From the Editor’s Perch

How to Make a Living

… as an Artiste’

“While waiting to rehearse at a friend’s home many years ago, I spied a title on the spine of a thick book in his bookcase across the dining room table.   I thought it read, “Foundations of Paradise”.  Thinking that this sounds like the title of a great novel!  I must have somehow missed the existence of, I walked across the room to examine it and found what the title actually said was, “Fundamentals of Parasitology”.  Well!   I examined the book anyway, and over the ensuing years I haven’t found any other book that has come as close – to my thinking – in explaining how life works.

One of the astounding things this book had to say was that the vast majority of life is parasitical.  They made the point that if you were to completely dissolve most host animals – you would still be able to describe that animal just from arrangement of the remaining parasites.

What does this have to do with earning a living?  Well!  (I’m glad you asked.)  If you were to completely dissolve the physical structure of any business, you could probably easily tell what sort of business it was just by the arrangement and type of employees left there, (hanging in the air, I suppose).  For example, “Oh look!  There are the cooks, and waiters… receptionist… valet attendants… dishwashers… managers…  My point being, that where as we see ourselves as an entrepreneurial culture, what we mostly are is a culture of quite successful parasites.  For example, take Bill Gates.  What really made his fortune was in attaching himself to the cash stream of IBM by licensing them his software.  Think of the high earning people you know.  Do they really make that money themselves, or are they attached to something (a company),  via a nicely negotiated agreement, which actually generates the cash?

A second point I gathered from reading this book was that, whereas most parasites are hard working (in their own way) – what mostly contributed to their success was their positioning.  Parasites position themselves to be taken advantage of.  The parasite which infects sheep positions itself inside of an insect which climbs on top of a blade of grass which the sheep decides to eat.  Parasites position themselves inside of our food, water, and in our air, everyday. 

This is a very important point.  Because, for example, last night I was discussing with a fellow artist friend how he might earn just a thousand dollars a month.  He had worked the outlay problem, so that with just that small amount of extra earned income he would become self-sufficient; and he could do his work and most of his problems would disappear.  It was frustrating, how we racked our brains!  Because we felt two intelligent healthy artists ought to be able to figure a way to make just one thousand dollars a month from their work… from their talent!

It occurs to me now, that we were characterizing the problem from the wrong position.  It is the host which is the expert in earning the money.  Most companies which make large amounts of money are able to do so because they are very good at taking advantage of large numbers of people.  (I mean this in a good way.)  That’s what makes them a host creature.  They are experts at taking advantage.

So, my friend and I were working the problem from the wrong point of view.  Our real problem is not how to earn money.  That’s the host’s problem.  A good host is an expert in how to take advantage of us.  Our problem is how to position ourselves so as to be taken advantage of.  So, how we should have been putting our minds to work was in looking for a good host.  What’s a good host?  Some entity which makes a lot of money, and which does the sort of thing you’d like to do!  Then you just position yourself nearby as possible –  and try to look vulnerable and attractive.   That is: hard-working, reliable, talented, smart, great attitude, friendly… and most importantly, available.  “Most of being successful, is just showing up,” as Woody Allen says.

A lot of artists get their back up at this suggestion.  Especially women artists.  They stubbornly resist any attempts to take advantage of them.  It becomes a big moral quandary.  I think this is wrong headed.  They should think more like Bob Dylan who said he’d ‘snuck in while the door was open – and now they can’t get rid of me.’ 

Photo by Carl Nelson  (model is John Ruoff)

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2 Responses to “From the Editor’s Perch”

  1. yacman Says:

    Personally, I prefer mutualism rather than parasitism. It transforms capitalism from a zero sum game into a win-win. That way we can all specialize at what we’re best at. The real inequities arise when the market either discounts or inflates value inappropriately. Great poets can starve, but sleazy con men can thrive. I don’t have a solution to this problem of course, but it is a problem.

  2. schn00dles Says:

    Yes, I agree. Coming at this from a ‘tabloid’ stance, I immediately lept for the ‘parasite’ angle – thinking, erroniously I find out, that commensals and mutuals were all held under this banner by the taxonomists. Not true! So, hopefully we can all strive towards mutualism. BUT, being a healthy, well-fed parasite is certainly a beginning! Mother Nature helps those who help themselves! Belly to the front of that line, my friend. Finally, as to ‘sleazy con men’ versus ‘poets’. The major difference I’ve found between these two types is that the sleazy con men who don’t thrive – quit. Poets (love them, though I do) seem to love their own fahrts like a mother loves her children.

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