My long weeks are catching up with me today. After dinner, I just fell asleep on the couch, and have had to rouse myself to come and do this. It was meant to be a day off today, but I still ended up going into work. When I did the payroll on Monday, I figured out that last week I’d done around 80 hours… on a 40-hour salary… without even so much as time-and-a-half for the holidays. A friend suggested that today’s post should be about the exploitation of salary workers.
It was expected though. It is our high season, and I’ve been doing this sort of work for a very long time. I walked into this job with my eyes open – I know event work is hard. My record for a single work week is 115 hours over 7 days… and also 21 days straight without a day off. It got to the point where I was hallucinating and seeing lovely rainbow ghosting patterns behind every moving object. It was really quite pretty. I probably shouldn’t have been driving a car though.
A few years ago, we were visited by a representative of the local polytechnical school. They were looking at starting an event management course, and they were polling local venues and companies about what skills they’d be looking for in a new employee. My reply was “the ability to work a 16-hour shift without crying or yelling at people”. And she laughed. “Oh, but you don’t expect people to be able to work like that,” she tittered incredulously. I just blinked and smiled. “Lady, I was here for a 20-hour shift yesterday. And today I am dressed, with make-up on, coherent enough to do accounts, and back at work talking to you… Yes, we do expect these skills. Most of our new employees burn out in less than two years.”
Just yesterday, I stumbled across one of our staff (who I won’t identify) having a cry in a quiet place at work. I didn’t need to ask him what was wrong – he has only had about 3 days off in the past 6 weeks. He’s tired. It makes a person feel like everything is wrong with the world. What was unusual was that he looked up at me and asked me how I do it – how I keep doing this work without showing any apparent signs of stress.
And it was my turn to laugh. I said there’s no right answer for everybody. I live a very quiet life outside of work. We rarely go out or do anything. I have my garden, which I love dearly. Sometimes I do yoga or meditate to help clear my brain. I have learned not to take most things too personally… But I also know what a panic attack looks like because I’ve had them. I have a gastric ulcer, and auto-immune problems. I have varicose veins from being on my feet too long, arthritis in my knee, and last year I got a blister so huge that I lost a toenail. I frequently swear or snap at people. Just because you can’t always see stress doesn’t mean it’s not there.
So why do we do it?
Again, I recall a friend asking that question a few years ago. We’d been talking about Bret Michaels from Poison (who I love), having an appendectomy, followed by a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed him, which then led to a diagnosis of a hole in his heart. Within weeks he was back out on the road, on stage. She was worried about him and kept saying that he needed to stay home and be with his family and take care of himself… and not be at work. And again, to me the answer is complicated but obvious. The show must go on.
Ultimately, all we do in this industry is entertain people. There are few jobs that are less essential to human survival, and we actually all know it. So to say that we should prioritise the “real world” – to deny the mustness of the must – it’s effectively like admitting that we’ve wasted every calorie of burning energy we’ve ever expended. It would be enormously depressing. And other people like us, are depending on us. We go back to work because the show must… must always go on.
If we didn’t do it: well fuck, nobody else would!
And wouldn’t that make for a sad, grey, rainbow-fartless little world?