How to be happy

I went to to do a favor for a friend: Adam Schell, of Tomato Rhapsody fame, has submitted a video audition for a chance at his own show on the new network Ms. Winfrey is starting.  He’d be terrific, and he wants it, so I’m clicking my little finger to the bone.  (Vote early! Vote often! Really!)

I’ve said before that one of my mottoes is “No good deed goes unpunished”… This wasn’t as punishing as some punishments have been, but once you click you’re taken to a “thanks!” page which is full of links to quizzies and photo galleries. One of the quizzes is “The Happiness Test” (I could be happier, could be less. Whatever. Not worth the time it took to click through it, unsurprisingly.) Of course, linked to the thing is an article: 10 Ways to Increase Your Happiness. (“Get 10 scientifically proven methods to increase your happiness”!!), by Dr. Robert Holden. I’d like to meet Dr. Robert Holden, because – well, because #1 is basically “be happy”, which … *smack* It’s all in your outlook: “Joy is the organic state of your soul. It is not something you achieve; it is something you accept.” That’s airy-fairy claptrap.

Even better, though, #2 is “Do what you love for a living”.

REALLY?!?! I never would have thought of that. And here I’ve been for the last twenty years taking the best jobs available to me with my training and education, all of which I have hated to one degree or another, when all this time all I had to do was do what I love for a living!! It’s like the clouds just opened up and angels sang. I’m going to give notice tomorrow and go home and write and draw and read, which is what I love, and make a living that way! After all, I went to art school, and I’ve been told I can write!

Wait – Who’s going to be paying me to do what I love? I have a mortgage to pay!

Here’s the piece of crap – I mean the segment of the article (past which I could not get):

Work: I have a strong sense of purpose, and/or I love my work.
Today’s workplaces are a modern tragedy in which too many people go to work without a sense of joy and love. “The biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy,” Malcolm Forbes of Forbes magazine said. In the United States, only 50 percent of employees say they are satisfied with their work. You can increase your happiness score by making your work more purpose-centered. Start with identifying what real success is, what your real value is, how you can be more creative and how you can enjoy yourself more.

The more you can say, “I love my work” and really mean it, the higher your happiness score will be. People who love their work usually feel they are making a significant contribution to a cause they believe in. Reflect, therefore, on what you most want to contribute in your work and in life overall. Remember, you are not here just to find happiness; you are here to extend it. You are inspiration-packed, wisdom-infused, made with love and blessed with talents. Look around today and give what is needed, give what appears to be missing and give what is your joy to give.

That first line of the article is something I learned from Robin Williams. Dead Poets Society, circa 1990: quoting Thoreau, Walden: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The whole passage from the book deals with this, I believe – I need to settle down with it one day and actually read it rather than skimming – but in or out of context that line is sobering, and utterly true. “What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. … A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them for this comes after work…” John Keating: “Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”

“’The biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy,’ Malcolm Forbes of Forbes magazine said.”  Not trying? NOT TRYING?? How dare he? What in the hell did Malcolm Bloody Forbes know about finding a living doing what one enjoys? Apart from the fact that the Forbes name means he never wanted for anything, I don’t know anything about his early, pre-billionaire years – and I don’t care (if he ever had any – was he ever merely a millionaire?). What I do know is that he had a hell of a nerve saying people don’t try. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. Failing is, I believe, more painful that not trying. That’s not a mistake people are making, you overprivileged idiot – that’s making the choice between resigning yourself to NOT doing what you love, and taking your dependents with you into starvation.

Because let’s face it – in this universe it’s not easy to make a living in the arts.  Any of them.  Anywhere.  I felt a deep sinking feeling when I first learned that publishing a book every now and then won’t keep the bills paid and the fridge filled.  There’s a quote attributed to Mercedes Lackey that I’ve been hanging onto for a while: do NOT quit your day job until: 1) You have 5 books in print, each doing better than the last, 2) You have 5 books in contract, 3) You have enough money (including health insurance) on hand to live for an entire year without income.  Stephen King’s book more than confirms it.  So if “what you love” is writing, look forward to a long buildup to – if you’re lucky – being able to live off your work.  The percentage of writers who do so is very, very small – I’ve seen 10%, I’ve seen smaller percentages.

For most people, myself very much included, it’s a long search and struggle to find something to do, to be paid to do, which doesn’t whittle away at the soul day by day.  Most jobs, one way or another, for people of a certain outlook or temperament, do just that.  I was doomed the first time I walked into an office and pulled a chair up to a desk, and I never knew it.  With every job I gained more skills, got better at doing all the things I can’t stand, until now, almost twenty years later, I’m a good customer service rep and all around admin – and those are the jobs I was offered, and that is the job I have.  This is not something that was premeditated – I have to be good at something if I have to do it, and I know how to learn and improve.  Unfortunately every improvement and bit of knowledge has only built up the walls on either side of my path – it’s what I said once before about being a lab rat in a maze: every attempt at stepping away from the pattern is punished.  (I’m taking a huge risk this month by taking a class at an arts workshop. I’m half expecting a lightning bolt, figurative or literal.)

In past jobs, when people I worked with found out I studied art they often asked to see some of my work.  I would sigh internally, but I’d bring in what passed as my portfolio, and their eyes would go all wide, and invariably someone would say “What are you doing here?” I say this not to blow my own horn about my dubious talents – I’m quite clear on how much ability I had (past tense emphasized).  I say this because every time someone said it it was a double-edged sword.  It was a nice compliment – they didn’t know much about art, but they knew what they liked, and they liked what I did – but it was also excruciating.  Because I was there, not out painting.  My own fault, I know; if I’d had more drive and dedication and hadn’t been so clueless I might have gotten somewhere.  I never have had much ambition, apart from the goal of Never Doing Customer Service Again (and see where that’s gotten me).  But it’s also not my fault, because if I had had one small push by one person at any point in my “career”, it might have made a massive difference in my life. See Memory and Dream quote below.

Basically, as might have been expected, the article on Oprah’s site was a load of codswollop, wrapped up in a pretty self-help bow.  I’m not sure who they aimed that at, who they thought it might help, but it’s a waste of space.  My perception of Oprah was that she had some solid common sense; her website doesn’t bear that out.

It brings up a whole slew of other quotes I’ve been collecting lately, some of which I’ve mentioned in past posts.  De Lint; King; Meet John Doe; Doctor Who in a way – all, in their own ways, about not letting the world get the best of you – which is easier said than done.

Meet John Doe:

When they got ya, you’ve got no more chance than a road rabbit … You’re walkin’ along, not a nickel in your jeans, you’re free as the wind.  Nobody bothers you.  Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business.  Shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, furniture, everything, and they’re all nice loveable people.  They let you alone.   Then you get ahold of some dough and what happens?  All those nice, sweet, lovable people become heelots.  A lotta heels!  They begin creepin’ up on ya, tryin’ to sell ya something.  They get long claws and they get a stranglehold on ya and ya squirm and ya duck and ya holler and ya try to push ‘em away, but you haven’t got a chance.  They’ve got ya.  The first thing you know, you own things – a car, for instance.  Now your whole life is messed up with a lot more stuff.  You get license fees and number plates and gas and oil and taxes and insurance and identification cards and letters and bills and flat tires and dents and traffic tickets and motorcycle cops and courtrooms and lawyers and fines – and a million and one other things!  And what happens?  You’re not the free and happy guy you used to be.  You’ve gotta have money to pay for all those things.  So you go after what the other fella’s got.  And there you are – you’re a heelot yourself.

– Not entirely to the point, I suppose, but it’s been in my mind while I’ve been writing this.  The point at which you are no longer footloose and fancy free is the point at which it becomes very hard to do what you love, if what you love isn’t finance, Mr. Forbes.

Doctor Who – and Torchwood – constantly underscore the deadliness of everyday life, life without time travel and alien-catching. Is this all there is? This can’t be all there is! And both often use chips as part of the emphasis.

“Rose” – The Doctor:  I mean you lot, all you do is eat chips, go to bed and watch telly. While all the time, underneath you, there’s a war going on.

Then – relevant – there was Rose trying to figure out her next career move now the Doctor’s blown up her work; she might try the canteen at the hospital – “Is that it, then? Dishing out chips?”

And also (though not specifically “Chips”): “You could stay here – fill your life with work and food and sleep, or you could go – – anywhere.”

In “School Reunion” chips were an integral part of the plot – the oil they were fried in brought children under the sway of the Krillitanes. Mr. Finch: “Do try the chips.”

“Parting of the Ways”:

Rose: That fight is happening right now. And he’s fighting for us, for the whole planet and I’m just sitting here eating chips!
Jackie: Listen to me. God knows I have hated that man, but right now I love him. And do you know why? ‘Cause he did the right thing. He sent you back to me.
Rose: But what do I do every day, Mum? What do I do? Get up, catch the bus, go to work, come back home, eat chips and go to bed? Is that it?
Mickey: It’s what the rest of us do.
Rose: Well, I can’t.
Mickey: Why? ‘Cause you’re better than us?
Rose: No! I didn’t mean that! [pause] But it was. It was a better life. And I don’t mean all the travelling, seeing aliens and spaceships and things, that don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know, he showed you too. You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no! You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away!


Gwen: You get up, you have breakfast, you drink coffee, you go to work.  You come home, you have pizza or chips, you watch telly, you have sex, you go to sleep. Weekends you go out with your friends, a week in Spain every other year… and that’s all there is.
Jack: There’s so much more.

That’s what it’s all about.

(Is it me or is it funny that the Doctor also said the following, in “Father’s Day”: “An ordinary man. That’s the most important thing in creation.”)

In On Writing, King talks about how very hard it can be to do what you love for a living.  He didn’t manage it, not for a very long time.  His first stories sold for under $30.  When he sold one for $200, he was over the moon (and it meant that his daughter could get the antibiotic she needed – did Malcolm Bloody Forbes ever have to worry about that?  Yeah, didn’t think so).  He came close to passing out when Carrie‘s paperback rights sold for $200,000 – which was just the beginning.  I admit it – I’m prejudiced against the wealthy, unless they’ve done something to get there.  Stephen King, J.K. Rowling – I’m delighted for them.  They’ve made it.  They’re the beacons that prove it can be done.

Here’s the pair of sentences that crushed me when I came on them in Memory and Dream (page 216):

Without the fire that he had woken in her, she might have put her art aside long ago and be working in some office right now.  It had happened to so many of her contemporaries from university days …

“It had happened to so many of her contemporaries”… like cancer.  Yeah.

There was also “‘If we don’t change the world to suit us,’ Kathy had said, ‘then it’ll change us to suit it.'”  Case in point.

Then there was Trader – and my goodness, but De Lint has a thing against offices, doesn’t he?

360: [Tanya]’d quit her job at Kathryn’s and started working for a temp agency.   Office work, and she hated office work, but it paid better than waitressing and who was she fooling?

Of course, it’s through the office work that she ends up back into acting, but I won’t go there.

367:  Geordie – “I couldn’t work in an office.”  [And what kind of bastardy thing is that to say to a fragile woman who is – you jerk – working in an office?]
Tanya gave him a half-hearted smile.  “I know the feeling.  I think what I hate most of all is the packaging.  You know, the right clothes, the right makeup, the right attitude.”
“My point exactly.  Some people just aren’t cut out for that kind of thing and I’m one of them.” [Jerk.]
Me too, Tanya tought, but she didn’t seem to be cut out for anything else either, so she had to make do.

– – And I really liked Geordie as a character, too. Well, I always liked his brother better – so there.

418:  “Never do what you don’t like,” [Eddie] told her.  “But always weigh your options.  Maybe you don’t like six weeks on the set, or a forty-eight hour glamour shoot.  But how much do you like tapping on a keyboard and answering phones nine-to-five, five days a week?  Everybody’s got to make a buck – the trick is, either find something you like to do, or do something to pay the bills that doesn’t take too much out of you.  Capisce?”
“What about art?”
“I’ll tell you about art.  Do the best job you possibly can.  Have something to say.  And stop equating it only with what you find in libraries, galleries, and foreign film festivals.  The eye of the beholder, you see what I’m getting at?”

I keep saying “That’s it!  I’m not trying anymore!  I can’t take being shot down yet again!” Usually it’s lack of money that keeps me from taking classes and trying to take the first steps toward maybe doing what I love.  There are a multitude of other things that have happened to prevent my going back to school or what-have-you, but money’s the prevailing headwind. (When I first started art school, there was a conversation about someone who had dropped out, and I distinctly remember happily saying it would take high explosives to get me out.  Two years later the money ran out, and so did my time in art school – and try as I might, ever since, the money has never been there for so much as one class.  But you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you, Malcolm Bleeding Forbes?)  But I do, stupidly, keep trying.  It’s not optimism; it’s not hope; it’s stupidity.  I’m starting this new class two weeks from now; I don’t expect it to change my world.  I’m not that stupid.  I’ve wanted to take this class for a long time because I’m interested.  But I can’t help it that deep down there’s the sneaking glint of stupidity thinking “this time next year I could be making things and being paid for it!”  Sure.  Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t this time, right?  One hundred fifty-seventh time the charm, eh?

And of course there’s a certain irony that all of this came about because I’m trying to help a friend (acquaintance, really, but I’ll stretch it for the sake of … I … want to) chase a dream.  Adam Schell is, I believe, already doing what he loves for a living, teaching yoga and writing, with his adorable family.  But part of what I complain of in this is that I haven’t had much help along the way.  So if I can be a small part in seeing him into his own tv show (at which he really would be very, very good) – well, I have to, don’t I?

It reminds me of one of Spike’s lines from the Buffy musical – “You have to go on living – so one of us is living.” *click*vote*click*vote* Go, Adam, go.  Go on living.

Dead Poets again:

(quoting Henry David Thoreau) “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived…”

McAllister: “Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I’ll show you a happy man.”
John Keating: “But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”
McAllister: Tennyson?
John Keating: No, Keating.

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