FRANK TALK ABOUT WHAT WE DO WITH OUR LIVES

Welcome

In Notes on May 22, 2015 at 12:05 am

Work Stew is a collection of original essays and in-depth interviews. To learn more, please visit the FAQ.

New essays and interviews will be added regularly, so please check in often. Or you can sign up to receive email notifications of new contentlook for the button at the bottom right of the site.

Also, Work Stew now has its very own Facebook page; if you ‘like’ it, you’ll be able to see periodic updates in your news feed. You can also receive notices of new content via Twitter.

 

A brief history:

The site was launched in January 2011, when I published “Random Acts of Business,” an essay about extraordinarily long hot dogs, True Believers, and my lifelong quest for flow. Since then more than 70 other essays have been added to the mix.

You can view a complete list of contributors here. To date, the Top Ten Readers’ Favorites* are (in alphabetical order):

Molly Bishop Shadel A law professor writes about juggling her wide-ranging legal career with a personal life

Gerald Casale A founding member of the ground-breaking and enduring band Devo reflects on what constitutes “work.” 

Samantha Cole A prep school grad embraces her “inner laborer.” 

Ronald J. Granieri An historian pulls back the ivy to reveal what life in academia is really like.  

Tasha Huebner A self-employed Wharton grad takes a hammer to the old chestnut, “Do what you love, and the money will come.” 

Meg Heimovics Kumin A software developer reboots after three babies and two family crises and emerges as a photographer

Gopi Kallayil A Googler ponders the power of intention after an idea scribbled on a piece of paper almost immediately springs to life. 

Lindsay Moran Following the Abbottabad raid, an ex-spy reflects on her decision to leave the CIA

Rhino A soldier describes what it’s like to come home, including what goes through his mind when someone says to him, “Thank you for your service.” 

Terri Rowe A longtime factory worker reveals the secret identity that has sustained her since she was four years old. 

If you’re interested in submitting an essay of your own, please write to me at kate@workstew.com. I’d love to hear your story.

Thanks,
Kate

Kate Gace Walton
Editor, Work Stew

*Note: ‘Readers’ Favorite’ is a pretty subjective designation based on page views, shares, comments, and the volume of love/hate mail each essay has so far inspired. So, read all the essays; as they say, your mileage may vary.

‘Go Time’ Winner

In Contests on May 22, 2015 at 6:35 am

Thank you to everyone who submitted an entry to the latest Work Stew writing contest. This was the prompt: Describe a moment on the job, real or imagined, when you knew you had to make a change.

From a diverse set of submissions (poems! fiction! non-fiction! non-fiction poems!), I chose as the winner this entry by Tanya Ward Goodman. Over on Facebook, I’ll explain what I liked most, but first have a read yourself.

Exit Here

By Tanya Ward Goodman

footexitThe best thing about my job is that the restroom is a single hole operation with a locking door. That level of privacy means that whenever my eyeballs are about to roll right out of my head, I can entrust my phone to my fellow assistant and pop off to the loo. Sometimes I pee. Sometimes I masturbate. Either way, I’m back to my desk in five minutes.

My desk faces a wall painted industrial beige. Just above eye level is a lighted green exit sign. On most days, the wall is my central metaphor. The sign, when I see it, taunts me with the simplicity of its message. “Exit,” it says. “As if.” I’m stuck. I’ve hit that wall. This job is the latest gig where I answer phones and file papers for someone big and important. These big, important people often tell me I’m smart. They often ask if I have a “plan.” If I had a “plan,” I wouldn’t be here.

“Here” is the offices of a reality television production company. “Reality” is what they are putting on the T.V. The reality of the office is that Tuesdays are always “Taco Tuesdays,” the pretty blonde assistant speaks without irony about “getting her MRS. Degree” and I’m one of two members on the “support team” who believes in evolution. “You’re not telling me you think we came from monkeys?” the pretty blonde asks. Her eyes are wide. Her floral perfume mixes with the aroma of packaged taco spice.

I am here because there is a steady wage, a 401k and health insurance. These things seem like the trappings of an adult “reality” that, at thirty, I have yet to achieve. I want these things. I should want these things?

I work for two executives. We’ll call them Joe and Maxine. Maxine is often in a state of emergency. An “Emergency” is finding out that her credit card is over the limit or waiting too long for the delivery of rented cocktail tables. Joe is about ten feet tall. For him, “Emergency” might be a cold egg white omelet. He is mostly kind. He tells me I can write at my desk when I don’t have anything better to do. He never asks me to take in his dry cleaning or wash his car. This is good because in the past, I’ve spilled a full Venti latte on the cream colored floor of a brand new Ford Explorer and piloted a Jaguar into a cement post. I’m a little wary of driving.

One day, Maxine says, “I need you to do something really important.” I grab my notepad and pen. I am trying to be ready. “I need a better parking space,” she says. She tells me it’s hard to make the turn into her current space. She drives an SUV the size of an Airstream trailer. “Fix it,” she says. I dutifully call the Parking Office and they tell me they can’t change out her space because the guy next to her also drives a huge SUV and if they move one huge SUV they are going to have to move them all. I relay this to Maxine. And she says, “Jesus, can you get a spine?” And I say, “I’m happy to get a spine for something that fucking matters.” I walk back to my desk and the Exit sign is glowing so green, it’s all I can see. The wall has disappeared and I’m running free, emerald grass under my feet, the world a fragrant reality of my own making.

The Plan Going Forward

In Notes on May 6, 2015 at 11:02 pm

A note from Work Stew editor Kate Gace Walton:

“The plan going forward” is of course a silly phrase. (After all, you can’t make a plan going backward; you can’t plan the past. If you could, I’m sure we’d all have done a whole lot better.) But I digress.

What I want to discuss here is the plan for Work Stew. As many of you know, this site sprung from a mid-life crisis of sorts: back in 2011, I knew I needed a career change, but I had—in the form of an essay I’d written one night—only the fuzziest notions of what to seek (“flow?”).

However, simply by putting that essay out into the world, good things started to happen: the discipline of having to pin my swirling thoughts into sentences, and the small but robust community that developed as others chose to do the same, helped guide me towards a better fit.

But even as I settled happily into a new career, I realized: with a subject as complicated as work, the stewing never stops. It just evolves. Both at a personal level and at a societal level, there are always difficult questions to ponder, thorny issues to tackle.

So, I pressed on with Work Stew: posting work-related stories on Facebook and Twitter, editing essays at night, producing podcasts on weekends. And I loved it—all of it. For the first time in 20 years, I felt again what I was lucky enough to experience in college: a community of kindred spirits, drawing on a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences, to discuss ideas…and to help each other find our way. Truly, it has been both comforting and exhilarating—which is a weird but wonderful combination.

Lately, though, the stirring of the Stew has been increasingly tough to pull off. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, and (TMI alert) I’m really, really tired. So for some time now, I’ve stopped soliciting new essays to publish and, a few months back, I put the podcast on pause. However, I can’t bear to stop Work Stew all together: I’m too attached to the daily ritual not just of working but of thinking about work. I’m also too attached to all of you. So here’s my plan:

  • The posts and chats (on Facebook and Twitter) will continue. These aren’t terribly time-consuming for me, and I figure social media breaks are a better idea than, say, smoking breaks. Especially for a non-smoker.
  • I will continue to hold off on the podcast for now. If I run across someone I feel compelled to interview, I may record a new episode, but going forward I won’t be adhering to a regular (every two weeks) distribution schedule.
  • I will gladly accept essays if anyone feels moved to write one and to send it to me, but I won’t be actively soliciting them.
  • What I will be doing—to encourage a steady stream of original writing about work—is hosting four writing contests per year. Each contest will have a work-related prompt, a word limit (600 words), and a prize ($200 for the winner). After each round, I will publish the winner’s entry and possibly a few other finalists. So that you can plan ahead (humor me, people!), here are the dates for the next four rounds:
CONTEST #5
Prompt announced: April 15, 2015
Deadline: May 15, 2015
***
CONTEST #6
Prompt announced: July 15, 2015
Deadline: August 15, 2015
***
CONTEST #7
Prompt announced: October 15, 2015
Deadline: November 15, 2015
***
CONTEST #8
Prompt announced: January 15, 2016
Deadline: February 15, 2016
Work Stew Essay Contest copy

I hope this approach appeals to at least some of you. Let me know: kate@workstew.com. And if any of you have other ideas—suggestions on how the Stew might evolve over time without requiring me to pull all-nighters—please throw those thoughts into the mix as well. As always, thank you for reading, and thank you for chiming in.

 

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