Working Class Philosopher

I live in Texas. This constitutes a number of different conceptions of what, in general, the culture here is like. I’ve spoken to Canadians that were certain we still ride around on horses. We don’t; in fact, it is almost imperative you have your own vehicle because everything is so goddamn far away. You can drive all day and still be in Texas. Texans are proud. Every Texas student has to take a Texas History course in school, where you learn about the independence of Texas as its own Nation before joining the United States. There are great culture hubs that subvert the overall Texan mentality like Austin and Denton, but I don’t live there (anymore). I’m in Houston, an oil driven city. The reason Texas is primarily Republican is not necessarily due to religious affiliation though that plays a large part. I believe it stems first from oil being a main product of the state. I didn’t understand this fully until gas prices dropped a few years ago and I felt happy until I realized that meant my dad was going to lose his job in IT because the company was losing money.

I studied philosophy first at Sam Houston State University. In the two years that I spent studying philosophy there between 2005 and the end of 2007, I didn’t meet a single other student majoring in philosophy. I was the only one. There were, allegedly, five of us. There was no formal department, only an office in the Psychology department headed by the oldest philosophy professor there, a Mad Logician named Frank Fair. I left and went to study philosophy at North Texas and found more of my tribe there, but it was clear even there that we were surrounded by a culture that wouldn’t or couldn’t assimilate us. I was told, from the very moment I announced my major, to study literally anything else. Philosophy holds no value in Texas culture, maybe American culture as a whole. But Texas, certainly from a Texan perspective, is the heartland of American culture and traditional American values. Here, the Protestant work ethic is strong and demanding. There was no work for philosophers because philosophy wasn’t viewed as work. I don’t think this is unique to Texas. American college is most commonly viewed not as a pursuit of higher education, but as an economic strategy. What will you study so that you can make the most money? Several friends of mine pursued petroleum engineering to that end.

But I must work to survive. And so now I am my own contradiction. I think, write, and speak about the misgivings of the protestant work ethic to minds, eyes, and ears that cannot understand what I mean. I tell them there’s no inherent value in labor and give examples of not only myself and others I work with who are overworked and underpaid and get told to work harder, or smarter, or get a better job. I can’t articulate to them that climbing the corporate ladder implies that someone has to be at the bottom rung and that no person should suffer based on their economic position — that your net income doesn’t dictate your net worth as a person. I listen to podcasts every day to try and learn more, engage different ideas, to write in order to better understand my ideas and emotions. I do this, while working six days a week, 50-60 hours a week. I exhibit every habit of the protestant work ethic. I cash in vacation days in order to have more money which means I work even more. I won’t find another job because, somehow, I love this job and my coworkers. It enables me to do other things I want to do, maybe out of a contempt; it forces me to make time to do what I want. It wasn’t enough that I was working 50-60 hour weeks so regularly it normalized, so I started waking up at 5AM to exercise and now I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been at 30 years old. I stay up later to write and read. I am consumed by work but despise its myth of “hard work paying off.” And yet I work.

9 Comments

  1. Mazz77a Reply

    Sorry but my understanding is that if you ‘love’ your job it is not ‘work’ but ‘play’. That’s the point, make everyone’s day become play not coerced labour. Spare a thought for the real ‘workers’ without a choice, hating their existence because of their job.
    Would you do it if you didn’t get or needed money? We need to get everyone answering YES!

  2. Guy Reply

    I firmly believe that you will find so much more effort and drive from a person if they are pursuing a passion as apposed to just trying to survive day to day(like many in america seem to be doing).

  3. Andrew Meintzer Reply

    Thanks for writing this blog too. It helps put my own life in perspective because I constantly complain (mostly just to my self) about how I spend tons of time writing because it’s my passion, but I never get paid for it. I love writing whether I get paid for it or not, but it would be awesome if I didn’t also have to be a normal person with a normal job. i always feel completely out of place in them, and hate them because they take time away from reading, learning, and writing. But I rarely even have to work full time in jobs I don’t like, and I’m certainly not forced to spend my whole life getting paid to be driven crazy by boredom, because I don’t have a wife and kids to support, or anything like that. I’m phenomenally privileged, and i always need to remember that.

    1. James Sullivan Reply

      I have piles and piles or writing that will never be published or seen. I stopped for years after publishing an unsuccessful book that I rushed but had my heart in, and only recently rediscovered my passion for it. It’s hard but for me there’s no other way or no better way to get this ideas out of my head. Refocus your wroting as your hobby, your passion, and get out of the mind set that what you love to do has to make you money.

  4. Andrew Meintzer Reply

    Oh wow. Do you plan on publishing another book? I have a similar story. I actually gave up on writing for a long time too for a variety of excuses, but only for a year or so. i recently got back into it because a few of my friends told me that I should post some of my insanely long texts about interesting things that I learn on my blog haha, which made me realize how much I missed it, and remember how much I got out of it. It’s therapeutic for me too because I love the process of writing, it feels good to get ideas out of my head, and I get a huge sense of accomplishment after I finish writing something. One good thing happened for me though, maybe partially because I took a long break, and partially because I didn’t entirely stop practising the skill. I noticed when I started editing my novel again that some of the writing was great, but some of it was fucking terrible. I had characters talking like robots, and was needlessly ostentatious in a lot of my descriptions.
    I do want to at least eventually make even a little money from writing though. It certainly isn’t my primary goal, but I’d just prefer it to making money any other way, and I do need to get paid somehow.

    1. James Sullivan Reply

      I hate my writing. That makes editing very difficult for me. So, a lot of times, I’ll write something and put it away. I know that’s a lazy approach but that’s fine if I’m not writing for anyone else, and usually I’m not. Now, somehow, I am again–I’m writing for Mixed Mental Arts, or trying to. And I’m seeing how rusty I really am.

      I used to write characters with almost no descriptions, and barely even named, because I couldn’t conceptualize them physically and was really only interested in having ideas live through them. They were just the vessels for my philosophy so I didn’t care what they looked like. I see now that even a small amount of effort in describing the settings and emotions and actually making a CHARACTER has immense value to me and readers.

      I have another novel in my head. It’s big and there’s so many fun puzzles I’m putting together in it. But it’s not ready to leave the vault of my brain yet. Or, rather, I’m not ready for it to.

      1. Andrew Meintzer Reply

        Ah okay. Well especially if you’re writing something like a journal entry, or anything that no one else sees, it’s not even necessary to edit it anyway right? Nothing helps improve your writing more than writing, especially if you have to edit it for an audience, and I don’t know about you, but with me, getting back into writing has helped me improve. One tidbit I like from one of the MMA podcasts happened when Bryan and Hunter were discussing how it was quantity that led to the quality of people like Shakespeare and Mozart. Even some of the greatest artists hated most of their work, but releasing tons of shit is what gradually led to their work getting waaay better. And by the way, I like your writing. I’ve only read two of your posts so far, and even though I like the philosophical ideas in your other post more than this one, I like the writing style a lot in this one.

        Oh yeah, what you said about characters seems true. I used to have serious problems with both what your weaknesses were, and the opposite of that. I would go into way too much detail about physical descriptions of characters, even though it didn’t matter at all in terms of the story. But I didn’t develop the backstory enough of other minor characters because they were just plot devices. But on the other hand, I’ve actually needed to tone down my setting descriptions. I think that describing my characters’ emotions might be one of the few things that I’m good at though. I frequently use their emotions to convey the setting and action, and dialogue to convey the plot. One of the parts of Aristotle on the Art of Poetry that I mostly agree with is that there should only be exposition when there is no action or dialogue. But obviously, there should be some.

        Awesome man. Well these are just suggestions, but maybe you could write down just the basic structure of how the puzzle pieces might fit together, or just start writing the book and going with your intuitions, keeping in mind that you don’t need to worry about editing it yet. I don’t know about you, but for me, just writing from my intuitions almost always works better than any other method. I did discover when writing the first draft of my novel that I should have made kind of a rough character map with brief descriptions though because I forgot about a few minor characters in a few chapters, and had to go back and insert them where it made no sense for them to disappear. Were you more organized when you wrote your first book, or were you more scatter-brained, like me?

        If you’re interested, I just heard the other day about this website called Medium where unknown authors can publish books chapter by chapter. I already did this on my blog with the prologue and first five chapters of my novel, but I’m probably going to gradually post the entire novel on my blog and medium as I finish editing them. It supposedly draws more attention to your book, and since I’m a nobody, I figured that it makes sense to try to grow an audience before I self publish my book on Amazon. Most of those apparently only sell 100-200 copies, but if I can potentially sell thousands of copies instead of hundreds at the most, that sounds good to me. I also shouldn’t be too concerned about releasing my whole novel for free before I charge anyone for it since I’m a nobody.

        1. James Sullivan Reply

          I feel like I was more organized, but was so young and righteous I thought everything I wrote was great until it was finally finished and I went through from the beginning to edit it and became horribly depressed lol.

          I’ve heard of medium. It’s great and a few of my friends use it as well.

          Kurt Vonnegut said that you never make money when you first become a writer. It takes time, and publishing. Try writing small stories and getting those out there. I’m working on a little children’s book in the fashion of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It’s about a boy made of glass.

          Good luck to you in your writing.

          1. Andrew Meintzer

            Ah okay. I can imagine how terrible that must have been. I’ve sure been disappointed by my writing too.

            Oh cool. I’m glad that you think Medium is good. Have your friends had much success with it?

            That’s almost certainly true about writers. I’ve heard similar things from Stephen King too, like how it took him somewhere around a decade to make any money. It does frustrate me occasionally that I’m not any better than any other writers, to say the least, and that I can’t make money as quickly as I want to, just because I’d rather get paid to write than do anything else. But I am always writing in multiple mediums to improve my craft, and hopefully eventually gain more exposure. One of those is writing short stories for writing contests pretty often. Maybe I should post my stories that don’t win contests on my blog. I’ve been thinking about doing that. It’s just one of the at least a dozen ways that I’m writing and trying to get it out there. I’m doing a lot of things to make this happen, but I haven’t done that yet.

            Oh awesome man. Have fun with that. It sounds really cool. I haven’t read The Graveyard book yet, but I’ve definitely heard about it, and I read a few short stories and one other novel by Gaiman. I just don’t remember the title of the novel right now. I think it was in the American Gods series. The short stories I read were The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Odd and the Frost Giants. Have you read those? I particularly liked the first one.

            Thanks a lot man. Good luck to you as well.

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