Somebody mentioned “Career Day” at the high school, when local adults come in and sit at tables in the gym to talk to kids about the kind of work they do out there in “the real world” and help promote awareness of the possibilities. 

It’s noteworthy (but no surprise) that no one’s there to represent the life of idleness. The parent/teacher/principal and den mother conspiracy which one might call society is always pushing productivity, or what Bob Dylan called suck-cess. 

When we were young – in seventh grade – the girls studied “Home Ec.” We boys were given six weeks each of several kinds of “shop,” including metal, wood, and print. The culminating projects were, respectively, a dustpan and a birdhouse, and a business card of your own. 

What I found kind of odd, back then, was that my friends already “knew” what they would “be.” (I don’t mean cowboy or astronaut – it was New Jersey, after all – but things more likely and mundane, like lawyer, plumber or podiatrist.) And I’ll be damned if most did not go on to “be” those things. How can you decide what you’re going to eat when you’ve not even looked at the damn menu yet? 

Why can’t there be a table in the corner of the gym where someone shiftless sits promoting fertile idleness that leaves you free to see and hear and to appreciate? 

In most “developed” cultures you’re defined by what you do. Careerlessness, like nakedness, is an embarrassment. (Unless, of course, you were born rich.) But, moving lower, closer to the edge, if you’re a gypsy/wanderer, and don’t have an identity – i.e., nothing invested and nothing to lose – you make them nervous, and The Normals keep an eye on you.

Please, let’s remind our young people that it’s okay to not know yet what they are going to do. They are already, and were born, the larger part of what they’ll ever be. 

One thing I like: the “gap year” is more popular these days. You’re done with school and not sure what comes next? Take some time out! Try hitchhiking, or washing dishes in a restaurant, or playing music/robbing liquor stores. (One fine use for your Covid mask!) Perhaps you work a month or two and then take two months off. The pittance you earn washing dishes or harvesting grapes is just as real as any other money in the world. There’s just not much of it. Still, it keeps you afloat till you come to that point, down the road, when you decide to earn an M.B.A.

Things change. To us, a little while back, the Orient suggested Zen and meditative calm, but there’s a countervailing trend these days in China and Japan, where work ethic has gone berserk, and folks routinely die of overwork. 

We have a guy right here in town, Tomas, who used to be some kind of engineer. He went to China once to visit cellphone factories where workers lived in dorms adjacent to the factories. These young folks’ lives were very narrow – very circumscribed – containing work and almost nothing else. Tomas observed that all the dorms had flagpole-like projections from the exterior walls, with heavy netting strung between. When he asked why, he was informed that suicide was popular among the younger set. The nets were to discourage them from jumping from the upper floors.