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A couple months ago, it finally hit me.
I was feeling pretty bummed every time Heath and I spoke to the press or to our new boss for the day. These were supposed to be exciting moments! People wanted to hear our story and people were letting us into their lives. This is what we dreamed of when we started our journey.
Bummed really doesn’t explain how I felt. I was sad. Disheartened. Frustrated. I felt small and unimportant.
During every interaction or interview, they would turn to me and ask “So, you just follow Heath around all day? You just film everything Heath does? You’re just the camerawoman?” Or worse, when people wouldn’t realize that I’m a valid human life and ask if I just wait around all day hanging out in our RV. Yes, it’s the 1950s and I’m a stay-at-RV wife who reads books and eats bonbons all day waiting for my delightful husband to return home from a long day at work where I greet him with a kiss on the cheek and a casserole.
People ask me these questions all the time. Well that’s not entirely true. That’s what reporters or bosses would ask me when there was an uncomfortable silence while the news cameraman followed Heath around to capture b-roll and they felt compelled to talk to the boring bride. When there was a lull or Heath wasn’t around, that’s when people would find time to talk to me.
Everyone is always shocked to find that I don’t work the jobs alongside of Heath. And after seeing Heath step knee-high into cow manure, get kicked by children and endure hours of swimming laps for lifeguard training, there’s no way I would volunteer to work all of the jobs alongside him. Instead, I film the jobs, following Heath around with the camera and getting to know our co-workers for the day.
“Oh, okay. So you’ll just be filming him all day,” they say. Then our boss will give us a tour through wherever we’re working for the day and begin introducing us to all of the employees.
“This is Heath, he’ll be working here today and this is his wife, what’s-your-name-again?”
For my entire life, people have struggled to remember and pronounce my name. I wonder if Alyssa Milano has to put up with this too.
For a long time, these frequent interactions made me jealous of Heath because he shined in the limelight. I didn’t understand why I was jealous really. I had no desire to be in front of the camera. I really didn’t want to work all of the jobs. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so much jealousy and frustration when I was more proud of him than anything.
It wasn’t that they remembered his name and I answered to what’s-your-name-again, but that all of the attention was focused on him, as if he were doing this all on his own. I was just there, holding a camera.
One day, I snapped. We were a few months into the journey and suddenly I realized what was getting me down. Someone said that terrible word that I had heard what felt like a million times already.
“So you just follow Heath around with the camera?”
“Yes, that’s just what I do.“
I realized in that moment how often people used the word “just” to describe me. I’m not a judge. They weren’t calling me just and fair. They were using the word in its most belittling state. Just. Simply. Only. No more than.
Slowly, without me noticing it at first, this one little four letter word was ripping me apart.
I just blog.
I just film.
I’m just the wife.
Heath works just one day.
We’re just on our honeymoon.
When your whole job and life is described to you using the word just, it sends a very clear message.
You are not enough.
That’s what people are implying, right? I just film someone else’s life all day, so clearly my own story is not worthy enough to be told, right? Or I just follow Heath while he works, so I must not be brave enough or good enough to work all of the jobs myself, right?
I need to do more, to be more, if I want to be worthy enough. Worthy enough for what, I don’t know. But it’s clear from their tone that just filming a documentary isn’t enough. Just quitting your jobs and moving into an RV for your first year of marriage isn’t enough. Just doing what you love isn’t enough.
You have to be more. You’re not impressing me, the word reveals. It’s one small word that can be said with a smile, but sneaks in and diminishes who you are.
The word is so miniscule that I don’t think people realize what they’re saying every time they say it to me, or to anyone really. Maybe you’re saying it to people and you don’t even realize it.
As part of our mission when we chose to create Hourly America, we decided to focus on the stories of hourly workers across the country. Our mission is to show how ordinary people across the country, especially those who work jobs that are often overlooked by society, can have amazing life stories.
I think in a lot of ways, our mission is to get rid of describing people as just one thing. You’re just a waitress. Just a janitor. Just a barista.
You’re more than that. You’re more than enough. You’re an hourly employee, a mom, a marathon runner, a published author. Or you’re a bartender, a singer, a dancer, and a violinist. (That’s how I would describe two of the awesome people we met on the road.) You’re more than what people can see on the outside.
I’m a filmmaker, writer, a consultant, a wife, an RVer, and lots of other things. And no, I don’t just spend all my time holding a camera and adoring my husband’s every move all day long. Okay actually I do, but not in the totally boring, I-have-no-life way that people make it sound. He’s just really cute.