Posts Tagged ‘ambition’

Getting It Into the Air

October 24, 2016

tintin-swimmingpool1

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

 

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From the Editor’s Perch…

July 31, 2014
Seattle and Environs

Seattle and Environs

In the Big Cities There’s Really Only One Game in Town, and It’s Out of Town

 

A criticism lobbed by the inhabitants of our large cities of our country’s rural areas and small towns is that they are ‘provincial’.  And ‘provincials’ are seen as uneducated and unsophisticated people who have the speech and narrow, limited attitudes of rustics and small town Babbitts.  This is seen as a bad thing.  And in some respects I’d suppose it is.

 

However, there is at least one respect in which small town life is refreshing.  I’ve lived in Seattle for many years, and now I live in rural Belpre Ohio, a small town across the river from Parkersburg, West Virginia.  Most people here are as they pretend to be.  Your waitress is a waitress.  Your bank teller is a bank teller.  The electrician, garbage collector, lock repairman, heating and air conditioning fellow, the insurance salesman, the nurse, and on and on are who they pretend to be.  And so far I’ve found them to be quite competent, solid and hard working.

 

I was talking over our policies with my insurance salesman who has his office a couple blocks away just the other day.  He’s a younger fellow, smart, good looking, and working out of a small cottage converted to business use which is on the main thoroughfare.  He had always lived in a small town and was wondering if he shouldn’t try living in a big city for a while, and asked me what I thought the differences were.  Off the top of my head I said, “Well, they’re probably more ambitious.”  But I was ruminating more on this after leaving his office, when it occurred to me, that a most interesting difference was that the people in large cities see themselves as acting on a world stage.  They see their concerns as world concerns.  They see themselves as arbitrating the path of civilization, the future of our planet.  Their concerns are big and important… usual crucial.  So they can get pretty hot about them.  In this small town I’ve moved to, the concerns are much more human-sized.  (Though they can still get hot about them.)

 

A problem I’d had in the big city was that probably all of the people I knew were not on a world stage.  They discussed things as if we were.  But actually the world stage for whatever issue we were discussing was usually New York or Washington D. C.  or some other world capital where the actual Mandarins of opinion worked and thrived.  My personal experience was not a credible currency for argument.  What was credible and powerful in conversation was information, opinion – and especially attitude – as disseminated by these Mandarins… all of the talking heads out there in the media.  So, though important conversations on the face of them seemed to be between the people you were speaking with, they were actually discussions over the digressions of various mandarins.  This is tedious once you begin to recognize the mandarins.  You’ve heard all the moves and countermoves.  It is also suffocatingly pedantic.  In this respect, the blogosphere is a recent help.   You send me your link.  I’ll send you my link.  We save each other the waste of a lot of hot air – the inaccuracies of interpretation.  And neither of us read it.

 

In the big city the waiter is not a waiter, (they’re actors, artists!), the salesman is not a salesman (he’s a promoter), the tech fellow is not a tech fellow (he’s an entrepreneur), your teacher is writing a book…  Not many Americans in big cities.  They are World Citizens.  In the big cities married people are not really married (in the traditional sense), nor are they really religious, nor are they really the sex they appear to be (either through clothing or desire)…

 

Everybody is a big potato in the big city!  No small potatoes there.  I used to complain to my wife that, “I wish many of my artist friends would just admit that we are small potatoes.  Maybe we will become big potatoes some day.  But if we could just admit that right now we are small potatoes – maybe we could have a satisfying conversation.”  But up and onwards the whole system goes in its ambitious, progressive frenzy.

 

In the big cities there is really only one game in town, and it’s out of town.  In the provinces there’s really only one game in town, and it’s right here.  There’s the big difference.

Belpre Ohio1

Photos by Google Images

 


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