Labor of love

By Maralyn Lois Polak

Once again, here’s my annual post-Labor Day exhortation: “Workers of the world, revolt, you have nothing to lose but your chains!”

“Wage Slaves,” last week’s special edition of A & E Investigative Reports, hammered home how much worse things are for America’s poor, an understatement buttressed by Barbara Ehrenreich’s unexpected best-selling book, “Nickle and Dimed,” her gritty and gripping account of trying to survive on her pathetic earnings from a string of, yes, minimum-wage jobs.

And, if you believe surveys, which I generally don’t, just about as many Americans hate their jobs as love them.

Sounds about right to me.

Yes, Bunky, only half of us living in this great country of ours actually like our jobs. Think about it. And this applies to all incomes, ages, regions. People are just plain fed up. They work longer and harder, for bad bosses, with silly colleagues, sometimes even doing – shudder – meaningless, tedious, make-work. Drudgery! Toil! Travail! Their benefits are shrinking. As they get more and more disempowered and disillusioned, they’re more and more disgruntled.

And when corporations merge or rush to join the stampede to declare bankruptcy, workers are laid off and new jobs seem, currently, harder to find.

Suddenly, we see scary headlines proclaiming: U.S. WORKERS JITTERY ABOUT FUTURE. As well they might be.

In 2001, with perhaps 16.3 million U.S. wage and salary workers as union members, their concerns include promoting job security, preserving health-care benefits, and protecting Social Security, at risk in the current economic climate.

Then there are those brave or brazen workers who dare to become whistleblowers, exposing workplace wrongdoing – financial misconduct, nuclear power-plant violations, airline safety, election fraud, campaign-finance schemes, witness intimidation, discriminatory issues, environmental abuse, medical wrongdoing, obstruction of justice, and other criminal practices – despite the very real threat of employer retaliation, reprisal, harassment or unfair discipline.

Naturally, job satisfaction is often simplistically predicated upon money. Duh! But there are those other corporate perks, and even intangibles, which have made “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams recognized for the great visionary genius he is.

If you visit his website, you can, in his words, “add Dilbert to your desktop with one of our latest wallpaper designs: Fake Desktop, Out to Lunch, and Demons of Stupidity.” If you’re low on buzzwords, please try their “Mission Statement Generator.”

But back to the “real” world.

While Freud believed the ideal job was that work which is also play, Buddhists are big on Right Livelihood, a traditional term for work that is ethical, yet helpful to a person’s spiritual growth.

How far too many of us may have come from those paradigms.

Internationally known master guitar-maker John R. Zeidler, of Wallingford, Pa., loved his work, until his untimely death at age 44 this past May.

Known as a peerless luthier whose work was already commissioned for the prestigious Smithsonian Institute’s “Blue Guitar” exhibition, the late John Zeidler could take 80 hours or more to build an instrument, feeling “the measure of a great instrument begins with the quality of its sound, includes construction that will last a lifetime and ends with the uncompromising perfection of its details.”


Working with a wide variety of often-intricate mother-of-pearl inlays, and sometimes, exotic wood such as Brazilian Rosewood, Koa, Curly Maple, German Spruce and Adirondack Spruce, John Zeidler labored lavishly over every stage of development of his craft, painstakingly polishing and re-polishing each instrument with “a specially formulated and hand-prepared spirit varnish [to] enhance the tone and beauty.”

He wanted to hear the music resonate in the wood.

His credo:

For me, building a great instrument requires more than the application of my knowledge and skills to the materials that I begin with. It is an evolving process where I must blend the best elements of contemporary design, function and traditional craftsmanship. Each time I build an instrument, there are new challenges that come from the specific design and materials that I am using. These modify the routine processes of guitar making and change craftsmanship into the art of building a fine, unique instrument.

There are many elusive characteristics that define a fine instrument. I strive for rich quality, evenness and flexibility of tone, tonal reserve, superior projection and ample volume. In addition, my instruments must be uncompromising in their structure, details and finish. They must satisfy their owners by being beautiful objects and beautiful performers.

John R. Zeidler’s instruments, and the labor he lovingly put into them, were extraordinary, as was he.