This is the question I ask myself whenever I am facing a big decision regarding my work. As my success has grown over the last few years I have found myself asking it on almost a weekly basis. Our modern culture is decidedly lacking when it comes to role models who demonstrate how to maintain integrity in a culture that pushes mass consumerism and selling out at every turn. At some point early on in their career Fugazi decided that they were going to set some very definite boundaries about what they would (only play venues for all ages) and wouldn’t do (sign a record deal for money) . I have heard a story (secondhand) that they turned down a deal worth millions in order to keep control over their work and maintain their integrity. They never sold merchandise because it felt like a money grab, and it complicated things. When asked why they didn’t take the money and use it for great things (to change the world) Ian MacKaye stated something like, “we all have to do what allows us to sleep at night.”
I can’t say that I’ve been able to tow the exact same hard lines as Fugazi, (yes, I signed with a big publisher), but I will say that I aspire to go as far in their direction as possible (not do products for products sake, give away as much as I can for free, make things that people can afford). Recently I have been turning down deals, product offshoots, merchandise, publicity, etc. on an almost weekly basis. Because I don’t believe in it. I wish to speak the truth, and for myself that means only doing things that I can stand behind, that have a reason to exist, that have meaning for me. This feels good, and allows me to sleep at night. I am very lucky to have an agent and an editor that totally get me and stick up for my ideals too.
I feel myself getting stronger and more powerful with every “No”! But it definitely helps to have Fugazi as something to model myself after. So many times I have wished I could pick up the phone and call Ian MacKaye and say “what should I do here?” Even though I realize that if I sit quietly with myself I already know the answer.
There are days when everything I see seems to me charged with meaning: messages it would be difficult for me to communicate to others, define, translate into words, but which for this very reason appear to me decisive. They are announcements or presages that concern me or the world at once: for my part, not only the external events of my existence but also what happens inside, in the depths of me; and for the world, not some particular event but the general way of being of all things.
Italo Calvino, fr. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller
For many in our society life is pallid, dull, and insipid. Lacking any sense of adventure. How can we develop in our young the sense of wonder, of magical beauty in living and learning? A sense of excitement and eagerness to learn is natural in all children, yet we have found ways to stifle these enthusiasms in a very effective manner.
If we could be as efficient in supporting a child’s eagerness to learn as we have been in stifling this eagerness, this would revolutionize life as we know it.
This is one of the key questions pertaining to the improvement of human welfare: How can we build excitement and meaning into daily life? –Not with motorcycles, tennis, and TV, but with socially valid action?
Wm. (Bill) S. Coperthwaite (pg 3 of A Handmade Life) The world will miss you!
The single greatest harm done by the story our culture tells comes from the divisions it enforces within each of us. We are assured in a million ways that the sensational intelligence of the body is not really worth paying attention to. And we find, indeed, that the more unmindful we become of our bodies, the more they appear to be mindless. And so we are persuaded to separate from the body and live in the head, assured by a culture that passes off this pathological dissociation as completely normal, natural and unavoidable. Once we are caught in the prison of our craniums, we are unable to join the world–though our hearts yearn to do so. Instead of joining it, we think about it, and analyze it, and judge it. That’s just how we are, and it’s what we imagine the normal human state to be.
The description of ‘normal’ we have been raised on may be as hard to detect as a chameleon in a landscape, but it is always there exerting its influence–and its effect can be felt in a sense of frustration or lack in our lives as we try to live a story that is at odds with reality. When we attempt to recover peace in our lives, our efforts more often resemble anxiety management than any kind of real peace. Being estranged from our bodies, we feel victimized by them–and so when they hurt or fall sick, we feel fear or annoyance or betrayal; and when we exert them or look in the mirror, we may feel guilt or vanity or anger about the shape they are in. And though we accept the fact of our essential solitude, we cannot bear the emptiness of our own company. To alleviate it, we surround ourselves with distractions: chat rooms, telephones, computer games, shopping, Web browsing, Twittering, and of course popular entertainment that wears meaning on its sleeve as an assurance to us all. We generally have neither the time nor the attention span for art that draws us into the unnamable ambiguities of life itself. When we try to improve our situation, we look about for answers that will help us connect and feel better about ourselves–yet none of the self-help prescriptions seems to work for very long. Our ability to escape that divided state is hampered by our difficulty in understanding that what holds us back are the very things we accept as the normal givens of the world.
As we relate to the body, so we relate to the world.
Philip Shepherd (excerpted from New Self, New World, Recovering our Senses in the Twenty-first Century)