Credits + Gratitude:
2020 Interviewee: Rabbi Menachem Cohen
2050 Interviewee: Ursula Delany, Pathfinder, played by Hunter Harris.
Host/"The Narrator" (2020/2050): H Kapp-Klote
Mixing, Engineering: Jonathan Groubert
Audio support: Katie In
Moral Support, Story Strategy: Lawrence Barrier and the Center for Story Based Strategy Class
Story Editing: Zoe Schein
Notes: This episode is a test run -- my hope is to get feedback from others on what they like, dislike, and make Working 2050 even better for the next 5 planned episodes (and beyond).
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with thoughts, feedback, and more.
To learn more about Rabbi Menachem's work check out: http://whatmakesyoucomealive.net/
To learn about his project adapting a spiritual version of Dreamchaser, check out: https://www.imagininggames.com/
Pathfinder is a real (and very popular) game from Dungeons and Dragons. The 2050 career as a whole is likely a direct descendant of RPG games like played with this system. However, this template is unlikely to be the basis for Ursula Delany's game The Demon Within.
H: This is Working 2050, a speculative oral history about workers of the future.
We talk to people about what they do all day and how they feel about it. Then we write science fiction about what the future might look like in 2050.
My name is H + I’ve always been confused about what the word work means.
One of my first memories is my mom spending hours at our kitchen table, preparing for a teachers union negotiation. She, along with other teachers, were demanding more time to prepare their classrooms in the summer. I didn’t get it.
“So... you’re asking to do more work?” I remember asking.
That was how I first learned the word “work” means a lot of different things.
H: Some people, including my mom, would tell you the story of work like this: work is labor. It’s what you spend to get a paycheck.
Some people profit from your work.
The owner, the upper class, the 1%, They use your work, their profit, to fund racist police. Or put it in offshore bank accounts.
And capitalism, white supremacy, misogyny makes it so millions of people, most of the world, HAVE to work. They have to work so hard just to survive.
That story of work— is true.
But it’s not the whole story.
H: The global pandemic means more people than ever have to work so hard to survive.
But since the pandemic began, many people’s work has changed drastically.
Whether they’ve been laid off, or started organizing with their neighbors, or now face incredible danger going to work every morning, People work differently now.
And the story of work as only what we do to survive can’t explain that change on its own.
Studs Terkel’s 1973 oral history called Working iis a collection of interviews with people about their work, is subtitled what people do all day, and how they feel about it.
When you think about the story of work as the story of what people do all day and how they feel about it -- you get a better sense of what the word “work” can mean in 2020.
— this story of work gets at why we work.
Why people pour hours into starting a tenants union, or check their email before they go to sleep and as soon as they wake up, or rehearse and record an anthem for a baseball team that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter what kind of work: if it’s paid, unpaid, useful, useless, chaotic, dull.
Sometimes we work to survive.
But sometimes we work because of how it makes us feel.
So: What do people do all day?
How do they feel about it?
H: Here’s an example: When I burned out at my job, I felt miserable doing what I did all day— which was, supporting community organizers in telling stories about their work. Funny, right?
I started doing that work to change the future.
Because boy, do we need to change the future. Mass extinction, eco-fascism, continued pandemic horror is coming. Systemic racism, misogyny, homophobia, regular fascism, is already here.
But not all change is good. And instead of changing the future, I changed, feeling more and more hopeless everyday.
And that, at the heart of it, was why I felt miserable doing what I did all day: I stopped believing in my ability to change the future.
That’s when I started reading a lot of science fiction.
Menachem: My first character was a rogue. I don’t know if I knew too much about what that really meant.
H: That’s Rabbi Menchaem Cohen. They are a spiritual director, rabbi, and Table Top Role Playing Game designer.
Dungeons and Dragons, roleplaying games. Games have been part of his life for decades. But for 13 years, what they did all day was outreach, working with LGBTQI and or homeless youth.
Menachem: And I loved it, and as I was approaching 50, I’m 51 now, I started asking myself what I really wanted my life to be about. And what I wanted to be doing when I was 50, and this was several years ago, I asked the question what really makes me come alive?]
There’s a great Howard Thurman quote, don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive, and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. And for all on that journey, in the expression of our true selves and our souls, we will naturally not want to hurt each other. We want to help each other. Our only purpose in life is to be our true selves.
H: The name of Rabbi Menachem’s practice is WHAT MAKES YOU COME ALIVE.
What makes Menachem come alive?
Menachem: In the 90s I was playing a dungeons and dragons character that talked his way out of everything. And I was like, “eh, that’s not me, that’s my character.” and then one day it clicked: “Oh wait! That IS me! I am the one saying the words that get me, my character out of all sorts of sticky sticky situations and fighting.”
And I realized I was learning something about myself and developing new skills.
H: Using games as a path to guide people on their spiritual journeys. To find their purpose. Menachem sees the stories in games as the key to understanding why we do what do all day, and how we how we feel about it.
Menachem: There’s a biblical story about King David. He’s on his roof and he sees Bathsheba bathing a couple of roofs over and he wants her. So he sends her husband to the front lines of the current fight with orders to leave him alone so he’s killed.
And so that happens and he has Bethsheba brought to his house.
After a month or whatever they get married and it falls on Nathan, the prophet, to come tell David he’s a schmuck.
And he can’t do it directly, right, because he might lose his head.
So he goes to King David and he says “Your highness, may tell you a story?”
Well, of course.
“There was a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had lots of goats and the poor man had one goat. And he loved that goat like a child — he would go in and make cheese and milk. It was, it was a love affair. And the one day the poor man went away, and he asked the rich man to watch his goat. So he did and while he was away the rich man had a traveler stop by and the tradition was to feed the traveler, so he had the poor man’s goat slaughtered.
David’s irate at this point: that man should be punished!”
And Nathan, trying not to smile, I imagine, says “you are the man.”
And King David understood what he had done.
H: Stories reflect our lives. They help us change.
H: When I was burned out at work , I read a lot of science fiction.
The stories I read wouldn’t let me escape. These stories -- by Adrienne Maree Brown, NK Jemisin, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin -- reflected my feelings, the experiences I was trying to escape, back at me.
Stories about our day to day -- our own, and in fiction -- reflected back at us like Nathan’s goat eating rich man — they’re the key to changing what we do all day and how we feel about it.
And that’s the only way to change the future.
So that’s why I asked Menchaem about their story of work -- what they do all day and how they felt about it. What you just heard - that’s what they told me.
Then I wrote a science fiction story, about what someone in the future does all day, and how they feel about it.
Some of this story is a reflection of what Menachem feels about work, and some of it is reflection of how I feel about work.
Both of those reflections contain so many other stories we all tell abt work.
That’s what you're going to hear now.
And when we imagine what the future could feel like -- how people will feel about what they do all day -- we get a little closer to changing that future for the better.
Welcome to Working 2050.