Why not try for better working conditions? “I never thought of it.”

I’m lucky to be working with writer-editor and extremely sharp friend Marisa Bowe, who co-edited a terrific book called Gig: Americans Talk About Their Job at the Turn of the Millennium. She’s been reviewing my interview transcripts, and pulled the following quote out of my talk with Eddie Lewis, who worked for forty-three years as a milkman before getting hired by the local funeral home. “How come you didn’t get a job with better hours?” I asked, after prying out of him the fact that he’d never liked the 2:30AM wake-up call. “I don’t know. I never thought of it,” Lewis replied.

“I saw this over and over with the old working class or farm people,” Marisa commented. “It’s the polar opposite of our therapized cohort: they didn’t reflect on things, didn’t think about “How can I be fulfilled?”, they just did it — and they don’t have much to say about it. I really admired this lack of self-indulgence.” As I noted in an earlier post about Lewis called “Is Stoicism Passé?,”  it’s hard to imagine my generation sucking up the kind of workplace hardships that Depression babies never even acknowledged. We’re more self-aware but shorter on this strain of fortitude, a useful bulwark against the vicissitudes of late life.

Bowe is a co-editor of another oral history, US: Americans Talk About Love, which will be published by Faber this winter. There, too, she observed a generational difference. “For the older people, commitment was commitment, period. They didn’t analyze the hell out of it, they just stayed married.”

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