Saturday, May 16, 2015

Back-Breaking or Soul-Crushing

I break down jobs into 2 basic categories: back-breaking or soul-crushing. That's a pretty good encapsulation of my attitude toward Capitalist labor. But I think it's also an accurate description of most career paths nowadays. There may be a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow, but you're either gonna hafta eat a ton of shit or break your back to get there.

I've gone the soul-crushing route for over a decade now, in the form of clerical jobs in the financial industry. But the material benefits of that course weren't enough to quiet my conscience. My mind was content to stay in the corporate rut until the end of my days, but my body was not. Insomnia and other physical symptoms forced me off those rails.

Now I'm giving the back-breaking route a try. So far, so good. Being physically exhausted at the end of the day beats the hell out of being spiritually exhausted. It's just a part-time job mowing lawns for people who can't do it themselves anymore, but it's been pretty rewarding emotionally. My "clients" are mostly very grateful for my work, and, honestly, I do get a warm, fuzzy feeling when they thank me.

The job has gone a long way toward clearing out the guilt that had been building up in my unconscious. It's been a sort of moral house-cleaning, with my unconscious playing the part of the attic. That's where I stuffed unpleasant thoughts about the consequences of my actions. But the "out of sight, out of mind" principle only worked for so long. The time finally came when I had to make room for good things.

When I was a kid, I was tormented by thoughts of the afterlife. I was afraid of being condemned to Hell for my inaction in the face of injustice. I "divorced" myself from the Roman Catholic church in high school, but Hell still loomed large in my imagination. More recently, I've realized that I needn't worry about St. Peter's judgment at the Pearly Gates. I only need to satisfy my own conscience. There's no point in trying to meet someone else's standards. You'll spend all your time just trying to figure out what their standards are.

But even my standards seemed impossible to meet. No corporate job satisfied my moral criteria, and I couldn't land the non-profit jobs I applied for. The only viable option seemed to be working on organic farms out in the sticks, but I couldn't bring myself to leave the city. Hence the lawn-mowing and, over the winter, snow-shoveling gigs.

I realize these aren't morally pure occupations. There's a lot of driving involved to get to the clients' houses. I tried to reduce my gasoline consumption by using a push reel mower, but that only lasted about 10 minutes before the aggravation of having to stop for every stick drove me back home to get the gas mower. For now, I'm squiring a gas mower around the Twin Cities in my parents' Honda Accord, inhaling fumes and slowly turning their car into a Superfund site.

The batteries they're making now for electric mowers might last long enough to get me through all 14 lawns on one or two charges, but their environmental benefits have been greatly exaggerated. The mining and manufacture have damaging environmental impacts, although those processes and impacts have been (mostly) offshored, so it takes some research to learn the truth behind their eco-friendly pedigree. No, it ain't easy bein' Green, especially when you're a member of the Global 1%.

However, considering that I was basically working in the Belly of the Beast before, this is a significant improvement. I still have a long way to go, but I'd be remiss if I didn't give myself some credit for getting as far as I have. It's no use focusing on what I've failed to do to the exclusion of everything I've accomplished. As long as I'm moving in the right direction, each failure brings me closer to success.

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