Monday, March 31, 2014

Made by an American

O.K., it's a seat. Not just any seat, but my beloved seat that resides at my pottery wheel. A few years ago my wife, who is a percussionist, introduced me to the wonderful world of drummer's thrones. I must have sat on 50 of them before I found "The One", but my oh my, how worth it! The thing is, as great as the throne has been for my working comfort, there is another attribute that is just as important to me; that "Made by an American" stamp on the back. Not just the generic "In America" we are so accustom to seeing, but "BY an American"!
     Such an authoritative and proud statement. I'm not talking the normal flag waving, in your face, my junk is better than your junk kind of pride. I have plenty of stuff created by the hands of people from all around this fine planet. I'm looking at that word 'American' for what it is; a friend, a neighbor, a relative... right here- in America. This morning my wife and I had a very interesting conversation about the concept of a career and it's importance in today's America. Up to this point in an industrialized society the name of the game has been to pick a vocation, focus on it, and collect your cheap gold watch at the finish line called retirement. To break protocol and deviate from this formula has always been met with suspicion, and certainly didn't put you in the good graces of your family or future in-laws! But the rules were changed on us in the past couple decades. While careers are certainly still an option for many entering the work force, that option has been ripped away from many who thought they were safely navigating the road to retirement. Modern mechanization, outsourcing to less expensive labor markets, even simple changes in our lifestyles has led to the reduction or complete elimination of many "career" jobs. Our discussion led to "What would we do if we had to or wanted to choose a new career path?". The blank stares and shoulder shrugs spoke volumes. Too old for this. Too much competition for that. This one doesn't exist anymore! Now what? Cindy said she would do something with her music, but not sure what. I have my art, but where am I going with it. I will admit, not exactly the happiest Sunday morning chat, but I think an enlightening one none the less.
     As we went about our day I needed a dose of accomplishment, so I decided to finish building my new raku kiln I started last Fall. I carefully admired the improvements over the old kiln. The domed top. a hinged door for the peep hole, new hanging and lifting handles. Taking a break from patting myself on the back, I stood on the porch and extended a "Good afternoon!" to both neighbors who were out enjoying the beautiful day. That's when it hit me. like a brick! That seat emblazoned with a message for the times; "Made by an American"! I had just spent the afternoon making a tool that in turn helps me complete the pottery, that is then sold as income. The neighbor on my left has created a fancy new Dance Dance Revolution type pad that is selling so fast they are often up past 3 A.M. building, prepping, and packing for shipping. I had never heard of such a thing and here they are cranking them out and still struggling to keep up! The young lady on our right has started a photography business and is a very accomplished artist, while her husband is in two bands that are burning up the local circuit. I thought of my wife, my artist cousin, my wood working brother, the plethora of amazing sculptors, potters,and painters I have met through the local art center and the gallery I work at.  Americans, all making something, and getting paid to do it. Some for a few bucks on the side to pay for a hobby, some as a living, others somewhere in between. One thing's for sure, all of them are doing what they do because they love to do it.
     Is this the new face of  "careers" in America? Is it possible that we may actually be forced by modern economics to do something we love for a living? At the very least we can supplement our incomes with something other than a mind numbing second job. From a consumer point of view, sure it's patriotic to support these artist and craftsmen. Money spent here stays here, and your local and national tax agencies LIKE that! But even more important to me is my duty as a friend, a neighbor, a duty to support them, be it a hobby or a living, just like the hundreds of people who have supported me through the years by purchasing my work. Making a little money is important, often necessary. Making money doing something you love is a huge bonus. Now imagine a career doing something you absolutely love. We should all be so lucky! "Made by an American" has a much more personal meaning to me now, both as a consumer and a producer. Who will you choose to support today?