This I Believe

Mario - Lawrence, Kansas
Entered on November 15, 2006

This I believe. We are most dishonest with our passion.

I only know one person whom I consider a friend that fits the label: starving artist. That’s my friend Larry. I hadn’t thought about Larry in over two years, but on our commute home last Friday, Larry became the hero of our conversation.

Before we get to Larry, let me first share the context in which he became our protagonist. My wife and I work for a multinational company. She is an English major who works as an administrative assistant. I have a degree in Art History, and likewise, I came into the finance department as a clerk. One year after I started that job, I was promoted. My work had become more analytical. Recently, I’ve been interviewing within the company for a promotion. The interpersonal communication sessions that have been my interviews instilled in me the belief that we are most dishonest with our passion.

You see, I haven’t finished my MBA, so my resume cites my experiences and accomplishments. It’s the line that reads: B.A. in Art History from The University of Kansas, which spurts discussion. I have been answering a lot of questions directed towards my passion. The questions go like this: Why Art History? Do you have a passion for business, finance, or art? And my favorite, which came up on an interview where the interviewer was sure that he had delved deep into my core: “Wouldn’t you be happier working for a not for profit organization?”

Enter Larry. Larry popped into my head like one of those great ideas that wait for no one and command every notion that forms one’s definition of the word: revelation. I actually said his name out loud, which was funny because my wife has not met Larry. The way I described Larry to her was by using the phrase “starving artist.” But as I did so, the phrase seemed inadequate.

Larry is a musician. He moved to Jersey about two years ago, and I have not heard from him since. I met Larry through my friend Bryce, who played the electric piano in their band: “The Hefners.”

I suspect that if this gets out I’ll have to do some damage control because this is where I tell you that “The Hefners” did not sound good. I guess it’s really a matter of taste though. For instance, I happen to love the way Dylan sings, and would rather listen to the 7 Seconds version of “99 Red Balloons,” to Nena’s version of that same song any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

As is common with artists, Larry does not have health insurance. I doubt he’s ever even looked at a prospectus for a 401K. Before my wedding, Bryce informed me that Larry had pneumonia.

I have nothing but respect for Larry. I never knew the guy to own a telephone, much less a cellular one. The guy had no T.V. He read voraciously. I never knew him to have more than two meals per day, and these meals consisted of one piece of toast and a glass of milk, or what he could get free at whatever restaurant he was working at that week. Larry is the guy who works the door at the local Indi watering hole four times a week, and if lucky will play with his band at the same bar once every three months. I prefer to think of Larry as the skinny guy with high-waters and a coat that is not thick enough, who walks down the downtown streets at a brisk pace with his head buried in a book.

To be fair, “The Hefners,” did go to The Netherlands on tour. Gosh, must have been five years ago. Their story is not of ones who’ve made it big. So here is the kicker. I know that these guys are aware of their slim to none chances of making it as recording artists. They have to. They are both now in their thirties, and have not headlined a show with more than sixty people present. Neither of them could pick up a guitar at a dinner party and command your attention with their talent, though I’d love to be there to see them do it. Last I heard neither Bryce nor Larry currently play in a band.

What I felt the most proud to share with my wife was that Larry did it. He totally made the decision to live for his dream and love it, regardless of the outcome. He is all passion. There is no doubt in my mind that as we get older, Larry will have to compromise his passion for playing music for a little reality.

As I explained the little mental explosion that had brought Larry to our conversation, the idea that merited these words became obvious to me. The honesty that ought to prevail in job interviews suffers greatly from the same kind of delusion of grandeur that forms much of our definition of a starving artist. The starving artist knows why he starves, and the interviewer does not honestly expect that one’s passion can be described in a job description. Every hiring manager knows that she is crazy to think that her passion is sitting in the chair opposite you. And even if she did, and you did as well, neither of you honestly think that passion can be reduced to performing a single task, for it is well accepted that too much of one thing spoils passion. People have passions. And it is precisely this plurality that constitutes all that is well with our existence. Our commute came to a close, as my wife and I entertained the following:

If society considered art to be the kind of discipline that provided the kind of life style currently enjoyed by middle to upper class America, how many of us who currently comprise the middle class would be willing to live like Larry, in order to hold the jobs we currently hold?

This I believe. We are most dishonest with our passion.