The Way it Goes by Gillian Welch – (7.2)(Ups on the recco to clan Humphreys, Red and the Marys, rock breakers, I think)
This is the view south out of our offices downtown. For those familiar, it’s the view from Uncle Joe’s office. On the right edge of the photo is twelve (or so) floors of the now defining characteristic of Oklahoma City’s skyline, Devon Tower. Inside it’s so clean and futuristic it’s almost disconcerting in a Soylent Green kind of way. Below the tower to the south are the Myriad Gardens. Upon from the bottom are the top five floors of the once tallest building in OKC, the Colcord Hotel. Robinson Ave bisects the scene. Just past the Chesapeake Arena, crossing Robinson, is the now old I-40 Crosstown Expressway. Further down Robinson where you can see it swell is the Crosstown’s replacement, the new and magical and recessed eight-lane I-40 Crosstown (N.B. You can just make out at the edge of the tower the Skydancer Pedestrian Bridge also crossing the interstate).
I call the new Crosstown “magical” because in fifty years no matter how dilapidated it becomes, I will never fear for my life driving across it as I did its crumbling predecessor. The old Crosstown was built in the 60s and at its peak 120,000 vehicles a day crossed its four elevated miles from Agnew Ave. to Byers Ave. After fifty years, that use showed in ways often so menacing I refused to drive it. Now it stands untraveled on, yet still ominous.
On 30 we’ve watched the last three years of development depicted in this photo with everything from mild bemusement to enrapt curiosity. However, to a person (well, save one I guess) we’re all pleased to see the old Crosstown replaced with two less homicidal routes, the new Crosstown and what’s rumored to be called Oklahoma City Boulevard following the path of the vacant bridge in the picture.
Earlier this month, during only a mildly soul-sucking day practicing law, I posed a question to Uncle Joe as I stared at this view out his office window. The conversation that followed blossomed into what you’re reading.
What are you doing right now? I mean in your life. This isn’t existential….well, not completely. Most of you, loyal downloaders, work. You perform tasks, varied and random, or rote and mundane, for money (“legal tender” as Vincent Vega called it). Some of you own your own businesses, others work for “the man.” But we all work, get paid to performs tasks others either can’t do for themselves or chose not to do for themselves. For both of those reasons, the work that you do, whatever it may be, is desired enough for you to be compensated for it.
Let’s boil it down. You exchange your work for money. You convert this money to your needs, to homes, or food, or $.99 downloads, or hookers, or IRAs, or cocaine. You’re a conduit. There is work and it ends up as stuff. You’re in the middle. An equation would read something like this:
you (work) = you (needs) The work you do, hopefully, equals/converts to the needs you have.
If you break this down a bit:
(N.B. It’s been 2.5 years, and we’re finally getting to algebra)
work = (tasks people won’t or can’t do for themselves)*(the time required to accomplish them a/k/a your time) = the stuff you need (you*stuff) multiplied by the money it costs.
Now in shorthand:
you*tasks*time = you*stuff *money
Tasks, time, stuff, and money have infinitely (and individualistically) different values. It would appear that the constant on both sides of the equal sign is Y O U. But you’re not a constant are you?
So what’s the implication of that?
The question I asked Uncle Joe in his office on 30 that afternoon was essentially this: How much would it take for you to trade in your “career” to show up at the old Crosstown every day, forty hours a week with a sledgehammer and tear it down, to make room for the Oklahoma City Boulevard, to smash concrete, to break rocks and haul them away. That would be your job, show up at 8:00, break rocks for four hours, eat lunch, and break rocks for four more hours, then go home. Five days a week, fifty weeks a year. How much would it take for you to quit your job to do that? What’s your number?
I posit that everyone has a number.
Chew on your number, your lowest possible number and be honest with yourself. But here are some other considerations. You’ll get used to the work. Sure it will suck for a couple of weeks, but you’re strong. Your body will surprise you. Your co-workers are nice people, sweaty and hard working, generally worried about the same shit you are. They might even want to crack a beer with you after the steam-whistle. But what you’ll be doing all day is hitting rocks with a sledgehammer until you wear that sledgehammer out and for that, you’ll get another one. It won’t get any more interesting than that. (N.B. And you can take the hypothetical really to any mindless/physical labor (mow lawns, haul hay, whatever.) That’s not the point. I just prefer breaking rocks. But you have to be fair to the hypothetical i.e. you can’t ask for so much money that you only have to break rocks one day and be set up for life. So in addressing the question to others who wanted to game the system I mandated a 5-year commitment.)
It’s forty hours a week. Almost all of you work more than that now and if not, you’re heads are in it that long (prolly even longer…prolly never out of it). Breaking rocks is forty hours a week, forty-five with lunch. Say you sleep fifty hours a week (and if you’re breaking rocks all day, we’ll give you eight untrammeled hours a night, so 56), that’s 101 hours a week you’re working or sleeping, leaving you sixty-seven hours a week, 2.8 days, ostensibly free. In a year, that’s 140 days.
One hundred a forty days year that has no place in the above equations. Ya see, the hypothetical ruins the equation, because it provides a discrete task and a specific time commitment and I’ve given you power over the stuff and the money (i.e. the number). What the hypothetical does is cull out two different “you”s. First the conduit, the one who has needs and who can work to fulfill them. But the second one, the other you, is the one I’ve been concerned with, the one with all her needs met and free to………
So what’s the number you require for 140 days a year to be an under-appreciated and over-wrought blogger, a well-read bartender, the world’s deftest Bonanza pilot, an itinerant play-by-play man, the mother you think you need to be, the father you think you could be. What’s the number that will allow you to be…..you. Not the you in the equation, the conduit from work to stuff, but the second you. How much would it cost for you to get to know that person?
Plenty of factors might effect your number. The most obvious being how much you need. (N.B. And it is a question of enough. Because it’s not a zero-sum game. You’re not taking from anyone else (this is a fantasy hypothetical) but I did ask you to consider your lowest number) But perhaps the most important factor is how much do you value your career, your job, outside of its ability to satisfy your (worldly) needs? Does it define you, or is it just something to plug into an equation? It can be both (N.B. Maybe should be both). But could you be a rock breaker? Could you work solely to provide for your needs, your families’ needs, then live your life, whatever you want it to be, in the other 140 days a year. Are you breaking rocks right now, but you just call it “taking depositions” or “counting pills” or “flying executives?” Does calling it that serve any other purpose than to let it eat away at your 140 days a year?
I’ve thought about this a lot lately.
Maybe rock breakers don’t have to be fulfilled by their jobs. Maybe they don’t want to be. Maybe they understand breaking rocks as a means to an end. And life, real life, is lived, experienced, enjoyed by the second you, the non-equation you.
I submit that rock breakers live the shit out of their lives and that we should all break rocks, however we get our needs met. Maybe you already are a rock breaker. If so, good on ya.
So back to my original question plus one more. What’s your number? Could you be a rock breaker, or do you have to be a lawyer?