Saturday, July 19, 2008

Things to Do While Drinking Coffee #2

*bowing once again toward the High Point Cafe, West Mt. Airy, State of Divine Caffeination, USA*

Rasta don’t work for no C.I.A.
Bob Marley

Somebody called me a sell-out...he may have been joking...anyway, if it’s true, I sold out pretty damn cheap...but, then, who’s the definitive sell-out? Judas Iscariot? What’d he get? Thirty pieces of silver? What’s that if you adjust for inflation? Anyway, it’s probably between him and Mick Jagger...who’s made a knighted for chrissake. Then, an alternative approach to that pretentious liberal-arts major "sell-out" crap would be to acknowledge the need to find a balance between art and commerce—or, more broadly, that which brings joy and meaning and that which pays the bills. For a lucky few, the two mingle comfortably—but even they have to worry about bookkeeping, taxes, and other kinds of practical shit that can’t be dealt with so easily when in the throes of creative rapture.

I tend to idealize Van Gogh—not so much for the prostitutes & syphilis, psychosis & depression, or self-mutilation & suicide aspects, but for the absolute go-for-broke, follow-your-muse-no-matter-what type ‘o thing. Of course, he had his brother to support him, but still had to keep asking him for more cash, and manage that cash so rent got paid, food and paint could be bought, and some was left over for the prostitutes and absinthe; and he didn’t just paint for God or his own soul, either. Apparently he got quite frustrated that Theo the big time Paris art dealer couldn’t sell his paintings. So, even passionate Vincent had some sense of balance with crass practicality. Which is not to say one has to compromise everything. Shortly after graduating college, feeling disillusioned with...well, just about everything...I was doing temp work—generally minimum wage crap clerical jobs for investment companies, the kinds of places where I was still far too idealistic to even think about getting a real job. Then one day I got sent to work in the mail room in the local office of some gigantic corporation, not realizing till I got there that this was in fact the company’s nuclear division. Not long before, I’d worked for Greenpeace, demonstrated against nuclear power plants, been arrested protesting nuclear testing. And there I was, wrinkled suit borrowed from my Dad, wondering if I was really cynical enough to simply go with the radioactive flow. To make matters worse, my supervisor liked me so much that, there on my first day, he fired somebody, figuring she wouldn’t be needed with me around. At the end of the day, I went to the temp agency office and told them I had moral issues with the gig. The woman in charge said it was too late to get somebody else, so I’d have to go back the next day. I refused, which seemed like it knocked the wind out of her; “well then we can’t use you anymore,” she said. I said “okay” and walked out. Later, her superior called me and said she shouldn’t have done that, given the circumstances, and I was reinstated. My guess is that it hadn’t even occurred to her that somebody might stand on principle to the point of getting canned, and so figured she could make the threat with no danger of having her bluff called. Of course, after that, they only called me when they were desperate—graveyard shift, breathing dust with co-workers who never failed to share racist jokes.

The normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes. It is also the dead stare in a million adults.
Peter Shaffer, Equus

Twenty years later, with a PhD, I try to scrape by as a freelance writer and editor, inveterate yogi, occasional teacher, and composer of cynical bon mots. It’s never too late to fuck up your life. Money is far from everything, but it sure is nice to have some lying around, ideally enough to serve as a cushion when you fall. Saw a great blog post ( that told about a famous yoga teacher who implied you can’t do savasana properly without immersing yourself in a cocoon of holistic merchandise—as if the yogis in India for the past few thousand years had piles of expensive yoga props—(though, actually, from what I understand, Patanjali himself made a bundle on yoga-themed schwag, even copyrighting the word “sutra,” so that his successive incarnations got royalties whenever anybody came out with a sacred text). Seriously, it reminds me of books that say I should practice yoga or meditate "in a part of your house that you don't use for anything else." (Perhaps the room between the solarium and the indoor tennis court? How about one of my guest cottages?) My yoga practice begins with moving stuff out of the way.

When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land, and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.
Jomo Kenyatta

Exclusive Yoga for Cynics Theatrical Review:
I went to this play called Les Miserables. That’s French for “less miserable.” It’s called that because the main characters die and go to Heaven, which makes them considerably less miserable than running from monomaniacally obsessed lawmen, turning to prostitution to keep from starving to death, or getting shot at by French gendarmes while chasing after unrequited love. Near the end, the dead characters in Heaven sing, “to love another person is to see the face of God,” in perfect harmony. At this particular performance, though, shades of Jesse Helms, Jerry Falwell, and Roy Cohn jumped onstage and added “unless you’re gay,” which kinda ruined it. Those guys couldn’t sing worth shit.


The Natural State Hawg said...

Heh. You sellout!

Kidding -- had to wrestle with some "selling out" questions while making the jump from journalist to public relations.

In the end, you're working for The Man either way...

The Natural State Hawg

Joseph Smith said...

I really like your blog, it's fun and interesting. Awesome set-up, the green's a bit much. But, I love your posts.

Joseph Smith

Jet Fisher said...

van gogh might not have sold anything during his life but his brother dined out on his death for years. the only probem with dying as a martyr for your art is that someone in your family is going to sign away your work to be printed on tea towels and vodka commercials, and what is most fine art now but an exercise in PR with a painting in the middle of it?

Anonymous said...

Yep, I have to compete for yoga space with 4 cats. I think they think my downward dog is London Bridge.
Like the feel of the blog, I must say though that I HAVE to get up at 5:00 am everyday inorder to get home in time to play in the sun. But there is no way I could exercise that early I would bend my knees the wrong way.

Grumpus said...

Please note, Theo survived Vincent only a few months max before passing on hisself. Not much time for dining out on that death.

I believe they were quite close, and Theo was actually heartbroken by his death. I know that's a romantic notion but it's the word on the street. He also supported his brother almost the whole of his painting career, despite the grim forecast for success.

I don't know who is responsible for the dishtowels.

Jet Fisher said...

my apologies grumpus for upsetting your sensibilities. i may have become a little overwrought while penning the above screed. beyond that, a little fact checking would have settled me down a little, it's just that when i see those starry night t-shirts and the sunflowers coffee mugs and the like i get carried away. Theo did care for his brother, their correspondence shows that, it's just that in his death Van Gogh has become a symbol for everything art shouldn't be. how many of those house wives who buy the prints and the wallpaper are doing it because he never allowed himself to be sullied by commerce in life? they are buying the chotchkes because everyone else has and i despise them for it. Van Gogh's sunflowers selling for 39 million or whatever ridiculous sum they went for sends a clear message to all creative types, you are worth more safely dead than alive.