UP & DOWN THE RIVER: Working — in every sense of the word

Up and downBy Cathy Johnson

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to pick up and skim  (or really read) Studs Terkel’s compelling and probably best-known book “Working,” you may have an understanding of how we as Americans both work and feel about our work.  

Many of us have created an identity for ourselves that is so wrapped up in our work that there is really no dividing line between the work self and the private self.  

And for others, work is exactly what it says it is – work.  And it is a four-letter word.

Consider what the television industry shows us about work.  Mike Rowe made quite a name for himself on his Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs,” which ran from 2005-2012.  

On that program he is shown performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the typical employees, introducing the viewing public to many jobs they had never thought about.  

“Undercover Boss” on CBS  features the experiences of senior executives working undercover in their own companies to investigate how their firms really work and to identify how they can be improved, as well as to reward hard-working employees. The bosses, employees and the viewing public have learned a great deal about work, even in these scripted episodes.

Why the focus on “work” when it is summer and all most of us want to think about is vacation?  See answer below.

Later this year, Artworks will be hosting a program/display from the Smithsonian entitled “The Way We Worked.”  There will be much, much more information forthcoming about this program throughout the summer.  

But now is the time for reader participation, or at least thinking about it, which may involve a little bit of work on your part.  “Up and Down the River” would LOVE to publish as many local stories about work as we can gather.  Regardless of whether you think your job, or someone else’s job that you would like to tell us about, sounds mundane,  we would still like to hear about it.  In the theater there is a wonderful saying: “There are no small parts, only small actors.”  In America, there are  many, many jobs, some of which none of us seem to want to work at.  Learning about what it takes to make a country successful through the eyes of its workers is a worthwhile endeavor.

If you have a story to tell, we’d like to hear it.  And we will even assist in putting it into words for you, if that would help. 

 Any story or story idea can be sent to me at mrsladybr@outlook.com.  It would be really great to be able to publish a story for every week that the display is here in Big Rapids at Artworks, so don’t be shy.  Remember: the best way to understand someone else is to walk a mile in their shoes.  

Reading about the work of others can give us a  greater respect for the contributions of all those it takes to make a community and a county.

Up and Down the River is sponsored by Artworks, a project partially funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities through Michigan Humanities Council. The Artworks office is located at 106 N. Michigan Ave., in Big Rapids. President is Alice Bandstra; Jennifer Locke, executive director; Pat Heeter, gallery team leader; and Cathy Johnson, editor.

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