simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: Work
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Monday, 1 September 2008


Labor Day is celebrated as a day off for the working class. We live in a country where entrepreneurism is extolled and promoted in media to the extent that to be a member of the working class almost implies failure in the American dream. But society only needs a very small number of chiefs and very few have the unique combination of skills and temperament to be one. So an appreciation and recognition of those soldiers who are the foundation and engine of the economy is welcome.
I come from a working class background and from an extremely austere area in a part of the country synonymous with the work ethic - New England. In my family's case, northern Maine. In my family, work defines a person - personal wealth much less so unless acquired through very hard work.
In such an environment where survival is virtually the only concern, the need for every able body to work imposes an egalitarianism. In a way, women's rights were old news for us - no time or place in this world for sexism - in fact, most families were quite matriarchal with wives controlling the finances and major decisions. My father was taken out of school at age 12 to work full time as a woodcutter in the north woods of Maine - in winters with temperatures as low as -40 ℉. Potato picking was the only other industry - grueling work with 12 hour days. Workers lived in camps onsite for the duration of the the picking season - everyone picked, even children. The school year was adjusted to accommodate this important time - one of the few opportunities to make money.
So I have been indelibly stamped with the importance of work and it has become part of the fabric of my being. As I grow older, the importance of work has become greater. Try as I may, I can not shake my intolerance for lack of ambition and hard work in others.
I am reminded of a family trip to Versailles - one of the most remarkable testaments to lavish, opulent excess in the world. We entered one of the King's bedchambers with woodwork which had been exquisitely and painstaking hand carved. My father's comment should have come as no surprise (although it did at the time) and left a lasting impression of how a man like him sees the world. After scanning the room and reflecting on it he said: "there's a lot of work in here."


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