Live, Love, Work and Play

A big theme for me recently has been growing up. Growing up in a lot of different ways. Taking responsibility. Deciding what I want. Blah blah. Right now I’m having a bit of a struggle with the concept of work and how that fits into my life.

A friend posted this article to their facebook and it made it clear that many of the different strands that I’m wrestling with right now are connected to work, my work and what that is, how it should be. I’ve never really been happy working for other people, at least not for long. I value my freedom too much to be told what kinds of shoes to wear, how to interact with people or even what time to get up in the morning. I also don’t like spending my days pretending to be someone I’m not, wearing the corporate makeup and playing like I’m just another clown here to serve you. I feel like I have something more important and unique to offer the world than that.

Being Regional Contact for Burning Man has been an enjoyable role for me. Creating community and encouraging collaboration and artistic expression is something that comes naturally to me. It is what I would do if nobody paid me. Oh wait. I don’t get paid. But here’s the thing. You can’t live off of good vibes, it just doesn’t work that way. So what do I want?

Its a tough question. Let me show you why. I applied for an got an art grant for Toronto’s decompression party. I finished the art project just in time, and yet here I am blogging from home instead of dancing in Toronto. Why? Because it tapped me out. I got called in to work on Wednesday unexpectedly so I fell behind on building my art. I finished it last night only to realize that it was going to be a royal pain to get on the plane. Then I thought about the time and troubleshooting that would be involved in setting it up at the venue and again on teardown the next morning. (They wanted us out by noon?! Really?!) All of this ran through my head at 4am as I contemplated what to pack for my flight in three hours time. Gads, there’s no way I’m getting any sleep.

In the end it just didn’t seem like it was worth it. How can I enjoy myself at a party when instead of sleeping I’ll be installing and tearing down my art. I’d be a zombie on the dance floor. I’d be passed out at breakfast with friends. What’s the point? But then what’s the point of the art? I built it, and now its sitting lifeless in my room instead of dazzling people at the event. Something went badly wrong here.

Some of it was just bad planning. I should have had this finished days ago, sent it on the train with a friend. I could have gotten a good night’s sleep and hopped a flight Friday instead of early in the morning today. Sure I’d still end up spending a lot of time installing and uninstalling. Sure I’d be tired Sunday, but I’d at least have started with a full tank of sleep and could get back on track Sunday night for my job Monday morning. I didn’t do that. But, when work comes up I have to take it.

As things stand right now that’s how my life works. I do my thing, the phone rings, I drop everything and I go work. If I don’t I don’t have enough money to pay the bills.

Now things will change. Or will they?

I’m working to get more film and video contracts. It will happen. I have full confidence that finally I’ve got my shit together enough to make this self-employed thing happen. But does that really change anything? The phone rings, its a client, I go to work. Now maybe I get paid more so I don’t need as many of these, but at the end of the day how different is it really? Are my dreams of more freedom from self-employment really justified? What do I have to do now, as I prepare for this journey to ensure that I get that freedom instead of just trading one harness for another?

I’m work averse. I don’t like work, and yet I do. I enjoyed making that art, I enjoy what I do as a Burning Man RC, but I don’t get paid for those things. So is the business I’m proposing for myself any better?

Yeah shooting promo videos and the like will be more enjoyable than airline ticketing or building tradeshow booths, but is it really my dream? My passion?

I want to make movies and TV shows. I want to make music videos. I want to make interactive installation art and events. But how do I monetize those things without feeling icky? Without compromising my values and beliefs? At what point do I have to admit that nothing in life is free and that there is some gruelling and distasteful work that needs to get done and there’s no getting around it?

I guess that’s growing up. But I’m not buying the whole 40 hour 9-5 workweek bullshit. There’s something between my innocent youthful dreams and the mechanized horror of the workaday world. Finding that island of contentment in this sea of possibilities is my task right now. Today it hasn’t been easy, but part of it is respecting my own limits. I could do the work to make the money, and do the work to make the art, but after all that it didn’t feel worth it to do yet more work to bring it and me to Toronto then back again and working at 8am the next day. I used to do stuff like that, but I don’t feel like it anymore. There have to be limits. There has to be a day of rest. What point is there in living outside of the 9-5 model if you just burn a different candle on both ends?

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Money Train

I woke up to sunlight this morning. Something I love about my new room. Its like emerging from a cave into a wonderful world of air and light.

I didn’t mention that I moved rooms? Right, that was on my new blog for 2011, 16:25. You should check it out, its a photo blog to keep me on my toes with my photography. Anyway there’s a timelapse video of the move here. Timelapse is something that I really want to master so its good to belt out these little projects. Anyhoo, on to the task at hand.

MONEY

So after waking up to sunlight I pulled the covers back over my head to rustle out a few more Z’s before starting my day. It seemed like my alarm clock (phone) was ringing rather prematurely… I got up to hit snooze and realized that this particular alarm had a 514 area code.

“Hello?”

“This is Mark from [name of company I contract for].”

“Oh hi…”

“Are you available today?”

“Ummm. That depends on when.”

“Now.”

“Erm. Okay. But I need to be done by 1:30 because I have another job scheduled this afternoon.”

“No problem. Get here ASAP.”

So subtracting a few hours from my expected sleep this morning I set out to the Palais de Congress and did another shift at the Montreal Auto Show, putting up curtains, polishing railings, and vacuuming carpets. Nothing glamorous but its a few extra bucks in my pocket and that ain’t bad. Then I rushed the metro to my other casual contract job doing onsite retail kiosk installations. Again not glamorous, but does fit my “build quick portable stuff” interests rather well (see Burning Man and film sets).

So yeah, made a bunch of extra money today when I would have been sleeping. Not bad.

DEBT ME NOT

I also noticed today that the stock I sold last week finally made its way into my bank account. I just threw $3789.10 at my 1.99% interest credit card just two weeks before that rate jumps to the usual 19.99%. That’s just shy of paying it off and while I do actually have enough cash in my bank account now to wipe it out entirely doing so would bring the account down to double digits and that’s not a great place to be. Sooner or later I’d need to buy groceries or something and I’d be back on the card. Better to have a reserve floating in my account until the first paycheck of the month arrives.

After that I turn my attention to the 11.9% credit card which has an unfortunately high balance. I’m going to attack that aggressively over the next few months and then apply for a line of credit with a lower interest rate and transfer the balance. Then I’ll keep plugging at it until its gone. I might dip into RRSPs to pay it off if the tax penalty is low enough to make it worthwhile. In retrospect I should have done that last year when I was in the bottom income bracket from travelling more than I worked but I wasn’t really thinking about my finances super logically or reading the small print until recently. Whatever, all is fine. Now that I do have a more complete picture of my financial state of affairs I can operate with it much more methodically. I’ll be out of debt in no time and that’s the important thing.

Speaking of which I was just referred to a cool website dedicated to exactly that. Given how addicted North Americans are to debt I suspect more than a few of you reading this might find this website interesting as well. Sadly our economy is based on debt. I say the sooner we turn that around the better it’ll be for everybody, except Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup and the rest of those evil fuckers who play loose and fast with the money we give them.

Sorry, got distracted there. The site is called Man vs. Debt.

Okay. That about covers it. G’day all!

The Psychology of Everyday Things – Doors

Marshal McLuhan said that all technologies have a bias. More recently Douglas Rushkoff has been saying much the same thing. I’m not so genius so I won’t get into it too much, except to look at some specific, concrete examples.

I wonder what peoples’ behaviours are around doors. Its come to mind since I moved rooms and discovered that the door to my new room is ever so slightly off kilter and hence prefers to stay open, ie; if I leave it to do its thing it slowly swings wide open. I find that I don’t like a door that seems to possess a mind of its own. Its nice to be able to leave the door at any number of positions from full open, to full closed with all the intermediate stages in between as well.

When I was living in the dorms at university in Sydney door positions were an important means of social communication. An open door meant “come on in!” Closed meant Do Not Disturb. A door open a crack or a few inches could mean welcome to friends, an invitation to stop by and say hello. I suspect there were a lot more subtleties to it as well.

For my part I’ve internalized that system and so not having control of my door bothers me. What’s more it effects my use of the rest of the apartment. When I leave my room for instance I like to leave the door open a crack so that its easy for me to just flow right back in but also signals that my room is still more or less closed. Now it just swings open when I do that which on some deep subconscious level leaves me feeling slightly vulnerable and exposed, all my “stuff” sitting there unguarded. On the other hand closing the door when I leave the room for a glass of water or a midnight snack feels a bit rude to me, as though I don’t trust my roommates or guests and it makes me feel like I’m entering a separate space whenever I come back to my room. Its as if bathroom breaks are an expedition into foreign territory.

Yes this is kind of exhaggerated and ridiculous, but still, small things effect our perceptions and moods in the way that they work, particularly things that we interact with on a regular basis.

What’s your door psychology? Or your relationships to other objects in your environment?

Finally Listening

It has been at least a ten year battle for me to really take my finances seriously. If I could only count the number of old “Household Planner” and “Personal Budget” booklets and sheets that my father has given to me over the years. It would be embarrassing, especially considering that I’ve not made a mark in any of them. Not a one. There have been napkin budgets, budgets on Post-It notes and scrap paper, but never anything rigorous, methodical or accurate. That is until today. Today I realized that its time to take charge of the situation. To look it in the face and acknowledge it, understand it, sum it up and begin to work with it instead of allowing it to work me.

I’ve never liked money. I mean I like money, dollars and cents that I can exchange for food, camera equipment, flights around the world. That aspect of money is fine. I’ve just never liked all of the systems, mathematics, interest rates, tax exemptions, expense tracking, that stuff. The nitty gritty mechanics of it. Its just not something I enjoy spending time with, but, time is money and by not taking the time to understand it I end up losing time and opportunities.

Tonight I added it all up, my assets and liabilities, what I have and what I owe, down to the penny. So I understand where I stand. Its not bad. Its not good. Its okay. It needs work. I would like it to be better. At least knowing where I’m at I can start making some intelligent decisions about what “better” looks like and how I can take steps to get there.

I also started a budget. A real budget. No napkins here but a real deft and agile spreadsheet ready to jump to my every input and command. I’ve plotted it with estimates for the month, and now I’m starting to plug in the actual flow of money in and out of Kay Inc. This will be interesting. To see what I actually spend my money on, and how much. It’ll also be pretty interesting to see how much I make since I’m living in this new topsy-turvy world of self-employment. If I’m going to make a real go of being self-employed I need to develop a ninja-like skill for understanding where I’m at financially at any given time. Living off of contracts and gigs means riding an ever fluctuating wave of income. Sometimes the waves will be really high and it will be tempting to spend like there’s no tomorrow, but there will also be valleys that need to be traversed. Studying budget-fu will give me the perspective to know what I can and can’t do. Risk is okay, so long as its calculated risk.

So there we are. I stayed up all night doing math.

The sun will be coming up soon. Let’s see if I can catch a few winks before I need to start the engine and get stuff done tomorrow. After this week comes the storm. Setup for the Montreal Auto Show starts soon as do the Canadian Tire kiosk installs, plus my Illumination event and maybe an art installation for T-Comp (if I get the grant). Just a few days to get all the other things done before I’m swept up.

P.S.: I’d still like to get as much as possible through alternative economics – share-o-nomics, barter, local currency, etc.

…RiNG! …RiNG!

I have a fear of calling people on the phone. Seriously. Before I even dial I start feeling that deep twisting feeling in my gut that’s normally reserved for standing on the edge of cliffs or venturing onto a ten lane freeway from a minuscule on-ramp, minus the adrenaline charged sense of excitement. My brain fumbles around for excuses or reasons to delay making the call. It suddenly seems like a good time to do the dishes.

Why I hate the phone so much I’ll never know. There has been no point in my life that I enjoyed yakking on the horn. I suppose maybe its just such a damn unnatural technology, sharing more in common with ghosts and conjuring than any kind of human connection. Your tinny disembodied voice doesn’t seem to have anything to do with you the person on the other end of the line, that cold, plastic, germ encrusted phone receiver on my ear is the exact opposite of an intimate whisper.

This is one of the reasons I think I prefer facebook and email and chat. There’s something more romantic and literate to it. Like passing notes in class, writing letters or carving stone tablets. Telephones just don’t seem right. At the very least there is a long tradition of expression in print, the great poems and works of literature that fill our libraries. Correspondances of our great explorers, statesmen, scientists and artists are still read today and provoke thought, tears and laughter still. There’s an art to the written word, but apart from a few performance poets, singers and radio DJs the sound of the word rarely works so well on its own.

I’ve also worked in no less than three call centres. I think that might have soured the whole thing. When you’re just a disembodied voice, with only a first name and some organizational affiliation you become something less than human, you become a punching bag for every tired middle class parent trying to sit down to a rare meal with their family. They tell you over and over in these jobs that 90% of communication is non-verbal, but you can certainly feel hate through copper wire.

And yet, I can’t deny that I’m missing out by not participating in the telephony world. There is an immediacy that isn’t available in email or chat. If I call you to come to the pub, chances are better that I can convince you to come. No email could be crafted that was persuasive enough to do that. Not in the same way. Textual communication bears no accountability on anyone. We pretend not to have noticed, we ignore, we brush aside, we legitimately forget. Letters and punctuation aren’t people, so they’re easy to dismiss.

I prefer face to face interactions most of all. To be in the physical presence of another, to share a warm hug or a firm handshake, to see the glimmer in an eye that no webcam no matter the megapixels could ever capture. But sometimes the phone, the blasted, terrible, frightening and hideous telephone is the way to go. So, I’m going to try and call you more often. I’m going to try and pick up more often. I’ll do it.

It sure seems easy, raising my hand to my ear, but sometimes its about the hardest thing in the world.