Once I had decided upon becoming a writer, I still had to make a living. Just as the Zen Master must still chop wood and haul water, so I drove a Metro Bus part time. One day, as I was passing through a Seattle suburb, I stopped outside a shopping center for this matronly lady to climb the stairs. As she dug in her purse to locate her fare, she eyed me to say, “You look awfully tired. You must work awfully hard.”
“Actually,” I said, “I work only three and half hours a day.” (Beaming with pride.)
This flummoxed her.
‘Good work, Carl,’ I thought. ‘You’ve stalled another conversation.’
And since I find enduring embarrassment very hard, I added:
“If I work more than three and a half hours a day, I get these terrible rashes!” I rubbed my forearm sincerely.
“Oh!” The woman exclaimed, visibly relieved. “My aunt had that.”
I love pretense and flummery. I love spin. I love taking the day to day quotidian, the endless repertoire of repetitive detail and action which make up the “grit and slog” of our seemingly endless human condition and giving it wings. Or, as my playwrighting teacher used to describe it: “getting this thing up into the air.”
Not so far up into the air as you lose all connection. You don’t want to leave home. No one does really. You just want to get it far enough off the ground so as to realize some possibilities – to reveal a horizon.
As a writer, politician, actor, salesperson, to successfully practice your profession, you must have the knack for engaging your audience’s imagination. Perhaps the impulse is native, or perhaps it comes from being raised in a situation so mired in the actual that a person can’t stop striving to ‘get some air’, even after they’ve broken free. The urge remains. Or, more probably, the urge is an amalgam of both. But, in a writer, the urge can be so strong, that the actual effort of making something ‘practical’ happen gets in the way, takes too much time and attention, absorbs too much of one’s energy. I’m reminded of the cartoonist, Scott Adam’s (Dilbert) testimony, that when he asked writers why they chose the profession they did, the majority answered by saying, “I’m lazy.”
I remember reading of it being said about Whitman, arguably America’s greatest poet, that Whitman was undoubtedly “the laziest person” the speaker had ever met. Though no doubt, he labored over his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, unceasingly, revising, adding, and then adding again, throughout his entire life – otherwise, he was as he describes himself. “I loaf, and invite my soul.”
I have noticed, (and in case I haven’t, people close to me, like my son, have pointed this out), that I would appear to avoid work, shirk a laudable profession, and am otherwise devoid of much practical ambition. From my point of view, it seems astonishing that they cannot see that I literally am working all of the time – all the while they are talking of vacations they are going to take, or just returning from, or of the fun they’ve had playing, with their boats, off-road toys, RVs, or camping, climbing, skiing, surfing, watching sports, drinking, having wild sex or travelling. The diversions others participate in astonish me in their multiplicity, repetition, and time consumption. Also, given that so many of them complain about their jobs all the while – gives it an air of lunacy. Nevertheless, it appears they are right and I am wrong because like in so many areas, there are more of them than there are of me. It’s a democracy! The dictionary is a democracy. Right and wrong are whatever it is said they are. (Only the word roots remain.)
At any rate, I find myself working all of the time: listening, reading, chatting, taking notes, writing, trying to figure out why things are as they are and puzzling about how to take that story or poem a little higher, squeeze it a bit more. Even sending stuff off is tedious. Vacation spots bore me. Adventuring makes me wonder, ‘What am I doing here, stuck on a cliffside?’ Give me a quite room. Help me lift this stuff up into the air. Some trouble free, uninterrupted time. That’s what I like. If I had a million dollars in the bank, that’s where I’d leave it. That’s where it’s working for me just fine. I’ll eat the same thing for breakfast as I had for dinner, thanks. Very little variation in my outer world is best. My inner world? Now here is where I take flight, break free, imagine other people and worlds. I don’t have time to watch endless football. I’ve got it! They try to possess the ball and move it to the goal line, and they wear different colored uniforms.
There you go again Carl. You’ve stalled the conversation.
To see more of Carl’s work, visit: http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html