A friend and I were talking last year about our mutual need to over-intellectualize everything we do. “I need a theory to tie my shoes.” Now, mind you, I’m not saying that’s a good thing; quite the opposite, in fact. I think this friend and I do this because we both have similar sorts of brains that have suffered similar traumas.
All of which is to say I can really get into practical work once an idea has given it a framing.
Ever since I wrote about my experience with working from home, I’ve been thinking about households as workshops. I am 90% sure I derived this from Wendell Berry’s various discussions of productive households, as opposed to households as sites of consumption. (I’m a blogger, not an academic, so that’s the best you’re gonna get for source citation.) The preeminent example for Berry is of course the family farm, which is both the site of work and the source of goods that fulfill the needs of the family itself and contribute to the local economy.
Now, obviously, most of my work is for the benefit of an entity thirty miles away from here. But that work is done here, and that means it is in some real way situated within my household. This relativizes my “day job” in ways that wouldn’t be possible if I was sitting in the office, surrounded by co-workers, in an environment where The Institution is all. (This is, no doubt, behind some of the most insistent calls to return to the office by those who would have their employees devote their lives and bodies to their work.)
I grew up in a blue collar household and I’ve always had what you might call the blue-collar attitude toward work, that is, it’s just a job and its purpose is to give you money to do what you really want to do. Hustle culture, devotion to career, finding meaning in employment—these things have always been nonsensical to me. This attitude, combined with working from home, works well to remind me of the purpose and limitations of my day job. It places it within its proper context, i.e., the household.
People who read this blog know that I also garden and dabble in woodworking and DIY. Rachel gardens even more than I do and bakes bread and cooks and shovels seven hundred pounds of rock and many, many more things. We were discussing this the other day and we concluded that we really are making some progress on turning our household into a productive—not merely consumptive—place.
Reframing my household as my workshop has helped rid me of the nagging feeling that I should be doing something else. That repairing the stove, for example, is an annoying distraction from my “real work.” And, strangely, I was never quite able to articulate what that “real work” was meant to be. It was always just the vague feeling that it was something else, something more important. (Arrogance is a besetting sin of mine.) But if my household is my workshop, then my real work is here, now. My real work includes all of this, from accounting to building raised beds to helping my daughter navigate adult problems.
It’s obvious, isn’t it? I’m not sure why it took a certain idea clicking into place to make me see the union of all these things, but that’s the curse of my addled mind.