Well, what do you know, it’s Labor Day once again here in the good old US of A, so let’s talk about work! Whatever you want to call it, be it labor, work, toil, a J.O.B., or that ideal scenario, a creative pursuit, the fact of the matter is that just about every one of us spends a great many of our waking hours doing something that brings home the potatoes.
Now sure, of course there are those among us who live lives of leisure, but come on, really? Can you think of anything more unfulfilling than simply eating, shopping, and being entertained from the cradle to the grave? The idle rich may look like they have it made, but one can imagine that they are often very bored, indeed.
Then there are those who manage to stock their larder by less than ethical means. Sad but true, but among us walk individuals of nefarious character who think nothing of playing fast and loose with the rules of polite society in order to bring home many potatoes without the slightest lick of honest work. Since I am quite sure that you and I do not fall into that unfortunate category, we can leave them out of this conversation, being sure they will be sad in the end and sure reach their comeuppance one way or another.
Let me tell you a little story. When I was but a young lad, wet behind the ears as the saying goes, I had many youthful misconceptions about just what work was and why anyone would want to bother with such. Truthfully, from my point of view, it seemed to be something to be avoided at all costs. The unwelcome specter of toil would intrude, most often on Saturday mornings, upon my idyllic hours watching cartoons, daydreaming in my treehouse, or eating Quisp, my favorite neon-colored artificially-flavored sugar cereal.
Someone, most often one of my parents, would rouse me out of my reverie with an exhortation to make my reclining body vertical, roll up my sleeves, and labor in the hot sun. It seemed there were always weeds to pull, lawns to mow, or sidewalks to sweep. Now, to a young nature boy like me, these things all seemed highly unnecessary, because, really, who cares? Weeds and lawns like to grow, so why should we interfere with them? One can stroll down a sidewalk whether there are leaves in the way or not, so what’s the point? Besides, look up! There are more leaves on the trees just waiting to fall, so who am I to interfere in the natural order of things?
Now, I kid you not, these two grownups known as my parents, (RIP), seemed to do this working business quite a lot. As in, almost every single day. My old man was the type who devoted his creative energy to business and various projects, and my mom was put into service either helping him in one way or another or managing the many other seemingly unnecessary tasks like putting clean clothes in the closets or putting food on the table. (That part I did not mind.)
What puzzled me most was a small artifact they had. It was a simple knick-knack, a small ceramic tray. In it, in a lovely script, was inscribed the message as such. “There’s no fun like work.” This made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, because in my view, the two were polar opposites. “Fun” and ‘Work” had no reason to appear in the same sentence together at all.
Well, fast forward a decade or two and your stalwart hero here found himself at the deep end of a long dip in life that one might kindly call “rock bottom.” Who woulda thunk that avoiding any and all forms of work, study, or gainful employment would land such a nice kid on the skids? Add to that the fact that all of that free time had given him plenty of time to associate with unsavory characters and cultivate less-than-healthy habits.
That said, I fancied myself as some sort of artist or musician or creative type, and gee whiz, since I was so brilliant, how come the world hadn’t realized it and showered me with fame and fortune yet? After all, I was ready and willing to gladly accept whatever rewards might fall from the sky into my lap! Alas, my personal Cargo Cult was not to be.
Turns out causing trouble was more to my liking at the time, and as this was the mid-80s, Punk Rock was proving to be a dead end. Enter SRL into my humble existence. A crony of mine at the time, a Mr. Paul D., was in possession of several VHS tapes (Remember those? This was, of course, many years prior to YouTube) that documented the destructive mechanical antics of Survival Research Laboratories.
The idea of ‘large-scale mechanical presentations’ complete with remote-control robots and ample amounts of flame and explosions greatly appealed to me. In fact, intentional mechanical mayhem seemed to me to be more punk than Punk! Inside of a year Mr. Paul and I found ourselves in Vancouver with the news that SRL was to put on one of their big shows in Seattle quite soon.
Forthwith, we dialed their digits and learned that they would be happy to have more volunteers, so we lifted our thumbs on the nearest freeway onramp and made haste. Arriving ahead of them at the show site in a downpour, we slept under a semi-trailer, arising to greet Mark Pauline and his crew the next day. We found ourselves rolling up our sleeves and pitching in with all of our might for a nearly sleepless week until showtime. Followed by a few days of packing and cleanup after.
Down the coast to San Francisco to another SRL show a few weeks later we went. It was for the grand opening of the nightclub DV8, where I briefly made the acquaintance of Keith Haring who had made a large mural inside. Well, Mr. Paul returned to Denver, but I, for one, was hooked. The energy and excitement of giant machines and ‘special effects devices’ (aka high explosives) was just right for me. I was like a duck that had just discovered water.
The next five years were a non-stop adventure, I lived and breathed machinery and slept as little as possible. I was on the core team that put on shows in New York, LA, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Barcelona, and elsewhere. Only later did I realize that along with some useful and marketable skills such as welding and machine work, I had found something even more valuable. I love to work!
Since then, I’ve put my energy to good use on a number of different endeavors. Turns out that being in motion and accomplishing things is delightful! Contributing to a group effort, being part of a team, or simply making progress is rewarding in and of itself.
Now that I’ve got a lot more miles behind me I’m lucky, I get to stick with creative pursuits pretty much most of the time. And here’s what I’ve learned. I’ll leave you with this little lesson for Labor Day. When you’re stuck, looking at the blank page, the empty canvas, the bare work table, here’s the trick. Don’t wait for inspiration! Nope, the longer you wait, the less likely it’s going to arrive.
Just prime the pump. Put on your gloves, (your glasses, your dance shoes, your apron), and get to work. Pick some part of your project that requires very little thinking and get to it. Grind some parts, sketch an outline, list some bullet points. Just get in work mode and start moving. If there’s such a thing as a muse, that’s when she’s going to show up. The big shoe company summed it up when they said “Just Do It.” Get in gear, make some progress, wear yourself out, and you’ll sleep easy.
And with that I leave you, have a great Labor Day my friends and I’ll see you next Monday!
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine