Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Value Of Time

Erin is in the midst of rehearsals for Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. Rather than spending the evening taking her to rehearsal, going home, and driving back to get her, BK and I have been making the rounds of the local coffee shops. Surprisingly, there are quite a few in Denton. We figure that the time we would spend traversing the country roads is better used for knitting or reading and drinking coffee.

Tonight we went to Starbucks. I am not a big supporter of the monster chains, but we have spent so many nights at the local shop around the corner from the theater that I think the staff there is probably convinced that we are homeless. Tonight I finished reading the script for Draculai, for which I am the prop mistress, and knit on a pair of socks. BK was also working on socks. Our two socks caught the attention of a young college student. She told us how she loves socks and how she thought the ones we were making were "so cool". She then asked if we ever sold them. BK and I looked at each and said in unison, "No." The girl looked a little surprised. She said that she bet we could sell lots of pairs.

I am sure that based on appeal, we probably could sell lots. The reality, however, is that not many people can afford to buy hand knit socks for what they are really worth. Good sock yarn is at least $15 for a pair of socks. It takes me about eight hours to complete a pair of basic socks. Even at $5 an hour, that makes the cost of the socks a minimum of $55, and that is with no "profit". Who would pay that? Nobody. The girl at Starbucks was actually respectful of the fact that the socks were hand made. She did realize that there was value in the time it takes to make them. She parted by saying, "If I ever become rich, I will pay you to make my socks."

This incident has made me think about time and the value we place on it. We all measure time by the same 60 second minute, 60 minute hour, 24 hour day. Why is it that some people's time is worth more than others? Not long ago I paid an electrician $200 an hour to fix a short in an electrical outlet. I paid the refrigerator repairman $80 an hour to fix our ice maker. It costs $60 dollars for five minutes with a doctor. And most of the people who facilitate our daily lives make minimum wage. Where would we be without the grocery store clerks, the servers in our favorite restaurants, daycare workers, . . .Why is it that we are willing to pay our manicurist more per hour for her time than we are the person who cares for our child? There is something fundamentally wrong here.

I realize that most people can not afford a $55 pair of socks, but does that mean that my time is not worth $55? The funny thing about the whole sock issue is that with 2-3 hours I could probably teach the girl to make her own socks. At $20 an hour, the cost of an average knitting lesson,, she could make an endless number of socks for the same price I would charge to make her one pair. So, my time to make the sock is not worth as much as my time to teach her to make the sock herself. How does this make sense? My time is my time. Does this mean I am worth more as a teacher than I am a knitter? Realistically speaking, if I make the socks myself then I know that she would have at least one finished pair of socks. Even if I spend several hours with this girl, there is no guarantee that she will even finish a pair of socks herself. So the money paid to me to teach her to knit could potentially be a waste whereas the money spent to have the socks made at least has a tangible outcome.

Maybe the solution here is to not let others place the value on our time. Perhaps the value of our time must be measured in something other than dollars. I find myself often saying, "That is not worth my time." As I think about the occasions where i have said this, what I am really saying is that my time is valuable to me and I don't gain any pleasure in doing that so I am not going to do it )whatever "it" is.)."

As I sat tonight contemplating the bizarre props necessary for the DCT production of Dracula, it became quite clear that I am going to dedicate much time to the process of gathering and making props - time that is not compensated monetarily, i.e. it is all volunteer. Why am I willing to give this time away but not give away the time to make socks? Maybe I should have offered to make her some socks for free. But, I didn't. I guess I am willing to give all the time to the theater because working props can be fun, challenging, and creative. Wait, so too can making socks. Hmmm . . .Really, no accurate dollar value can be placed on these things. How much does personal satisfaction or joy or fun or creativity cost per hour? Also, how much would you charge someone to make a realistic looking live rat that, when bitten into on stage, spurts real looking blood? Or, a crucifix that spontaneously bursts into flames? Like they say in the credit card commercial . . .these things are priceless!

Thanks for reading this. I know that your time is valuable!