Sunday, December 4, 2011

I Want To

Georgia O'Keefe's hands
I want to explore, namely, the mutual entanglement of intellectual qualities with moral qualities. This entanglement shows itself in the work we do.

- Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class As Soulcraft

* * *

A hundred years ago I worked in film/commercial production. I started as a PA, the lowest of the low, moved up to Set Dresser, up a bit more to Art Department Coordinator, sideways to Assistant Director, and finally, on my last job, Art Director. I lent my name and effort, my time, to selling salsa, chocolate bars, bottled water, air travel, fast food, casinos, shoes, anything that you can buy or can be induced to buy, I was part of in large or small ways. I also worked on violent, misogynist movies (I'm looking at you Excessive Force), the crapbucket entertainments of Home Alone 2 and the greasy luster of blockbuster-y nostrums like The Fugitive.

All because I wanted to make movies, write scripts, and instead was shunted off into cul de sacs of production. I was eventually well-paid and that was nice, but neither my intellectual nor moral qualities were engaged or acted upon. At which point the pay became compensation. I was bought off early in order to keep the highly specialized machinery of film production running without any hiccups from the likes of me. I loathed myself, but kept working, begging for work because I lacked the intellectual and moral qualities of a man who knew his work and worked to become a master of it.

Such is the fucked life: working against one's intellectual and moral qualities - often in utter un-awareness of them in the first place.

Motherfuckin' A.

And you, my fucked fartlet, what of you, your work, your intellectual and moral entanglements?

* * *

Aurelius wrote in his notebooks to himself: to communicate liberally, to be useful.

How useful are you? Of what use is your work? What is it you do? Do you build, create, fix, solve anything? Being a "knowledge worker," as I have been for years, is a euphemism for clerk, and while the world does need its papers shuffled, is this what you set out to do? Or were you bought off on the way to your goal, as I was, gladly bought off so you could buy some stuff and show everybody you arrived.

Your work is what you do, what you do because of who you are. Your employment is what you get paid for. Making the two be one is the great trick, but even trickier is being someone who doesn't need stuff to know who and what they are.

Your work is to discover your work
And then with all your heart
To give yourself to it.

So says the Buddha So says I. What do you say?

* * *

The set of Excessive Force was no different than any other I'd worked on: the crew was made of a mix of lifers and artists, and the out-of-town, above the line folks never bothered to learn our names. We locals comforted ourselves with the platitude, "It's not who you work for. It's who you work with." And we were mostly glad to work with one another. But mostly we were very glad to be working - families and all. It was that sense of obligation to our families, to the hope our careers would take off that kept us on set, adding our names to shit films like this one.

There was one guy, an electrician named Bill Reilly, who hated what he was doing on this film. My memory of Bill tells me he was a filmmaker who earned his rent as an electrician or grip on other productions. We got along well, and daily he wondered aloud, and for all to hear, why the holy fuck were we participating in the production of this worthless-piece-of-shit movie. Bill's intellectual and moral entanglement prompted him to quit, to shed his association with such USELESS effort.

I wanted to do the same, but because I didn't know my work, didn't know what I wanted, or how I might find out, I stayed because, well, the pay was good and other good people stayed and it was hard for Bill to find other work because he was viewed as a quitter and none of us wanted that for ourselves and on and on and on.

Bill was the only one willing to live by his entanglement. He was the only one who knew his work was worth more in dignity and integrity than in dollars.

* * *

I have spent a lifetime working at things that were not my own, that did not engage my intellectual and moral qualities because I always traded one or the other for some cash in my hand. Now, don't misunderstand. We all need money and we all need work. The problem arises when you don't know what your work is, what useful thing you could do and earn enough to keep doing it.

Mastery is the goal. Your work is the means to attain it.

Now go. You have work to do.


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