I’m having some trouble getting into the mood to write this morning. I did, however, find this post from October 2018 that I think is pretty interesting. And it has nothing to do with the horrors of the news these days, either. It has to do with the horrors of life… “slogging” along in a job that pays the bills. We’ve all done it. Most of us keep doing it. Why? Because unless we live alone, we have responsibilities to other people. And so, a lot of us are truly “slogging” through life. I have edited this a bit, since things have changed for us since 2018. That makes it more of a “partial repost”. Maybe later, I’ll write something fresh.
The comments on this song are pretty interesting. There were quite a few from men who were offended by the notion that they’re selfish and self-absorbed. Clearly, they aren’t the ones Garfunkel and Oates are singing about, right? Not all men are inattentive to their partners, obsessed with their jobs, and expecting women to wait around for them and follow them as they pursue their dreams. Not all women are being forced to give up their aspirations for their men, either. Hell, in my case, I wound up doing what I’d always wanted to do anyway, albeit not for a real paycheck.
Actually, what really stuck out to me was a comment made by a man who presented the other side of this reality. Behold…
The insinuation being that men don’t sacrifice their dreams to support their family? Maybe not in show business, but sacrifice is very much the norm for the working class (which constitutes the majority of the population). Nobody ever dreamed of working in a coal mine or in sanitation, but millions of people (mostly men) do it on a daily basis to support their family.
Lots of people, including many men, are just “slogging through life”. It’s not just women who give up their dreams for a relationship. Plenty of men do it, too. How many guys do you know had dreams of being in a band or creating art for a living, only to wind up doing a job they hate simply for the money? It takes money to raise a family, run a household, and make the world go around. Not everyone has the talent, luck, or ability to pursue their dreams. That’s true for everyone.
I can’t think of a single person I know who, when they were kids, said they wanted to empty port-a-lets for a living. And yet, you can bet there are people out there who do it, simply for the money it brings. I don’t know too many people who had aspirations of making refrigerator doors for their life’s work. And yet, before Bill got back into the Army full-time, he worked at a Whirlpool factory and supervised men who had been doing just that for over twenty years. They’d show up every day, punch in, and spend their shifts standing on the line, putting three screws into refrigerator doors all day. Then, at the end of the day, they’d clock out, go home, and sleep until it was time to come back and do it all over the next day.
I don’t know anyone who, when they were kids, dreamt of waiting tables for a living, nor have I ever heard of any parents wanting that job for their adult children. And yet, I know several career servers and bartenders. Some of them stay in that work because it sometimes pays better than sitting in a cubicle all day. Some stay because it’s a portable skill. Some truly enjoy the work and find it more stimulating than an office job. Personally, I hope I never have to wait tables again. It wasn’t work I particularly enjoyed. But I might do it again if I had no other choice. I’d rather wait tables than shovel dog shit, which is another job I did back before I became an overeducated housewife.
I think this song probably resonates more with the stereotypical career woman. That’s the woman who went to college, busted her ass in an entry level job, climbed the rungs of success, got promoted, and became unwilling to let that success go, simply for the sake of a relationship or motherhood. Not that I necessarily blame them for doing that. It’s hard work to succeed in the work world. It’s not usually enough to simply be good at what you do. There’s usually a certain amount of social engineering involved and a willingness to kiss up to the right people. That takes a certain kind of person… the kind of person I’m not. So although I am fairly intelligent– or so I’ve been told– and I might have gotten a career going if I’d worked at it, it’s probably a blessing for me that I latched on to Bill. It’s also a miracle that we’re as compatible as we are.
Of course, Bill is also lucky enough to be doing work at which he excels and finds interesting. When he was married to his first wife, she had a vision of what her life was going to be, and she expected Bill to conform to her vision. In the 90s, the Army was downsizing. Bill’s military career, in those days, was not so good. He lacked confidence, and didn’t have the “killer instinct” that is highly prized among some military leaders. Ex also didn’t like the Army dictating to Bill over her, nor did she enjoy having to move all the time. She was not a fan of the “mission first” mantra to which all people in the military and most of their families adhere. She wanted her wants and needs to come first.
So, when Bill had the chance to get out of the Army early, he took it, along with severance pay (that he eventually had to pay back). Then he joined the Army Reserves, and he and Ex moved from Washington State to Arkansas. They bought a money pit of a house that Ex liked, because it reminded her of one she’d once seen in a snow globe. Ex proceeded to then spend money they didn’t have on furniture, carpeting, and landscaping. She said she didn’t want her children growing up in a trashy house or living like poor people, even though they were legitimately poor!
Because the Army Reserves didn’t pay enough to cover all of the bills, Bill also worked in a couple of factories. He did this only for the money. He had looked into becoming a parole officer, which was work he thought he might enjoy, but the money was not enough to support the family. So he worked in a hellish toy factory for awhile, making very little money and doing extremely dull, soul crushing work, simply so his family could eat. He eventually got another, much better paid job at Whirlpool, where he was a supervisor. He hated it; but he did it.
Here Bill was, a guy who had gone to a great private university in Washington, DC and earned a degree in international relations, watching old codgers put refrigerator doors together. It was not the stuff of his dreams. He worked hard during the times when his young daughters were awake, so he didn’t get to see them much. Meanwhile, Ex continued to treat him poorly, and work turned into an escape from his home life.
Bill’s whole existence revolved around that factory job– a boring, soul draining, exhausting position that made it hard for him to properly support the family, let alone ever see the sun. And Bill is very much a morning person, so those swing and third shifts were pretty hard for him. His brain goes down with the sun; that is a fact! I remember seeing a picture of Bill in those days. He was in his early 30s, but he looked at least twenty years older. In fact, he looked older then than he does today, over twenty years later!
Then, an opportunity arose for Bill to go back into the Army with the Arkansas National Guard. He could be in the Title X program, which would mean he’d be a full-time officer, same as he was when he was in the regular Army. He’d just be paid from a different pot and serve at the pleasure of the governor of Arkansas. It was a real blessing for him, because he was finally ready to excel in the Army. Yes, it would mean the regular Army lifestyle, but it beat the ever living hell out of factory work and never having enough money to pay the bills, or enough seniority to score a day shift.
But Bill’s ex wife wasn’t on board with that decision. She was presumably pissed off that the Army would, once again, dictate the course of their lives so much, and give Bill someone else to answer to besides her. She was not willing to let him go back into the Army to do work that was more appropriate for him, yet forced them to move all the time. She wanted instant gratification and total freedom to do what she wanted… although it’s hard to enjoy total freedom of choice when one is broke.
It didn’t matter to Ex that the Army paid more, offered much better benefits and more prestige, and was work that Bill found interesting and fulfilling. Bill’s decision to go back into the military wasn’t what Ex wanted. She resented that he’d made that choice for himself, and wanted him to get back in line. So she tossed out the “d” word.
Ex later admitted she hadn’t wanted the divorce. She had meant for it to be an idle threat. But Bill went off script and agreed when she presented her ultimatum, which also included the false accusation that Bill hates women (I’ve been with him for almost 19 years, and it just ain’t so).
Ex didn’t want to give in and be a good partner, and let Bill’s career disrupt her vision of what her life was supposed to be. She expected him to keep working in that factory, living in podunk Arkansas, strictly so that she could maintain the status quo of that vision she had. Bill realized that he didn’t want to live that way; so, when Ex demanded the divorce, he agreed. She was supposedly shocked, and very upset. She locked herself in the guest room at my in-laws’ house and cried.
Instead of owning up to what was supposed to be an idle threat, Ex was determined to make Bill pay dearly for not doing her bidding. She still thought he’d eventually cave, even after they drove to the notary she’d tracked down who would work on Easter Sunday morning. She truly believed he’d come crawling back to her. She even told him he’d always know where his family is; which, of course, was a lie.
They had their ugly divorce, and then Bill and I found each other. We weathered some difficult years financially, but I’d say our lifestyle is a lot more like what Bill’s dreams were for his own life. I’m relatively contented, too, even if I do worry about someday living in a refrigerator box– perhaps even made for a Whirlpool fridge— under a bridge. Ex, on the other hand, is reportedly still unsatisfied.
I had my own “dreams”, back when I was a lot younger, although to be honest, I’m not sure how they would have worked out for me. I got through my graduate programs just fine, but if I had taken work in those fields, I’d probably truly be “slogging through life”. It would be work I was doing to put a roof over my head. I’d probably be waiting to die.
But then, I probably would have also liked the career I trained for more than shoveling dog shit or waiting tables. Maybe I’d feel better about myself… although if I know myself, I doubt that’s what would have happened. I would always be coveting something else and kicking myself for not following my elusive dreams. My real dream, by the way, is to be a writer and a musician who actually gets paid regularly, not a public health social worker. Right now, I’m fortunate enough to be able to chase my dreams with little hope that they’ll come true… but I also don’t have to slog away in a job I hate just to maintain my existence.
It’s hard for a lot of people to be satisfied, though. Even though I do pretty much get to do whatever I want most days, I still feel a bit unfulfilled. I do sometimes feel like I’m just waiting to be done with this life. Listening to “50/50” and reading the comments reminds me that I’m not alone in this reality. I probably shouldn’t complain.
Edited to add: I played this song for Bill and he immediately got what Garfunkel and Oates were singing about, even before they got to the punchline. Then I shared the comment I quoted in this post and he was about to protest, until I reminded him that many people aren’t lucky enough to pursue their dreams. They’re simply trying to keep the lights on and the fridge full. Often, accomplishing that involves slogging away at a job they don’t enjoy.
So while I get the point of the song and enjoy it– I also realize that it really applies to a relatively small segment of privileged people who had the opportunity to even try to chase their dreams. Many people are not that lucky. That being said, as much as I complain, I do realize that I’m very lucky, and luck can be a fleeting thing.