On Working

It’s nearly 2am and the fog is so thick I nearly miss the sign for my exit off the freeway. Down in this industrial gully in southern Brisbane, only my little yellow car and a handful of delivery trucks are on the road. I am headed in to my shift at a production kitchen, where I will be preparing and packaging food for delivery to daycare centres around the city. When I arrive I have to don a special coverall, white rubber boots, hairnet and blue latex gloves before I can enter the kitchen.

By the time we leave at 9am, we will have made over 1000 sandwiches and wraps, cut and portioned out hundreds of kilos of fresh fruit and veg, over 50 gallons of yogurt, four vats of pasta with sauce so big I could easily take a bath in them, and sealed and labeled individual containers for each one of these items. My back will ache, knees stiffen, and feet swell. I will be covered top to tail in speckles and sloshes of food. My eyes will be puffy from exhaustion and onion juice. I will be exhausted and wound up, too tired to sleep.
But, as tired and sore as I am- I cannot deny that, at $25/hour, I am making more money (nearly twice the hourly amount) than I was ever did as a professional working for a prestigious university in the United States.

When I get home I will try to rest, fail at that, and set to finishing up editing a video commissioned by a restorative justice program for their upcoming Youth Justice Forum. This forum, I understand, is a pretty BIG DEAL event that draws professionals from every level of youth justice- from police and barristers, to judges and parliamentarians- to discuss the current state and future goals for youth justice in Australia. The topic this year is Aboriginal Youth- a long overdue and touchy topic for government to wrangle with.

I conducted hours of interviews with a young Aboriginal woman (we’ll call “C”) and her mother about their experiences with the juvenile justice system that I must whittle down to 10 minutes or less. Their story is compelling, heartbreaking, and inspiring. I was referred into this role by a colleague of mine who knew just about my personal history and professional experience to know I was a good fit for the job. He didn’t know just how much overlap there would be between our stories. I wasn’t prepared for how deeply this assignment would affect me.

In listening and listening and listening back to the interview recordings, I hear something in “C”’s voice, and I can see it in her body language off camera…. a hesitation. An understanding that, while there are people who understand, and those who are compassionate- there are also those who diminish and shame- to subject to humiliation. And that’s why they want to remain anonymous in the video. I get it. I am still judged by people and institutions based on things I did in the late 1990s/early 2000s. There are some consequences that linger- especially if you are black/brown; poor; female; physically, mentally or emotionally disabled/challenged; LGBTQI*; linguistically different- need I go on? We live with these dents in our status and reputations for generations longer than the actual impact of what we did- much less than that of who we just happen to have been BORN. 

But. Many of us continue to do the work. Physical work in housekeeping/homemaking, maid services, retail, sex work, food service, and construction. Social work in teaching, therapy, community services, arts and humanities. Spiritual work in religious affairs/upkeep, psychic and empathic services (and other things I don’t claim to know about). Emotional work in ALL OF IT
*** And, please, understand that these items are not comprehensive and I legit have no idea what all people do- but can you get my drift here?***

Work is work is work.

I can only speak for myself here. But here it is:
By many accounts, I am a “housewife.” The bulk of my work occurs in the home. I cook and clean and grocery shop and every-fucking-thing-else shop for the entire family most days. I take care of school stuff and social agendas for the kids- and my husband, and myself. I am the keeper of the calendars and lists and appointments and finances.

I am an international peacebuilder. I have worked with individuals, families and communities in North, South and Central America, Australia and the Pacific Islands on analysing and elevating conflict issues and working toward peaceful resolution to them. I am building my skills here, and the work has been trickling in. I am flexing my skills at documentary arts to promote the work, and it is beginning it take foothold here. But also-

I also get up in the wee hours of the night to do the hard, invisible work. I slop baby food into containers. I offer samples at grocery stores to people who will never buy the product. I am a server at events where rich old men slap my ass and laugh because they know I can’t do anything about it- because I am there to clear tables and smile at people whose shoes cost more than my car. I cry myself to sleep some nights- in physical or emotional pain at what I’ve had to endure over the course of the day.

And all of it is good work. All of it deserves respect and dignity and fair wages.

All of it is work.