The following is a discussion that took place over our morning coffee… Gord’s reflections with Ann’s thoughts in (brackets). A different format… we’ll see how it reads.
An interesting week with interesting observations of the culture we live in and our own inner programming. This week Gord is working on some small construction projects for Spinnakers Brew Pub in Victoria. (Ann thinks he took the job so he could be close to his true love: BEER!) His tasks are rerouting the wheelchair access ramp and digging holes for the footings of two new beer tanks. Nothing remarkable, just some basic planning setting up the layout, cutting the asphalt, then manual labour laying on ones belly and digging 3-foot holes by the handful, and collecting the materials and putting them in the “farm truck”.
So why post about such a project? Why is this interesting? It has been a year since Gord worked offsite doing a ‘purely manual labour’ job for someone else. He chose it because his best friend was too busy, and the business (besides being a brew pub) has a high degree of ethics, one that mirrors the ethics Gord brought to his own business 15 years earlier.
We do a widely immense array of work; everything from consulting for homeowners, builders, and bankers, to writing policy for the BC Ministry of health, public speaking on topics of lifestyle, permaculture, green building, plants, rain water harvesting and greywater resource recovery, solar PV, and the science behind the thermodynamics and moisture properties of earthen architecture. We research out plants, have created a viable farm and nursery, and feed ourselves using our own skills and hard work. We are also homesteaders, which means we try and provide for many of our year round needs ourselves… including our water and energy. Here in our own community we scrub the floors of the local public washroom, and collect the compost materials from the bins, and yet we also sit as councillors designing tax policy, and setting policies in place that “try” to incorporate intelligent understanding of the nasty predicament of our planet and culture.
Note: Ann’s edits are in brackets.
This brings us back to Gord lying on his stomach doing work that you otherwise might see a young fellow performing because it would rank as the lowest of all jobs… hard physical manual labour. (Ann thinks this is Gord’s cultural programming to classify manual labour below intellectual labour…it’s not a lowly job…it’s just a physical job). Think about a finely dressed customer (someone trying to impress others with looks rather than substance), going to one of Victoria’s best establishments, nice shoes (imported and made in a sweat shop, with a large carbon footprint), unmarred hands, and fine suit (waste of money and the earth’s resources), walking past a grey haired fellow (I love your grey hairs Gord) in his farm overalls (cute clothes) lying on his belly in the sludge of spilled grains and hops, long since decomposed. Even the owner of the establishment, a great fellow in Gord’s view, does not quite seem to understand why a fellow of my age (you’re only 45 Gord) would be carrying out this work, unless of course you were destitute (or you have such a fit healthy body that you can and are showing off). I suspect from the glances and the comments that 10% of the patrons look down upon this labourer, with grey hair, farm clothes and a farm truck – no understanding as to why this person is even there. (That’s their problem – take pride in your work Gord – you are talented and hard working and you can build almost anything…my kind of guy. Rough hands also give the best back rubs.)
Our farm is busy, the tasks lists are long, and anxiety races over Gord as he says “Yes” to this job, knowing full well that dinners will be late, farm duties delayed for two weeks, and the ageing body will ache. (And Ann will take on more of the farm duties. Note that taking on this job was entirely Gord’s decision). What was not expected by Gord was the feeling that would arise from hearing the conversations of the patrons, or seeing the disapproving sneer as they stepped out of their BMW’s and Audis. How does one take this? Do you apply the judgement to oneself? (No, your sense of self worth should come from inside…not our #@&%$$ up culture of consumption and entitlement). Do you see it as an “observation of the culture”? Is it worthwhile to place yourself in such a position of judgement? (personal choice). I do not have the answers, other than to say that it is somewhat demoralizing to be so misunderstood. (let it go Gord, you’re a good man, their judgement is their problem.)
But then there are others, a friend Michael, who walks by and we meet eyes, I get up and give him a hug. Friends for years, and a shared reverence for each other, for skills and challenges we have placed upon ourselves, and our willingness to make ourselves vulnerable. (Gord, maybe you do need to do this job to finally kick your #@&%$$ up cultural programming out on it’s ass? Just saying.) And Hymas, a patron that was challenged in her mobility and I brought back her dog after he took off towards the road, a person that three times came back during her visit to the Pub to chat. And then the young brewers one by one coming out to look into the holes and ask “How far do you have to dig?” or receiving a gracious “thanks” after loading spent grains onto another farmers truck.
What is the lesson? What is the presumed hierarchy? Who should even care… and should I just have said no and stayed home on the farm and instead not cancelled the 6 grade six school groups that had wanted to tour the home. (Actually we cancelled the grade 6 tours because we were just too busy, and because the class groups are just too fragrant…before this job came about). What’s the value of placing yourself in a position of humbleness when others do not have a clue to understanding the more complex person they walk past and feel sorry for?
No profound ending here, just lots to ponder about values, life, culture and how we all individually navigate this shit. The only take away is the pleasure of having people take the time to express their interest, to appreciate the quality of the staff and perhaps listen to Ann’s comments and continue on that path to ignore that culture I have tried hard to leave behind.