I Have Complicated Thoughts About Getting Paid for Work
Some Quick Thoughts on Having a Job, Being a Dick, &c.
Part Zero: Introductionalizing Maunderings
The astute reader may note that there are some redactions below. This is because, like Guy Debord before me:
I obviously cannot speak with complete freedom. Above all, I must take care not to give too much information to just anybody. [...] Some elements will be intentionally omitted; and the plan will have to remain rather unclear.
Part One: God Bows to Math
- If I have a job, then I work for someone (the employer).
- This means the employer gets to tell me what to do.
- But if I have a job, I was hired.
- This means that the employer has chosen my ways of thinking, my ways of doing, and my ways of being.
- This is why I get to say "No." to an employer.
- If I say "No." to an employer too often, or about something that is too important, I will likely no longer work for that employer (= have that job).
- This is because in this (vaguely) capitalist system, I am, as the man says, ""doubly free".
For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.
Part Two: An Anecdote
Over the past couple days, I threw some online tantrums. I was a dick to Bethlehem Shoals and to Tomas Rios. These are two men I like and respect. I owe Bethlehem Shoals whatever small "career" I have had in writing about sports online; I once collaborated with Tomas Rios, and quite enjoyed it, and him. The reasons for these tantrums were related, and related to work.
Shoals made the (common and most likely correct) point that the range of possibilities in sports writing has narrowed dramatically since his blog's heyday:
I mean I'm happy for everyone who can earn a living from it but I think we were all better when it wasn't a job.— Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) September 23, 2014
No real problems here: it's a claim I've not infrequently made myself. But it still set wrong with me. Especially because what I actually saw first was this:
@ericnus Maybe that's the way to think about it. We used to be one thing now we're another. And the first thing is gone forever.— Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) September 23, 2014
I cannot easily explain why this irritated me so much. My best guess is that it's a contradictory mix of the following response thoughts: (1) Old man laments how there are no young men any more; (2) "Wanna know why things changed? Because you quit, buddy."; (3) "Oh, okay, the one guy to get a book deal and some magazine gigs out of sports blogs thinks the money ruined everybody and everything." Not my most charitable set of responses. So I pissed and moaned for a while, and got helpful responses from some, less helpful responses from others, and went on about my day.
Later, Colin McGowan, who recently left Sports.Vice.com because he hated working there, published a very Colin-McGowany piece about his leaving. In it, he hinted that an editor had told him what he was doing wasn't commercially viable, and noted that this had helped him decide to bail. The current EiC of Sports.Vice.com, Tomas Rios, began subtweeting furiously.
Wow. So, let me get this straight. Some of you have complicated feelings about getting *paid* for *work*? Wow.— TOMAS RIOS (@TheTomasRios) September 23, 2014
Professional writing is a job. You want to go write the next Oscar Wao? Be my fucking guest. It's still a job.— TOMAS RIOS (@TheTomasRios) September 23, 2014
And no Evil Editor is trampling your "art" by telling you to add some research and reporting. Grow up or go start a blog.— TOMAS RIOS (@TheTomasRios) September 23, 2014
When I responded to him, he continued his subtweet avalanche.
"@TheTomasRios: Professional writing is a job. It's still a job." Management perspective on labor: still gross.— Chris Collision (@cfCollision) September 23, 2014
My point was not well expressed. Probably I should have listened to some Dillinger Four records and gotten on with my day. Certainly I should have skipped reading his further subtweets (and responding with some of my own).
Real gross how I spend my days working out a budget to pay people fairly and make them better writers. God, I'm so gross.— TOMAS RIOS (@TheTomasRios) September 23, 2014
The funny thing is I have another offer letter out to a talented young writer.— TOMAS RIOS (@TheTomasRios) September 23, 2014
BREEEEEEAKING: I have been suspended from blogger twitter for wanting to work with professionals.— TOMAS RIOS (@TheTomasRios) September 25, 2014
So let me try to express my point a little better: yes, of course I have complicated feelings -- and, I trust, complicated thoughts -- about getting "*paid*" for "*work*". Some of those thoughts and feelings are expressed in Part One, above, about jobs qua jobs. Some are about writing in particular, and are admittedly contradictory:
- who the fuck told anybody they'd get to get paid to write just what they wanted?
- you can pay me, but that doesn't mean you own, or even rent, me -- so tread lightly, boss man
- a job, is indeed a job, and for that, again, see Part One
A lot of my thoughts and feelings about getting "*paid*" for "*work*" have to do with not liking hierarchies, or bullies. I felt and feel that what Tomas Rios was doing by addressing Colin McGowan without addressing him was demeaning, rude, and indicative of an obvious power differential: the differential between the boss and the employee. I felt that his actions removed dignity from his former employee and were likely to stifle the freelancers who presumably still want to write for Sports.Vice.com. I did not feel that Tomas Rios' self-description (below) was accurate.
I still don't. Nor do I think "disagreeing publicly" with somebody without naming them is worth a whole hell of a lot.
Part Three: Some Backstory [Redacted]
I wrote for Sports.Vice.com for a bit.  --It is not the job of my employers to make me feel good about myself; nor can my employer begrudge my wanting to be treated differently and better.
Punchline of backstory: So maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe I've got some sour grapes. Maybe every point I've tried to make here is completely invalidated because I am not a world-class writer, or a journalist of any kind, or an employee whose reliability and availability perfectly suits the needs of the employer.
Part Four: Some Funny Things I Found
To write, I use Vim. Well, gVim, but you get the point. One of the cool things about Vim is that it has 26 registers, which is effectively 26 separate clipboards. Every so often, I remember that I can look to see what is in all those clipboards, and so yesterday I found the following thoughts about work. They make me laugh. Most of it comes from Bogdan von Pylon, who is a never-ending fount of smart insights into the nature of work. I'm leaving them here because they are Important. Hope you like them.
"Sorry doesn't cut it anymore Scotty. Sorry is for assholes!" -Larry "the Badger" Employerstein (I cant remember his fucking last name)
B. (From Bogdan to me, when I was actively trying to burn some work bridges)
Dude. Can you stop unloading the entire weapon into your foot for one minute today and just go the fuck home early?
Have you ever wanted to tell someone:
You have exhausted your lifetime allotment of words, please shut the fuck up.
D. (Bogdan's proposed boilerplate for me to use so that designers would stop fucking up my copy)
Please do not key this copy in. It is a delicate, finely polished, and finely tuned machine that needs all of its letters and punctuation, in the order given, to function legally and correctly. I have provided a script for the express purpose of passing on a golden, error-free document which will be flawless in our finished product—by doing this, I have magnanimously assumed all responsibility for its use. If you use it, you are shiny and blameless. If you do not, you are fucking stupid and deserve to die in a fire.
E. (Bogdan's Family Motto)
Misanthropy is a bottomless well of inspiration.
F. (explaining office work to a bartender who asked about it)
The work is broadly comparable. Replace "asked me for something" with "asked me for something", ratchet up the everybody's sober factor...replace "sidework" with "spreadsheet", "passive-aggressive notes" become "passive-aggressive emails", "meetings" become "meetings" only they're near-constant.
G. (An Exchange)
You know what really sucks? having to make truthful threats—"You've just made a powerless enemy, chum."
"From my desk in this open-plan office, I stab at thee! People you don't know will receive chapter and verse on your failings! TWITTER WILL KNOW OF MY OPINION. Emails, you may be certain, shall be sent. Unflattering doodles WILL fill my notepad during meetings, regardless of your presence, absence, or wishes on the matter. And, when required by law, custom, or job security to interact with you, I will comply, grudgingly, and look for any opportunity to subtly undermine you without making myself look incompetent or hostile."