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Margaret Bourke-White:
World’s Highest Standard of Living [Silver Gelatin Print]

"Arbeit macht frei!"

I fail to explain, even to myself, how I came to live this essentially binary existence where I'm either working hard or hardly working, producing something or Sloughing off. There seems to be no middle ground, or none that I've found. Even when I manage to tucker myself out, I have not even then earned a rest. What respite I grant myself, I account for as laziness, pure and simple. What rest I take, I consider sloth rather than rejuvenation, and I allow myself only the barest minimum. Beyond that, I start accumulating guilt about failing to properly apply myself. I consider myself to be a wasting asset, one which degrades, whatever I engage in, for I tend to fall short of full engagement, which would be a state with which I cannot quite relate, but recognize only by its absence. I'm confident that I've never experienced full engagement. I'm just a dabbler, I suspect.

I hear politicians divide our great population into two otherwise undifferentiated parts, the hard workers and the intolerables.
The hard workers deserve whatever they've earned by the considerable sweat of their brow. The intolerables, by comparison, are freeloaders because they're not hard workers, for if they worked hard, they'd never need any assistance, wouldn't even need a government to protect their interests. Hard work can cure every ill, apparently, and the absence of hard work, the true root of all evil in this world. Solve world hunger by merely working harder. We would have already cured cancer had those shiftless researchers only worked a little harder. I always slink a little deeper in my seat when I hear a politician beating that Hard Worker Drum, for I know myself to be an experienced shirker, and only occasionally a really hard worker, a dedicated professional at Sloughing, mostly.

I was not born into or bred for a life of leisure, or, at least, not a life of guilt-free leisure. I could never very well tolerate taking vacations. Leaving my primary responsibilities behind to escape into nature left me feeling complicit and lazier. I'd take my work with me and get frustrated with the facilities, which encumbered my ability to get my homework done. My sense of responsibility never once left me, not for a minute, not for a second. I found no exception to my underlying obligations. What was I supposed to do with my hands if I was not engaged in working? What to do with my brain if I was not actively thinking, trying to resolve something? If a day slipped by without me having produced something, I felt as if I'd never amount to anything, and never had. In a world defined by how hard I'm working, vacationing seems a first-order sin, the kind that needs more than contrition to cure. Oh, Lord, grant me absolution for committing the grave sin of vacation.

But I do not dance out of my bed every morning into the welcoming arms of worthy work. Some mornings, after finishing my daily writing regimen, I start actively Sloughing and continue working hard at Sloughing for the whole rest of the morning and perhaps even into the afternoon until almost the edge of evening. Because I finished my writing work before I started Sloughing, I feel that I've somehow purchased a kind of forgiveness for any fresh sins of sloth I might commit. I cannot remember the last morning when I didn't complete my writing regimen because I'm actively trying to grow into becoming hard working, so that I might one day become a full citizen of this great nation and never again find myself in need of anything others might provide, a true American. I aspire to be so damned hard working and self-reliant that I won't need to have friends or relations. Arbeit macht frei, apparently!

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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