Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Building Blocks

Maybe I'm lucky or asymptomatic, but is anyone else getting the vibe that the Do-Good Express has been roaring through our generation something fierce?

I'm not sure if it's a byproduct of living in co-operative housing for a fifth of my life (which, like, huh), but it seems like my tribe has a real tendency to work in non-profits, advocacy, education, social justice, the arts, and all kids of other hippie-dippie slices of the workaday pie. I'm not trying to be smarmy or self-congratulatory about the trend: I mean, work is work, and just because you run writing workshops or Grassroots doesn't mean your life is any freer/easier than the people who run investment seminars or Chevrolet.

Of course, being the age we are now, we also have a tendency to get those low-man-on-the-totem-pole jobs, which, no matter what sector you're working in, all seem to be the same. Answer the phone, send email, file stuff, lunch. Drive the truck, pick up the stuff, haul stuff around, lunch. Man the desk, greet the people, set out lunch, lunch. But somehow, even though we'd be doing the same tasks at a non-profit gallery as we would if we were working at some huge bedroom-community anchor, it feels different.

I've held very few corporate jobs in my life: I worked for six months at a chain bakery, and was mortified the entire time (I think mostly it was the truly injust all-white uniforms). Before and after, it's been mostly indie restaurants and co-op jobs. Small operations feel homier. If my boss's boss's boss lives in Vancouver, I'm going to have a hell of a time with the corporate hierarchy. If, on the other hand, the guy who started the place in 1991 still lives on the Danforth with his kindergarten-teacher wife, I'm going to feel like he's a little more connected to my community, and by extension, to me.

That's simplistic, for sure: there are zillions of other ways to measure a job's own personal value to the person doing it. However: my generation was raised by children of the 1950s - people who were in their narcissistic 20s when the Me Decade rolled around, but who simultaneously started the Environmental movement. My generation has been raised with the idea that we can do anything, and that things are going to hell in a handbasket.

So, working in the non-profit sector really speaks to something for us, you know? Something I love about Judaism is that there are certain inalienable responsibilities that must be attended: you must provide education, for example. It's just how things are. In the hedonistic and self-centered secular lifestyle that, like, 97% of my friends and family lead, there are very few "responsibilities" aside from tending to ourselves and our nuclear families. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of cheesedogs is what makes us happy, apparently. Which feels...kind of shallow.

I'm totally not shitting on people who work for The Man - like I said before, work is work, bills pile up, and sometimes it's really fun to in a crazy office building with hot interns and cantankerous mid-level executives and inappropriate co-workers with whom you can gossip. Plus, where would we be without The Office? I get it. Totally.

However, one demographic I always enjoy seeing on the street is that of the Balanced Older Lady: the woman in her 50s with the linen pants and the cashmere wrap. She seems to know things about Nia and fish oils. The BOL isn't vegan-strident, and she's clearly invested in making her life about feeling good and doing good...which are qualities I admire. I'd like to be like that, both in that mythical "someday" and, you know, right now. While I can't afford the hypoallergenic bee pollen that wards off arthritis (yet), I can work at jobs that make me feel connected to things other than a paycheck. If I'm going to spend one-third of my day doing something, I'd like it to be something I feel good about.


  1. Non-profit art gallery... that's me!
    I dig this post. bang on.
    Also you have the best links ever: low man on the totem pole is fantastic.

  2. I told you I gave shout-outs! There's one for you!