I have been pondering things this week - work, and the nature of work, and how we give ourselves to it or not. And what exactly is it? Work? Is it just something we do to pay the bills? Or is it as Marx argued, that labour is central to a human being’s self-conception and sense of well-being? That labour is as much an act of personal creation and a projection of one’s identity as it is a means of survival. And if Karl was speaking the truth, what does my work say about me?
I pondered this work question as I walked into the garden with the big loppers and pruned back the triffid that is pretending to be a grapevine. I pondered it as I prepared the dinner and stacked the dishwasher and hung out the clothes. I even pondered it as I walked the dog. None of these things feel like 'work' the way work did when I had to do it for someone else - desperately boring and choiceless. And yet I always speak of them as 'work' - even the dog (!) and this usually involves a swim at the beach and is hardly a hardship.
And that is what really got my pondering juices going. These things actually make me happy - for the most part they are happy work. Input = outcome = job done. Love it. So are they really work at all? I have argued, feminist as I was raised to be, that a woman can do any damn thing she wants and doesn't have to just settle for the housework, yet have now found at this stage in my life that I am actually kind of happy to settle. Is this age, or retreat?
I inherited a Scottish-Protestant work ethic that decrees that hard work, frugality and diligence are essential components of the human existence - that the worth of a (wo)man is measured by their work. So if walking the dog and having a dip in the ocean are now my 'work', how am I measuring up so far?
I continued to ponder this over the days as I went out to my studio and started to piece my mosaic together. I laid some tile, nipped a bit, cut a bit, 'worked' a few hours here and there. But it wasn't really happening for me this week. I couldn't find any patterns in my 'work' that I liked. I couldn't sit with any colour combinations that felt good. I only glued one small section and am now researching ways to unglue it. And if I haven't laboured and brought forth anything mighty, and have in fact only laboured to produce something appalling, and if labour is a projection of my identity .... you see where I'm going with this?
So, basically my week in the studio has been a bit of a bust. I have tried to work my way through the cracks in my work but it hasn't worked, so to speak. I suppose it is artist's block, much like writer's block, and, as I have strong memories of being in this place before, I apparently need to go through it at the beginning of every piece I create. There seems to need to be this indecisive pause for delving in, a weighing up of direction and placelessness, a state of chaos and tension and a crinkly, tingly feeling around the edges of my skin. I feel dissatisfied and full, all at the same time.
Which means that this mosaic is going to be a cracker.