The Canadian Club











{October 22, 2009}   The Brokeback work ethic

manhattans So, yeah.

Dave, I appreciate your insights into suffering for incentives that we don’t even hold in high regard.  While I have a vague understanding of the all-consuming nature of your craft, mine doesn’t even really feel like work.  This, here, feels like work to me — which perhaps explains the tremendous difficulty I am currently encountering in reading faces.  There is a bizarre disconnect between phases of interpretation and production that results in large swathes of my time being all at once pleasurable and yet unsatisfying.

Naturally, then, my inclination is always toward throwing career aside for something comfortable and something fulfilling.  Especially, given my repugnance to working alone and the natural disposition of an attention whore, taking orders at some fancy restaurant is my idea of a good time.  But then, after a while, your hands start to peel away from your obsession with standards of cleanliness, and you begin bossing people around for forgetting the pepper grinder, not running food, or filling in their tips during a busy shift.  It starts out as a joke — wouldn’t it be fun if I took this really seriously?  But then you realize that you cannot separate these nagging perfectionist impulses from anything you do… And, then, at the end of the day, it is hard to enjoy yourself, because you’ve become just as rabid and fanatical and detail-obsessed, as you would be if you were doing the thing that comes most naturally, that will never leave you alone…

I don’t know if this can be called ambition, per se.  I think two things, rather, are at play here.  On the one hand, having autonomy is really the only way for us to pursue making those fine, dazzling sweaters, or pushing the envelope of physiognomy at the level at which it would be satisfying for us. Yet, increased autonomy is necessarily wrapped up with an influx of carrots.  On the other hand, intrinsic motivation only gets one so far if one tends toward having ridiculously high expectations of oneself and others.  At least where I’m concerned, then, rolling in approval, attention and, yes, carrots, is really the only way to temper my own expectations and moderate the critical narrative that otherwise motivates me. In that sense, prestige is not a bad thing at all.  Laughable, sure.  But also reassuring.

So, yes.  To answer your question, ambition is for suckers.  But the unhappiness of being obsessed — even in spite of oneself — with something without having the free rein to pursue it is much more pernicious.  And I think it is that point at which stress and prestige both cede their terrain to the joys not so much of living in human society but of the harmony between craft and mind. Which is kind of how I feel about this blog…

And, btw, I totally do not go in for either growing vegetables or long bike rides!

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