Since I was a little kid, I’ve wondered what “work” was. My dad was on the road all week as a representative for Pacific Supply Wholesale company, encouraging morale and connections. I didn’t get that because no one explained “wholesale.” I didn’t understand that purchasing came in layers or that grouping supplies according to buyers was a good thing. He just went off into mystery every week. I didn’t know that connections were the base of work and that morale created connections.
My mother also worked in two layers, one of them secret. A couple raising a daughter across the street ran a small business in the basement selling semi-precious stones cut into buttons. The necessary machines were subsidized by the father’s (never married) parents. My mother did the bookkeeping but my father was not to know because it would embarrass him to admit he didn’t make enough money to support the family. This was in part because his aged parents needed help. They pretended he was buying their furniture including a big upright piano. My mother hated all of it.
When I graduated from 8th grade (19fifty3) she saw that her small “job” wasn’t going to be enough for me to go to college, in spite of the generous scholarship to NU. (The same program as Ivan Doig. Is a scholarship a “job?”) My mother swallowed her pride and asked her estranged father for money to finish the degree interrupted by the Depression during her junior year. She had started at Albany College which became Lewis and Clark, a good connection. Too late she discovered that at Albany she had qualified for a scholarship which her father hid because he didn’t like the people who offered it. His goal was to keep his daughters home but for them each to become a high-ranking professional.
In summer we all picked berries and beans. At one point my mother went to the cannery and worked the “bean belt” to pull us through. I asked my mother how one found a job. She grew up in and near Roseburg. She said one went to the end of the main street and asked at each business along the way if they needed help. Everyone knew John Pinkerton’s daughter. She was hired by an auto dealer and the newspaper.
My mother and I (and Ivan) all finished our Bachelor’s successfully. My father had become not much more than a witness. Soon he was fired because Pacific Supply had been sold to a corporation. The small co-ops,(Tillamook Cheese, Gresham Berry Growers, Oregon Wool Growers, and many gas stations) were no longer part-owners, but simply customers. They lost their voice. I didn’t know all this at the time.
My mother took a job as an elementary school librarian which she kept until retirement after my father was gone, until she had made vital changes to the house (Got rid of the giant wood-and-coal furnace and all the books.) In spite of low income, we were considered middle class because of so many books.
Ivan’s field was history. He was well-liked, did fine academic work and had many good connections, so he continued into a “job” that was an academic vocation. This was what he wanted, but his historical books, while praised, did not sell. Instead his career writing cowboy and pinafore novels took off. Now he was “employed” by contracts with publishers. An American pressure on writing is to make it popular, non-threatening.
I was educated in a field I was not prepared to enter: theatre. My folks took me home unemployed, which made my mother a little desperate. In Browning I took my first teaching job and tried hard to stay there, managing more than a decade. I was not aware I was supposed to pull my family along. My brothers visited but were appalled by Bob’s tyranical work ethic. Bob himself was helped by his mother’s inherited Quebec family money from farming.
My two brothers were drafted which made them able through the GI bill to finish their bachelor’s. Mark started as pre-veterinary but withdrew after a good start working with a vet and dating his daughter. Something went wrong, maybe the romance, so he left the field. Maybe to keep from graduating, he never settled on a new major and more courses than was usual. He did marry but took low-profile jobs.
Paul was a fine arts major and taught metal-working until he suffered a concussion Then he lived with our mother in her retirement, which was a good thing since the neighborhood shifted into ghetto with shootings, disorder, and so on. When she died, he lived with my aunt and finally died living on the street. Kind people there helped him as his health deteriorated. His cousin and he lied to the VA or they would not have released him.
When I called to find out how Mark was, his wife said he had died 2 years earlier. He thought I had killed Paul because I authorized a Do Not Resuscitate order when the “paddles” stopped working. He never took in Paul.
Meantime, seeing my chance to write sliding away, I took early retirement to use my mother’s bequest to buy an extremely old and small house, while living on oatmeal and peanut butter. This was a self-assigned job, “following my passion.” Most people did not consider writing to be work. Some thought of it as self-indulgent.
Doing this work (more research than creation) I felt I made progress but the thinking took me far away from my family. They are conventional. I am not. Also, their picture of me is a sort of mini-mom who ought to have saved my brothers by taking them into my home, which they imagine to be middle class like them. They know very little about writing but the women nearly worship reading fiction, sentimental ideas from the last century.
Was I not married to a famous artist? Did I not teach school? Did I not get a pension from Portland? Were those not all jobs? Weren’t they “work”? Why don’t I have more money? Lots of people asking this now. I feel I have “enough.”