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Farewell letter from co-founder JoAnne Swanson

MAY 3rd, 2004 UPDATE

Dearest CLAWS supporters,

I had no idea when I started CLAWS how widely this vision would spread, nor how many people would be inspired by my work. Apparently I have sown some seeds that have travelled far and wide. It has been a joy beyond measure to hear supportive words from so many of you.

When I started CLAWS, I thought I was alone, or at least part of a tiny minority. I do not exaggerate when I say that the idea of doing something I didn't care about for money, for 40 hours a week until I turned 65, filled me with despair. A life like that, I knew, would kill me - it would break my spirit, deaden my heart, and make me into a walking zombie. I knew of nowhere I could turn for support in expressing my discontent and creating a hopeful vision for something better; the closest it got was a gripe-fest in the break room or around the office water cooler.

I knew in my heart that something was very seriously wrong with jobs as I knew them, and for years I had quietly devoted myself to figuring out what exactly that was. However, I kept my feelings of alienation and despair mostly to myself. The fear engendered in me by the work ethic and its many manifestations ("what, are you just lazy?") was a formidable foe. I imagined that as the creator of CLAWS, I would have to endure ridicule, censure, threats, glib dismissals, and worse. What I didn't know then - and what I've learned through creating CLAWS - is that people are hungry for these ideas. I'm not alone, and I'm no longer even sure I'm in the minority. People all over the world have written to CLAWS, telling me they agree that there is something dreadfully wrong with the "job system," sharing the ways the ideas on this site have changed their lives. They know in their bones that work is meant to be undertaken in a spirit of abundance, for the sake of love, even if they do not articulate it in exactly that way. The fact is that 99% of my feedback about this site over the past five years has been wholly positive. I like to think that positive response is the result of my firm commitment to producing work that speaks to the heart and spirit as well as the mind.

Whywork.org has been online since 1999, when it merged with Sarah Nelson's Leisure Party site. When Sarah decided to "retire" and move on to other things in her life, she turned over her work to me, after determining that I shared a similar vision; that's how whywork.org was born. And now, after much agonizing, I must announce that the time has come for me, too, to release CLAWS, concentrate on other things, and retire from maintenance of this site.

If you've ever designed and maintained a web site, you know how much time and care must be invested just to keep up with broken links, not to mention producing new content. For more than five years, I have paid all fees associated with the site, answered almost all the e-mail received at the CLAWS inbox, organized in-person meetings, administered the e-mail discussion list, and on occasion, lost sleep over how to handle some dilemma that CLAWS brought into my life. I continued this to the best of my ability even in the face of many health difficulties. And for almost all of those five years, it has unquestionably been worth it, as it has been a labour of love.

But that, I'm afraid, is no longer true. I have become burned out. Maintenance of this site has come to seem like a burden - like, dare I say it, a job. It is no longer a labour of love for me. I hasten to add that this is NOT because I have ceased to believe in the goals and mission of CLAWS, but because I simply cannot bear spending long hours in front of the computer in the way that a quality web site and e-mail discussion list demands, nor can I bring myself to be satisfied with less. I have only a limited number of hours that I can sit in front of the computer, and it is high time to devote all of them to my writing. I want to finally finish the book I've been working on for several years (On the Leisure Track: Creating Radical Alternatives to Conventional Employment). That, unfortunately, leaves nothing left for web site maintenance.

I firmly believe that if I cannot work with love, it is a sign that I am being called elsewhere, to other things, and thus I should bid my farewell. Enjoyment, excitement - these are signals; they are spirit's way of giving me a nudge, as if to say "this way!" That's the way I felt when I started CLAWS, and for many years afterward. But now I wake up with a burdensome feeling rather than an inspired, joyful feeling at the thought of working on the web site. I take this to mean that it is time to turn my attention elsewhere. If I were to lower my standards instead, and do a haphazard job on the site, I would not only do the site's visitors a great disservice, but I would betray my own original vision: a world where everyone can work for joy, not merely scrape by in a job for a paycheck. If I am to do my part toward a world like that, I have to live the vision, not just pay it lip service. If I give anything less than my all, the site ceases to be a manifestation of love, and I do not honour the spirit that worked through me to infuse CLAWS with heart over the past five years. Not to mention, the site's visitors would be able to tell the difference right away. Many people have told me they responded well to "the energy that came through on your site" or the sense of encouragement, hope, and inspiration they found here. I'd like to underscore the important point that the energy and inspiration of which these folks speak is a product not just of artistic vision or honing of the writer's craft, but of working with joy.

For the last two years I have been trying, without success, to find someone to take over maintenance of the website and discussion list. I had a few offers, and a good man named John O. Andersen (author of Unconventional Ideas) took over the list for a short time, but I have not been able to find the right person to take over long term. Given the love I put into this work, it is very important to me that whoever might be my successor share a similar vision for CLAWS. Since no one has filled this role, I have decided that I would rather leave the site in its current form than turn it over to someone who would co-opt the material here for less radical purposes or otherwise compromise the hopeful, spiritual vision of the site. I hope you will understand that this is not about me and my ego - I'm more than willing to let my work go, releasing it into the safekeeping of someone else who will breathe new life into it or add their own unique take on these ideas. After all, I put my work here as a gift, an offering, in the first place. My insistence upon the highest standards of vision for CLAWS comes from my belief that to settle for anything less would be tantamount to abandoning the heart of what makes CLAWS worthwhile.

One lesson I've taken from the past five years is the importance of community in any vision of a world free of wage slavery. One can only continue to work with love, it seems to me, when one is integrated into a supportive, modestly sized community where there are opportunities to give and receive in ways that enrich the larger whole as well as our individual selves. Jobs, and the mobility they demand, too often drive wedges into our communities, forcing people to leave their dear family and friends behind in pursuit of opportunities to earn money. If we as a society are to work with love and not just take jobs for money, we must devote ourselves to re-establishing community in the modern world. Community is something deeper than having shared interests or political views. It arises in the form of villages, tribes, clans that understand and live their connection to the land, the locality. It has a timetable of its own; it builds gradually, takes many forms, and cannot be rushed. The "job system" is anathema to this vision of community. "Work," however, is not.

It has certainly not escaped my attention that my own ability and time to produce the CLAWS site in the first place was the product of a community effort. I may have been the most visible "channel" through which CLAWS came into being, but the result was generated through a collaboration amongst many people. These folks have inspired me, generously given of their time, money, encouragement, ideas, and love. They believed in the vision of CLAWS and my ability to "midwife" it, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

And last but certainly not least, I thank you - the visitors to the CLAWS site, the supporters of the vision I put forth. So many of you have written to offer your thoughts, ideas, and thanks, sometimes offering me glimpses into your own lives and struggles to free yourselves from the clutches of wage slavery. These words I offer you now cannot begin to capture the joy your words have brought me. Your letters have lifted my sagging spirit, inspired me to take up the mantle and continue onward with my mission in life, and delighted me beyond compare. If you ever feel yourself growing despondent, please know you can take heart in the awareness that you're not alone in your desire for something better than "jobs." Don't compromise yourself. Hold out for the real thing: pursue what really makes your heart sing. Don't let the naysayers - and don't kid yourself, there will always be naysayers - convince you to settle for less.

Farewell, fellow travellers, and may the spirit of community enrich your work always. May you never labour in a job, but always work for love.

-D. JoAnne Swanson