I’m sitting here in front of a blank digital page (obviously it is not blank anymore). Empty coffee mug to my left and a small book by Boyd Rice on my right. It is Monday morning, the beginning of a five day work week. How many of us are happy about this? How many of us are resentful that we have to leave behind the weekend’s promise of the freedom to do whatever we want and be whatever we want to be? I don’t fully understand it, but it is always on Monday mornings that I hear more ambulance sirens than at any other time during the week. Maybe the weight of the week ahead is too much to tolerate for certain human physiologies. I should be working on writing the novel that I have been writing for the past few months, but I have lost interest. My mind seems to think that it is no good, a failed word soup with too many different ingredients in it. Instead I have been doing other things, like writing smaller pieces such as this one, reading, painting, cleaning, listening to music, surfing around on the internet, hanging out in the sun. Anything to avoid the drudgery of working on my novel. What’s the point of writing a novel these days anyways? Hasn’t the attention span of humans been cut in half? I sit here staring at a large Mulberry tree through my studio window. I have to leave the comfort of my home and be at work in less than two hours. This is something I have always resented about work- it has a tendency to take me away from where I want to be. Maybe I could do a little reading before I need to get dressed for work? Sit in my chair and listen to the birds conversing with one another in the Mulberry tree? Meditate? I need to do something other than this, since currently I have no idea what to write.
My Work Ethic?
Fuck. I don’t know why this word comes to mind as I stare into the blank screen thinking about what I am about to write. Fuck. Why fuck? Maybe fuck is the word that comes to mind when I think about my work ethic. Fuck. See, right when I think the term work ethic the next word that comes into my mind is fuck. Fuck. I need to think this one through a bit more.
The other day I was listening to the writer, musician and monologist talk about his work ethic. He was discussing how he came from a working class background and always needed to be gainfully employed. Ever since he was young he said that he has had this drive to work for a living. The idea of waking up in the morning and not having at least ten things that he has to do mortifies him. His worst fear is waking up in the morning and having nothing to do. Maybe this is why he has written over thirty books, made more than a dozen albums and still to this day travels around the world, performing his one man show more than 300 hundred days out of the year. The guy is terrified to stop. He would not know how to live without a hard days work.
I on the other hand am that guy who is happiest when he wakes up in the morning and has nothing to do. I am not driven by what Henry Rollins calls, “a deep need to pull your weight in the world.” Instead I seem to want to shed this weight, to be weightless. Henry Rollins seems to love being in fifth gear whereas I often feel stuck in first gear. Recently I have been thinking a lot about this feeling of being stuck in first gear. I have been wondering if it is a choice or just a bad habit. Am I lazy or enlightened? Have I chosen to not work my life away or do I just lack a work ethic?
Henry Rollins said something that really got my attention. He said that he thrives off of obligation. Obligation is the wind that moves him forward. He lives for obligation. I don’t know why but when I heard this the hair on my arms stood up. Obligation? He loves being obligated? I he kidding? Is this the link in my non-working chain that I have been missing? I can’t stand obligation. When I feel obligated to do something I feel pushed into a corner. I don’t want to do it. Obligation creates immense resistance in me. I seem to do everything that I can to avoid obligation. It is as if I have been hiding from obligation for as long as I know. Well maybe this is not true. I do not mind a small amount of obligation but I do know that in the course of a week I need much more time that is not obligated to anything or anyone than I do time that is obligated. Hmmm.
My wife said something to me the other day that made a lot of sense. She said that I love having money, I just don’t like having to work for it. It is true- I do love having money so that I can buy good food, records, clothes, books, treats for my dog, furniture, supplements and whatever else I may want. I enjoy the security that money brings to me. When I have money I no longer live in chronic fear of having to wait tables, bartend or ask my parents for money. I feel at ease. The problem is that I do not like to work for money. I do not enjoy working, never have. I prefer to spend my days floating around. Having the freedom to do what I want to do. The problem with this is that I know that money is not going to just randomly show up in my mailbox. I need to work for a living.
So I ask myself what is my work ethic? Fuck. But when I go deeper I realize that I do not really have a work ethic in the traditional sense. My work ethic is that I do not like work. I avoid work because work has never been pleasurable. Somehow I have managed to spend considerable time in my adult life in what some workaholics might refer to as retirement. Being free from the terrible and dehumanizing world of managers, bosses, fellow employees and obligations is one of the greatest victories of my life. I intend to keep it this way.
I really do not think that it is fair of me to think that I do not work. As much as it may sound absurd to say, to live the way that I do within a culture that is obsessed with work- is no easy undertaking. It is a kind of work to not get caught up in the proverbial rat race. To maintain a life that is based in being as opposed to doing. When I meditate, read, write, draw and paint it is fair to say that I am working, but the work that I am doing is pleasurable. It does not feel like work. I am doing what I am doing because it is fun and freeing as opposed to motivated by any ambition to make my work about turning a profit. I am as uninterested in making money off of the work that I enjoy doing as I am in watching whatever sports team is playing on television tonight. But I also recognize that this may be a lie that I tell myself so that I can avoid working. So that I can spend more time living.
I suppose I am envious of people like Henry Rollins. He has found a way to do the work he loves and turn a profit from it. His work does not feel to him like work at all- it is just what he does. His strong work ethic pushes him to remain obligated, to get his work out into the world, to pull his weight in the world so to speak. But on the other hand Rollins discussed how he realizes that his need to work all the time is a way that he runs from having to deal with him self. He talks about how sitting still and doing nothing terrifies him because, then what? Then he would have to be with himself.
So maybe this is my work ethic. Fuck. It is a kind of non-work ethic. It is an ethic of being with myself, learning about myself and a desire to experience my life as it unfolds. It is an ethic of learning and growing as opposed to earning and working. I don’t know, this explanation of my work ethic does not fully satisfy me. A part of me feels that I am just rationalizing the fact that I am lazy, that I do what I can to avoid work. It is true- I love being. I love sitting still. I love being free enough to be able to watch the day unfold. I love how I have learned to spend my time. There is a quiet kind of satisfaction that I live with. It is this satisfaction that is my greatest wealth. But there is also this itch to do something more, to live a life that is relevant and accomplished. An itch to pull my weight in the world. A desire to help others. To work with my fellow human beings in a way that helps them to struggle a little bit less. Without this component of helping and interacting with other human beings (as opposed to the desire to make money off of them) something feels incomplete in my life.
In a sense my non-work ethic is a work ethic, it is just not a work ethic that is based in turning a profit and needing to stay busy everyday. I am more than comfortable with not being busy, with having nothing to do, with sitting still (and I am also aware that that in my society these ways of being can land a person in the poor house). And maybe this is ok. Maybe I can stay this way and things will continue to work out. I was in a bookstore the other day and the title of a self-help book caught my eye. It was called “Stay the Course and Keep Doing What You Do.” I liked the title so much that I took a picture of the cover so I could have it as a reminder. Stay the course and keep doing what you do. Things are working out even though I am far from being the hardest worker in the world. Some may say that my non-work ethic is working for me. A part of me agrees and feels that I need to keep riding this thing out and see where it takes me. But I also need to work. I just need a little help getting into second gear.
Every once in a while I learn something new about myself. Sometimes these learning flashes will come to me while I am sitting at a bar having a drink or while on a mid-afternoon walk. My most recent learning flash came to me while sitting on a park bench underneath an old oak tree. The mid-afternoon sun wallowed in the sky and the heat was so intense that I was reluctant to ever leave the shade of the grand oak. So I sat there. I did not read, I did not listen to music. I just sat there with my eyes and ears open, thinking about my life. And then the flash came to me.
For most of my adult life I have yearned to be an author and a painter- a successful artist of some sort. The past ten years I have painted many paintings, written various things, and produced hundreds of drawings. But I have done nothing more than this. I have had no gallery shows, I have gotten nothing published in print and have done very little to advance my career as an artist. As much as I have wanted to be a working artist I have lacked the ambition needed to be successful in anything in this world (although if reading was a career I could have made a fortune by now). Making money from my art has never been the reason why I paint or write so having to market my work has always been difficult for me. And then on that park bench it came to me- what I really really enjoy doing is nothing at all.
What I mean by this is I enjoy the freedom to be. The freedom to wonder in the mid-afternoon sun. The freedom to sit on a park bench for as many hours as I need without having somewhere to go. I enjoy going for walks and not knowing where I will end up. I enjoy having nothing to do, doing nothing. Some may refer to this passion of mine as “bumming around,” and I would have to say that this is not an unfair judgment. In our current society being a bum has a negative connotation because it opposes the world of work that we have become so addicted to. Capitalism would fall apart if too many people were content doing nothing (sitting on a park bench) so the bum has been demonized as a failure, a lazy and shiftless person who seeks to live solely on the support of others. But a large part of me is a bum who does not want to have my feeling of freedom suffocated by work or a job (even sitting at my desk and writing can feel suffocating at times). The bum part of me just wants to loiter around, grow my hair long, be in a perpetual state of awe, read my books, feel the mid afternoon sun bake my flesh and enjoy the pleasures of being, doing nothing and going nowhere. Yes, this is what I enjoy most in life.
When I had this learning flash I had a realization that I had not had before. I am a nothing man. I did not feel any guilt for being a nothing man. Instead for the first time in my life I felt good about this- I wanted to own it with pride. I accepted this nothing man as a part of who I am and then I thought of ways that I could integrate this into my day-to-day reality. I realize that if a person wants to be successful at anything in life there is a certain amount of “sitting behind a desk and working that one has to do.” But maybe I can find the art in doing nothing (which is really doing something, but just not with the intention to work and generate profit). Maybe I can carry around a camera and a tape recorder and document the things I see, hear, smell and think while doing nothing. Maybe this is a way of making something out of doing nothing? Or maybe I could just let go of my ego and be content with just being, with not being ambitious and simply enjoy my life without the nagging desire to be anything? All of these thoughts and many more rushed into my head as I sat on the park bench, staring out into a large wide open grassy field with dried flowers lingering all around. I sat there for a few more minutes and then got up and continued on doing nothing with my day.