“The only credit we claim is for the use we make of the talent we are given.  That is why I urge young musicians:  Don’t be vain because you happen to have talent.  You are not responsible for it; it was not of your doing.  What you do with your talent is what matters.  You must cherish this gift.  Do not demean or waste what you have been given.  Work — work constantly and nourish it.”
— Pablo Casals

“Work helps prevent one from getting old . . . The man who works and is never bored is never old.  Work and interest are the best remedy for age.  Each day I am reborn.  Each day I must begin again.”
— Pablo Casals


Hands in the garden

Hands in the garden

Hand quilting

Hand quilting

“If there is any one thing that’s unhealthy in America, it’s that it is a whole civilization trying to get out of work — the young, especially, get caught in that.  There is triple alienation when you try to avoid work:  first, you’re trying to get outside energy sources/resources to do it for you; second, you no longer know what your own body can do, where your food or water comes from; third, you lose the capacity to discover the unity of mind and body via your work.”
—  Gary Snyder, from The Gary Snyder Reader:  Prose, Poetry and Translations

I am of two minds about people (affluent people) who hire housecleaners to clean up their messes at home or laborers to mow their lawns and pull weeds.  On one hand, I think people should clean up after themselves.  And I hate the sense of my time being more valuable than yours, so you do the dirty work.  On the other hand, if you can afford it, why not hire people so that your time is freed up to focus on the things that are most important to you.  And hiring people creates jobs and extra income for entrepreneurs.

What do you think?

“The truth is that man needs work even more than he needs a wage.  Those who seek the welfare of the workers should be less anxious to obtain good pay, good holidays and good pensions for them than good work, which is not so much to make objects as to make men.  A man makes himself by making something useful.”
—  Mahatma Gandhi

On a building in Pioneer Square

On a building in Pioneer Square

“In a laboring life, ideas percolate up through the routine of a working day.  Mental space opens and allows for inventive thoughts.  Call it daydreaming if you wish, because it does proceed from a freedom of movement of the mind.  Or call it meditation, because it also entails a form of focused concentration.  Whatever the name, it’s where mental play and physical work coalesce.”
— Dan Snow, Listening to Stone

Work is one of the paths to finding meaning and satisfaction in life.  This is the concept of right livelihood, I think.  I feel fortunate to be working in a library, providing free access to information, and thus supporting democracy.  When the routines of work lose their luster, as they sometimes do after six or seven hours in the public eye, it helps to remind myself of my part in the wider picture.  It’s good to feel that one’s work is important.

I wish you the same this Labor Day.

“The way we support ourselves can either allow us to live by our real values or it can distort them.”
–John-Paul Flintoff, How to Change the World

My work table, a mix of high and low tech

My work table, a mix of high and low tech

The Real Work
by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

I get a bit anxious with the year-end reviews and resolutions, the tug between looking back (and feeling discouraged about lack of accomplishments and growth) and looking forward (and feeling hopeful about doing better this year).  Progress, if any, feels so slow, and I tell myself to be patient.  After all, it’s the journey that counts, and not so much the destination.  All of my little musings, struggles to draw and paint, wishes to take better photographs and to write better, flaws in my roles as wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend . . . everything all the time.  Yes, my mind is often baffled.

And that is why I find so much solace in today’s poem.  “The mind that is not baffled is not employed.”  Thank you, Wendell Berry.  Finding my purpose, figuring out what is important in my days — this is my real work — even when I don’t know what I’m doing or which way to go.

“The impeded stream is the one that sings.”


“It is in the doldrums that our talents are most needed.  The best training for desperation is to know early the feeling of no guidance.  In photography the squeak of intention destroys serendipity.”
— Dan Torop, Draw It with Your Eyes Closed:  The Art of the Art Assignment

“Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.”
— Edgar Degas

“Sometimes confidence is overrated!  Questions and uncertainty are the stuff of artists! . . .  You need enough confidence to hold your paintbrushes, and to show up in the studio, knowing that you are not wasting your time — but after that, I would say uncertainty should prevail.  We can never be too sure.”
— Anna Deavere Smith, Letters to a Young Artist

” . . . work is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life.”
— Stanley Kunitz, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden

Tractors in the fields, Skagit Valley

Today’s quote is food for thought on this Labor Day holiday — work as a manifestation of gratitude.  I do believe that some of the most fortunate people are those who have found work that offers meaning and pleasure.  The kind of work that you never want to retire from.

Parenting is that kind of work.  As is farming and gardening, teaching and construction.  Nurturing life.  Creating beauty and usefulness.  How lucky are those who have found work that feeds the soul.

Harvesting lavender, Lavender Wind Farm

At work in the flower fields, Jello Mold Farm



Work is Love Made Visible

January 25, 2012

Thimble on hand-quilted table runner

“Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love
But only with distaste, it is better
That you should leave your work and
Sit at the gate of the temple and take
Alms from those who work with joy.”
— Anonymous

I like the notion of work as a sign of love — the meals I cook for my family, housecleaning, yardwork . . .  Whenever I do hand-quilting, I feel that I am stitching with love and that those feelings will bind me to the recipient of my labors.

I spent last week on a new quilting project — a table runner adapting the Zipper pattern I found in The Modern Quilt Workshop by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr.  The cold, snowy days made perfect weather for relaxing inside with a sewing project.  This small handmade item is destined for a wedding gift.

Searching for coordinating prints from my fabric stash

Cutting the pieces and arranging them

Sewing on the dining room table

Pressing the seams as I go along


Methodical stitching

Finished table runner


As Labor Day Comes to a Close

September 5, 2011

” . . . the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing the task.”
— David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea:  Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

The perfect book for reading on the Labor Day holiday

The United States established a Labor Day holiday in 1894 in tribute to the contributions of workers to the nation’s prosperity and well-being.  I have been slowly cleaning out my bookshelves, and today by chance pulled out David Whyte’s book about the meaning of work.  It was the perfect book to read on Labor Day.

I liked what Whyte had to say about reinvigorating and reimagining our work so that it does not starve our spirits.  He says, ” . . . work is not a static endpoint or a mere exercise in providing, but a journey and a pilgrimage in which core elements of our being are tested in the world.”  He urges us not to settle for anything less than work that wholeheartedly engages us.

I also liked Whyte’s acknowledgment of the contributions of those workers who came before us.  He says, “We would stand barely a chance in the world if we did not rely from cradle to grave on what has been handed down from those who have lived and worked before us.  From agriculture to health care, from education to sanitation, we are the recipients of generations of toil. . . . Whatever our success at work, in the financial markets, or in the virtual worlds now being born, we are all in the gift of much older work.”

I think I’ll take a few minutes to think, with gratitude, of all those whose work has shaped my life to this point.  Happy Labor Day!

Celebrating Labor Day

September 6, 2010

The Labor Day holiday has special significance this year coming on the heels of my furlough week.  I am more appreciative than ever to be employed and have the opportunity to work in a library, the perfect environment for a bookworm like me.  In this troubled economy, you cannot take your job for granted.  I wish everyone happiness in their work.
by Henry van Dyke
Let me but do my work from day to day,
     In field or forest, at the desk or loom,
     In roaring market-place or tranquil room;
Let me but find it in my heart to say,
When vagrant wishes beckon me astray,
     “This is my work; my blessing, not my doom;
     Of all who live, I am the one by whom
This work can best be done in the right way.”
Then shall I see it not too great, nor small,
     To suit my spirit and to prove my powers;
     Then shall I greet the laboring hours,
And cheerful turn, when the long shadows fall
At eventide, to play and love and rest,
Because I know for me my work is best.

Tractor repair (photo August 2008)

Field work: baling hay (photo August 2008)

Handwork -- knitting to pass the time on the ferry

Honor in Work

September 7, 2009

Old farmer at a farm auction

Old farmer at a farm auction

Here is a poem in honor of Labor Day.

To Be of Use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Gardens and Reading

June 16, 2009

Embroidered mini-quilt for June

Embroidered mini-quilt for June

I reread a favorite children’s classic, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  This book calls to mind the joys of gardening and the redemptive, healing qualities of working with the soil.  I am an English major, so it’s no surprise that I found more pleasure in reading this novel about a garden than actually pulling weeds in my own garden patch.

“I meant to do my work today —
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.”
     — Richard de Gallienne