John’s work

John –

In my head just now, I was having a fantasy conversation with no one in particular – maybe never anyone – about some topic that’s on my mind. I do this sometime when I feel less pressure around tasks, to do’s. Today I have a long afternoon and evening with nothing scheduled, in a good mood and happy to piddle.

The topic today is “My friend John and his relationship to work.” Hopefully at least enough of it will ring true – it would be a great conversation sometime, maybe on a hike, what hit the mark and (inevitably) what did not…and what’s missing.

Here goes:

My friend John’s current work – a highway flagger for paving jobs – is by no means his long-term aspiration.

He would like to get back into the building trades. He has pawned his tools when he was broke, but would never let go of them. He is a natural handyman and construction pro. He seems sometimes like a wizard. It seems like there is nothing he can’t do. He has a passion for fixing things, for making them work. When, out of the corner of his eye, he saw that one of my blinds wasn’t closing correctly, it continually distracted him from our conversation. “Do you mind if I fix that?” “Thanks – that would have haunted me all night.” If a friend has some kind of light construction or fixit need, he springs into action – he loves it. It’s a passion for him. It seems there is nothing that completely stumps him.

His life mission is to help people, to “facilitate” – to make things work better for them.

He has not given up on a long-term dream to work in the forest service – maybe construction. At 52, that possibility may be slipping away. It would take a big push, which could happen, but not until after the current spate of infections and other health challenges.

Highway flagging may seem like an unlikely vocation – and passion! – for someone of so much talent and education. (But my Ph.D. does not spoil grocery store cashiering as a vocation for me.) John’s capacity to turn this work into something creative and satisfying is admirable to say the least.

  • John applies his mission to help, to “facilitate” here – in ways that a less resourceful and motivated person would never accomplish. John has a vision that highway closures create stress and even some measure of pain for people – and his mission is to help this inconvenience be light for them. Where some other flaggers regard the lines of motorists as ignorant assholes to be dispatched – processed through with minimal expenditure of effort – to John they are customers, basically good people in pain.
  • John uses this work as a context to express his creativity. He dances his job. As much as the work allows, he stays in motion. He is always finding new and interesting ways to express information. How much relevant information can he feasibly impart?
    • what the project is
    • what’s happening up ahead
    • any feasible bypasses
  • he really is trying to make their day
  • John uses this job as a background to express his love of nature
    • he uses his camera to get interesting/educational/accurate pictures of nature
    • he has a circle of Facebook friends who are back and forth with each other with beautiful nature photos and the quest to identify interesting/beautiful/rare insects/plants/flowers
  • John has a huge work ethic and takes satisfaction from living it out.
    • Even if the day is rainy and there is not likely to be work on his particular paving project, he reports to the staffing office at 6 a.m.
      • Many of the workers don’t have cars, some of them may be staffing indoor jobs, some may need a ride to work if they are to get to work
        • many have families to support – John gets satisfaction from trying to make sure they get work if they can and he gets paid for transporting them and this establishes him as a go-to resource for the staffing service.
    • No matter how different his co-workers, he finds ways to like and respect them
      • even if they are uneducated and irresponsible
      • they have a family, they get paid on Friday, and Monday they are broke – can’t afford cigarettes even on a week where bad weather is predicted – no income.
      • He finds them interesting and creative where are there overlaps on their musical tastes
      • Their nihilism, dark humor and love of practical jokes may converge
Caddis fly?

In short

  • How can I help people?
  • How can I see and reflect what’s good in people?
  • How can I express myself and find the opportunity for creativity, dark humor, nihilism, music and anarchy in situations where if I did not work hard and stretch myself I might just succumb to helplessness and depression?

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These days all of my identities are converging: whether I am offering a blessing in the grocery store checkout line, offering a prayer in a poem or experiencing the kinship with all life while walking my or a client's dog - it's all the same. It's all Life.

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