Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Slogging through life

This morning, I watched a relatively new video by Garfunkel and Oates...


This song cracks me up...

Here are the words...



I really relate, although I'm one whose aspirations went down the crapper.

The comments on this song are pretty interesting.  There were quite a few from men who were offended by the notion that they're selfish and self-absorbed.  Clearly, they aren't the ones Garfunkel and Oates are singing about, right?  Not all men are inattentive to their partners, obsessed with their jobs, and expecting women to wait around for them and follow them as they pursue their dreams.  Not all women are being forced to give up their aspirations for their men, either.  Hell, in my case, I wound up doing what I'd always wanted to do anyway, albeit not for a real paycheck. 

Actually, what really stuck out to me was a comment made by a man who presented the other side of this reality.  Behold...

The insinuation being that men don’t sacrifice their dreams to support their family? Maybe not in show business, but sacrifice is very much the norm for the working class (which constitutes the majority of the population). Nobody ever dreamed of working in a coal mine or in sanitation, but millions of people (mostly men) do it on a daily basis to support their family.

Lots of people, especially men, are just slogging through life.  It's not just women who give up their dreams for a relationship.  Plenty of men do it, too.  How many guys do you know had dreams of being in a band or creating art for a living, only to wind up doing a job they hate simply for the money?  It takes money to raise a family, run a household, and make the world go around.  Not everyone has the talent, luck, or ability to pursue their dreams.  That's true for everyone.

I can't think of a single person I know who, when we were kids, said they wanted to empty port-a-lets for a living.  And yet, you can bet there are people out there who do it, simply for the money it brings.  I don't know too many people who had aspirations of making refrigerator doors for their life's work.  And yet, before Bill got back into the Army full-time, he worked at a Whirlpool factory and supervised men who had been doing just that for over twenty years.  They'd show up every day, punch in, and spend their shifts standing on the line, putting three screws into refrigerator doors all day.  Then, at the end of the day, they'd clock out, go home, and sleep until it was time to come back and do it all over the next day.

I don't know anyone who, when we were kids, dreamt of waiting tables for a living.  And yet, I know several career waitresses and bartenders.  Some of them stay in that work because it sometimes pays better than sitting in a cubicle all day.  Some stay because it's a portable skill.  Some truly enjoy the work and find it more stimulating than an office job.  Personally, I hope I never have to wait tables again.  It wasn't work I particularly enjoyed.  But I might do it again if I had no other choice.  I'd rather wait tables than shovel dog shit, which is another job I did back before I became an overeducated housewife.

I think this song probably resonates more with the stereotypical career woman.  That's the woman who went to college, busted her ass in an entry level job, climbed the rungs of success, and became unwilling to let that success go for the sake of a relationship or motherhood.  Not that I necessarily blame them for doing that.  It's hard work to succeed in the work world.  It's not usually enough to simply be good at what you do.  There's usually a certain amount of social engineering involved and a willingness to kiss up to the right people.  That takes a certain kind of person... the kind of person I'm not.  So although I am fairly intelligent-- or so I've been told-- and I might have gotten a career going if I'd worked at it, it's probably a blessing for me that I latched on to Bill.  It's also a miracle that we're as compatible as we are.    

Of course, Bill is also lucky enough to be doing work at which he excels and finds interesting.  When he was married to his first wife, she had a vision of what her life was going to be and she expected Bill to conform to her vision.  In the 90s, the Army was downsizing.  Bill's military career, in those days, was not so good.  He lacked confidence, and didn't have the "killer instinct" that is highly prized among some military leaders.  So, when he had the chance to get out of the Army early, he took it, along with severance pay (that he eventually had to pay back).  Then he joined the Reserves and he and Ex moved to Arkansas.  

Because the Reserves didn't pay enough to cover all of the bills, Bill worked in a couple of factories.  He did this only for the money.  He had looked into becoming a parole officer, which was work he thought he might enjoy, but the money was not enough to support the family.  So he worked in a hellish toy factory for awhile, making very little money and doing extremely dull, soul crushing work so his family could eat.  He eventually got another, much better paid job at Whirlpool, where he was a supervisor.  He hated it, but he did it.  

Here Bill was, a guy who had gone to a great private college and earned a degree in international relations, watching old codgers put refrigerator doors together.  It was not the stuff of dreams.  He worked hard during the times when his young daughters were awake, so he didn't get to see them much.  Meanwhile, his Ex continued to treat him poorly and work turned into an escape from his homelife.  Bill's whole existence revolved around that factory job-- a boring, soul draining, exhausting position that made it hard for him to ever see the sun.

An opportunity arose for Bill to go back into the Army with the National Guard.  He could be in the Title X program, which would mean he'd be a full-time officer, same as he was when he was in the regular Army.  He'd just be paid from a different pot and serve at the pleasure of the governor of Arkansas.  It was a real blessing for him, because he was ready to excel in the Army.  His ex wife wasn't on board with that decision.  She was presumably pissed that the Army would once again dictate their lives so much.  She decided it was time for a divorce.  It didn't matter that the Army paid more, offered much better benefits and more prestige, and was work that Bill found interesting and fulfilling.  Bill's decision to go back into the military wasn't what Ex wanted.  So she tossed out the "d" word.

Ex later admitted she hadn't wanted the divorce.  She just didn't want to give in, and let Bill's career disrupt her vision of what her life was supposed to be.  She expected him to keep working in that factory, living in podunk Arkansas, strictly so that she could maintain the status quo of that vision.  Bill realized that he didn't want to live that way; so, when Ex asked for the divorce, he agreed.  She was shocked, but was determined to make him pay for not doing her bidding.  They had their ugly divorce, and Bill and I found each other.  We weathered some difficult years financially.  

I had my own "dreams" back then, although to be honest, I'm not sure how they would have worked out for me.  I got through my graduate programs just fine, but if I had taken work in those fields, I'd probably truly be "slogging through life".  It would be work I was doing to put a roof over my head.  I'd probably be waiting to die.  But then, I probably would have also liked it more than shoveling dog shit or waiting tables.  Maybe I'd feel better about myself... although if I know myself, I doubt that's what would have happened.  I would always be coveting something else and kicking myself for not following my elusive dreams.  My real dream, by the way, is to be a writer and a musician who actually gets paid regularly, not a public health social worker.  Right now, I'm fortunate enough to be able to chase my dreams with little hope that they'll come true... but I also don't have to slog away in a job I hate just to maintain my existence. 

It's hard for a lot of people to be satisfied, though.  Even though I do pretty much get to do whatever I want most days, I still feel a bit unfulfilled.  I do sometimes feel like I'm just waiting to be done with this life.  Listening to "50/50" and reading the comments reminds me that I'm not alone in this reality.  I probably shouldn't complain.  

Edited to add:  I played this song for Bill and he immediately got what Garfunkel and Oates were singing about, even before they got to the punchline.  Then I shared the comment I quoted in this post and he was about to protest, until I reminded him that many people aren't lucky enough to pursue their dreams.  They're trying to keep the lights on.  Often, that involves slogging away at a job they don't enjoy.  So while I get the point of the song and enjoy it-- I also realize that it really applies to a relatively small segment of privileged people who had the opportunity to even try to chase their dreams.  Many people are not that lucky.  That being said, as much as I complain, I do realize that I'm lucky and luck can be a fleeting thing.  

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