Why do people work?


As I am awake as six o’clock in the morning preparing to drive pedicab for the Saint Paul, St. Patrick’s Day Parade this question is on my mind. I’ve received Social Security for my multiple disabilities for fifteen years now. There is no expectation that I have a job and for the first six years of being sick there was no way that I could work. My job was figuring out how to live but as soon as I could do anything I started working. One benefit to this is that I qualify for a Medicaid program in Minnesota designed for employed people with disabilities. Having medical coverage is essential to me and Medicare doesn’t really cover it but that’s another story.

Obviously the need for money is why many people work. It’s the driving assumption behind efforts to raise the minimum wage. People with a job should be able to survive in this modern world. For most people their job is their primary source of income but it’s hardly the only way to get money and perhaps not even the most efficient. You certainly can make more money panhandling than you can working at McDonald’s. The idea that if you work hard you will be financially rewarded for your efforts is a myth. In this modern age, for most people, working hard is essential for survival but it is no guarantee of great wealth.

Since money is essential for survival, if money is the only reason people work then the modern job is only one step removed from slavery. If money alone will get someone to do something that they wouldn’t do for any other reason, I don’t see how that is any different than bribery. That’s how I felt the other night when I had four stippers climb into the back of my cab all waving twenty dollar bills in my face. Believe me, I really wanted to help but as I explained to them, the law only permits me to transport three adults and even more important to me than the law was that I could lose my job. They were very disappointed that no amount of money could get me to give all four of them a ride. They also didn’t want to wait for another cab to arrive. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it and thought that money was all they needed.

It is my belief that meaningful work, far more than money, is essential for human happiness. The work we do helps us form connections with other people and gives us an opportunity to make a difference in the world. Work is what gives us purpose.  Most of the work I do I don’t get paid for at all. Writing this blog is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a parent is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a friend is work for which I don’t get paid. I get paid for performing music but not any more than it costs me to be a working musician. Driving pedicab is the only work I do which makes money but if money was my only motivation, I wouldn’t do it.

So what do you think? Would you do the work you do if you didn’t get paid? If you didn’t need the money?

The only thing worth living for

Everyone at some point questions the meaning of life. We all want a life that is worth living. But what is life worth living for? If you have been reading my blog lately you know that I have been asking this question and have come up with nothing. Well, out of nothing comes something and this is what I have found:

When I live for god I find that god has no purpose.

When I live for love I find that love has no purpose.

When I live for sex I find that sex has no purpose.

When I live for money I find that money has no purpose.

When I live for ME I find that I have no purpose.

When I live for others I find that I have purpose but so what…

Because when I live to find purpose in life I find that life has no purpose.

But when I live for life I find that everything has purpose

… and when I die I expect to find that I am wrong about everything.

So it’s only in life that anything means anything. Only in life does doubt have purpose. Only in life does faith have purpose. Only in life does failure have purpose. Only in life does success have purpose.  Only in life does suffering have purpose. Only in life does compassion have purpose. Only in life does birth have purpose. Only in life does death have purpose. Only in life do god, love, sex, money, people or I have any purpose.

Even suicide only has purpose in life and since it removes life from the person seeking its purpose its either the most pointless or selfless action anyone can take.

I imagine to many this all seems self-evident although some my think that I am completely off my rocker. Many may wonder why I even ponder this question at all. Although some, like me, like Albert Camus (who coincidentally and a bit ironically died in a car accident at my age), may consider it the only question that really matters. Having answered it is not the end, it is the beginning. Everything else is life and in life is everything.

To be continued…

Work with what you’ve got

My whole life I have struggled to find my purpose. Why am I here? What do I have to offer? What am I better at than anybody else? What makes me special?

The only thing that I have ever come up with is that I am the only “me”. I am unique. I am one of a kind. No one is a better me than me.

So then the question becomes what is it about me that makes me unique? The truth is there is nothing about me which is unique. There is nothing about me that is one of a kind except everything about me. There is no individual aspect about me which is unique but when you combine all of these redundant qualities in one person you come up with something that is truly one of a kind.

I am the only person on this planet who has intimate knowledge of everything that I know. This is what makes me special. This is what I have to work with. This is what I have to give. Being me is my purpose.

The pursuit of happiness

Tuesday evening I met up with a friend for a beer. He had been going through some tough times. He had recently lost his job and needed to get out of the house. At one point I asked him something about how he was doing or what his plans were and he responded, “I’m trying to have a good time.”

I just recall thinking to my self, “This is one of the most miserably people I know. Having a good time sounds like a pretty lofty goal.” Of course I was really thinking about myself. Of course I wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to have a good time. I just know that from my experience, pursuing happiness as a goal is bound to end in disappointment. Happiness happens, but not when I’m expecting it.

Rethinking what motivates me has been on my mind a lot over the past week. I’ve been called a hedonist before and for the longest time I took no objection to that term. Hedonism is the devotion to pleasure. How can that be a bad thing? Especial when understanding that my pleasure is dependent on the circumstances of the people around me. Devoting one’s life to bringing pleasure to the world sounds like a beautiful thing to do.

As an entertainer I hope that I bring pleasure, happiness, good times and amusement to the world. But is that what entertainment means to me?

I was discussing this subject with my son Sunday evening. He is an actor and musician. We had just seen Propeller’s production of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” at the Guthrie Theater. I felt impressed, inspired, intrigued, incompetent, moved, changed, at times aroused, but not anything that I would associate with being entertained. My son and I had shared a meaningful experience. We felt connected to one another and to the playwright and actors. To my son, this is what art is meant to do; create a shared, meaningful experience.

But for many, music, dance, theater, comedy, television, movies, literature and other arts are just entertainment. That’s fine. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that people are entertained by what I do, but that’s not why I do it. I don’t think that most artists would do what they do if they only viewed it as entertainment. The act of creating art is hard work, it’s frustrating, painful and wrought with failure and disappointment. We do it because we have to; because it is who we are. We do it to give our lives meaning and purpose. We do it to feel connected to the world around us.

Yet, there are those occasions where it brings us great joy. Creating something that we conciser absolutely brilliant or putting on an amazing show that connects us with the audience can put a smile on our face.

My bff was relating her favorite Venus story to me this past weekend. We had just put on an incredible performance to a packed house at First Avenue for the David Bowie tribute show, Rebel Rebel (Rock for Pussy) and Venus was on cloud nine. S/he was simple glowing and dancing and having the time of hir life.

Yes, happiness can be found in this life but as an artist, it is not my pursuit. As a person who’s life is filled with adversity, having a good time is not my goal. I am not seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. I’m just trying to keep going in the pursuit of meaning and purpose. If along the way I find happiness, joy and entertainment, I’ll take that too… as long as I can share it with you.

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