I found two great reads today about the historic (and my favorite) show, Seinfeld. Ah, yes …the show about four insecure characters who didn’t know they were so neurotic — or maybe they just didn’t care. The show changed my life, in terms of both humor and general creativity. Seinfeld taught me what it was like to be funny through the eyes of someone else: a writer.
When you think about the writers on the show, and then compact their sheer genius with the actors and the directors and all the people on the set, it is almost one of those situations where two meteors collided and an iconic television rose from the debris of the crash. These kinds of things don’t happen often, to make something so good that you celebrate its inception 25 years later. (And Jesus Christ, 25 years? The show is almost older than me.)
I still watch it a lot. Some might say I watch too much. Eh, I don’t care. It makes me happy, it makes me wonder, it makes me think. Oh, and it makes me strive to be a better writer and a better creator. The show has that kind of inspiration, to make you want to do something that great and be remembered for it. The people involved with that show will forever be linked to not only one another but the rest of cultural society through jabs, one-liners and obscure memories.
“To me it seems to be important to believe people to be good even if they tend to be bad, because your own joy and happiness in life is increased that way, and the pleasures of the belief outweigh the occasional disappointments. To be a cynic about people works just the other way around and makes you incapable about enjoying the good things.
It’s insulting to imply that only a system of rewards and punishments can keep you a decent human being. Isn’t it conceivable a person wants to be a decent human being because that way he feels better?”
– Isaac Asimov
This post seems especially fitting considering the news I have just heard (which I will hopefully discuss soon, to a degree). Human beings look at death as a dreary occasion, one that has many downsides and no upsides. Yes, death is sad because it is just so final. Tons of memories abound from seemingly nowhere, taking you back to a different time and place in not in the dying person’s life but also your own. Sometimes, it’s just too much to bear.
I happened to come across an interesting quote from a man I have come to highly respect, albeit through his words and statements. Chuang-Tzu is not only a beacon for Taoism, but one for living a good life and putting things into perspective when maybe there is dwindling hope or overriding pessimism. The fact is, we all understand how life works: you are born, you try to live a decent life and then you die. What happens before birth and after death is another conversation, but it’s one that we as humans should think about from time to time. Basically, remember the good times. Remember that the suffering eventually ends for everyone, in whatever way you decipher.
Here is the excerpt I read:
When Chuang-Tzu’s wife died his friend came to visit him only to find him singing merrily and drumming on pots and pans.
His friend said, “I know you’re a Taoist Master and that life and death do not affect you, but to be singing after your wife dies, is this not a bit much?”
Chuang replied, “At first when my wife passed I was sad and wept. But then I realized there was something formless and perfect long before my wife was born. Then this spirit of life was breathed into her body. I was fortunate enough to meet her and spend time with such a beautiful person. Then it was time for the spirit of life to leave her body just as all things change. To be upset about this is to live counter to the Tao. So I stopped crying and started celebrating.”
“I have lived more of my life than is to come: That is an interesting place for an artist – more interesting than writing about your first girlfriend. It is kind of serious. . . In our sixties, how do we face this imponderable idea that we are not going to exist anymore? We make art. We tell stories. We have to face it, to tell it. I am certainly not ready for death. Do I fear it? Well, I fear sudden death. I want to die consciously. I want to see the process. I suppose I already do.” – STING
Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) gave a keynote address in 1990, at the school in which he graduated: Kenyon College. He talks about what it means to really, truly love something you do in life. He said that a “real job” is a job you hate because, well, you do it for reasons other than happiness (see: receiving a paycheck to pay for other things that don’t necessarily make you happy).
And he talks about the hardships that come with success, especially in the sense of how others will do everything they can to make money off your own imagination.
Here’s a few excerpts of my favorite parts:
“For years I got nothing but rejection letters, and I was forced to accept a real job.
A REAL job is a job you hate. I designed car ads and grocery ads in the windowless basement of a convenience store, and I hated every single minute of the 4-1/2 million minutes I worked there. My fellow prisoners at work were basically concerned about how to punch the time clock at the perfect second where they would earn another 20 cents without doing any work for it. It was incredible: after every break, the entire staff would stand around in the garage where the time clock was, and wait for that last click. And after my used car needed the head gasket replaced twice, I waited in the garage too.
Anyway, after a few months at this job, I was starved for some life of the mind that, during my lunch break, I used to read those poli sci books that I’d somehow never quite finished when I was here. Some of those books were actually kind of interesting. It was a rude shock to see just how empty and robotic life can be when you don’t care about what you’re doing, and the only reason you’re there is to pay the bills.
Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” That’s one of those dumb cocktail quotations that will strike fear in your heart as you get older. Actually, I was leading a life of loud desperation.
When it seemed I would be writing about “Midnite Madness Sale-abrations” for the rest of my life, a friend used to console me that cream always rises to the top. I used to think, so do people who throw themselves into the sea.
I tell you all this because it’s worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It’s a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you’ll probably take a few.
I still haven’t drawn the strip as long as it took me to get the job. To endure five years of rejection to get a job requires either a faith in oneself that borders on delusion, or a love of the work. I loved the work. Drawing comic strips for five years without pay drove home the point that the fun of cartooning wasn’t in the money; it was in the work. This turned out to be an important realization when my break finally came.
Like many people, I found that what I was chasing wasn’t what I caught. I’ve wanted to be a cartoonist since I was old enough to read cartoons, and I never really thought about cartoons as being a business. It never occurred to me that a comic strip I created would be at the mercy of a bloodsucking corporate parasite called a syndicate, and that I’d be faced with countless ethical decisions masquerading as simple business decisions. To make a business decision, you don’t need much philosophy; all you need is greed, and maybe a little knowledge of how the game works.
Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards. The so-called “opportunity” I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I’d need. What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and T-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that actually expressed my own thoughts.
You will find your own ethical dilemmas in all parts of your lives, both personal and professional. We all have different desires and needs, but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.
Many of you will be going on to law school, business school, medical school, or other graduate work, and you can expect the kind of starting salary that, with luck, will allow you to pay off your own tuition debts within your own lifetime.
But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.”
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