Sunday, March 6, 2011

So What Do You Do?

A natural conversation starter at parties. But for someone who has left the "official" workforce, that's a question that sets off a whole range of responses to answers and an unleashing of emotions. Most guys are defined by what they do, not by who they are. So if you don't "do" anything in a paid sense, as in work for a firm or have some sort of craft or technical skill that enables you to earn a living, the answer you provide can make a big difference in how the evening goes, how you feel about yourself, and how that person relates to you. It also makes a big difference if the asker is male or female.

"I'm a cabana boy, my wife wife has a serious form of cancer and I've left the workforce to help her overcome this disease". Man: "oh, that's too bad.. Say, I need to go say hello to Jim over there - haven't seen him in ages, will you excuse me?". You just become irrelevant in their eyes. Women's responses are somewhat better, but typically aligned around wanting to know more about the cancer and how Meagan is doing.

Given that it (The Big "C") dominates my life right now, it's not like I want to hide it. My letterpress business is still in it's nascent stage (R&D, training, studio set-up) and I don't want characterize myself as a letterpress printer yet. It's definitely on the horizon and I am putting the time into it, so I suppose soon I can express what I do more in those terms and characterize the cabana boy activities as the sideline. But then it seems I am falling back into that trap of defining myself by what I do versus who I am.

So the disappointment, if you can call it that, is that there are few men who will engage in the discussion about what it means to be a cabana boy, and all the feelings and work associated with that, including being empathetic. The women instantly gravitate to Meagan's plight, and wanting to know about treatments and how she is coping. So the message is, being a cabana boy is largely a thankless and anonymous task (except of course for the deep appreciation and acknowledgment of my wife). So one needs to develop a coat of armor and recognize that in a society of strivers and achievers and production, there is just less value attached to caregivers and supporters, especially if you are a guy.

So that's why the Cabana Boy Union Local 98105 is an important group for solidarity. Hopefully it stays really small, we really don't want to expand. We want our wives and partners strong and healthy. The meetings are easy to arrange, given there is just one member. There is little disagreement, and getting a quorum is no problem. And we are really good at self-reliance and self-support. The pay is lousy and we don't have much hope for a raise. But the benefits are awesome, as is the work environment. We love our customer. So all in all, I guess the trade-off is worth it - awkwardness at parties and an irrelevance in the eyes of peer males. But happy, appreciative customers and a mission unlike no other.

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