Monday, May 18, 2020

Flow gently.

It’s Sunday morning early as I type this.

I am already not looking forward to the work-week ahead. Since my release from the talons of the holding company gripping and twisting my nether areas, I have succeeded in freeing myself. But I have also failed to learn that most important lesson a mature person must learn.

I am still having a hard time saying no.

Whereas when I worked in an office, I could see others leave in the evening, I could see the skies darkening, I could practically smell dinner cooking, when you work at home, as the fortunate today are able to do, you often forget to construct barriers between home and work. That sucks. And sucks you in.

So, most mornings I’m up at five typing and typing and reading and e-ing, and I don’t unplug my Smith-Corona 5TE Electric until nine or 10 in the evening. It’s not really very convenient, by the way, to still be, in 2020, working on a typewriter. But I love the visceral quality of type-writing.

When I write something not on a computer, I have to take a photo of it with my iPhone and then mail a jpeg of my copy to the person paying for it. It’s not entirely convenient, or even very smart. But I prefer the Smith-Corona. It has a feel and intensity computer-keyboard-people will never ever understand. Even if I am down to three ribbons and I have no idea what I will do when I type through those.

Often, clients will ask me, “why can’t you use a Mac like everyone else?” I can only reply, as I’ve replied since I was knee-high to a dwarf cockroach, “I am not like everyone else.”

And that’s that.

These days my wife and I have left the piss-stained asphalt of Manhattan for the Gingham Coast of Connecticut. You might search the world and never find a more beautiful littoral setting. The sea fairly laps at our cottage and as the weather finally warms, the laughter of children and the chirping of birds float along on the gentle breezes like a Sondheim melody.
Our backyard.
But work, of course, doesn’t care.

My wife also chisels at the freelance boulder. She seems to divide her time between Zoom calls and a copy Iron-Maiden. Neither she nor I have time to come up for air. The clackety-clack of our dueling keyboards must irritate our distant neighbors.

Even Whiskey, our eight-year-old golden retriever is feeling the strain. Some months ago, she was contacted by the editors of “Dog Time” magazine, and has since mid-April been writing a weekly column called Portrait of the Dog as a Young Artist. It’s a bit of an homage to James Joyce and Dylan Thomas—Whiskey has always been a literate kind of a canine, and though she types badly, she too rises early and hammers away at her bone-flavored Mac—an iBone, if I’m not mistaken.

In short, as much as life has stopped, life goes on.

We work too much and work is too much with us. I believe that as more and more companies allow their employees or contractors to work from home, the ones who succeed as “best places to work,” will construct regulations around shutting down. 

They’ll provide tele-respites, and probably 20-minute on-demand counseling session as an employee perk. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I were working from home at all times, while trying to home school an obstreperous child or two or three, not to mention temper tantrums, etc.

I think if as a nation we are going to pull out of creeping fascism and economic despair, it will not be corporate meanness and austerity that rescues us.

To quote George Packer in his great book “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America”, “Over the years, America had become like Walmart. It had gotten cheap. Prices were lower and wages were lower….”

To recover in Silicon Valley, on Madison Avenue, and everywhere else, I hope, the fight will be for talent.

Real talent. And maybe decent wages will return again. Or workers will have a slightly stronger hand than they currently hold. Though likely I’m being naïve.

But I can hope thinkers will be back in vogue, not merely stylists or imitators. Original thinkers. Not doing work in 2020 that basically rips off work that won awards in 2019. (In fact, the New York State ran a “wear a mask” TV commercial contest. The sameness of the commercials entered was staggering.)

A bit of a meander today. I’m sorry about that.

But once again, if I were a holding company or an agency chieftron, I’d wonder how to emulate Henry Ford 100 years ago. How do you give a good wage to attract special people.

I suppose that kind of thinking has vanished from our world.

But cheapism—in pandemics, politics, pollution and advertising—leads to bad things. Bad health, bad school systems, declining life-expectancy and yes, meanness. Because the prevailing belief is that our economy is a zero-sum game, and if someone else gets, you don’t.

Let me end with a quotation Yogi Berra never said. “I don’t know where we’re going, or how we’re getting there, but we’re making good time.”

And that’s what worries me.

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