Waiting For a “Real” Job
While I have since returned to Asheville, I am writing this week’s column from a sushi bar in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, en route back home from a week in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Eau Claire (French for “Clear Water”) is not your typical vacation hotspot the second week of December, as the evening temperatures dipped to a nippy seven degrees. The cold was complimented by three inches of powdery snow that fell the night before I arrived, plus a sheet of ice that encased the Holiday Inn parking lot all week.
This was not an Arts & Crafts journey, but one undertaken for Minwax, for whom I have worked as their spokesperson almost as long as I have hosted the annual Arts & Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn. I could call this my “real” job, but being a spokesperson is no more a traditional occupation than directing a conference, writing books or publishing a website for Arts & Crafts collectors.
(As a third grader, my son Blake once came home from Career Day at school to ask, as I sat barefoot, unshaven, in my sweatpants and ratty t-shirt, staring glumly at my computer, “Dad, what do you really do?”)
And at the other end of our generational spectrum, my 86-year-old father back in Illinois is still wondering if his oldest son will ever have a “real” job.
I did have one, once, a long time ago, when, fresh out of Western Illinois University I thought I wanted to do nothing more than teach high school English to college-bound seniors. Shakespeare, Dickens, Thackeray and Keats. Research papers, personal journals, essays and bibliographies. I only lasted five years before I left the confines of the classroom, but I have never left teaching. Now I divide my time between teaching homeowners about stains, wainscoting, polyurethane and hardwood floors; and Arts & Crafts collectors about auction trends, exposed tenons, decorated pottery and obscure shopmarks.
Neither what you would call a “real” job.
But maybe, just maybe “real” jobs aren’t what we once thought they would be. When I think about my Arts & Crafts friends, both historical and contemporary, many of them did not have and do not have traditional careers. Those that do seem to have taken an unconventional approach to what once had been conventional occupations.
“Thinking outside the box” is something Arts & Crafts enthusiasts never had to be taught. The movement began as a revolution, and while we never had to fight the same battles fought by Ruskin and Morris, the revolutionary spirit lives in each of us. We take a different approach to our careers, one which others sometimes question, but one which they soon realize is a more humanistic approach than tradition would dictate.
And so I spent a week in Eau Claire, standing in front of hundreds of twenty-somethings who didn’t know who Bob Dylan is, who reacted to my jokes about Bob Vila and my references to Thomas Wolfe with blank stares, who were there only because they will soon be back in the wallcoverings department at Menard’s, selling stains and polyurethane.
Perhaps, however, they will remember a couple of things a former English teacher explained about hardwood floors, kitchen cabinets and, when they least expected it, a little Arts & Crafts furniture.
Until next Monday,
Have a great week!
PS – Best Text of the Week: “Did all USA Xmas shopping.”