Do you Live to Work or Work to Live?

fantasy-landscape-1920x1200As I pondered upon grad school this morning, I kept hearing these words in my head; “do you live to work or work to live?” I couldn’t tell you why I was hearing them, they were just there. I kept wondering what this had to do with grad school.  But I answered my own question by looking back at my life.  15 years ago, I lived to work.  I made 6 figures, took the kids on two week vacations, had three cars in the garage, but I can honestly say I wasn’t happy. I bought things to fill an empty hole in my soul. I was an empty materialistic person who worked six days a week. I basically was living my work.

After many unfortunate episodes in my personal life, I found myself out here in the mountains of North Georgia. I was put in a rural community where life is sometimes difficult, and you learn to appreciate going out to dinner because you may not have the money to do it again for another two months. Being here has reversed my perspective on life and now I work to live.  Basically I go to work to have money to buy food and shelter, and I’m happier than I was before.

I can hear people groaning – but its better for me.  I’ve left behind materialism. I don’t have a big house, my cars aren’t new, I shop in thrift stores, I budget for food, I garden for food, harvest fruit to make jellies, live simply and enjoy the scenery.  I think the only time I’ve been remotely stressed has been through undergraduate work, and that was at test time and student teaching when I was working for free. My children grew up here and I know they hated it because the nearest Wal-mart was 30 minutes away and we didn’t have any big shopping malls nearby, but the small community was good for them. Our entertainment was fireflies, taking walks in the woods, the lake and our friends.

I guess I was pondering this because of grad school and my love for history. A long time ago, people did just work to live. They didn’t have credit cards and they paid cash for the things they needed, and if they didn’t need it, more than likely they wouldn’t have bought it. At what point in our history did we fall from that? My boss and I were talking about it the other day, and he said he could remember when he could work 40 hours a week and make all his bills. Side jobs were a thing to have if you needed to buy a big item or pay off a small debt, and you saved money for a rainy day. Now days people are working 12-16 hours a day, at two to three jobs just to maintain their credit card debt, large homes, expensive vacations, big cars, new designer clothes, etc. and they don’t save.  At what point in our history did we become a culture that lives to work?

The Disappearance of Small Town Trust

Moving to the North Georgia Mountains from big “H” town (Houston, Texas) back in 2004 was a cultural shock for me and my kids.  The nearest Wal-mart was about 30 minutes away in Murphy, North Carolina, and the nearest mall is two hours away in Atlanta.  Needless to say, my girls were very disappointed as shopping was done when we needed to make a trip south towards the big city.

Our little town here consist of two stop lights, a town square, and small hospital, some shops, grocery store and the like.  We grow to about 30,000 residents in the summer when all the “snow-birds” come back from Florida, and in the fall, after Labor Day, we dwindle down to about 10,000 if we fudge.

When you go out to Monte Albans (the big mexican restaurant we have here) you are acquainted with about 20% of the patrons.  When Kev and I are out, I always run into someone I know and we talk briefly about the kids and school and so forth.  If you go down our road, most times everyone waves at ya, whether they know you or not, because that is just what they do up here in the mountains.

This place still operates on handshakes, and your word is binding, and God forbid you break it, because everyone will know about it.  With that in mind, here is where I am at today when I write this blog.

For many years, most people up here did not lock their doors, much less their cars, because there really is not a reason too, up until a year or so back.  When the economy headed south, so did the trust of this little small town.  We had the first rash of crime since I moved up here.  In 2009, as people who lived up here during the summer came back, they noticed some peculiar things.  A polite thief, who kept the place clean, had taken stuff from the residences that were not noticed at first, but then discovered at a later time, to be gone.  Needless to say, several months later the Towns County Sheriff’s Department found two builders who were using their work truck as a cover, and entering the house and taking things they could pawn.

Once they were caught, most of us breathed a sign of relief and went back to keeping the doors unlocked.  We felt that our Sheriff did his duty quite well, and everything was back to normal.  Then last fall, things started to turn.

I live out in the “country” from the small town, and our house is not easy to find unless you know where to go.  Our little cove of neighbors lives up a mountain, and there are cows and horses, and we all know each other, etc.  It was at this time, we noticed little things, small items which went missing, things we could not account for, and no one in the house could figure out where they might have gone.  In comparing notes with our neighbors, there were some of us whose notes match.

Yesterday, Kev got home to find that one of two five gallon (full) gas containers was missing from our garage area, and the other one had been half-emptied.  The feeling was one of disappointment and sadness.   It was the first time, today, that I considered the fact we may need to buy ammo for the Winchester which collects dust in the corner of the closet.  Whoever this person, or persons, were, they came in a span of about four hours from when I left for class to when I got back, in broad daylight, snooped around our house, and took things which did not belong to them.  We are so trusting out here, that my neighbors, who do not know any different, would think it a visitor, not a thief, seeing a person in the driveway who was not either of us.  I felt very ill last night.

Today I realized my small town trust is gone, and tomorrow we’re putting in dead-bolts.

Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb – Living Life and Your Dreams

For some strange reason this song has been stuck in my head for two days.  I have not heard it on the radio or anything, it just popped up in my head.  I actually believe it was in one my dreams the more I think about it.
Is there anybody in
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?
Come on,
I hear you’re feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on
your feet again.
I’ll need some information first.
Just the
basic facts.
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain you are
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through
in waves.
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
When I was a
child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I’ve got
that feeling once again
I can’t explain you would not understand
This is
not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

Just a little
There’ll be no more aaaaaaaaah!
But you may feel a little
Can you stand up?
I do believe it’s working, good.
That’ll keep
you going through the show
Come on it’s time to go.

There is no pain
you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming
through in waves.
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably

Pink Floyd’s lyrics are actually quite deep when you read them.  Back when I was younger, we all thought this song had something to do with drugs, but as I got older and into college, in one of my English classes, we actually took it out and dissected it.  What we discovered in some of the discussions was this song mimics how some people look at life.  Going through the motions of living does not actually mean you are living, you become “comfortably numb” to what surrounds you.  The last couple of lines are the clincher, “the child is grown, the dream is gone, I have become comfortably numb.”

This song is very important to me in a strange little way, because for about a period of 12 years I was pretty “comfortably numb” to my life.  The things I dreamed about as a child, {being an author, teaching, graduating from college, my PhD} got left by the side of the road, and the harshness of life took control.  It was not until I made a move to Georgia back in 2003 that things started to come together, and I realized that I let the dream go, and was too “comfortably numb.”  I wanted it back, I wanted me back.

Moving up to the North Georgia Mountains was good for me and my children.  We stepped away from the hustle of big city life and took on a simpler country life.  I realized then simple is better. {My children would disagree sometimes, but that is youth.}  I let go of materialism, a six figure salary, bad karma, bad men, destructive behaviors and embraced love, life, my children, and compassion.  It changed me, and I found my dreams again.

So I challenge you to look upon the song, and then look upon yourself, have you become “comfortably numb?”