As some of you know, I live with chronic mental illness, in the form of Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. These are conditions I've likely lived with all my life, though they were not properly diagnosed until several years ago. Coming to terms with that, and with the challenges and benefits of living this way, has been a big part of my artistic and spiritual journey over the last four or five years.
So when I read this article, I was instantly bowled-over, triggered like a piano falling on me from a great height.
And after I calmed down from that initial burst of intense feeling, I felt immense gratitude for the blinding clarity that this article triggered in me. So go and read the article before you continue here.
Done? Good. Let's continue.
One does not have to "monetize joy," but then if one does not, there may not be enough employment elsewhere to pay the bills, stay housed and fed. Even if you're partnered with someone who is working and earning more than you are. Because things have gotten so lopsided in favor of the wealthy few that the rest of us are forced to struggle and to compete with each other for increasingly scare resources -- jobs, housing, etc.
I believe that scarcity has been created and sustained by the wealthy few and economic systems they control, in order to keep the rest of us distracted by our own fear.
I also know -- believe with all my heart, actually -- that my creative gifts provide a window into some really big truths about the world I live in, truths that I would be distracted from seeing and feeling if I worked a low-wage job for someone else. Because that is the way the system is set up. And I guess that on some level I've known this truth, this lack of personal control on a large scale, since I was young.
I have had a long personal history with powerlessness in my life.
And at some point, recognizing that I was not born under the right start, the one that would set me up for a lifetime of security and good health and comfort, I would come to understand that there is power OVER, and power TO, and choose accordingly. I would have to do this for my own sanity, if for no other reason.
So if I have to choose between working at Walmart and monetizing my joy, you had better believe I'm gonna choose the latter. In both cases I'll still be poor, but in the latter I'm my own boss and I get to do something I care about (and perhaps on my best days can still love).
Still with me? Good.
In order to change the system, we must first give ourselves the downtime to FEEL -- to FEEL PAIN, AND LOVE, and then ANGER. When we really feel all of those things alongside each other, we may find our way to the paths we're really meant to be on. And if I have to make my life a little bit of a hustle while I'm at it, well, that's the world we live in.
My mental and physical challenges now prevent me from working full-time (currently believed to be 40 hours a week, but do NOT get me started on that bad math today, seriously). This idea of "full-time" work is so ingrained in all of us that we struggle to know how to rest when we're not working.
Now that more and more of us are required to work multiple part-time jobs simply to stay housed and fed -- or worse, to hustle for every tiny gig we can wrest a few dollars of because there aren't enough traditional jobs for everyone to live on anymore -- it has become even harder to separate work from rest in our lives.
THIS IS NOT AN ACCIDENT.
Because busyness -- that nagging feeling that creeps in to torture us whenever we take a break from our labors -- is a part of a socioeconomic system designed to distract us from our anger and from potential action which may follow. What's more, we've been historically herded away from craft-based work, which requires a certain degree of creative thought and individual autonomy, towards quantity-based work, where hordes of wage slaves move large quantities of inventory (including both retail products and data) around for the benefit of corporate owners, with little or no individual autonomy left. (See: Amazon)
(Don't believe me? Read this excellent book on the nature of work, workplace systems and worker control. It changed my life and made me feel reassured about my life-work choices and I cannot recommend it enough. It's a fast read and may warm your heart as much as it did mine.)
Until we can wrest power away from the corporations and wealthy one percent currently in possession of that power, we will be forced to make ridiculous personal and ethical choices in an equally ridiculous landscape.
So before I can reduce global warming, quash racism (including the racism which exists in myself, because it exists in all of us who enjoy even the littlest bit of white privilege), and make healthcare and quality education human rights again, I have to do something else first.
I MUST WORK LESS IN ORDER TO FEEL MORE.
Yes, I'll be even poorer than I was before -- though at my current earning level it's a fuzzy line -- but maybe I'll be angrier too. Maybe I'll be angry enough to burn down a little piece of the system that keep so many of us stuck and miserable for no good reason except to help secure someone else's obscene wealth.
So maybe the adage should read something like: do what you love, work less, learn to live with less and feel every single thing.
This will not be easy. There is immense social pressure to stay busy, even -- and perhaps especially -- in the Jewish community. People who work less than full-time, whether by choice or by default (retirement or illness), are suspect in our society. There is no strong social support for those of us who let ourselves feel more, and suffer the intense pain of those feelings.
We have to make an active effort towards change. We have to seek out others who have made similar choices. We have to create small systems of mutual care and support. Those systems may not exist within Jewish spaces, and may be especially difficult to establish in traditional Jewish spaces. This is hard work, radical work.
I cannot imagine doing anything else that's more compelling, with my gifts, my skills and my energy, and above all with my time.
My wish for myself and all I love: May our feelings lead us to action rather than distraction. May our realizations lead us to each other, to the people with whom we can effect meaningful change. And somewhere in that, may we find and be the blessing each of us was really meant to be.