Everyday Occupation in the Newspaper

Last Saturday, as I read the daily Madison newspaper, I found occupation jumping out at me in different ways on every page.  For example . . .

♦ The main headline on the front page contains the words Right to Work;” the accompanying article has to do with a bill coming up before our state legislature.  For us, in occupational therapy, “right to work” is a phrase that resembles our concept of occupational justice — our “right” to meaningful occupation.  But in the political arena, “right to work” is a hot potato enmeshed in  issues such as union membership fees and union contracts. Currently, 23 states have what are called “right-to-work laws,” i.e. laws that prohibit union representation fees or membership from being a condition of employment at private-sector companies.  I think it’s interesting that a phrase that I would usually interpret as an affirmation of a social “good”, i.e. an occupational “right,” can have a  fiercely debated different meaning in another context.

♦ Also on the front page is the following headline:  “An impressive degree of determination:  UW-Platteville speaker had a family first, then decided to go to college.” This news item features a 32-year-old mother of five who is graduating this spring as valedictorian of her class at UW-Platteville state college.  As reported in the article, a  “typical day” for this woman includes an hour-long commute each way between her home and her classes, coming home to five children ages 6 to 13 waiting after school for her to take them to sports activities or to help with homework, and assisting her husband with the family-run construction business.  “I always had ambitions of going to college but it was really important to me to have a family, so I did it backwards,” she said.  Here is a woman who bucked the usual life pathway of education and career first before launching children and family.  The traditional roles of women in the home have been jostled and shifted and changed in the last 2-3 decades.  So too have the traditional roles of men, as witnessed by the father in this family who took over many of the after-school duties of overseeing homework, preparing snacks and getting everyone out the door again for extracurricular activities.  We are challenged in our therapy to not pigeon-hole our clients into roles and responsibilities that are based on no-longer-followed traditions.

♦ Moving right along, on the front page of the second section of the newspaper is an article about Facebook; the internet company is about to begin trading publicly, starting in mid-May. When it does go public, Facebook is expected to be the biggest internet Initial Public Offering ever (or, as a more recent article said, “the decade’s hottest IPO”).  Embedded in the article is an astounding statistic:  Facebook has more than 900 million users.  That’s 900 million people for whom logging onto Facebook is potentially an everyday occupation.  The meaning of everyday occupation is, ipso facto, continually changing in this information age. Is our occupational therapy practice keeping up with the reality of our clients’ day-to-day lives?

♦ Also on the front page of the second section, an upcoming conference on diversity in the workplace is described.  In Chapter 6 of my book, I make the statement that occupation can be “the catalyst that enhances connection between people.”  The leaders for the diversity conference want to work with groups such as Centro Hispano, 100 Black Men, the Latino Chamber of Commerce, and a young professionals networking organization — MADISON Magnet.  According to one conference planner, “The idea is to foster relationships. . . What we hope to do is pull together markets and networks of individuals who don’t necessarily see each other all the time.  It’s really about making our workplaces comfortable for and accepting of everyone.”  Conferences are interesting phenomena — several levels of connections take place depending partly on the geographical spread of the people attending. Just seeing a nationally known person in the profession up on the stage in a large auditorium is one level of connection.  But other sorts of connections occur as well including meeting new people, renewing already established friendships, and forging deeper working relationships with others.  It’s the renewal of established friendships that I miss the most in these days of retirement, as I attend far fewer conferences than I did while still on faculty.

Page 9 in the second section is devoted to puzzles and games — a crossword puzzle, Sudoku, Wonderword, a Bridge feature, the word Jumble, a Cryptoquote, a logic puzzle KenKen, and a Whatzit? — and pages 10-11 contain the comics (30 different strips) and the advice columns (3). When I was growing up, we subscribed to The Milwaukee Journal, a daily newspaper delivered in late afternoon. The comics, or “funnies” as we called them, were always in the Green Sheet — a section of the Journal that was printed on green paper.  When the paper arrived at our door, my sister and I would vie for being first to get and read the funnies (“Dibs on the Green Sheet!”).  Nowadays, many, many people no longer subscribe to daily newspapers, preferring to get the news online.  For me, such a switch would be a terrific wrench; I am so accustomed to my daily routine of reading the news, while holding the actual newspaper in my hands.

♦Then there is the Sports section.  Organized sports are occupations that blur the boundaries we try to put around leisure, self-care and work.  Sports can represent any one or all of these categories. The list of sports in this Saturday sports section includes:  Track and Field, Basketball, Baseball, Football, Golf, Soccer, Autoracing and Softball.  In Saturday’s newspaper, the sports section was 10 pages total, only 2 pages less than the main section. For most of us, the sports represented here are spectator sports.  I confess to being an avid follower of parts of the Sports section (and TV) during certain times of the year — namely, in the fall for football and in winter and early spring for basketball.  The meaning of sports in our daily lives can be a force that strongly affects how we schedule our other everyday occupations.  When a game is on, woe betide anyone who tries to lure me away to other everyday distractions.

That’s enough for now.  Perhaps at another time I will tackle the advertisements.  How do the ads reflect everyday occupations??  I would guess, HUGELY.

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