I was recently asked by my son’s teacher to talk about work, or rather my personal approach to paid work. I started out by looking at the whiteboarding the class had already done. Money and basic needs were amongst the emerging themes tied to work. Explaining work and labor to 7 year olds from an anti-capitalist lens is difficult for me, so if anyone has suggestions on how to do so, please let me know!
“Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.” Marx, Capital, Vol.1.
I’m experimenting with alternative social reproduction for as long as possible given the forces of capitalism. As far as my son’s class is concerned, this is about choosing to decenter work. To help demystify, these are my main sources of income. I waitress 1-2 times a week for a steady paycheck. I’m a developer, which grants me the privilege of earning a relatively high wage for freelance gigs. I have a practice of trying to “walk the walk,” so I do work with folks with similarly aligned values, which means I earn a below market, but fair, wage. My baby daddy contributes what the state requires of him, which covers half of my child’s basic needs (rent, clothes, food, etc) and not a penny more, but I digress! A wild guess, but on average, I spend 60 hours a month dedicated to paid labor.
Selling my labor “full-time” would put paid work at the center of my life, which is not at all important to me. My relationships to people and the natural world matter to me most. Being a mom is the most important thing I do and requires the most labor. It’s the hum of my everyday life. It’s unpaid, grossly undervalued work. I simply could not dedicate the time required to be a mother while meeting the demands of full-time work. I choose to minimize how much time I spend producing wage labor as an act of self-preservation. I work enough to get some of my basic needs met. I hustle for the others.
Choosing to do minimal paid work also means I can heal and play instead of survive, self-medicate and distract myself with consumption. I daydream. I desire. I study. I’ve taken ceramics, Mandarin and now I’m learning design. I read! Read! Read! (Pleasure Activism is giving me life right now) I make things like sweet potato pies and Halloween costumes. I can be more physically and mentally present with the people I love. I exercise. I chaperone school trips. I can wear the clothes I want to wear and speak a language I want to speak. I can stand, sit, speak, REST and masturbate when I want to. I can go to other parts of the world and learn new-to-me perspectives.
Choosing not to work has harsh realities. I have shitty healthcare. I’m late on bills and penalized for that. DEBT. Raising a child and caring for oneself often requires more work than I can can surmise day-to-day. I don’t have the money to pay careworkers. “I’m tired,” is every third sentence I say. I have many future goals, but they can feel elusive because I can’t finance them. My life is unsustainable. I am poor and poverty is violent and traumatic.
Still, I’m grateful for the risks I’ve taken in choosing to decenter paid work. I am able to exist in liberatory spaces from time to time, which is a tremendous privilege. I’m learning a lot, deepened my values and relationships, set goals and developed healthy practices. I’m seeking to maintain and build upon these liberatory spaces in the hopes of creating a sustainable path for myself and my son. These spaces are highly collaborative, and I’m learning that accountability really motivates me. It helps structure my time. If I know that I’m accountable to others that I trust and love, I’m motivated to get shit done as acts of love and care that give me pleasure. I know I can’t do this work alone and I don’t want to. I know that needing others is not a weakness or a threat to my autonomy. There are ways to meet our intrinsic need for other humans that aren’t based on dependency models.
CoLET is a manifestation of such space. We are committed to creating human-scale liberatory practices that not only get our basic needs met, but incubate and fulfill our dreams. I’m so so grateful to Camille and Dana for feeding me and loving me. I’m so lucky to have such brilliant thinkers committed to transcending oppression with me! They are brave enough to use their radical imaginations to not only think of what it looks like outside the cage, but build it and try it with me!
It’s been 3+ years since I’ve chosen to decenter work and my time may be up… because Capitalism… and those future goals I mentioned. I need money to buy the tropical land for the house for the POC intentional living community, where I can study food anthropology and furniture design and open a drive-in independent theater and the hot tub. I’m always looking for folks committed to this effort – friends, lovers, partners, commrades. In partnership, we can minimize our engagement with the oppressive forces of capitalism, build new systems and new ways of relating to each other, and maybe one utopian day abolish work.
Happy 20 mothafuckin 20, ya’ll!