What the Fuck is “Labor”?: Broke-Ass Grouch Has a Little Thinksie

First. Babydolls–if there are any of you dear ones left–B.A.G. tearfully begs for your forgiveness. Things here at La Petite Maison did not quite turn out as expected ‘lo this past year, and while Broke-Ass and the schmushkies are still standing–and the schmushkies actually prevailing–other things have been way, way, way too sad around here for B.A.G. to write much of anything except for that which comes with a check attached. Where to start? Broke-Ass can’t. Please trust her. That dog needs to be left fast asleep.

But it is Labor Day, and Broke-Ass, as many of you lovelies know, has long meditated with some degree of fury (with vast company) about the nature of labor over the past several years–specifically, the absence or ill-paying nature of it. But the truth is, Broke-Ass always thought about the demise of the U.S. labor unions on Labor Day; wept for desperate, impoverished souls around the world–and their children–crushed, often literally, in outrageously infernal work conditions for less than bubkes so that people in L.A. can wear Lululemon yoga pants; child sex workers in Mexico, praying to Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes. Labor Day is a very, very sad day to Broke-Ass. Then, of course, there is that sort of labor that’s closer to home, the kind in which she specializes, that is worth just this side of a kick in the fucking kidneys these days. Without the good health insurance. Whose out-of-pocket-premiums grow roughly $100 a month to cover a family whose head is a freelancer.

But then Broke-Ass had an ennobling thought. In spite of having suffered like most everyone else during this not at all great but very bad recession, Broke-Ass has always loved her work. It may be vanishing–no, it is almost invisible–but it had its place in history, and like every culture worker who tries to eek out a living by preserving the practice of making words, paintings, movies, photographs–& etc.–this is an important part of history because our country, in the main cares so little about it.

In France, they give you a stipend to go to the movies and walk around museums all day to come up with ideas for your work. Here–unless you have no children, are skyrocketingly famous, are a trustafarian, or married rich–you’ve got to pitch and scramble until your hands are meat hooks, your stomach is savaged with stress, and you can barely keep down the food you can afford to buy. Broke-Ass does not say suffering is ennobling. Suffering for what you’ve been trained to do can, in some cases, be avoided by switching gears (if you have the money to be re-educated), and there is nothing holier-than-thou about it. It just sucks.

But Broke-Ass believes that culture workers deserve a special kind of shout-out on Labor Day. They are subject to degradation constantly, but they do persist because, in spite of their endless grousiness and genuine problems, they are true believers, even if they’re embarrassed to admit it. It is not fashionable to be optimistic, and besides that, it is annoying. But culture workers do believe, and they bank their carpal tunneled-crippled hands, their crappy rentals, and their daily 4am-waking-panic attacks on the paycheck that was supposed to be in the mail six months ago.

Broke-Ass is not including here supremely talented and famous people like Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Egan and Wells Tower and the rest of them. Those guys would have made the bestseller list during the Plague. On this Labor Day, rather, Broke-Ass would like to offer a short list of culture workers in no particular order whose labors are often degraded, overlooked, or cannot support a life above the poverty line, but whose work and outlook is vital to whatever deeply powerful and essential fire that binds us together.

Please add your own. Please. B.A.G. will be adding all week.

  • Shannon Hummel, founder of Cora Dance and the Cora Dance School
  • Greg McFadden, actor, graduate of the Juilliard School
  • Jason Stroud, antiques restorer and honest-to-the-core fraud-spotter
  • Annie Seaton, professor, Bard College
  • Jared Kerbel, rector; Callie Swanlund, minister: St. Martin in the Field
  • Jennifer Russell, special needs teacher and humble, soaring soul
  • Theresa Sturley, social worker
  • Stephanie Staal, NYC lawyer and author of “Reading Women”
  • Nati Porat, drama teacher and true believer
  • Jason Wizelman, graphics designer; defender of women in peril;  true believer
  • Amanda Steinberg, founder of DailyWorth.com and cheerleader of improving women’s lives
  • Kimberlee Acquaro, superb photojournalist of horrors that need prying open
  • Alan Chin, ibid
  • Jacqueline Christy, founding artistic director, Access Theater, who always takes chances
  • Scott Adkins and Erin Courtney, founders of the Brooklyn Writers Space (thank God)
  • Helen Hunt, honest-to-the-DNA actor NS whipsmart writer and director (okay, she’d be famous in the Plague, too); but most importantly, kind when no one’s looking
  • Barbara Lee, who refuses to give up on AfroPunk and B.A.G., and an implacable friend
  • J. Rudy Lewis, jewelry designer of amulets that keep owners grateful and wondering
  • Puckie Thomas, beloved teacher from Stanford to Shipley to Head Start and is always trying her best
  • Betsy Dawson, beloved teacher, implacable activist for the right thing: and is kind for no reason
  • Rachael Williams, founder of the Little Treehouse, adoptive single mother of three, and the most generous person B.A.G. has ever known
  • Kathleen Bonnano, founder of Musehouse, encourager of hopeful writers
  • Jeff Gordinier, unimpeachable writer and champion of poetry
  • Anita Thomas, botanist and beautiful spirit
  • Colin Thomas, Chinese bird and flower painter, writer, true friend and brother
  • Patti Smith, of course. Of course.

The Just
by Jorge Luis Borges

A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a café in the South,
aaaa silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a color and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well,
aaathough it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets
aaaof a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of a Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.

About brokeassgrouch

I'm goddamned broke and grouchy. I live in the middle of the damned ghetto and raise chickens for eggs; grow all my own vegetables and fruit; bake the bread and make the cleaning products. Why? Because I fucking have to, that's why! That's what you do when you're fucking poor! You have to make the shit yourself, dumb-ass! Broke-Ass Grouch is sick of all you Bennington and RISD trustafarians yapping about your "urban farming co-ops" and your "carbon conscious lifestyle" and your "green choices" in the Times Styles section and every alternapress periodical that you can pick up for free in every eye-wateringly expensive, edgy bakery or green-market. Maybe when you have a trust fund, you can make "choices" or have a "lifestyle" or "decide" how to "spend" your "money." Excuse me, but Mama is just trying to feed her kids over here, you little shits. And stop spraying your art-school graffiti on the fence of the vacant lot across the street from my house. I know who you are, and I'm telling my friend Keith (who lives in the projects) that it was you who painted that cartoon of the African mask. So what can I tell you? I don't fucking know. I know a lot about being broke, sure as Bob's your fucking uncle. I know about how useless an Ivy League degree is when you're flat-ass broke. I know how to unclog a drain with baking soda and vinegar, and I know how to make my own CHEESE, for fuck's sake. You tell me.
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8 Responses to What the Fuck is “Labor”?: Broke-Ass Grouch Has a Little Thinksie

  1. This labor day I was informed by my significant other and one of my children how insignificant all that I do is. I understand that they are battling their own battles, so I release them from all responsibility but nonetheless, my decades worth of labor was deemed worthless by those that I labored over…a bit ironic. So , thank you for your post that reminded me that so many have it worse than me. AAnd yes, I am ashamed at how much my misery loves company.

  2. Linda Stewart-Oaten says:

    Sounds like you’ve been through the fire.  Sorry for that, but glad you’re back. ~Linda Stewart-Oaten

    ________________________________

  3. turnandwalkaway says:

    Dam good to hear from you. You all made it this far, well done. Here’s hoping you keep on keepin’ on.

  4. KT says:

    I beg to differ on this point: “Here–unless you have no children, are skyrocketingly famous, are a trustafarian, or married rich–you’ve got to pitch and scramble until your hands are meat hooks, your stomach is savaged with stress, and you can barely keep down the food you can afford to buy.” Those of us without children who work in the arts do suffer, do scrape by, do feel immense stress … often, alone. Otherwise, I love your article.

  5. So nice to see you back in the Blogosphere. Hope you are doing ok.

  6. I loved your piece in the October 2013 issue of More entitled: How do you know when it’s tmie to change your looks?

    I’m 46 and have braces. I got them in February of this year. I’ve always hated my teeth and now I’m finally doing something about it. :-)

  7. Glad to see you pop up. You are as always a breath of fresh air. Wishing you good things in your life from here on.

  8. Kirstin says:

    Missed you. Keep writing, BAG. You are a beacon.

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