Saturday, October 13, 2007
WERK, WURK, WIRK — JUST CAN'T GET IT RIGHT
Feeling like I am still suspended between the possibilities of living a natural existence, where all I need to remain healthy and alive I can eat from the plant and animal life with which this planet yet naturally abounds and a civilized existence whose primary effect on earth is to turn nature’s bounty into loot and the remaining symbiotic hunter-gatherers into new labor forces shamed into producing hundreds of garments a day for a year to afford to cover their suddenly sinful bodies with just one of them. The thing about the midas touch they never mentioned in the fairy tale is that, instead of transforming everywhere civilization touches into the golden age of that culture, in the greedy, imperialistic hands of western civilization the population is transformed into froie gras geese for the diseased golden egg of their cheap labor in exchange for which they get newfound poverty, population explosion and eventual starvation under the authority of their new market value, the Pope and a head gander dancing on neocon strings.
Okay, okay. That was a bit extreme for an example of the level of exploitation to which the individual is subjected every day in the incorporation of the planet. It is playing too raw an emotional card to show the atrocity of our arrogance in conquering the wild. So lets back off to a less harsh, though no less true reality of being born right here in the good old US of A, or as Michael Ventura phrases it, the F-USA (Former United States of America), a term gaining common usage among historians as they follow the neocon declaration that 9/11 changed the world, as was their intent. No longer wild, born in captivity for many generations, animals take the bars and fences and walls of their enclosures for granted with only slightly uncomfortable instinctual pangs at being unable to go as far as they can see.
I had a friend who took a job on a horse ranch with intent to learn horses and earn enough money to just ride from Austin to the Pacific on a personal westward ho. In his research for the venture he realized that he was literally fenced in and would be restricted to the sides of the highway.
With about 2% of the population growing food for the rest of us to line up at dispensaries with tokens of our labor to exchange for an undeniable necessity of life, I sense a cage just as does the pacing polar bear cub in the zoo. Within this cage ones ability to earn tokens has replaced ones ability to hunt and gather food before farming eventually wiped nature from the primary attention of 98% of the population.
So now we’re down to the crux of this post, what do we do for food? Of course it is much more complicated than that, since most of what one earns in modern society goes to obtain and maintain trappings of the Great American Thingathon. There is a variety of approaches to getting money from using ones body to dig ditches or score touchdowns to using ones imagination to build a better mouse trap or dig tunnels into others treasures. How one earns tokens is part of ones character among fellow citizens, and, as a naturally responsible entity, a source of well being to any individual.
I can only testify to my own evolving attitude toward “work.” My work ethic came as naturally from my father as my hair color came from mother. I was helping him do any one of the multiple projects he was always involved in; new room on the house, rebuild the wooden part of our Chevy Station wagon (they really were wood in those days), build a sailboat, paint 30’ tall whiskey bottles in blends of brown and yellow with a 2” brush and buckets from a ladder on billboards out on the highway. Such activity never took on the negative connotations associated with the term work until he sold me into slavery during the summers of my 13th and 14th years to a dairy farmer who’s idea of a good time was a movie once a month, otherwise it was farm work dark to dark every day. It was then I realized the difference between getting to live your life and having to. Later, in a class on dynamics I heard the only definition that work has ever meant to me since, “effort against resistance.” Although I remember those summers on the dairy farm fondly now, the fact that I had to serve the will of another, loved one or not, puts it in the category of work. I have no recollection of any tokens I earned, I’m sure there were some. I ate fresh farm food, as much as an adolescent can eat. Necessities, covered.
I have always gone with the most attractive possibilities at all points of my life when they opened to me. Joining the Marines in order to get myself out of Mississippi was the last time I let repulsion make another form of hell look attractive. When the attractive possibilities of marrying proved to be based on a flimsy premise nine years too late, my yuppified idea of earning vaults of tokens to guarantee the future forever seemed just as hollow and I moved from the IBM ghetto of Oak Ridge into the center of Austin. I learned how wealthy corporations are like military bases, only peripherally connected to the towns outside of which their compounds are sufficient unto themselves, add little to the economy of the town except higher prices and between which personnel are transferred in their career’s rat race to the bottom line.
The depressurization of leaving the corporate compound for the life of an Awestun slacker was one of those phenomenal experiences that must be thrust upon oneself since planning could only lessen it with expectation. I lived in a communal household whose maintenance was pleasantly afforded by two ice cream truck routes. Often I took work as a rock mason, carpenter, house painter or printer to keep up child support payments. Three years of living a form of socialism amongst dear friends showed me how being carried creates cripples and what a loner I was by nature. I moved out to a place of my own and a steady job as chef at the Hole in the Wall directly across from the school of communications at the largest university system in the world.
As the carpetbagger’s economic boom hit Austin I saw the house I sold in 1972 for $35,000 go on the market for $130,000 six years later, I saw my chef’s pay become insufficient to maintain a minimal existence — if my food weren’t free I couldn’t have afforded rent. Speaking with my friend Peter one day I remarked, “Man, I need another job.”
To which he replied, “No you don’t, you need more money!”
I don’t know if the irony of the exchange comes through to anyone else at all, much less the slam in the head it was to me. All the things I’d experienced up until that moment made my next remark inevitable, “I’m gonna begin Green Graphics.” I have drawn, painted and sculpted all my life but, like many practical people, earned my tokens in surer, more lucrative jobs. I’d once matted up about fifty of my pen and ink drawings and sat on a blanket with the rest of the hippies on the drag. Although I made around $80 in one day, whenever I sat down to draw all I could see were visions of the people thumbing through my work and thinking of their judgment paralyzed me. So I left that idea alone for a while.
Within two months of imagining Green Graphics I was in business, er, ah, business cards anyway. I designed my own and cajoled friends into ordering their own, and greeting cards, and calendars and t-shirts and bumper stickers and I was off and running and haven’t looked back since. Although I have made many publicity packages and posters for artisans, gardeners, businesses and bands, I have never needed to make an ad for myself; one of the benefits of graphic arts.
This all boils down to the value of action through attraction rather than being pushed into choices between two evils. Since every being on earth is born sufficient unto themselves to survive, adapt and thrive in the bounty of nature, the commodification of everything indulged in by civilization seems to be nothing but negative choices, as nature is most surely letting us know in no uncertain, inconvenient truths. We are in a shouting match with the planet right now. We need to back off our attack, sit back and meditate on the results of the bad premise that ownership of all he surveys is man’s providence. We’ve done things we cannot take back and must suffer the losses they caused, but there is still time to reconcile our differences from our natural selves and cease choosing between two evils. None of it has to be work.
For an excellent article on just this area of thought, I refer you to the aforementioned Michael Ventura's second installment of F-USA.