PAUL GLOVER ESSAYS: community control of food, fuel, housing, health care, planning, education, finance.

by Paul Glover        April 1996

Do you like your job? Lots of people do, and lots don't. Most people probably want to move along to something more rewarding, or different, but they haven't thought clearly about what they really want. Or they don't think it's possible.

These days many of us feel lucky to have any job at all. More than 3,000,000 well-paid U.S. jobs are lost yearly, replaced by lower-paid grunt work. Today the nation's largest employer is a temp agency. For the millions with dull jobs, life is frustrating. Our dreams have been crushed under stacks of bills. Our creativity is bottled up, or drowned in a bottle. Frustrated people often become cynical and abusive.

When steady employers drop us, we're expected to shuffle to the employment office, check help wanted ads, retrain and relocate. We're not usually taught how to do what we really want to do.

Ithaca's HOURS are part of a network of abundance, a treasury of local skills that can make our dreams happen. We can become resources for each other, rather than competitors for scarce dollars. Ithaca Money talked with area residents recently about their dream jobs. The more they talked, the more they became clear about what they wanted, how they wanted to live, how this community could help them, and how to begin.

And here's what we asked them:

  • What would your dream job be? Be specific-no limits.
  • What responsibilities would you have?
  • Would you work alone or with others?
  • How many hours of work? Of play?
  • What satisfactions would it give?
  • Would your business be your own, or a co-op or partnership?
  • What income would you need? What would you own?
  • How would you live? What kind of house and community?
  • What resources/tools/and skills do you need?
  • What personal/social/and financial limits are in your way?
  • What can you get by bartering and relying on local resources?

Remember, we said, you're creating more than a job. Together we're creating better ways of living, and a community network that allows us to help each other get the life we really want.

Jon's dream job would be to join a rural community that lives simply and creates income from the land in a way that respects nature. "It would be a situation where children could grow up learning to trust themselves and to know their connection with the rest of the earth." He'd like to adopt children "There are a lot of children who need homes, support, love."

"To work with a dream with equanimity is a challenge," he says. "Better to take it a step at a time, let it unfold." At first, he'd start small, making miso (fermented soybean product) and Essene (sprouted grain) bread. Then he'd get involved with friends who are farming.

"Sometimes I want to let go of this dream, to be 'realistic' and function well in the world as it is. Part of going toward a goal is being flexible, able to go with the situation. Seems easier to do the things that are more well accepted in today's culture-going to school, getting a regular job.

"So I'm learning to make peace with the world as it is, learning to accept, but also working with dream and re-creating the world as I want it to be. It's easy to keep busy working, easy to withdraw."

Asked what he needs in order to start, he says "Ithaca's full of talented people you can get help from: tools, experience with business, marketing, 

raw materials, loans." A friend recently offered him the use of a Health Department approved kitchen.

Durga earns half her income as a professional dancer and teacher of dance. She works part time in an office: "office jobs are contrary to a dancer's body." Her dream job is to teach dancing in her home, especially to kids: "lots of kids aren't in shape these days, they're playing Nintendo, not running outside." She'd barter lessons for what she needs, so more parents could afford her: "a lot of repair people doing barter are better than businesses in the Yellow Pages."

She's optimistic about making a living teaching: "I already have three students waiting, and five students would be enough." But she says "I have no lump sum set aside for taking business risks, and I just bought a house."

At the same time, she recognizes that her present job is vulnerable to federal funding cuts, and she needs to go the independent route, though getting insurance would be tough.

To start her dream, she'd need help publicizing her lessons: "I'm rather lazy on the PR side-dance takes so much focus." Dancing at the Ithaca Festival would be good publicity, she believes. Maybe she'll drop one day of work at the office, and start her dream on a three-day weekend.

Dave runs a machine shop in Interlaken, employing eight people who build guitar parts for which he has patents: "Fender and others have quit buying Chinese parts and buy from us now, even though we cost 10% more."

He started as a musician, and found more income selling guitar parts (first to friends, then trade magazines) than performing. Now he's so busy ("we're swamped with work, our new tuning peg is doing very well") that he has less time with family ("I raised this calf to a bull, now I got to ride it"). His dream job would be as guitar parts designer, creating "one really good patent" to sell to a company for a 3-7% licensing fee. Then he'd travel more.

Akuwa arrived from Togo (West Africa) two years ago, and wants to become a nurse who works with children. She's studying at BOCES for her high school equivalency test, then she'll go to TC3 to begin studies for nursing credentials. "I want to be a nurse for children in a hospital. I like to work with children, but I'd rather heal than teach, because I don't like to talk a lot." She says it's hard to get a nursing job in a hospital. "I know nurses who have not been able to be hired there." If she doesn't find hospital work ("BOCES has a counselor who helps us find jobs"), she'd do home care. Here again, willingness to barter, for at least part pay, will enlarge the number of people able to employ her, in a competitive field.

Mary would love to be a travelling teacher who does water quality testing with kids. And she wants to live self-sufficiently in the country, though she'd miss the city. Today she's a wandering secretary with a temp agency. "We all have great potential. The universe wants us to be doing what we love, and I don't want to settle. When people are stuck in drudgery, we drag each other down.

"I'm still working out my path-a farm in the city? I need to sit down and get my goals more clear." Recently she took her ideas for teaching water testing to Co-operative Extension, and they said they had just thought about hiring someone to test water with kids one week earlier.

Kira is a high school sophomore who wants to be a writer. "I'd write fiction mainly, like children's books, but maybe biographies of strong women who helped a lot of people. My books would show faith in life, faith in yourself and in your integrity." She won a BOCES writing contest with an essay about imagination: "the main idea was that there are things that we do as children that we should keep alive all our lives." She writes in notebooks a lot and takes creative writing classes. Her favorite authors are Natalie Goldberg and Tennessee Williams.

Like many people, she suspects her dream job is a "romantic fantasy," but says she's "read books that have really changed how I see things and how I accept life," and she hopes to write books like these. "There are too many crappy books about things that don't really matter, to just make money. But writing can help people, and I hope I can do that."

She knows there are magazines that publish young people's writing, and thinks majoring in English, and then teaching writing, might be part of her direction. She appreciates that there are a lot of resources and mentors in Ithaca. "Ithaca's a town with personality; you know lots of people but you don't know everyone, there are always new people coming in."