Across the restaurant table for the first time or maybe at a large gathering of unfamiliar people, the questions are heard again and again.
Where do you work? What do you do?
Our work defines us in many ways. When we pour ourselves into work that we love, there are few things more rewarding. When we're frustrated, overworked, or unmotivated, the rest of the hours in our day are often more of the same.
When I think about different times in my life, the job I had is one of the first things to come to mind. In high school, I worked at a tiny company that built, sold, and repaired computers under its own name. I became an expert at installing hard drives (and dual-floppies for fast copying), operating systems, and the first software I ever mastered, WordPerfect. A friend and I advertised a summer computer camp for kids and only realized what we had gotten ourselves into when an actual 9-year old boy was dropped off on the first day.
One summer during college, I found myself in a small town in Illinois working at a country club attempting to hold on to its former grandeur. It was my only experience in food service—a burgers, snacks, and ice cream shack located just off of the 18th hole. The pool was right next door, so my main memory of the summer is watching endless hours of practice for a Little Mermaid performance by a large group of children and admirably patient lifeguards. Poor Unfortunate Souls will long be with me. Keep singing!
The job I truly loved during those years was working in the library and computer lab at a residential college within Michigan State. Both were located in my dorm, so I didn't even have to step outside during the bitter winter days. With my key, I could access both anytime I needed, and play the hero when others were similarly desperate. The biggest perks were unlimited printing and first access to the Sunday New York Times. And I enjoyed the actual work, too, answering questions and solving the problems of stressed, tired students with deadlines rapidly approaching. It was wonderful.
I used to think it was odd that introductions begin with questions about work, but we're just looking for easy ways to contextualize each other. Our work, along with where we're from and where we live, just happens to be the fastest route.
We know that there's more to our stories, and the stories of the people we meet, though. We are shaped by our work, but we are defined by our friends and loved ones, and the moments we share together. Those treasured relationships often start with "What do you do?", but they begin to flourish in the questions and conversations that come next.
Last week's dispatch asked, What is your favorite time of day?
My favorite time of day is split between the two times of change - either the moment before a sunrise, where the skies are already stained with an unnaturally beautiful color but the day (with all it's obligations and rush) hasn't quite started, or the seconds after sunset. These happen to coincide nicely with the pre-work and post-work calm.
The gloaming. Not only is it just a fabulous and evocative word, it is the perfect time of day. I went to university at a school tiny in population but situated on 13,000 acres of land on top of a mountain. The entire student body, professors/administrators and their families lived "on campus." I loved to go running in that period between light and dark watching the warm yellow glow (pre-compact fluorescents clearly) as people gathered in their homes at the end of the day. It's a time of gathering and telling stories and being with the people you care about. In that tiny place at that time, I was part of their story because we all lived there together and I knew most all of them. I live in a big city now but I still feel content always at the gloaming.
I am fortunate enough to enjoy most hours on the clock, from the late morning (like now) sitting at my desk with sunlight and shadows from the live oak playing across my window, to dark minutes between midnight and one when I just can't seem to make myself put my book down and go to sleep. But the time of day that came to mind at your question is around 6:40 p.m. The dog has been fed and dinner is almost done. My husband will be home from work any time now, and the day will shift from me, me, me to us, us, us. The dog paces from window to door. A familiar looking car turns down the street, causing tail-wagging and excited barks. But it drives on by. Not him. I stir something, glance at the clock, stir it again, glance at the door, wonder if it's too early to steam the broccoli. The dog's ears become alert, then fall again. He paces. This is a time of happy anticipation in our home, of delicious smells, and soon-to-be-togetherness. I love the moment when the dog howls the alarm-- the real one-- and I know it's time to set the table.
5:02 a.m. (at the start, not the end, of a day). I just don't see it often enough.
I love this question! Unfortunately, I don't have enough time to write a new answer in depth... but lately my favorite time has been weekend mornings. They have so much potential! I wrote an essay about it a few years ago, and I still feel very similarly.
I love the mornings, to wake up really early and take a long walk or do some yoga. To have the time to eat a really long breakfast while reading a book. To feel I have time before the hectic day start.
The morning, just as the sun's light pours over the sage brush, atoning for the darkness of night.
My favorite time of day is away from a screen and other tasks, focused instead on the beauty and love of, sharing and growing with my wife and children. There is no time of day more wondrous and sacred than this.
Night, by which I mean: after the sun has completely set. I do my best work at night, because (so I theorize) the darkness shuts out distractions. I frequently sleep much less than I should because I stay up late getting things done. It’s 11:41 p.m. as I write this, and I feel like I’m finally hitting my stride. I know that tonight, as on many, many others, I will have to force myself to stop working and go to sleep. Fortunately, I can sleep through most of the morning—one of my least favorite times of the day.
The Pacific Stole My Glasses by Jack Cheng:
One thing I've seen these past few months is the value of that which is unplanned. One thing I see now is that the distinction between travel and "regular life" is arbitrary. It is possible to live, even staying in one place, as though you were traveling all the time.
Enough by Jon Bell:
From the time we’re little kids, up through school, into our fresh careers, and then projecting towards retirement, the plan is always “do your best on this step so you can be positioned as well as possible for the next one”. But what if the plan was “do everything you can to enjoy where you are now” instead?
What is the strangest job you've had?