Work, jobs, leisure, and interdependence

Recently I received a friendly note from a reader of this blog who expressed curiosity about what happened with my “dream” to open a Bohemian tea house. Time for a follow-up.

I love preparing tea and serving it to my guests at the Hermitage.  Tea service is part of my work; it is something I do out of love and devotion for the spirit of tea, and out of respect for my guests.  This part of the vision, at least, has not changed.  I expect that there will always be an element of tea service in my spiritual work.  But for many reasons, it has become clear that I will not be opening a Bohemian tea house as a business anytime in the near future.  Owning a business is not my “dream,” although I am willing to do it if it ever becomes clear that this IS, in fact, what is actually required of me to properly serve the gods and spirits.

I do have a dream, though, in the sense my reader was asking about.  I have a vision of a certain kind of life I’ve always wanted to live.

It is very rare for me to talk about my real dream openly, for a number of reasons.  For one thing, it’s not easy to come clean about one’s true desires in a context where these desires are not respected, and where unfounded and unflattering assumptions are so often made about people like me.  After some recent promptings from my Serpent Muse, however, I believe it is now time for me to speak out more publicly about it, come what may.  It’s an important step in releasing feelings of shame about who I am.

My real dream is to find a viable way to remain job-free for the rest of my life.

I chose those words very carefully, in the hopes of avoiding at least some of the most common misunderstandings.  I’m not saying I don’t want to work in general (although I do think it’s well worthwhile to critique our culture’s insane work ethic and nose-to-the-grindstone productivist values).  Actually, I enjoy work greatly, especially when it’s self-directed, creative, and socially useful.  I’m saying that my dream is to remain job-free for the rest of my life.  In other words, I want to avoid being forced to take paid employment doing something I don’t care about in order to earn money.

There is only so much control that I will ever have over this as an individual, of course, because even if I live very simply, in a modern context I still need access to a certain amount of money and resources in order to meet my basic needs.  Our culture is structured around an assumed model of full-time paid employment for every able-bodied adult, and anyone who is capable of working for pay but openly admits that they don’t want a “normal” job is far too often dismissed as a lazy, freeloading, amoral, ungrateful bum.  (Ah, don’t get me started…)  I’ve held many jobs before, and I may very well end up in a job again.  I’m looking for a job right now, in fact.  But regardless of what I may do for money at any given point in my life, my dream remains the same: I want the freedom to do as much of my work as possible outside the bounds of conventional paid employment…and I want to maximise my unstructured time.

I’m not saying that I refuse to accept money for the work I do, although I hasten to add that I’m not interested in holding a job or accumulating money for its own sake; money is only useful to me as a means to a desired end.  And I am not ambitious in a conventional career sense at all.  However, I’m extremely ambitious about carving out space in my life for one thing: leisure.  To me, this means having the freedom to control my own time to the greatest extent possible.  I am happiest (and most productive, too!) when I have large blocks of unstructured time to do nothing – time in which I don’t have to be anywhere, and there’s nothing in particular I’m supposed to be doing.  When I have this time, I use it to contemplate, read, write, dance, cook, study, meditate, pray, decorate, tend my shrines, do ritual, drink tea with friends, care for loved ones, nurture my relationships, clean house, organise, appreciate life, volunteer, give gifts, and follow the threads of creative inspiration wherever they may lead.

I realise that having an abundance of leisure time is a kind of luxury, and in general luxuries don’t interest me much, especially not consumer luxuries.  (I hate shopping, in fact.)  But unstructured time is of prime importance to me.  There is a great deal I’m willing to sacrifice for the sake of preserving unstructured time in my life.  It has already cost me friends and romantic relationships, in fact, to my great dismay.  I don’t have kids.  I don’t drive or own a car, in part because the expense of doing so would require me to work more hours and therefore give up more of my leisure time to pay for it.  I live simply, and am willing to live even more simply if that’s what it takes to preserve a good measure of leisure.

But there’s another important aspect of this dream, too: I want to enjoy this leisure in a context of committed romantic intimacy as well as ample solitude.  In other words, I would like to be happily and monogamously partnered for life.  (And yes…I have recently become involved with a fellow introvert who respects and shares my need for solitude.  But I’m not going to say much more about it at the moment.)

This has been an important aspect of my dream since I was very young, actually.  But it’s not considered very acceptable in the cultural milieu of my upbringing in the USA.  Educated, intelligent, articulate feminist women like me are supposed to “strike out on our own,” have high-powered careers, and take pride in our “independence” and our singlehood as well as our ability to earn our own money.  But I don’t want any of that.  I do like having my own money…but I want interdependence.  I want to live the life of a semi-hermit Pagan monastic.  I also want to share this life with a compatible companion.  As part of the work of Black Stone Arts, I want to do homemaking work…and I would like to see this sort of work become just as respectable as having a conventional job.  There is no fundamental moral good in earning an income.  People who work for money are not “better” than people who don’t work for money.  (A basic feminist-Marxist analysis of household and reproductive labour should reveal this to anyone who’s paying attention.)

This is difficult to admit, because I was raised with a pervasive cultural narrative from which I absorbed the notion that the “healthiest” approach to dating is to focus on self-improvement, learn how to be alone, and not need anyone – and if you can do that, then you may find a mate, but it’ll be icing on the cake, so to speak.  While I agree that there is a certain wisdom in learning how to appreciate solitude and singlehood, I am not out to prove that I don’t need anyone.  There’s nothing wrong with needing others and being needed by them.  Interdependence is our fundamental reality as human beings.  People need to give and receive love.  It brings out the best in us to have someone in our lives to love and care about.  I have a lot of love and care to give, and I wish to receive this love and care back.

So that’s my real dream.  No idea whether I’ll actually be able to achieve it; I’m sure it depends on what the gods and spirits have in store for me.  In any case, I’ll still serve tea gladly…but it will be for joy, pleasure, and ritual, rather than for business.

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