Living to Make a Living


In a recent post, I wrote about a financial planning book called Your Money or Your Life. My main complaint against the book is that it misses a key reason people work: because they actually enjoy it. Clearly the author, who was very keen on his coined phrase “to make a dying,” was not so keen on his own job.

Soon I will be back in the working world. There is much to look forward to, and much to dread. All those things I take for granted now–like curling up on sofa with a giant salad I’ve put together with everything I can find in my house that seems fair game (without being game–ick!) while watching Victor piss off Nicky yet again (maybe you should take to the bottle, Nicky? there’s a novel idea); Sharon throw away her family for the man who kidnapped her child, told her it was dead, and gave it to her ex-father-in-law and his young wifey; and Sheila Carter rise from the dead once more (it’s only a matter of time)–will be over. Lunches with ladies and babies? Long mornings at the gym? Sitting in the playground at Cool J’s preschool for hours while Cool J and his friends Phoenix and Elvis run around with plastic boats and shovels and watering cans, call them guns, and shoot at each other? These moments will soon be history, distant memories of my carefree days–my days when I was young and restless.

In other words, I went for my interview.

I had my lipstick; I had my job talks. I was good to go.

Admittedly, despite my new coat of lipstick, I lacked a coat of the other variety. (What do you think of a ski jacket over a suit–kind of hip in a I’m-too-cool-to-try-to-look-cool kind of way??). I do own one coat that is theoretically interview material. Unfortunately, it has a lining that looks like it was attacked by feral cats, a missing button, and pockets that allow me to slide my hands right through (you know, just in case I have to pull my wedgie out–very convenient). Imagine, if you will, that threadbare, shameful excuse of a garment, covered in the melon rinds people flung out of their casements, that Akaky was convinced to surrender in The Overcoat? (at lot of good that did him).

Mom: “Just go to Walmart and buy one.”

Me, bristling: “I don’t DO Walmart.”

Mom: “You can return it the next day.”

Me: “Mom, there’s a word for that.”

Mom: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Me: “You do.”

Mom: “Listen, just because you don’t–“

Me: “Steal?”

Mom: “You know our friends, The Cheaps? They buy beautiful orchids from Costco and fill their whole condo with it. Then when the orchids die, they take them all back to Costco and return them, complaining they got dead flowers.”

Me: “There’s a word for that.”

Mom: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s called working the system. They know how to work the system.”

Me: “That’s not working . . . .”

My mother thinks I have a goyishe kop. Which, believe me, does not say good things about the yiddishe kop.

I wore the shabby coat.

But I digress. I went for my interview, and it went well. I talked. I answered questions. I asked questions. I met intelligent people who were interesting and engaging, even though none of them had ever been locked in a cage for months, buried alive, had multiple babies stolen from them, or pretended to die but had really moved to Australia to hide being gay. It was great.

And there was something else. As much as I love sitting in the playground and watching sand toys turned into weapons of mass destruction, there is something to be said about being out there in the workaday world.

Switching trains on the way home from my interview, I was bone tired. Satisfied, but exhausted. I was ready to be semi-prone on my couch, in sweats, with a big bowl of popcorn and Glee (instead, I would face, upon arrival in my house, hungry, cranky kids and a husband who was itching to get work done, which he had not been able to do during my long absence. But I was yet to know that). I had only about five minutes to wait, but I could barely stand it. I shuffled my weight from my left foot to my right and back, slid my fingers through my pocket-holes to pull on my skirt, and I looked around.

A little to the side and in front of me, facing the tracks, were a young man and a young woman. I couldn’t see their faces, but their bodies seemed young. Their clothes seemed young. She wore a big Afro, 70s style, and he wore both baseball cap and hood. His jeans sunk low. In their ears, they had ear pods. I could see the white wires coming out of their pockets and disappearing into their ears.

They danced. First her, then him. Backs to the crowd, listening to their hidden ipods (was it the same song? the same rhythm? how were they so beautifully in-tune with each other, so magically in sync?), they danced. They were incredible.

The woman beside me, an older woman with eggplant hair, tugged the sleeve of my ratty coat. I turned to her. She gestured at the young dancers and said something in Spanish. I have no idea what she said, but we both burst out in laughter.

I was on my way home from a potential future job. I was aching with exhaustion, but somehow, exhilarated. There is a world out there, and to work in it is to live in it. To make a living is not just about making a living. It’s about living.



10 responses »

  1. Love that – the dancing, the interview, the coat. Interviews are like the coat: all you gotta do is look good on the outside and keep it together just one button longer…Now you can chuck the coat (or get new buttons. Do people still have “button boxes” any more? I used to love my mother’s button box but I think that’s gone the way of all things, like Woolworth’s).
    Glad to hear the interview went well! And yes – sometimes working for a living is, actually, about feeling more alive because you’re NOT adjudicating who got four more cheerios than the other person.

    • Deb, does it make me horribly old-fashioned, square, or just plain old if I come out and admit I still have a button box? ‘Cause I do, a big fat one too! Not that it has contributed much to preventing my going around with a button missing now and then, but… them, ready for when I’m in the mood to sit down and sew them on. Or in case a friend or relative needs an odd button! ;P

  2. I try to take a week off work and go stir crazy unless I have another massive project to dive into. Working is good (or can be or should be or wants to be).

    Yay successful interview! Sending long-distance cheers.

  3. Thank you for this post! I’m the mom of a two-year old, and I’m also about to return to full-time teaching (probably/hopefully). This is a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do.

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