Saturday, January 30, 2010

Every Once in a While a book Comes...

Every once in a while we read something or watch something that stops us cold, takes us back to our roots, or makes us tumble down our perch.

At our last book club's meeting we discussed Matthew B. Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft, a philosophical treatise of the value of manual work.

The book is not our usual fare. We read lighter stuff, fictional narratives mostly.  Our favorite book had been  The Last Chinese Chef.  Why this book then?  Because each of us attempts to bring something new to the group, something with which we are not acquainted.

This book takes me back to the times of my parents, and their parents, a time when shop classes were full of young men learning carpentry, mechanics, electronics.  My maternal grandparents represented in this picture, Anna and Paolo Rapolla, and their oldest girls, Graziella and Addolorata, my mother, were land owners, well to do people, who hired help whenever they needed to. However, they had a "can-do" attitude about everything. If something broke, they tried to fix it with whatever materials were available.  They sewed all their clothes, grew their own food, canned and preserved what they needed to survive harsh winters, and taught their children, boys as well as girls to solve their own problems at home and at school.  Punishment was doled out fairly, and praise was reserved for outstanding accomplishement.  Nobody received a student of the day stamp, or a student of the month certificate.  These tangible tokens were rare, reserved for the top achiever in the entire school.  Work was visible, appreciated, valued, and understood.

The book covers the distance we have come in our work places from a time when we knew the product and how to fix it if it broke, to the present time when we are on an assembly line that stretches across the entire globe, where a product is envisioned, blueprinted, digitalized, packaged and sold before it ever gets out of the factory which might be made of many parts assembled in different locations, with instructions written in different languages. Ugh? I'm tired just thinking about this.

So, doing is no longer bound with thinking.

I can be working on a piece of a puzzle I have no idea what it is.

My success rests on two things only: how I interact with my boss; and how I appear to be useful.  My bullshitting skills are more important than any other skill.

When the product breaks down, finding out who did what that caused this or that, may be a monumental problem. Look at today's problem of Toyota's.

Our value and self-concept are now based on the opinions of others, not the quality of our work.
Why, many products are manufactured with defects that make them throw-a-ways, one use only.  We are so tied down to keeping the present job because without it we cannot pay the mortgage or the bill at the orthodontist, that we do what is required of us without questioning, without lifting an additional finger, without tipping the balance of power and relationships. 

No wonder we feel empty, depressed and dissatisfied. Time to go shopping for something to make us feel better, right after we stop to drink at the place where they know our name, and won't tell on us.


Fire Byrd said...

Don't know about you but for me it's an age thing.The older I get the less appeal shopping has. The less I need any more stuff. Just as long as I can get good food to put on my table and pay the bills, then what else holds me is walking and being with friends and neither of those cost me nothing financially just an emtotional cost that I'm more than happy to pay.

Eva Gallant said...

I'm with FireByrd; I just want to be able to pay my bills and eat. So glad I'm not working anymore.

Helen said...

This post is wonderful on so many levels. (I will look for the book today.) I recall so vividly the era you describe when folks did for themselves in almost every aspect of their lives. I am thankful I do have those memories and that influence in my life. I continue to simplify my life in many ways and know I am better for it.

Sharon McPherson: AUTHOR / ARTIST said...

LV - you hit the nail on the head - the skill that will get people the best jobs today, is the 'bullshitting skill'.

It's a sad culture we live in, but we can set the course of change by not becoming so absorbed with consumption and materialism and look for things that truely inspire us ...

The 'student of the day stamp' and 'month certificate' - I get what you are saying. They didn't have these in my day, but my friends' kids come home with these; kids some only three years old come home with something to put in a frame. I know that the objective is to build self esteem and a sense of self achievement ... but - here's the fact - you cant aquire a sense of achievement until you have actually achieved something and handing certificates out like candy will not make it happen. Period.

Lisa Holtzman said...

Very interesting post. Ah, the good old days of integrity and pride in our work.

She Writes said...

Thought provoking and that is what I appreciate in a post! I will have to add this to my reading list. Still reading The Last Chinese Chef myself. Packed away in the middle of the read!

becky at abbeystyle said...

A sad state of affairs, indeed. I feel fortunate for the self-sustaining lessons my parent taught me.

Reya Mellicker said...

Great post, Rosaria. When I was working for the San Francisco Symphony, I comforted myself with the thought that all that paper pushing and ass kissing made possible the delivering of beautiful music into the world. It really helped give meaning to that stupid job (the work was stupid, but not the setting or my fellow workers).

My work now is almost 100% physical. You can't imagine how much I appreciate that!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I am happy to report, at least right now I don't kiss much ass! lol. I read The Last Chinese Chef, and send an e-mail to the author and she was really nice, and we corresponded.

People don't "do" anything anymore. No wonder nobody has any money.

Gran said...

My new coffee pot came in the mail on Monday, and I waited until today to open it up, get ready to use it, and then recycle the box and packing materials. Buying and putting together stuff is hard work.

Barry said...

Almost nothing is designed to be repairable today, or if it is the repair costs more than replacement.

If you can get the part, or the specialized tool needed to insert the part.

Poetikat said...

Hi! Sorry, I was out for most of the afternoon and only just saw your comment. I will have your link up momentarily.



Woman in a Window said...

Rosaria, I'm caught somewhere in between being in hysterics and being despondant. We don't have to play nice nice with that kind of living though. You could always move up north to a substandard house that experiences windchill, put up pickles and salsa, put in a garden, buy socks when you're lucky enough to find them. There is outside of all of that and I am so grateful. I couldn't make it a week inside of that kinda living. Recently in the States and moving from one city to the next, state after state with a friend, I was struck by how utterly interchangable each town was, strip mall after strip mall and gas bar after each. It caused a deficiency in my self just to witness it. I am sorry for it, that it exists. (No a Canada/US thing, but rather an urban/rural thing I think.)


willow said...

Work was visible, appreciated, valued, and understood.

Love that "can-do" attitude of the good old days.

Amazing family photo!

Rob-bear said...

"Our value and self-concept are now based on the opinions of others, not the quality of our work."

So very, and sadly, true.

"No wonder we feel empty, depressed and dissatisfied."


I'm with most of the others, in my concern over this. My biggest problem isn't consumption; it's what to do will all this stuff I have around me. Useful at the time, but no longer needed in a simpler life.

Buying food, paying bills, fixing what we can (in a world that makes "throw-away" goods), and an extra pair of gloves for -40° weather. That's our life in retirement. And playing with the grandkids and the dog.

Meanwhile, our world "knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Oscar Wilde had a word for that. Cynicism.

L. D. Burgus said...

I really appreciate the thoughts in the blog. We are value because of what we do, what we make, who we know, what others think of us. Really none of the above, and yet we are taught to judge ourselves on so many levels.

Enchanted Oak said...

I feel ashamed of our society. I value good work, and fine workmanship. When I come across it, it stands out because it is so rare to find nowadays. Makes me think of my post on "Old Stuff That Still Works." I wish my culture valued the same things I do.

Nancy said...

Great point. There no longer is pride attached to what we make or do, because most of us are just a cog in the wheel. I have to agree with Fire Byrd, shopping holds very little value when you have more than you want and need. I can remember the beginning of the era of white collar vs. blue collar and the value attached to these jobs. My father would say - but what do they make? Nothing! They do not add value - they do not create - it's all on paper what they do!

His comment is making more sense now.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

sometimes its hard to manage
sometimes its tough
sometimes its manageable
sometimes its rough

sometimes it easy to do
sometimes it flows
sometimes its wonderful
sometimes it glows!

Martin H. said...

Jumping off the hamster's wheel was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.

This is a thoughtful post which raises some important issues. Thank you.

the walking man said...

Nope never have been a factory rat type of person and never really gave much of a crap about what others thought of me. I fixed things for I fix things now and if I can't fix it because of a physical limitation one of my sons will come and willingly learn how the old man does it.

Even my wife fixes shit around the house better than most of the people I may consider bringing in to do a job.

I never could buy into the throw it away massage of globalization. I have one car with 285,000 miles on it and the other with 158,000 and even though it's very cold here right now I could go out and either of them would start right up without a problem.

I have faith though that this generation is learning the hard truths of where and what and how money is made and saved and spent on.

potsoc said...

I have to agree with Walking Man. When I look at my children and grandchildren. They are resilient and creative. They are their own people in a difficult environment for sure but they soldier on.
We, old geezers, have gone through it all and we have survived; we found are value...and it is still with us.
I'll bet all the contributors to this post are active and respected in their communities and surroundings and I fail to understand the gloom here.

Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking... I need to read it again!!

Gaston Studio said...

Wonderful post! As I get older, I often wonder how we have traveled so far from what made us the independent, bull by the horns people we used to be and... are offering up the youth of today who truly believe the world owes them everything without them lifting a finger. Shame.

Tom Bailey said...

"However, they had a "can-do" attitude about everything. If something broke, they tried to fix it with whatever materials were available."

I would check out the book for that reason alone.

"Our value and self-concept are now based on the opinions of others, not the quality of our work."

In the area of work I look at QQS - Quality, Quantity and Spirit of service of what is being done not just in myself but in the people that I hire. Am I improving my Q's? Am I doing it with a high S? Am I looking to the future and inspiring or am I punishing the past over and over?

Kindest regards,
Tom Bailey

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Makes you wonder what's next, doesn't it?

Renee said...

Congrats you made me want to read a book again.


My Mom is proud.

Helen said...

Good morning!
My oldest son snapped the 'snow' photo from the top of Mt. Bachelor a few years ago .....

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

Tell it like it is... great post. I think I would like your book club. I have often thought about creating one myself with a few friends. I love to read, and to get others input would be so nice. Thanks for reminding me.
Also, just where have you been? I have missed you on my blog.xoxox

Brian Miller said...

will defintely add the book tot he list as this post got my thoughts a rumbling...

Woman in a Window said...

(ohohohoh! thank you for getting reduced. for really getting it. many many thanks!)


cheshire wife said...

That has set me thinking!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever read the book, "Bright-Sided. How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined Ameria" by Barbara Ehrenreich.

I think some of her thoughts parallel yours.

Oh, I am SO with you on the BS skills! North Carolina's motto is "Esse Quam Videri"--To Be, Rather Than To Seem. (Not, I regret to say, that it is widely practiced!)

sallymandy said...

Aack. You're right. It's a depressing way to work and live.

I have just resigned from twenty years of jobs with my head--asking for money for good causes, doing research and writing that ultimately supported huge institutions with little or no connection to individuals.

Resigned to start a sewing business using recycled materials. If I counted up my hourly wage it would be about what I made at Dairy Queen at age 15.

You know what? I don't care, and I wouldn't go back to the other work for anything.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes; your words ring very true and it is this way over here too, but maybe not in such great proportion (we are a kinda smaller place though).
Time thing, I am thinking. 'I remember when I was your age' as I am always saying to my Daughter. *sigh* and 'You don't know how lucky you are'
But are they?
At lest I could play outside, without watchful eyes all the time to keep me safe and even flowers dared to grow on the edge of road sides.

NitWit1 said...

Your post reminded me of my own parents who lived long enough to be acquainted with the digital world in its infancy, Particularly exasperating to them was the phone call for help of any kind where you spoke to a robot and punched or dialed the entire alophabet trying to talk to a "real" person!

My Dad grew up in a peanut farming family and became a manager in lumber, hardware and furniture.

Marguerite said...

Sounds like a great book and the family photo is such a treasure. So true about our throw-away society, and I hear you on the "bullshitting" skills! My job requires those, too.

Peter Stone said...

You've touched on so many truths here, I too sometimes thing back on what the world used to be like, compared to a world that designs things to break down, be unrepairable, so we have to buy another one.

kanishk said...

you cant aquire a sense of achievement until you have actually achieved something and handing certificates out like candy will not make it happen. Period.

Work From Home

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