Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the Subject of Work

*OH how you should appreciate my efforts today, Friends, because I just spent at least ten minutes skimming a Mark Twain novel to find the passage I was thinking of; I never found it, but I did remind myself just how brilliant Twain was as a writer. So there is that.*

I'm *totally paraphrasing here* (see above): In one of Twain's books (possibly ..Connecticut Yankee.., he talks about how people always consider mental work to be so difficult, but if you've ever actually been the one wielding a shovel for a day's work, you know the truth.

That passage (that I can't find) always stuck with me. *I* grandiosely once considered the mental work I did to be grueling and frustrating and taxing. Then I met my husband. At the time, he still worked in the field, doing complicated HVAC work for commercial job sites.

Day after day, he'd put on his tool belt (literally) and bundle up or dress down (depending on the season). He'd work on huge lifts, drawing out intricate blue prints, and YES, actually using mathematical formulas to determine air pressure and flow and other unpleasant things that had to be figured. (When he tells me about positive and negative pressure and zones and things I start to drool and/or get hives.)

He would come home exhausted, occasionally limping and often sore. He would spend hours moving duct work, banging pipe into place, and using tools that I couldn't lift with both hands.

He always said that he wouldn't care what office work he did, if only he didn't have to stand in an unfinished building in the cold December of an Indiana winter trying to wrestle freezing duct-work into place.

For the last five years, he's been in that office. He now bids the work, designs it at times, and runs the guys in the field doing the work. It's what makes him an excellent manager. Occasionally, he's had to go to bat for the guys because someone in the office has complained about them. His first question is, "have you ever been in the field? No? Then shut the hell up." (At times, he throws on jeans and heads to a job site to do it himself.)

If you haven't been out there, with fingerless gloves, swinging a hammer, you don't get to judge the guys who are.

It's mental. It's physical. And it's fucking WORK.

And when I see guys bundled up, driving a work truck, sipping their morning coffee, I always give a mental nod. I know how hard they have it, and how hard they work to keep it.

And I duck my elitist intellectual head a little, because really, I've never worked that hard. You don't write a thesis 20 feet up with a wind blowing you around, after all.

Mark Twain knew his shit. Both literary AND literal. And he knew what hard work was. A different Twain quote, "Don't think the world owes you anything. It was here first."

Questions, comments, what do you do for a paycheck?


Anonymous said...

well put.

Michael said...

Not nearly enough.

I agree with you- I return from work limping, but that's only because we have to stand up all day, and don't get any breaks. But I do my work in moderate temperature, out of the rain and the wind- I really have no reason to complain.

Here's to the people who swing a hammer or turn a screw so that I can do my job in relative comfort.

Sammo said...

All work can beat you down - but when it literally kicks your ass, it's a different kind of work. I never thought about it much, until I lived with the results.