This morning I’m at home. My eyes are fixed on Facebook and Twitter, but I know I should be doing several other things at once. Piles of books await my time, my gaze, my thought. Articles, half-finished, whimper from neglect. There are more urgent things to do, but I must also manage my life online – the multiple blogs I write, the myriad social medias I maintain. This is my work, my life, my time. Time spent – every hour one less I can get back.
On other days I go out. There is field work to be done. Interviews. Some of these – the dissertation ones – are easy. I know the questions, and I can improvise like a snake weaving its way through the grass. They are coordinated, arranged ahead of time, made to order. The others are difficult. They are haphazard – no one wants to talk for long when they’re fishing! Acceptance takes me by surprise and I fumble to ensure that I get all the questions asked and answered, taking notes on an oversized clipboard weighed down with forms and maps and papers.
Back home I manage the data. I download the wav files, and the jpegs to my computer, rename, recode, restore, upload, encrypt, inform. Sometimes I put this off…too long, and I forget, so it takes more time to figure out what I’m doing and where the digits need to go. When I do it right, the work pays off and I have a shimmering pool of data from which to drink.
Then comes the writing – field notes, blog posts, sometimes an article fragment that gets filed away and then brought back later only to be disassembled and started from scratch. There is always some task more urgent, or some distraction more demanding. On good days I write. On the best days I write with ease. Most days I pretend to write but the words don’t make their way from thought to paper (or screen, more likely). Once in a while, all of these fragments and isolated thoughts get pushed together, and something valuable emerges – something I can share with the world.
Amidst all this I have to arrange my life. I have to clean, I have to cook (or pay for someone else to cook, but I can’t afford that often). I have to go to the store, and look for jobs, and eat – don’t forget to eat! I have to go to the gym (to work out) because otherwise I would turn into a blob on my bed. I have to see friends and spend time with the people I care about and who care for me or else I’d be a lonely blob wondering where my life is going. Now and then I draw or scribble, I write fragments of poems, I take photos, I read fiction. Otherwise I would be a structured blob with no room to move or escape. I don’t want to be a blob of anything – I want to do my work. This is the work that lets me do my work.
I don’t have a “work ethic.” I’m not obsessed with work, and I don’t hate it either. I have an understanding that everything I do is work – even my play – and so my work is not confined to one part of my life. My work is my life, and my life is my work. It’s a process of assembling, of putting things together, taking things apart, making something new, or reproducing something old. This is how I build myself and my life or how the world builds me. For I know that “my work” is never all my own. I depend on others to work with, for, and even against me. Without them my work would be just movement and frantic gesticulating in the void. It’s our work together that makes it more. After all these years and all this work, what have we produced? I don’t know, it’s never finished.