What are people for? (with apologies to Wendell Barry)

Wendell Barry wrote a great book of essays with the same name as this little blog musing. “What are people for?” That particular essay talks about the movement of people from the farms to the cities, and the unemployment that exists in the cities. Certainly every person needs some kind of occupation to be able to live in a society in an honest way. It doesn’t really matter if it is mother, lawyer, butcher, or Indian Chief—we all need to do SOMETHING to justify our existence.

A friend of mine (Carol) told me about the unhappiness her mother experienced as she increasingly lost the ability to be productive. Carol thought of all kinds of things her mother could do—tie the ends of fleece quilts, knit, cover hangers—but in the end there was very little she could do, and it was excruciating for her.

So what should I be doing? Sometimes I wonder why I ever started working, because if I were home I could be choosing the type of work I do all day long. My closets could be orderly. My photos could all be arranged in books. I could make gourmet meals. I could go to Scrabble tournaments (and have time to study, so I could win more!) Why did I trade all that for a 12-month 8 to 5 job when I don’t really even need the money any more? What am I for?

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4 responses to “What are people for? (with apologies to Wendell Barry)

  1. So… if you work 8 to 5, does that mean you were blogging on the job?

    Seriously though, don’t you find your work fulfills intellectual/social needs you might have? A university job is pretty much my aspiration right now, so in my opinion it is a noble purpose – at least enough to justify existence. Hope your existential crisis doesn’t last too long, it’s starting to discourage me… 😉

  2. I ask myself the same questions, but my answers are the opposite of yours. I do stay at home, cook, (sometimes) clean. Yet I long for an occupation wherein I use the brains I was born with. This must be everyone’s question.

    But Barbara, when I grow up, I want to be just like you. Not for money, but to be contributing to society in a way that defines civilization. Any animal can make a place to live and find food. Civilization has art.

  3. Ok, I feel better already! And I guess I should have said I was AT work from 8 to 5, not that I worked from 8 to 5! Sarah, your work is the hardest there is–but this part of it won’t last forever (even though it seems like it sill). And Rachel, my wish for you is that you get an academic job, but not an administrative job–it’s more flexible! The hard thing is that I can only live one life–I don’t know what the other options would feel like. It’s a bit of “the grass is always greener.”

  4. I should have said I wish the same for you, as well, Sarah. You are one of the smartest people I know, and I’m sure you will figure out a way to contribute to society in important ways.

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