Talking with John DeMont about A Good Day’s Work

IMG_1311You might not know what the word “SackVegas” means, but people from Nova Scotia do. And do you know who falls into that category other than my family and friends that read my blog? John Demont, author of the new book A Good Day’s Work. Last week he was visiting the Random House of Canada offices doing publicity and given my excitement for his book, I was thrilled to learn that I was going to get the opportunity to interview him.

John DeMont is a reporter for the Chronicle Herald, but he’s also the author of a brilliant new book that I wrote about a few weeks ago saying it, “captures not only the nostalgia of specific work, but the importance of jobs that have helped shaped the world we live in today.” Once we got the causalities of my lovely home town out of the way, we chatted about his book, discussing the disappearance of jobs that were once so prominent, about what the word manners means today and why he chose to write this book in the first place.

Here is the full interview:

LR You discuss the idea of looking back in the prologue, specifically the year 1967, when times were simpler and the Canadian economy was booming. What was the point in your reflecting that you decided to write A Good Day’s Work and shed light on how the Canadian workforce has changed?

JD It’s a couple of things. I chose 1967 because I wanted a base point to compare what was and what is now. I was 11 and I was a middle class boy living in Halifax and life was good, so I decided to use it as my point of reference. My family had coalminers and steelmakers in it and now all those jobs were gone and it got me thinking about disappearing jobs and it morphed into this book about Canada.

There once was an iconic Canada, small town, close communities and that’s disappearing and I thought that we can use the lens of these jobs I researched in this book to get at that story.

LR Well it’s actually ironic, because I work in social media, so reading this was fascinating for me because my job has affected many of the jobs you explored in the book.

JD Well even coming up here has changed because going into independent shops is exciting because we don’t have many of them in Halifax anymore. And it’s odd because the normal, run of the mill stuff has changed because of technology and our manners have changed too. You use to have to deal with people all the time, manners were something you had to learn and now you can go the whole day without talking to anyone. You can self checkout, you can get your own money, you can fill up your gas tank. Each of those things were once jobs and now they don’t exist anymore.

LR On page 18 of the book, you write about the individuals you met while researching this novel and say,

“Visiting these people is like having your life played back to you. They make memories rush forward and bubble up. You see your neighbourhood and your childhood unroll before you in someone else’s experience”

Is this why you chose to provide such a descriptive and such an in depth look at their lives?

JD Being able to get inside and see what was going on behind the scenes was wonderful. I was able to experience exactly what they were experiencing by working alongside them. There were a few things that were so alien, but it was a great experience.

LR I thought that by sharing the colour of their hair and describing how they got of bed each morning made it a well rounded book, because I was able to resonate with it and put myself in your shoes. It made it easy to connect to the book.

JD Oh I’m glad to hear that, because the hope and the feeling I want people to take away from reading this book is that these people exist and that mastery, the ability to do something really well can be just for it’s own purpose. We all have to make a living but the blacksmith is lost in the activity. The joy of doing work for its own sake and the community aspect associated with it is not something that should be lost. The community aspect today is lost when you visit a Starbucks to work. You’re there, but nobody’s talking to anyone.

LR No, it’s true. I helped a girl plug in her computer the other day and that was the most interaction we had! Well the next question I had was did you write this book for a specific generation? And were you hoping to reach a new generation but shedding on light on jobs that they might not know ever existed?

JD Uhh… I guess so. I fundamentally, within reasonable perimeters, I write the stuff I find interesting.

LR I think that works.

JD Yeah, I enjoyed the process. I think it will resonate with baby boomers, but I also hope that it will resonate with people your age. I hope it shares the story of these people and their stories, because they are interesting but they’ve experienced something valuable and that’s what I hoped to share.

LR I think that writing from your own perspective is why it works so well. If you’re writing for yourself, it would make it a more enjoyable experience and the reader is able to pick up on that… well I definitely did!

JD Oh that’s great.

LR How long did it take you to develop the relationships and research this book to make it what it is today?

JD Well the process was kind of funny because I had a moving list and we narrowed it down. We worked on it for a long time, coming up with possibilities and I’ve been doing this a long time, but there was certainly a courtship process to it. Almost in every case, I had great help in getting the right people to work with and every one worked out perfectly.

LR It was interesting to travel along with you as you went through the whole day with them.

JD Some cases were hard, because you had to do a number of shifts to get the full story. You’re taking notes and you’re helping them perform their job, it could be difficult.

LR If you had a crystal ball, are there jobs that exist today that you think will be obsolete in twenty years?

JD Yeah, I think so. For example, I learned about some new information recently about 3D printers. The fact that you can print stuff like that is mind boggling, which of course will affect manufacturers. I don’t know much about it, but it had my head spinning. I mean, the most essential person today is the IT tech and as computers continue to progress that’s going to change. But you see it all, shoemakers, manufacturers. We live in such a disposal society.

My Mother still has the furniture she had when she was first married and I just don’t think people your age are expecting to have the same sofa you have today in sixty years. But back then you took care of it, you got it upholstered, because you wouldn’t throw anything out, it was the era of the depression. But now we throw out electronics, furniture, everything.

On the other hand, you go to the Farmer’s Market and they’re trying to do it the old way in a modern way. People do see a value in that thing, and doing something well for it’s own sake, it exists. It’s just a way of finding a vehicle for it.

LR Oh of course. I have friends that have urban gardens, who are trying to go back to the organic things but it’s something that takes a lot of work and unfortunately, its convenience over the work and that’s a little sad. That’s why I liked this book so much because it was so refreshing. The cases and people you spoke about are doing jobs that I haven’t thought about it in a really long time and I felt nostalgic while reading remembering the feeling of waiting in a lineup to buy a new CD or putting the Yes/No sign in our window for milk.

JD And even terms of reference. Words we use today, like the word billboard. In twenty years, will people know what that word means? Work is so deeply engrained and the things that were made in our culture and in our language aren’t even going to be there.

LR I think that this book is going to spark so many conversations and it’s one I’m so excited about!

JD Well that’s wonderful, thanks so much!

LR Safe travels back and next time you’re in SackVegas, you think of me.

JD Laughter Definitely! Thanks again.

*And there you have it friends, my interview with the fabulous John DeMont. If you’re looking for a book that take you on a walk down memory lane, I highly suggest picking this one up and giving it a read. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s a book that matters and its a book that you’ll be thankful you have on your shelf for years to come.

My thanks to Scott Seller’s for allowing me the opportunity to conduct this interview.

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