"The main emotion of the adult Northeastern American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment."
—Walker Percy quoting John Cheever
Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit. A house just came on the market right down the block that would be perfect for us and TOP. I mean completely, absolutely, no-reservations 100% perfect. Get this: it has all we need to live on one level plus a finished 37x13' lower half-basement looking out over the back yard that's just begging to be used as a home office. I could set up a tabletop studio for product shots, I could set up a printer, I could put in a desk for a part-time assistant or an intern...we could grow....
Thirty-seven feet is the same as the long dimension of my current rectangle-shaped house! Wow. It would be exactly like having half my house for an office. Almost down to the square foot.
And I ain't ready. Can't swing the deal. [See UPDATE below.] I've been saving my money for years and I could pay two down payments on that house, but...well, to a bank, I don't have a job. "You have a website? Pal, everybody has a website. Show us a W-2."
All sorts of plans and no way to bust out of these four walls that hem me in. I know, I'm just bellyaching, and I richly deserved to be ignored. Sorry*. This whole house business is close to driving me crazy is all. I am feeling so stymied lately. Snookered, to borrow a term from, well, snooker. Makes me cranky.
I guess everybody in the whole wide world can imagine living in a nicer house than they can afford. So I'll say it myself, and then you won't have to: shut up, Mike.
• • •
This stymied feeling reminds me again of the story of "the Year." Every time I try to write about "the Year," it sounds like I'm just complaining. I'm not, really, because I'm too old for "the Year" now and I couldn't do it even if...well, even if I could do it.
Here's the story about the Year. When I was coming up in photography, I would always read about photographers. And of course you always read about great photographers, just like you always read about great athletes if you're into sports or great writers if you're into writing or whatever. If you're a kid dreaming of sporting glory you never read biographies of ordinary, garden-variety good athletes, the kind of guys who get drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and serve as practice dummies in training camp for one summer then get dumped, or the kind of guys who make a big-time college baseball team and spend two of their four college years injured and then don't get drafted and end up being the Big Man in the kind of softball league where you take your beer in a plastic cup out to the outfield with you, and set it on the ground first when a fly ball is heading your way. That's the kind of photographer I turned out to be. But the guys I was reading about always seemed to get a year when all they had to do was photograph, whatever they wanted, whatever they wanted. Somebody (usually named Guggenheim) would just say, "here's cash; go work," and they'd go work.
And here's the funny part: I just assumed that one day I'd get my turn. That is, at some point in my then-future, I thought I'd get a year, too. Just because Edward Weston and Robert Frank did. Why did I ever even think that at all? I don't know. I just did.
I don't want a Year any more—I'm too old now. (In the same way that when they turn 40—well, 50, at least—the high-school quarterback or shortstop finally accepts the fact that they're never going to be Joe Montana or Ozzie Smith.) What's funny about it is how completely I bought into the assumption, and for how long. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about how I was going to use my Year...somehow neglecting to spend any time at all appraising whether I was going to get one.
It was literally 20 years before it dawned on me that it was never going to happen. No Year for me. That's okay, because there's no Year for most of us...99% of us, or 99.9. Even those who really deserve it, which admittedly doesn't include me. I'm over it now. It's just that I lived with that dream for so long that somehow it seemed like it had to come true. I failed to ever question it. Guess I wasn't thinking about it straight-on; it was just this background assumption hiding in the background of my brain, never coming out in to the light.
The moral of this story? The old Rolling Stones tune. Can't always get what you want**. A little advice: be smart. Want what you have. You can't take assumptions with you to the bank.
• • •
The organizer is literally at the door, so I gotta go. After that, as penance, I'm going to spend some time thinking about all the many ways in which I like my life.
I'll be off tomorrow, then we're back on Monday with a great piece by the great Jim Hughes about the Fuji X-E1. Life is good.
*But that's the point of an editorial, you know. Traditionally, one purpose of the editorial was to allow the editor to blow off some steam and express his or her own opinions and/or feelings; it was felt that the duty of remaining objective would be too difficult if there wasn't an escape valve. The editor got to indulge his own opinions in the editorial space specifically so that he wouldn't indulge his own opinions in the rest of the newspaper. That's the classical journalistic theory, anyway. Even though it doesn't apply very much to TOP.
**For that matter, how many tens—hundreds—of thousands of guys have spent any time thinking that they were going to be Mick Jagger or Keith Richards when they grew up? Maybe that's just my generation and the ones on either side of it. It's kept Guitar Center in business for years.
P.S. Crank that video.
"Open Mike" is the editorial page of TOP, not like we need one. It usually appears on Sundays, but not this week.
UPDATE Sunday morning: I feel like a cad and a bounder for having posted this whinging post yesterday...before I'd seen the news about what happened out on the Great Plains on Friday. A massive line of ferocious storms spawned tornados like the brooms of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, and people all over had their cars tossed into the air, their homes reduced to kindling, and were dealing with floodwaters rising to their windows. And I was grousing. Well, I did tell myself to shut it, at least.
Still and all, I woke up this morning feeling determined. I'm going to give this the "old college try." There are lots of complications I couldn't explain in detail yesterday, but it just makes sense for TOP to have more room. It's always the hardest to grow when you're the smallest; a single full-time employee for me would be a 100% increase in payroll! A sudden 100% increase in staff would be tough for GM or GE, wouldn't it?
I've been aware for at least two years that I'd outgrown my space, and I've explained in the past the near-inpossibility of expanding it in my current circumstances. Lots has to happen before I'd be able to move, and it might not work. But I'm gonna go for it.
More space would mean I could set up a printing operation and we could have more print sales. I could hire people to help with fulfillment and give them space in which to work—meaning that we could have READER print sales. I could hire bookkeeping temps to help with the sales (the primary reason we don't do more of them is that I get so stressed out about the bookkeeping, a task I simply have zero aptitude for. But there are people who can do that). I could provide a desk and a computer for a part-time assistant editor who could ease the load of the daily chores and free me to do more of what I do best—the writing part.
And maybe we could actually publish some beautiful, useful books...instead of just talking about it. I actually have lots of ideas for things that would improve this site, but I can't do everything myself.
It all makes great good sense—perfectly sound business sense, good sense for my health and personal peace of mind, and, most importantly, good sense for those who enjoy reading TOP and want it to keep on keepin' on...and even want more of it.
If this works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'm going to give it a try.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Jim Bullard: "I hear you. I never thought of it in terms of 'a year' though. I just envisioned myself in a successful career, something like a staffer at National Geographic, travelling all over on assignment, having adventures and making wonderful photographs. The closest I came was a request from the Smithsonian to make some photos for free, a project that would have involved taking a week off from my day job (you know the one that actually pays but has nothing to do with art or photography). I needed money worse than photo credits so I declined. 'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans,' said John Lennon. What happened in his life was pretty spectacular (except for the last) by most people's standards so one wonders what he was planning that didn't happen. I thought my 'year' would come when I retired but (as long as we're on a musical thread), 'clouds got in my way,' so I soldier on. My life isn't over yet, and I plan to live to 105. We'll see how well that plan works."
Carsten Bockermann: "I thought the disppointment mentioned in the introductory quote was a typically German thing. As we say over here: the history of Germany after the war is made up of almost 70 years of peace, wealth, and a grouchy mood. ;-) "
Mart (partial comment): "This week's Archdruid Report seems apt: 'Therapists call it provisional living: the belief that life will become what it’s supposed to be once x happens...but it always has two distinctive features. The first is that x serves as an anchor for a flurry of unrealistic fantasies about the future that will supposedly arrive once x happens; the second is that x never happens.'"
Mike replies: I practice what I call retrogressive provisional living. I'm always believing my life will change when I achieve some fantasized goal, but the goals I'm shooting for are the ones I had years ago. So when I finally achieve them—and I often do—they're already outdated and no longer appropriate to my life. I'll be ready to get married and settle down when I'm 70, for instance. :-D
As my Pappy used to say (he really did, all the time): "Timing is everything."
JackS: "Don't do it. Do not publish a review of the Fuji X-E1. Neither my bank account nor my marriage could survive a remotely favorable review of the camera I've been pining for. (OK, both would survive, but it would be rocky for a bit.)"
The Lazy Aussie: "Crowdsource it. Pozible it. Whatever. You are the only person on the web with a store of goodwill large enough to convert into a (modest) new house. Put me down for a doorknob. Front or back. Surprise me."
Mike replies: Hugh Crawford emailed me a hilarious Kickstarter proposal that suggested naming rights to individual bricks as one of the rewards....
Larry Wilkins: "Great piece, Mike. I was lucky enough to have had my Year, although I didn't realize at the time that it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. When I was 34 I quit my job and spent a year traveling in Asia. I woke up every morning and did whatever I wanted with no pressure or anxiety, read a 100 books or so, trekked in the Himalayas, sorted out the American experience in Vietnam, met a guy who taught me about photography and introduced me to Pentax (he shot with an LX), etc.
"Now I have three kids and probably will never be able to retire, but no regrets. And sometimes when I am lucky I dream of night markets in Thailand or sunrise from the top of Mt. Kinabalu or riding a motorcycle in Sumatra. I hope you still get your Year but in the meantime don't underestimate the value of what you do every day."