In April of 2009, I accepted a position as a grant writer for a non-profit arts organiztion. This non-profit is located in what Business Week Magazine last year named the 16th richest town in America. I’m pleased to report that as of this week I have emancipated myself from this job in this quaint village that Business Week Magazine assures us is the 16th richest town in the nation.
I’m here to report to you that there are BURDENS associated with living in the 16th richest town in the country.
Now, though I was a “knowledge worker” and though I dutifully dressed like a bank teller every day, I might as well have worn a tinker’s apron and smeared my face with grease, so evident to them was my membership in the laboring classes.
My assessment of conditions in the well-tended village with its well-tended people is that the primary effect on the inhabitants of the 16th richest town in America is that on the one hand, they have a bulletproof certainty that they are better than you in every way you could name, while on the other hand they are gripped by the excruciating discomfort arising from the knowledge that there are FIFTEEN RICHER TOWNS IN AMERICA.
I know. Take a moment. Sit with that.
Perhaps the most vexing, the most bedeviling, the most maddening and unjust aspect of this hurtful, hurtful list, however, was the fact that while the majority of the other Richest Towns in America had the DECENCY to be situated in the tony suburbs of D.C. or out Silicon Valley way, the NUMBER TWO TOWN on the list was RIGHT DOWN SHERIDAN ROAD, not FIVE MILES away, just sitting there, GLOATING.
It’s like you’re Slugworth and right down the road is Wonka’s factory, mocking you. And you, Slugworth, with your scarred face and your lack of charisma, are STUCK with your inferior empire. And Wonka. With his Oompa Loompas and his his joie de vivre is right down the street. Which. Just. KILLS. You.
While it feels important in the interests of accuracy to state that I did encounter noteworthy exceptions to this tendency – persons who had maintained a degree of perspective about their relative position in the world, and to remain mindful of their good fortune – these handful of people seemed always aware that their affluence arose from a modest amount of work, true, but was largely the result of a happy confluence of their geography and race and class. These few people were able to regard these fortuitous quirks of birth and place as precisely this, and to regard their position and capacities of time and capital as an opportunity to be of service in the world.
Each of these generous-minded people was contented and tranquil. Perhaps it goes without saying that these generous-minded people were deeply unpopular among the other residents of the village. The other residents of the village – those right-minded citizens who had the good sense to seethe with resentment about the FIFTEEN OTHER U.S. TOWNS THAT HAD GREATER PER CAPITA WEALTH regarded these few generous-minded residents as misguided and more than a little weird.
These generous-minded residents, these… weirdos, seemed unavailable to devote the kind of grooming time that had come to be expected in the village. These weirdos seemed unable, unwilling, or – perish the thought – UNINTERESTED in logging the kind of time in the manicurists’ chair each week that yielded the desired suppleness of one’s hands.
The RIGHT-minded citizens of the village had come to agree that the experience of touching the human hand should be akin to clasping a latex glove filled with tepid pudding. Not only did the weirdos’ hands bear the traces of – it pains one to say it – EFFORT and USE, in their frankly appalling lack of suppleness, the nails at the ends of these fingers tended to be both scandalously under-shaped and to have tips that were not French in the slightest.
The weirdos further did not or could not see the virtues of an adequate amount of the right kind of attention paid to the volume and color of one’s hair. These weirdos – in FLAGRANT defiance of convention – would INSIST on wearing their flat and lifeless hair in ways that did not require the frequent professional intervention that the right-thinking citizens of the village have come to recognize as indepensible. When to do so calls into question the need of the village’s scrum of Eastern European hair stylists and colorists who roll into town in their Jettas each morning. To say nothing of the brown-skinned ladies who sweep up the hair.
These weirdos, with their lank, unsassy hair are taking food right straight out of the mouths of our sad brown-skinned ladies who lurch out of the Metra every day to sweep up our hair.
And let me tell you something else about these weirdos with their big jerk faces. Those faces have NEVER once gone under the knife – these weirdos, they have old-looking, un-improved faces. I mean, so OK, you’re afraid of surgery or have like a philosophical thing or whatever, but they don’t TAN.
But if the right-thinking citizens of the village were to isolate a single crime of the weirdos, it would not be their unsupple hands, or their unglamorous hair, or their untanned, uncarved faces, it would be this:
These weirdos are known to eat. Food. Publicly. They, like, INGEST food. In full view. Of strangers. Now, the right-thinking citizens of the village would the be first to concede the need to choke down a bite or two when their own daughters are nearby, so that Olivia and Madison and Sophia and Brookly can develop a healthy body image and don’t get all… fixated on food.
But to see these, these weirdos… chewing. And then swallowing. Over and over again. Well, I don’t mind telling you that the right-thinking citizens of the village are quite frankly sickened by the sight of it.
Every time the right-thinking citizens of the village are compelled to bear witness to the SPECTACLE of these so-called generous-minded residents of the village putting all that, that FOOD down their gullets – right there in the center of town, they know – AGAIN – that these weirdos are simply… not. The right kind. Of people.
Now, Play may be nice. Play may be fun. But it doesn’t fucking MATTER to you.
Confucius famously observed: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Later that same week, Confucius also said:
“If Debbie in Marketing does not give it a rest about her fucking cats, I swear to Christ I will open my wrists in the break room. If she says one more WORD about the fucking ointment she’s gotta put on that one cat’s anus, I swear to GOD I will slash my wrists right in her face.”
Sage words. As true today as when he wrote them two thousand years ago.
This is the thing: the difference between WORK and A JOB. Your WORK fires your imagination and imbues you with a sense of purpose, it create a sense of flow and drive and propulsion in your life – it is both journey and destination, aim and end. You do your WORK whether you have to or not – you wedge it into the tiniest crevice in your schedule – you continue with it no matter how dense and complex your life becomes.
Hitler’s JOB was to be der Fuhrer. His WORK was to be painter. Which is an important lesson: if you know what your work is, don’t suck at it. You’ll end up super pissed. Like Hitler.
Einstein’s JOB was to be a patent clerk. His WORK was to forever alter our perception of space-time. This is another good lesson: if you can swing it at all, be a genius.
If you are Tom Cruise, your JOB is to fan the embers of your waning celebrity. Your WORK is to be tiny, closeted mouthpiece for a creepy non-religion.
And if you are ME, your JOB is to spend your days raising money for a theater, but your WORK is to be Overlord of WRITE CLUB.
Think of it this way: a JOB is a set of shears. Your time on earth is a bolt of fabric. This fabric is precious to you – it is the only time you possess. But so then these SHEARS cut all these irregular shapes out of your fabric, compromising and frankly fucking up your vision of what this fabric was to become. The pattern of a life well lived might to you resemble a floor-length garment like a dashiki.
Every hour you spend at a Job, and getting there and back, and every stray thought about some bullshit thing your boss said two days ago. All the moments of all the days you squander on a Job are STOLEN from your fabric. As a consequence of this, the dashiki of your life that you envisioned is no longer possible.
Because of the snipping and trimming and slicing of these ASSHOLE shears, you will be lucky if you can salvage a pair of culottes from the fabric of your own life. Instead of the stately and regal dashiki in your mind’s eye, you’re stuck with these culottes that are unflattering, and frankly more than a little demeaning. Your ass not only looks huge, but they are badly out of season, and you have squandered your adult life on the construction of these culottes, which your friends all agree was a bad miscalculation.
This is not the case with WORK. Your Work is something you will defend. Where your Work is concerned, when you get some bulllshit call, you will not let stand – you will blitz the line judge in the McEnroe style – a mushroom cloud of hair brimming over your headband:
“You CANNOT be serious!”
At a Job, when somebody shits on you, you just shrug and check your watch and hit the vending machines and you’re like “Ooh. Krackle Bar,” and forget all about it. And, I mean LOOK at yourself, man: you are SETTLING for a Krackle Bar. A waxy, flavorless Krackle Bar, dude. Grow a pair. And get to fucking WORK, OK?
Work sustains you. A Job feeds off of you. Like a tapeworm.
You get stoked about your Work. You get ground down by your Job.
You are a giant-killer in your Work. At your Job, you are a piss-ant.
You are a sex machine in your Work. At your Job, you are a eunuch.
And if you talk about your POSITION at an organization, what you have there, my friend, is a JOB that you hate, but that you are pathetically trying to convince people is something awesome and prestigious.
Your PROFESSION is still a Job, but you can only get it if you stay in school for a long-ass time.
If you have a GIG, you’re trying to convince us that your Job is cool. Which it isn’t. It just means you’re allowed to where your Chucks and jeans there. But they will still bitch you out if you show up late, and we will find you to be a douche if you persist in calling it a gig.
Your CAREER is a string of Jobs. So you can track your failure over time, as you trapeze from one irrelevance to another.
Work – real work – matters to you. Maybe not as much as your kids or your wife or your dog, but it matters an awful lot.
If there is a fire, you know the five things you need to grab to continue your Work – the things that you cannot let burn because they are too fucking important. In your Work, you will persevere, you will redouble your efforts. You will abide.
If there is a fire at your Job, you will walk away without snagging a thing. You will stand across the street watching blankly as that shithole burns to the ground.
Tasty audio of Open Letter from Ian as Dean of Mean, available here.
Text only, vid on way:
Yes is not merely a fallacy, it is a pathetic delusion.
Yes is cake-ass. Yes is weak and silly. Yes wears RIDICULOUS sweaters. Yes is annoying and has stupid hobbies, like those hippie juggling sticks. Yes is a borderline retard brimming with unfounded enthusiasm.
Irritating? For sure. But ultimately it does not matter. Because Yes is doomed.
Every Yes turns into a No. Every one. How? Scale. If you look at ANYTHING from far enough away, it is reduced to nothing.
Even the most resolute and certain-sounding Yes dissolves into No.
The most the most buoyant and hopeful Yes – the one that contains all the promise and realizes all the aspirations – that lofty, rousing Yes that makes you want to man the ramparts and comfort the afflicted and TEACH a man to fish – that Yes? It will come to nothing. It will be forgotten. It will be buried under layer upon layer of No.
Here. Lemme show you what I’m talking about. (Pick AUDIENCE MEMBER.) What is your name, please? And how old are you right now? Final question: will you be alive in a hundred years’ time?
No. You won’t and I won’t and he won’t and she won’t and they won’t and NONE of us will.
The cutest baby you can imagine. Will be dead. In a comparatively short time. The most adorable Asian baby, with the giant shimmering, long-lashed eyes, and that awesome hair that’s like a crazy rooster comb, and his fat little fingers? Dead. Gone. Like he was never here.
The split between Yes and No isn’t about Positive vs. Negative – the answer to the question “Is the glass half empty or half full?” doesn’t fucking MATTER, because whatever your subjective perceptions regarding the METAPHORICAL meaning of the glass and its contents don’t pertain, because the LITERAL water will evaporate – the ACTUAL glass will crack and be ground down by time and the elements.
Yes and No is a false dichotomy – it isn’t an either/or proposition, because Yes at some point drops out of contention. Yes will falter and wither and expire.
No stretches into perpetuity. No is eternal.
No enfolds us as the winged jaws of the Venus Flytrap. Our bodies and our memories and our families and our ancestors and our species and the whole empire of dust we are so busily constructing.
Think about oh, say, just as a for-instance, The Fucking Universe. What is it even made of? Well, mostly, it’s made of Dark Matter. Which we cannot SEE, have no means of detecting, have never actually observed – we can only INFER that it’s there because the observable universe – all the matter in all the galaxies and stars and planets is like puniest little ass hair of the amount of what OUGHT to be there.
All that matter – all that Yes – is like a sty in the eye of a gnat that’s on bird that’s on rhino that’s on a vast grassy plain. The sty is Yes. The gnat and the bird and the rhino and the vast grassy plain are all No.
Look: if we could combine the intelligence of every one of us in this room and stuff it into one head, and then put together a whole team of those guys, and put that team underground at Fermi Lab and CERN and the Stanford Linear Accelerator with the most sophisticated machines EVER MADE FOR ANY PURPOSE, and asked them to find the most fundamental thing there is, which is called the Higgs Bosun particle, what would they tell us? NOTHING.
These no-foolin’ geniuses have spent BILLIONS of dollars and it it’s taking them decades to tell us that they BELIEVE Higgs Bosun is there.
Literally the smartest people in the whole, wide world. With the best equipment there is. Big. Fat. Goose egg.
The best minds we have. Cannot prove that the universe exists. Hey, I know: kill the messenger. But you know what? Take it up with the structure of REALITY, OK?
All the Yes that makes you and me and EVERYTHING is fucking DWARFED by the swirling cloud of No that provides the CONTEXT for everything.
Everything you think you know, everything you think you can see – is only PERMITTED to exist because it is suspended inside an all-pervading pool of “No” that underlies and surrounds and suffuses everything.
Which sounds an awful lot like God. So all your prayers are being answered. It’s just that the answer is fucking NO.