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Speaker: I am a Really Useful Engine

19 Responses

  • Russell Brown,

    I have a version of this that I tell myself: I want to be a useful citizen.

    To that end, I try and have one or two unpaid governance roles (preferably one) where my experience might be useful.

    Also, what I do here very rarely attracts anything like a reasonable rate of pay, or covers development costs. But it's the thing I most want to do.

    I'm not the only one here of course, or always the most useful: Access is an important voice and Capture makes people happy.

    But I routinely turn down invitations to speak unpaid, even from nice people. That takes preparation and is mildly stressful. I have an agent and I'm supposed to earn money from that stuff.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    We all have different comfort zones with this sort of thing, but some of us genuinely feel uncomfortable taking money for nothing, sitting around while someone else looks after us, or generally not appearing to work as hard as we could. This may be the sort of learned cultural hangup that my brothers blame on Presbyterianism.

    Are you me?

    Lilith linked to this on Facebook today, and it is also basically me. I have CFS. Some days, it’s all I can do to sit upright at my keyboard, and I feel lazy. I am constantly pissed off and anxious that I’m not Being Useful. I do sometimes work, though for terrible money, and I’ve reached the stage where I will call myself a “writer”, but dare not call myself an “author”.

    We define people by their jobs. If you don’t work, you don’t count. This despite the fact that our society is dependent on people working for free – just look at how much free labour parents donate to schools.

    I care about what people are passionate about, which might be their job, but often isn’t. I care about their politics and what art they enjoy. My mum worked part-time in the laundry of a geriatric hospital, which made her not very valued. But she was passionate about theatre and social justice, she taught English to the wives of immigrants and remedial reading to young boys and she was constantly being useful. I cannot escape her Protestant Work Ethic.

    I have to remind myself that the mostly unpaid work I have been able to do IS useful. That’s not easy.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Are you me?

    Word, sister. This is a fantastic post. I have so much to say on it, but unfortunately it will have to wait a week, while I work my way through the literal mountain of unpaid work I'm doing. I've got an assessment a day, data to mine, letters to proof, people to wrangle, mentors to consult, constitutions to write, kids to care for, lifts to give, food to cook, sites to moderate, deals to cut, payments to process, books to keep, taxes to pay, and entire house to move. By next Friday. I can only make this post because I've got in the habit of writing almost as fast as I can talk. Because I have to.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • James Littlewood*,

    I hate it when someone asks me what I do, I spend 5 minutes trying to explain it, and they go

    "Oh, I get it, so it's a labour of love."

    Yeah. 'Cause I have sooo much surplus labour to deliver.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 410 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to BenWilson,

    while I work my way through the literal mountain of unpaid work I'm doing

    This is so easy to get into. I'm not kidding at all when I say that I have spent periods voluntarily unemployed so I can do full time unpaid work, and found myself saying "I should look for a job, when I can find some time". Because activism is not "a job", but being paid to screw poor people is (I was once offered work programming gambling machines, and that's how I felt about that).

    I'm not even sure to describe some of what I've done, because it's often been purely self-interested effort expending to make my own life better... while also being aimed to improve society and the lives of people in my community. Co-housing, for example, or bicycle activism. I have talked myself into seeing that as "valuable service to the community" but it still feels very selfish at times. My recent submission to council on their bike plan really was driven by me reading the draft plan and going "you have got to be f***ing kidding me"... some editing of the initial draft was required :)

    Some of what I've done is even less "a proper job" and more "widely agreed to be criminal" whether that's Critical Mass bike rides or forest occupations. Anyone recall the outrage when the government stuck explosives on a logging helicopter and blamed us? Outrage that eventually flipped to electing a Labour government, fortunately, but not everyone is so lucky (and no-one was ever punished or compensated for that outrage).

    Also, I have repeatedly said to NGOs that I won't do work in my profession as voluntary work. Partly because it seems unreasonable to ask for my normal pay and they can't really afford it, and partly because they can and do hire people who have used non-traditional paths to get into my profession (because those people will work for the pay offered) and that's one of the few paths those people have. OTOH I have used them as an opportunity to develop marketable skills... which I've then used for paid work.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1198 posts Report Reply

  • Rebecca Gray, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Emma, that link is heartbreaking (quite similar in some ways to what Sarah Wilson, who I mentioned earlier, has been writing).
    I’m sure you’re not here looking for assurance from some internet random, but I will say I know you wrote that Missing Stair piece among all sorts of other great stuff, and that looks like pretty bloody useful/valuable work from where I’m sitting.

    Wellington • Since May 2016 • 23 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    doing the loco emotion
    stationary esteem engines
    never change tracks
    always gauging the difference
    between rolling stock,
    laughing stock,
    and lost attraction...

    Doing something is better than doing nothing.

    and at the risk of putting Descartes before the hordes:
    Cogito ergo something...
    I think therefore I can
    I think for I can
    I think I can
    I think I can
    I can
    I think...

    I'll put the brakes on my 'freewheeling thinking' now
    before I become a doubting Thomas
    or derail the thread...
    ;- )

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7889 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rebecca Gray,

    but I will say I know you wrote that Missing Stair piece among all sorts of other great stuff, and that looks like pretty bloody useful/valuable work from where I’m sitting.

    That post is a great example of what Emma does so well: writes things that we come back to for years after, because they Say It Right.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Russell Brown,

    That post is a great example of what Emma does so well: writes things that we come back to for years after, because they Say It Right.

    Emma, I know I'm not the only one whose life you've changed for the better through your writing. Before your Something Chronic blog post I was in the habit of never mentioning my CFS to anyone.

    And Russell, you've given us all this forum. It's been all kinds of important. Thank you.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • John McCormick,

    I have been an accountant for 30 years. It has led me to frequent musings on how we arrived at the financial system we have. My first job out of university was with a manufacturing company. I give myself credit for wondering how it happened, that at the age of 21, I earned 3 times what the factory workers got. Especially since many of them were middle aged, and presumably supporting a family, when my choices centred on what brand of booze to buy.

    Later I spent many years in the public health system. I wondered how it could be that I earned 2 to 3 times what a nurse earned, when they worked directly with patients and I never got near one. I consoled myself that it was necessary, you can't have an entity spending many millions of dollars of public money without finance people being involved, and I could certainly have earned more money in the private sector. It salved my conscience personally, but didn't provide any evidence that the system is valid.

    Economic discussions almost inevitably get to the problem of taxing or discouraging "hard-working" rich people. I worked hard, but I have seen enough to know that I did not work as hard as a nurse does, let alone 3 times as hard. I don't have a nice alternative, but the idea that the market sets a fair value on people's contributions is not just flawed, it's lunacy.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2014 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Moz,

    Anyone recall the outrage when the government stuck explosives on a logging helicopter and blamed us?

    Shit, was that Native Forest Action days? So much important activism.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to John McCormick,

    the market sets a fair value on people's contributions is not just flawed, it's lunacy

    I've been privileged to work with long-time community workers who are so unrecognised - but that's not why they do it. Humbling. As is watching what parents do.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    entire house to move

    crikey, that's major

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Aw shucks, you guys. I won't pretend that's not completely wonderful to hear. I still feel like an Internet Random, though.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Rebecca Gray, in reply to Sacha,

    Yeah seriously, those people who agree do the barely-recognised community and caring work are probably the unseen glue holding society together. Which is really nice of them, but doesn't exactly make the situation ok.

    It's also unfortunate that certain types of caring/ voluntary/ creative work can only be done long-term by people who have a high-earning partner and can therefore handle the fluctuations in income or periods of working without earning. That leads to a noticeable demographic skew in those industries - which makes me wonder how many voices are not being heard.

    Wellington • Since May 2016 • 23 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Rebecca Gray,

    It's also unfortunate that certain types of caring/ voluntary/ creative work can only be done long-term by people who have a high-earning partner

    or by subsistence living and forgoing retirement savings. I'd love to see a special extra pension for such folk.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Rebecca Gray, in reply to Sacha,

    That would be great, though I have a horrible suspicion that any effort to get such people an extra pension would be met with objections about how they had CHOSEN to forgo earnings by (looking after family/ doing community work/ starting up arts programmes, whatever). They could have just chosen to go into finance, and then they wouldn't be looking for a handout, would they?!
    (I hope I am being way too cynical here)

    Wellington • Since May 2016 • 23 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Sacha,

    Yes, “community service” awards should have more actual remuneration attached. Not least because, generally speaking, the individuals who deserve them also have a more accurate recognition of where the money should be spent, and more willingness to send it there.

    (That being said, “community service” should be distinguished from “service to a political party or its supporters”.
    Sometimes, I fear I am not cynical enough ...)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1889 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Sacha,

    or by subsistence living and forgoing retirement savings. I’d love to see a special extra pension for such folk.

    Ta, Sacha.

    Seriously though...having no retirement savings nor any prospects of same is not too bad...until some expert on the radio tells me how important savings are for my future security. Pictures of miserable, decrepit old age subsisting in my rusting old Bus parked up in some grotty little campground because the gearbox has shit itself and I can't afford to get it fixed and travel....

    Even more seriously....

    This is something that Himself and I have spoken about. Me caring for Him is by far the bestest option all round. Me not being able to do the caring thing...alternative (of residential care facility because the Miserly of Health too stingy to fund home based care) too awful to contemplate.

    Bring on the blue juice.

    Likewise me left bereft, having now to find paid work and having to account for the 17 (so far, may there be many more) years out of the (paid) workforce.

    Double blue juice.

    (Sacha...having said all that...I have read of some country that does have special pensions for those who have been out of the paid workforce due to caring commitments. This would be one of those countries that actually provides real support to carers while they are actually caring. The same country that has livable allowances to those unable to do paid work owing to ill health of permanent impairment.

    It might be Sweden...but I am damn certain it isn't New Zealand.)

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1344 posts Report Reply

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