brain and taken up residence. It's whispering, gollum-like, "I want, I want". We all know the word well at this time of year: materialism.

It all started with Old Navy. My family has a rule: you don't buy yourself anything new right before Christmas. I received an Old Navy gift card, found several items I liked and threw caution to the wind. I spent $67 including my gift card. Granted, they were great purchases...See?! There I go, justifying it. But the worse case definitely came when I was talking to Ezra, who returned some unwanted books today, one of which was a cookbook. (We will both use cookbooks next year) He didn't buy another cookbook, and I griped at him for it. Which is utterly ridiculous because a) It's his money b) He doesn't have a kitchen to cook in until June c) One of the books he did end up buying he intended to pass on to me. So, not only was I completely selfish, but quite embarrassed because he did buy something we could share after all. Foot in mouth, and I deserve it.

My other problem is this: I come home and become like a three year old in front of the television. It's not that my family watches particularly excessive amounts of tv (though we watch our share, for sure), it's that the home environment lends my glue-age to the tv. This is a worrisome trend. Not only am I boring, and bored, and my brain is being sucked out etc, but it's my break! I have all this free time to read great books, but I spend it in front of the television. This must stop.

So, in light of the above, I am making resolutions.

1. Limit my tv watching to 2.5 hours a day (I know that still seems like a lot, but I'm not kidding when I say I'm like a 3 year old in this matter)
2. I will not buy myself anything*, any gadget, shoes, jewelry, and especially no clothing for at least 2 months. This is a big step, and it must happen. I am committing myself to only buying books.
3. And lots of them.

Let's hope I can stick to it, and thus be filled with incredible ideas for this blog! My intellect depends on it.

*movies and food excluded. and concerts. and coffee. But definitely no clothes.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Time Bind

Maybe it’s because I’m entering the workforce next year. Maybe it’s because I’m a sociologist at heart. Maybe it’s because my life is so leisurely now. Or because I’m in a serious relationship and have visions in my head of a collective future. I don’t know which of these factors is the culprit, but Arlie Hochschild’s work captivates me more than anything I’ve read in years. In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so enthralled by a book. Or an author. I couldn’t tell you the last thing I’ve read that truly inspired me, started the wheels spinning in my brain at overdrive. Granted, all this may only reveal a poor memory. But to me, it represents the discovery of an intellectual gold-mine.

Hochschild’s work focuses on families, and my current obsession-du-choix is Time Bind. It’s basically a detailed study of fictitiously-named Amerco, a large American company with plants across the nation and world. My inkling is that Amerco is Ford, but the company’s true identity is immaterial. It’s the families Hochschild follows that peak my curiosity. Her present inquiries deal with why parents are working so many hours. She examines the usual arguments: fear of being fired, lack of knowledge of company’s family policies, obstructive management, fear of “backlash” (in terms of women preserving their image/place in male dominated departments). Yet the evidence from her research finds that none of these theories holds under scrutiny, and there are two more pernicious forces at work: materialism (my idea) and change in how Americans view work (her idea). I think materialism and the famed “Spirit of Capitalism” are to blame, in part, because of our insatiable lust for more stuff. (Trust me, I’m an expert on the never ending lust for clothing) But I think this drive is different than always wanting to buy new shirts, it’s being further reified in a general sense of constant saving. We’re saving for X vacation, for X car, gadget, for college, for retirement – there’s an endless well to put money in, and that pressure is causing families to feel that they can’t work less, because how will they afford these things?

Hochschild’s argument is, of course, much more sophisticated than mine, and centers on the notion that the equation home = haven no longer exists for many families. Now bear in mind I’ve only read 40 pages, so my conclusions thus far can hold only partially true. Through extensive observation and interview, Hochschild finds that many workers, particularly women (I’ll get to this observation in a minute) feel the most stable at work, not home. They enjoy work, not the overwhelming responsibilities of home. I can only describe my first reaction to these findings as shock. Why would people enjoy working more than being home?! Yet the more I mull the theory over in my head, and the more of the book I read, the pieces just fall into place. At work there are fixed responsibilities, schedules, expectations. Much of the stressful emotional situations we experience in the home are absent. At work you don’t have whining, tantrum-throwing children, although you might have difficult employees. At work you don’t have a resentful partner or children, you have sympathetic colleagues. Work doesn’t involve a constant list of items to be cleaned. Now, I’m not suggesting work is stressless, but rather attempting to give light to reasons why work might become a haven. It makes sense that women would give into this feeling more, because for many of them (especially those in the work force at the time Hochschild wrote the book, in the mid 1990’s) work is a blessing. These women were able to pursue a career, something that many of their mothers could not do. They might enjoy work more because they feel they’ve earned their position, and we should see this sentiment displayed strongly among women in male-dominated fields. Yet the converse is true at home; many women of this generation still do the majority of the housework (find stat). They come home to a second shift; after working an 8, 9, 10 hour day, they are responsible for most of the housework as well. It’s no wonder that women, in particular, would find work to be that place of sanctuary.

To me, this theory gracefully connects to many other contemporary problems: the number of children we have in day care (and number of hours they are there), divorce rates, the so-called “cultural cooling”. Traditionally women have done the care taking, but if they are preferring to spend most of their time at work, we can only assume the above trends will worsen. I don’t mean to be dour, but these changes are frightening.

The principle reason I’m so intrigued by Hochschild’s theories is because I am so fearful that my future family will become one of those in the book. How can we prevent this? There’s no doubt that raising children can be stressful, what are some ways to lessen that stress? Escaping to work when home gets overwhelming would be quite tempting. How can you avoid that? Verbal contracts? I know that’s such a ridiculous phrase, but would doing something like simply promising to each other to always be open, to always discuss when things are bothering you prevent giving in to temptation?

I guess what this also comes down to is the $64,000 question for young couples: how do you avoid divorce? With the rate at 50% (higher in some regions), it seems almost inevitable. When you read books like Time Bind, seeds of your fears appear to grow into a jungle before your eyes. The pain and guilt associated with being a workaholic family forms a canopy above you, endless expectations like roots on the ground just waiting to trip you. I guess you have to keep open eyes. Read books like Time Bind, Second Shift. Be aware of these contemporary issues facing families, and talk about how you would deal with these things. I guess the bottom line is that you can never be completely sure (how to avoid divorce, that is). And that I’m way too young to be worrying this much now.