Posts Tagged ‘earning a living’

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

March 26, 2011

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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