by Christy Carlyle
Like most writers with a full-time job doing something other than writing, I long for the day when I can devote myself exclusively to telling great stories. I grouse about how much my day job tires me out and prevents me from doing what I’m truly called to do. During a recent writer’s meeting, we discussed our motivations and goals as writers. I didn’t have to think twice about the fact that one of my main motivations is to quit my day job.
What does that have to do with Labor Day and gratitude, you might ask. Well, I don’t necessarily remember Labor Day as a reason for family get-togethers. In the Midwest where I grew up, Labor Day usually marks the beginning of cooler weather and the start of the rich, stunning array of colors that autumn puts on for the season. By the first of September, our family cookouts were a summer memory and everyone was getting ready for fall, winter, and the start of the new school year.
As an admitted history geek, I usually seek to understand the history and meaning behind a given holiday or event. The history behind Labor Day has to do with something I often bemoan: my eight hour workday. In the U.S., the holiday was proposed as a day to honor workers. However, its origins are tied up with the Haymarket Affair, a tragic event in Gilded Age Chicago that I recently researched for an historical mystery I’m writing. During the event, workers rallied in support of an eight hour workday. The assembly was mostly peaceful, but when a bomb was thrown at police, the ensuing riot resulted in police and civilian deaths and many injuries.
Just a little over a century ago, the notion of an eight workday was controversial. Most workers could expected to work ten hours per day, twelve hour days, or perhaps more. The work week was often six days long, not five, and children were often working such grueling hours right alongside adult co-workers.
Around Labor Day, I try to complain less about my day job and take a moment to remember how lucky I am to work an eight hour workday. Yes, I’d rather be writing, but, truth be told, those eight hours do still allow me enough time to write. I just need to be self-disciplined enough to get up early or take my laptop and write during my lunch break. Then again, and perhaps contradicting everything I’ve just said, I do love that I get Labor Day holiday off at my day job. More time to write!