Today, in the U.S., it’s Labor Day. Over the course of my lifetime, I have seen this holiday change from nod to the contribution of workers in society to a day when we realize that summer vacations are coming to an end. So in this post, I would like to return the spirit of the day to its original meaning and celebrate the work we do.
Why? Because work is central to life. When we meet a new person, one of the first questions we ask is “What do you do?” When we meet an old friend, we ask how their work is going. Facebook is sometimes referred to as the world’s watercooler (an old workplace allusion), and what’s the first thing Facebook tells us about someone when we’re searching for new friends? “So-and-So works at _____.”
For those of us whose work involves arranging letters and words into something others would wish to read (this includes both writers and editors), our work is often invisible, which is what we intend it to be. The first purpose of our work is to entertain our readers. Non-writers often say that it must be wonderful to have the talent to write well. It is. However, writers and editors know that while talent has some part to play in what we do, craft and hard work count for a lot more. That the reader has an effortless experience in reading the work is part of the magical illusion we labor to create. Throw in the fact that many writers and a good number of editors don’t earn money to create this magic makes the work and craft involved all the more remarkable.
So if we don’t get paid, why do we carry on the work? Simply put, most writers and editors have a larger purpose and a different measurement of payment. Our work shines a light on and makes sense of this strange and wild ride we call life. (This is true for all fine artists.) In addition to entertainment, our stories, poems, plays, and non-fiction pieces provide insight into ourselves and our interactions, the joys and the debacles of life. Our work is no less than to be the voice of humanity, and it’s a voice soft enough to uplift lovers and tough enough to bring down governments.
In the face of a publishing industry which has been co-opted by the greed-need that has gripped our society over the past 40 years, an educational vice that has squeezed the arts out of the schools, and the effort to promote more mind-numbing forms of entertainment, the number of writers and journals has increased, not decreased, and despite the growth of writing programs, writing groups, and journal submissions, I haven’t noticed that the supply has outstripped the demand by readers.
When writers send out a piece for which they know they won’t be paid to an editor who crafts the piece and another who presents it to the world in a journal that loses money, we are telling people that salary isn’t the final arbiter of worth. The human mind and soul that’s mirrored in that work is what’s worth the effort.
So, on this Labor Day, I want to say “Thank You!” to all writers and editors for the work they do that adds color and light to our world and life. Without you, things wouldn’t be nearly as clear or as much fun.