Tuesday, June 03, 2008

All day, when I haven’t been working, writing my pilot, I’ve been turning over this idea in my mind about doing favors for people expressly so that they will do favors for you in the future. And even though I know, yes, I know this is the reason we are social creatures at all, even though this is – at least – the unconscious understanding between people when one does a favor for another, (I am not so polyannish as to deny that) but still, I’m telling you, IT CREEPS ME OUT TO THINK OF IT LIKE THAT.

I was so thankful for the comment about not doing things for people unless you wanted to and not expecting anything in return. I do feel I am like that. I think I am like that. I don’t want to NOT be like that. I hope I am like that.

I was thinking today about how that’s what commerce is, that’s what money is. Our way of making sure we get what we expect to get. I mean, that’s not about community. But still, it’s in this range of ideas I’m mulling over.

I know this is all too broad a topic. And I don’t even have that much to add to it. But after I wrote the last post, I thought – the example of the Seattle Film Society friends is just one example in my life. Of course you must have known that. But I didn’t want to elevate that example, nor denigrate it. I appreciated the comments about a church being a place where people of similar common interests reside. That is true too.

But I will say that the only Republicans I know – almost – are from Spokane, and they are people I grew up with. Not all of them, thankfully only a few of them. The Catholic Church there is probably the place where I would come across people with very different worldviews and different political views than myself. It would be a place where I would have to bowl with other people who did not share my views.

I will get that book, “Bowling Alone.” I also heard an interview with an author of a book called “The Big Sort,” which is out now too and I think its dealing with the same topic. A phrase I heard from the “Big Sort” author that resonated with me was, “as we surround ourselves with others who have similar opinions and worldviews, it’s good for individuals, but not so much for the larger community.”

But jeez. Even though I wanted to move to Spokane for a long time, that doesn’t mean I want to spend my time arguing with conservative Republicans. That seems like such a time suck. It’s so boring! I would rather argue about the finer details of something else – not those nauseatingly simple ideas that I find myself arguing about with these people. I would probably find other people in Spokane more like me and hang out with them.

But this is what I’m turning over in my mind now. How much does awareness influence your behavior in this realm we are discussing?

In some ways, maybe it’s good. Awareness makes a person smarter; you understand the complexities of human exchange – whether social or economic. On the other hand, doesn’t it sort of ruin it? Isn’t it better for the band saw to be offered with no expectations for a return favor? But if a person does this, is this person just being naïve and childlike? But then, doesn’t awareness of this make you somehow, a little bit even… conniving?

I just listened to a part of a radio show today on KCRW called “In The Biz” or something like that. It is about show business. It’s a good show. Two authors were being interviewed on the show about a book they wrote for aspiring movie, movie, movie what? I guess movie power-people. And it was about how to work the “assistant” job in Hollywood so as not to be a sucker and to use the job to gain power and influence. They had a thing about how you could tell if you were a “career assistant” (which in their view is a fate worse than death.) One of the ways you could tell if you were going nowhere was if you had the urge to buy cupcakes for someone’s birthday; a person was of lower status or equal status to yourself. They derisively laughed at that idea.

Oh my god, I would never have made it in Hollywood.

Except, I kind of did.

At least to me, I did. But I swear, I never did stuff to get ahead. I was not ambitious in a strategizing kind of way. If I even became aware that I was, or should be, it never felt right.

You could say that this is why I spent an hour tonight with a guy who is cutting my movie trailer practically for free in his off hours. Then I drove home home underneath several two-story-high movie ads for Mike Myers' new movie. And I’m not saying that Mike Myers was more ambitious – well, he was definitely more ambitious – but… I’m not saying that people who are enormously successful are conniving. Not at all. In fact I know several very successful people that... wait, do I? Hmmm...

But I do seriously wonder if they are just smarter and more at ease with human social exchange than I am, and more comfortable with what it takes or something.

Oh god, this sounds like I’m a sad sack. I am not. I feel great. I like my career, I would not chose any other career for myself. I'm proud of my work and I am proud of my life in general, too. There is no wishing it had gone differently. Not every day is so rosey, but I will admit that just today, I had a feeling come over me. I was as happy as I thought it was humanly possible to get. I worked on my pilot, I took my daughter to gymnastics, I worked on the trailer edit, I’m married to a guy that is so much kinder, smarter and funnier than I would have ever dared to hope for. Life is awesome.

But listening to that radio interview today, coupled with the conversation we seem to be having here, it just made me think about this whole idea of exchange. Being in social groups where exchange is expected and looked for. Not just of ideas (which doesn’t bother me for some reason) – but of services.

I have a friend who joined a business group. They were meeting every week and then using each other’s contacts to enhance their business. It was so creepy to me! I mean, who were those other people? How good could their recommendations be when they met the person at a business promoters-gathering.

I thought of another tangential thing and then it’s the end of my rambling.

I have an old friend who came to my house once (I have lived in the same place for sixteen years now) and she said, “Great piece of property!”

I couldn’t stop thinking about that for almost a year. I made jokes in my head about it all the time. “Great piece of property Sweet Great piece of Property” “Great Piece of Property is Where the Heart Is” “Toto, I just want to go to my Great Piece of Property.”


Sheldon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheldon said...

Hi, Julia! You said so much in this post, but the one itch I'm forced to scratch here is the one about the Republicans you know being in Spokane and how you're kinda glad you didn't move there.

I'm so with ya on that! I'm from a small town in Central California that's just about as conservative as you can get. I met my partner there, and since he's from "Connecticut money," he fit right in there with all their Conservative Republican beliefs. I was absolutely miserable, but Steve fit right in with Them. He played golf with Them. He did business with Them. And he generally liked (and was liked by) Them. I, on the other hand, argued with just about everyone I ever met...eventually. If I hadn't had the college I attended (and later taught at), I would have lost my mind!

I had friends who would say, "Why make yourself miserable? Just don't talk about politics and you'll be okay." But it's not just about who you plan to vote for. Those conservative, liberal/progressive ideals permeate just about everything you can think of, from which people you consider friends, to how you feel about Civil Rights, gay marriage, abortion, immigration, employer vs. employeee disputes, etc., etc. Eventually you're forced to sit and discuss the weather! But don't mention global warming, or the fight continues.

Oddly, now that we live in the SF Bay Area, I'm having the opposite problem. People up here are so insanely liberal, it makes me feel positively conservative! They chastise me for eating meat, insist that I buy "organic" whenever possible, and one friend actually laughed at me because she saw that I'd purchased Wonder Bread! Hey, I happen to LIKE Wonder Bread!

Julie said...

Sheldon, I understand exactly what you mean. Our politics/religious views are such a part of us and I'm not sure I'd want it to be another way. I have a friend who is married to a Conservative Republican who is very into telling people how to live. She says frequently "it's just his politics" but to me, it is so much more.
I live in Atlanta and it is easy enough in a city this large to find ppl with similar views, but venture a few miles outside of the city limits and it is a sobering realization of how little things have changed. No use for critical thinking with so many churches to do your thinking for you. SF sounds pretty sweet to me right now....(but I get what you are saying)

Anonymous said...

The word that seems to color your thinking is "expressly" as in doing favors for people SOLELY for the purpose of something in return.
But isn't that extreme?
And in the nature of the EITHER/OR that limits possibility (and that comes from the religious idea of either hell fire and damnation OR eternal life with nothing in between)?
I certainly don't want to appear as coming down on the side of craven pandering for questionable success, but only to suggest that sometimes what is ugly and contentious in one connection might be a tool for actual accomplishment in another...as well as many levels in between.
In other words: complexity reigns, as always, supreme... both in moral context and the pragmatic.
Picture this: everyone (or at least all the males) sit around in the cave telling each other how right they are about almost everything,and that the social and economic structure as it is exists has given them the best of all possible worlds.
(Everything being how to spear the mastodon for the winters food, and teaching the little woman how to keep the fire going and the children fed and safe.)

Given that scenario, we would still be living in those caves.
So, I don't think anyone can deny that not only is speaking critically to the status quo important, is is indispensable to progress.
And speaking critically in an atmosphere of dogmatism demands, in order to be successful, the acquiring of allies, of support, which is the genesis of networking and back-room politics: "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."
The point is that like science, like Darwinism, progress is amoral, and doesn't always match up to "good guys finish first."
If you take something a priori based on RIGHT, on impeccable, unquestionable, moral clarity.. say the elimination of apartheid in American life via the impetus of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the actually LEGAL death blow to discrimination in housing, schools, public accomodation. was accomplished, finally not by good and morally motivated people taking to the streets, but by the sometimes arm-breaking machinations of behind- the- scenes politics.
And moreover by the not-very-nice-guy offices of one Lyndon Johnson, who had all the makings of a Caligula.
The point is that while, yeah, I agree with you that the buying of favors and the constant networking that often brings not the cream but the fetid water to the top is repellent and disheartening, there is also this: that eventually, even at the cost of suffering and pain, the worthwhile ("Citizen Kane") will make the list of monuments to human ingenuity.
Civilization is, after all, a continuing march of two steps forward, and one step back.

That is not to say that no evil exists, and that the banding together of the powerful to ensure their own survival at devastating cost to the weak hasn't marked human history so often to ill-effect.
It is only to suggest that the forces that propel us forward, as well as those than contribute to our moral and even practical fallibility are very complicated: some (if not all) of the world's worst bloodlettings had their roots in the highest of moral intentions, and the purest of motives (the French and Russian revolutions come immediately to mind but similar examples prevail).
And increasingly so particularly as moral rectitude and politics (the art of getting things done by consensus) are not synonymous and never have been.

Norma Manna Blum

K.C. said...

I loved this post. When I said that I had done a lot of soul searching this past year, a lot of it was on this very subject.

I have to say that once we get out of the realm of doing things just to get out of the realm of getting things, then life changes. It's like when you do something for your child, very rarely are you doing it so that your child will do something for you. I don't know. I am not in Hollywood or the acting business. I guess maybe I am a bit naive or so. But, then again, maybe not. It is like that I guess on so many levels.

I had a neighbor when I moved into my new home tell me that "she owed me one" when I kept her child for her one afternoon after school. And she really did mean it. I didn't get that. I guess I am sounding like some sort of do-gooder when I am so far from it.

My husband is part of one of those networking groups as well. It is a bit creepy. I agree. Just "be" to "be". That is where success and real living is.. KC

Froggymama said...

Wow, I heard the entire interview on KCRW and was equally horrified.

I happen to be a personal assistant to an amazing tv/film director and perhaps it's the "career assistant" in me, but I was creeped out by their method of getting ahead in Hollywood.

For six years I worked for tv writers, directors, managers, with the same methodical and at times maniachal hope of "making it" as a writer. I babysat their kids, I attended family funerals, housesat, and puppysat. I lived for the people I assisted. And part of me always believed that it was for the big payoff. Someday I could ask for the favor, that 'pass my script to your producer friend favor.

Two years ago my daughter was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis and my dream of being a tv writer shriveled like a raisin in the proverbial sun. Suddenly, all of that work, the years of taking care of people, putting their lives ahead of my own felt like a big slap in the face. It was all for nothing! I could have been working at Ikea and atleast would have had a discount on crappy furniture.

But then it occured to me in a Dorothy-clinking-her-feet-together-moment. I loved the people I assisted. They were important, not because of what they could do for me, but because they were important TO me. And all those years of making connections became just that, making connections with people. People who opened my mind and life.

I may not have a hollywood career, but I have great friends who happen to work in Hollywood. And someday when there is a cure for Cystic Fibrosis, and I finally have a moment to write, I'll make those calls. But for now, I'm content in knowing that my friends are just my friends.

You strike me as the type of person who appreciates people for being people, rather than opportunities too.

Fargofan1 said...

Oh Lord I have so missed Julia Sweeney's writing. My personal life got overwhelming. Anyway I am strolling through this blog again and it's like, "aaah." Even if she's taking a blogging break, there is still bloggy goodness to enjoy. "There's no place like great-piece-of-property." (I wonder what's been going on at the forum...)