The Joy of Moving Heavy Objects

My job does not ask a lot of me.

Physically, that is.

I stand, point, pace, write on a board and gesticulate (a lot actually) while in class.

Outside of class, I sit at a desk, look at a computer screen and tap on square black plastic keys as I struggle to transform the swirling, muddled thoughts within my head into intelligible ideas and experiences to be shared with others.

I do this for hours.

Usually, I’ll have nothing to show from these hours of effort. And, even on those occasions when I do, there’s no physical manifestation of my work.

You cannot touch what I have created.

I’m still upset about the removal of blackboards from the classrooms. Before whiteboards, after a long day of teaching, I could at least count on chalk covering my hands and pants.

I had evidence of my efforts.

Physical proof that I had moved through this world.

Sometimes I need a tactile reminder that I exist.

So, if there’s a pile of X at point A that needs to be moved to point B, I’m your man.

There’s clarity in this kind of work.

I see the beginning, the end and the in between.

I know how to start, carry out and complete this work.

  • Pick up X at point A.
  • Carry X to point B.
  • Return to point A.

Repeat until complete.

Three steps.

That’s it.

That’s the process.

It holds for all kinds of X: rocks, bricks, cinder blocks, chains, dirt, mulch, bales of hay, bags of cement and more.

It’s best if X is heavy.

It’s even better if X is outside.

It is work that’s under my complete control to do.

And, do well.

There’s no one to frustrate my efforts.

It’s just me, a pile of X, and gravity.

Doing this kind of work is part of my family heritage.

Just being in its presence activates deep motivational memory.

Roll up your sleeves.

Get to work.

Don’t look to machines.

Don’t look to other people.

Do it yourself.

There’s no hesitation.

I jump right in.

I know instinctively what to do.

Gathering piles of X from far-off places and storing, caching and wintering them in nearby places is the original manual labor.

We humans have been doing this elemental labor for millennia.

Doing this kind of work feels natural.

I enter into a head-space where everything is all right.

There’s no:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What will others think?
  • Will this be enough?

There’s no:

  • Backspacing
  • Editing
  • Rewriting
  • Re-doing

I feel a deep-inhaling and long-exhaling sense of relief.

I start to sweat.

Which is a good thing, a great thing.

I love to sweat.

I don’t get to sweat in my job.

I perspire.

I hate to perspire.

Perspiring is half-ass sweating.

It comes from all of the wrong places: self-doubt, worry, and me kind-of-knowing but still-denying that what I’m doing for my job may not be what I should to be doing.

But, when doing this kind of work, I get to sweat.

I don’t try to stop it.

I give into it.

Let it go.

And, it pours out of every pore.

Cleansing me.

This kind of work is pure.

There’s no audience.

There’s no external metrics.

I’m not trying to get likes or readers.

I have no other motivation for doing the work other than doing the work.

I am not looking forward in time.

I am present focused.

I am doing this.

Only this.

There’s an intimacy between me and the work.

And, when what was once at point A is now at point B, that’s it.

I’m done.


But, I do not leave.

I linger a bit at point A.

I stare at bare earth or an empty truck bed.

I feel accomplished.

After that, I usually go find someone I love, drag them over to point A, point at point B, and say “I did that” with a proud, toothy smile.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn


Other Posts from the “Manual Labor” Series:


Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash