Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Higher Laws Part 4

Unfortunately, we do not live in a world in which all of us can focus on the intoxication of the day, the day spent in creative tasks. We have to negotiate the practical. We must, most of us on a varying scale of wealth and living expenses, pay the rent. We must earn money and procure the food and cook the food and clean up after the food. We must, all of us, live, make a living, make a life.

This balance between paying bills and living life overlaid on the making of art seems like it is in direct conflict with the path to the higher laws. Perhaps it is. Many years ago, I worked with a very talented and very artistic man. He could play just about any musical instrument he handled. He could paint pictures reasonably well. He could work with metal and made tables, chairs, beautiful structures. His home was a work of art, every nook, every corner. I loved him dearly, and in many ways all these years later, I still do. We had a friend who was an inspired artist. This artist was a printmaker and he engraved copper plates for his relief prints. As for me, I was an aspiring writer. I had, at the time, been writing short fictions and bad poetry rather unsuccessfully for a few years. I had had a handful of publications.

So, enter the welder, the printmaker and the writer.

The welder and the writer were in the bar business. We worked evenings. We made a great deal of money. We were buying property left and right. We were businessmen, for sure, even if we were hustling bourbon and beer. The printmaker? Well he lived close to our bar. He lived alone in a small apartment above the Chinese restaurant. We worked a few days a week, never more than three from what I understood, as a waiter in a very swanky restaurant. His time was dedicated almost solely to art.

One night, after an especially difficult bar shift, I was with the welder drinking beer. We did this often, usually on Friday nights—more specifically early Saturday mornings. I remember telling him about how I wanted to dedicate my life to writing. How all I wanted to do was write. It was a very black and white sort of thing. I saw it like this: I was spending so little of time writing, and too much of my time working, preparing for work or recovering from work. I felt like I should just jump in and write. Like I should just jump into the deep dark cold abyss and just write. In short, I knew at that point in my life what it was I should have been doing, but I wasn't doing it. It was a level of unhappiness that I have not had to endure since that time. It was that disconnect between what it was I was doing and my inability to follow my higher laws.

The welder asked me what I was going to do for money. Of course I had no answer. Here I was, telling my colleague that I wanted to retreat into an institution of my own manufacturing and do something I had to do, something that I really had no choice in, and all he wanted to do was talk about money. I shrugged my shoulders. Who cares?

Then the unspeakable happened. The welder brought up the subject of the printmaker. He used the printmaker to illustrate a point. Using the printmaker as an example of what happens to a person who dedicated his life to his art. Then the welder pointed out what a pauper the printmaker was. How the printmaker was middle aged and still a waiter. How the printmaker had nothing.

At the time I was taken with the printmaker. It didn't matter to me what the man had. I don't know what sorts of clothes he wore, or if he wore any at all. I never saw his bank statements or rings on his fingers. I don't remember much about him or his money tangible wealth. What I do know about him was that he had all day, every day, to make small scratches in copper plates. What I know about the printmaker is all the art he produced and the art of his I got to see. His art sticks with me to this day.

The other thing that sticks with me to this day is that conversation with the welder. It became clearer to me during the rest of my relationship with him, that his motivation was not music or art or building things like I had previously thought. No, his pursuit, like mine was at that time of life, was the money. And to put things fairly, I did enjoy the job. I liked being a bartender. It was a good time of life as well as a good time of our society to be a bartender. I liked the money, and I used my money wisely. I used it wisely even if I spent too much and too many nights in dark bars all over town. I was not happy at the time, no, but I had a lot of fun. And I rationalized the fun as prospecting for experiences that I could ultimately write about.

I cannot testify for the higher laws of the printmaker, but I know he had some, and I know that he followed them to the letter. The welder? To dismiss him and his pursuits would be erroneous. It would be wrong. The thing with the welder was this: he had a great deal of talent, a great deal of time and money, and money is ultimately seduced him.

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