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inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #26 of 73: Josh Piven (jpiven) Sat 25 Aug 07 16:33
    
I'll take the second question first: I found the people thru various
means--go back and read my earlier post (early in the thread); some I
found through word of mouth, some I approached after determining that I
wanted to find someone in their particular fields (circus clown, Navy
SEAL, ball players, etc). A few of the people I had interviewed for
previous books. There were some people I approached whom I did not end
up using, for various reasons.

Re: the frugal lifestyle: Who wants to wait till they're too old to
enjoy all life has to offer before finally being able to enjoy it? I
might be hit by a bus (or, more likely, SUV) tomorrow: why would I want
to put off for 30 years the things that make me happy? There's a great
quotation--sometimes attributed to Robertson Davies, or maybe
Vonnegut--that goes like this: "Of all the words of mice and men, the
saddest are these: It might have been."

In other words, life is too short for regrets. Personally, I'd hate to
look back and see that I spent decades living frugally and giving up
important experiences just so I could (possibly) have more money later 
on. That's not to say don't save for the future. But I think there's a
reasonable tradeoff between living well and planning for the future.
And, if the work I really want to do is to pitch in the major leagues,
well, there ain't no call for 65 year old flamethrowers, Roger Clemens
notwithstanding.

<<BTW, is it possible to buy into the popular view of success and
fulfillment and be happy with anything less than first place?>>

I'm not sure how to answer this; what's the popular view? In this
country, it's wealth. But that's not the case in many developed
societies, including those in Europe. And there have been scores of
studies that basically prove that there's no correlation between
financial success and happiness. Zero. I think we tend to judge our own
happiness by comparing ourselves to others and speculating (with no
hard evidence) about their happiness levels. Call it keeping up with
the Joneses . . .
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #27 of 73: Ludo, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Sat 25 Aug 07 20:08
    
>I think we tend to judge our own happiness by comparing ourselves to
others and speculating (with no hard evidence) about their happiness
levels.<

Escaping from this tendency may be even more important (and more
difficult) than escaping to a different type of work or a different
locale.  The tendency could be one of the pathologies that come with
the benefits of being a social animal. 

Once the grass is no longer greener over yonder, all sort of
possibilities may open up.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #28 of 73: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sun 26 Aug 07 04:59
    
The minor-league ballplayer you profile, Josh, is an interesting
exception in the book. (I don't have my copy at hand and cannot
remember his name.) He's never risen above the A-level, which is three
large steps from the major leagues, and when we left him at the end of
his chapter he was playing for an independent league, yet another step
removed from "the show." Unlike the other people you profile, he
appears to have failed to achieve his dream. Or has he?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #29 of 73: beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Sun 26 Aug 07 12:27
    
i figured he fit the profile here by commenting that he'd rather kill
himself than sit in a cubicle.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #30 of 73: Autumn (autumn) Sun 26 Aug 07 14:10
    
Yes. He is considering becoming a firefighter because "...I like being the
one they go to when they need to get something done."
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #31 of 73: beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Sun 26 Aug 07 14:40
    
well he's off the Riversharks roster, I wonder if he's moved to another
independant league team, or off to firefighting.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #32 of 73: Josh Piven (jpiven) Sun 26 Aug 07 17:38
    
No, Chuck retired from baseball after the 2006 season (after the book
was already written) and, though keeping his hand in via coaching, has
joined the fire department. 

I of course didn't know, when I met him in the spring of 2005, that he
was close to calling it quits. And I'm sure he didn't know either. But
he was about to get married and I think realized he simply couldn't
live on that salary (if you can even call it that).

Is he the exception? I'm not so sure. Several of the escape artists
have had to alter their full-time pursuits (taking on other work to pay
the bills, for example), though granted he's the only one that's truly
left his true dream behind. But much of that is a factor of age: you
don't make the majors when you're 30 and have never played above A
ball.

However, don't forget that unlike everyone else in the book, his life
has revolved around his escape (that is, baseball) since he was three
years old. But, again, this book isn't all about happy (or let's say
"ideal" or "storybook") endings. 
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #33 of 73: Gail Williams (gail) Sun 26 Aug 07 19:48
    

I got to be in a theater troupe doing topical satire for a decade.  I
stopped when I got to the age where the idea of health insurance started to
really appeal to me.

I have talked to others with that story.  Somewhere nearing the age of 40 
it becomes obvious that frugal is one thing but just paing rent and food
is quite another.  

Have you seen that pattern?  If so, does that imply there might be more
escapees for longer stretches of life in countries with other health care 
systems?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #34 of 73: Josh Piven (jpiven) Mon 27 Aug 07 05:00
    
Certainly age and family pressures--that is, being responsible for
others as well as yourself--can affect how much escapism one can
practically accomplish. But I never heard my subjects talk specifically
about health care--or really too much about financial matters at all.
Most of them figured they'd determine how to make money later on.

Actually it's interesting, most of them kind of have this attitude
that things will eventually take care of themselves, or work out for
the best in some way. Perhaps positive thinking is part of the escape
artist mentality. (Or self-delusion? ;-) 

For those interested, my book "As Luck Would Have It" examines the
phenomenon of luck (good and bad) as it's experienced by individuals
(lottery winner, air crash victim, one-hit wonder, man lost in the
wilderness, and so on). As a corollary to ESCAPE ARTISTS, that book
gives an interesting perspective on how people think about their
circumstances when good and bad things happen to them. (Book's
available thru Amazon.)
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #35 of 73: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 27 Aug 07 05:49
    
>>>Actually it's interesting, most of them kind of have this attitude
that things will eventually take care of themselves, or work out for
the best in some way.<<<

For a year or so after she graduated college, my daughter worried she
would have to enter Cubicle World to make an adequate living, and would
never be able to pursue a passion as a career. Cubicle World worried
her, but trying to get by by selling little handmade knickknacks at the
Saturday fair in Portland, Ore., which was what a lot of her friends
were doing -- going no place, in other words -- scared her. I advised
her, perhaps a little impractically but out of love and protection for
her as her father, that if she followed a path that allowed her to do
what she loved, the rest -- money, security, etc. -- would fall into
place. She asked me about this several times, and I always gave her the
same advice, sometimes with the caveat that she might not make a lot
of money following her passion, but she'd be happy. 

She wanted to write for television. She moved from Portland to Los
Angeles. She networked like a demon and volunteered herself for a bunch
of production-assistant jobs. In relatively short order, a couple of
months, she got a temporary job at a company that produces television
commercials, and a couple months after that they made her a permanent,
salaried employee. Soon, she discovered she had skills she hadn't
really been aware of, namely managing details and keeping hysterical
Type A directors grounded and on track. She's not crazy about her
company -- she works in a cubicle, actually -- and she's ready to move
on now after more than a year in this particular job, but she's decided
to follow her management skills for the time being. She tells me she
gets a great amount of satisfaction solving a problem that's
complicated by logistics as well as personalities. These happen to be
precisely the kind of skills highly valued in entertainment management,
and I think she's going to go far (of course, I'm her dad; it's my
passion to believe in her).  

So she may not be following a passion, exactly, but she's following a
kind of fulfillment, and, well, it's working out, so far anyway. She's
not excited about her job, but she is excited about the possibilities
brought by the career path she has created. 
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #36 of 73: Cogito? (robertflink) Mon 27 Aug 07 06:48
    
Thanks for sharing yor daughter's experience, Steve.  Josh, how about
passion informd by little versus lots of experience?  

For that matter, do we really know ourselves as well as we think we
do?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #37 of 73: Josh Piven (jpiven) Mon 27 Aug 07 12:00
    
Good story, and one that seems likely to end well. As I wrote earlier
in the thread, we don't always know, straight off, what we want to do
with our lives, or what will make us fulfilled. Often we learn by
doing--and not always doing what we want. We do some things 'cause we
have to.  Similarly, even when we think we know, we can't always see a
clear path to getting there. 

Let me offer the chapter on Dan Egan  ("Extreme Entrepreneurship") as
an example. Dan started out, essentially, as a ski bum (though he did
finish college, so maybe a highly educated ski bum.) While pursuing his
dream of skiing full time, he really just fell into adventure film
making, mostly because his group of extreme skiers was being filmed as
they did their thing. Soon enough, he learned the business and began
making films himself--something he still does now that he's realized he
can't take the chances on the slopes that he used to. His educational
background in entrepreneurship def. helped him to organize his career
in a way that was a) appealing and b)more lucrative that just skiing
for fun and beer money.

So, as Steve's daughter discovered, sometimes we find new (or hidden)
talents and skills is unlikely places.

<<For that matter, do we really know ourselves as well as we think we
do?>>

Thus, I'd venture to say no, we don't. Which means we need to leave
all doors open.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #38 of 73: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 28 Aug 07 09:40
    
It could be said that when the security of regular employment with a
corporation or, say, the government is chosen, doors close as a result
of that choice. So perhaps most or even all of the people you profile,
Josh, in "The Escape Artists" possessed an instinct to keep doors open
no matter where the hallways those doors portal'd might lead. 

What I mean is, there seems to be a basic distinction in professional
adults separating those who enjoy, or at least who are not frightened
by, uncertainty and risk and those who migrate toward security and its
attendant comfort.  
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #39 of 73: Josh Piven (jpiven) Tue 28 Aug 07 16:28
    
Yes, escapism (escape artistry?) isn't for the risk averse or faint at
heart. But lets face it, even the "safest" corporate job in the world
isn't as safe as it used to be. Civil service is probably the safest,
in terms of lifetime employment--that and tenured professorship
anyway--but such jobs aren't exactly made for those in search of an
escape. More like in search of a steady paycheck.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #40 of 73: Autumn (autumn) Tue 28 Aug 07 17:39
    
People who have a passion for something that earns them a living are
lucky. Back in 1980, I fell in love with computer programming.  I switched
my major to computer science (loved staying up all night working on
programs), graduated, and got a job as a mainframe programmer/analyst.  
That was fun for a couple of years; since then I have changed my focus
slightly every few years, doing first LAN administration, then IS
auditing, then web development until I ended up as an IT consultant at a
bank.  That was the best job I've ever had, but the Dilbertness increased
every year until I finally felt burned out on corporate IT.  I'm lucky to
be able to afford to take six months or a year off to decide what I want
to do next.  I don't know exactly where I'll go from here, but something
will turn up.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #41 of 73: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 28 Aug 07 19:26
    
Josh, I like what you say about how the distinction between security
(steady paycheck) and risk (unreliable compensation) has narrowed.  

Our society offers its largest financial rewards to the successful
entrepreneur.  How do these individuals differ in temperment and
resolve from the "escape artist"? Those who risk capital and
production/services for a return on investment must be "artistic"
businessmen/women to succeed. Is it that the rewards you discuss being
pursued by your "escape artists" are often pursued without financial
reward as the foremost consideration?  Or is it not so simple? I'll bet
your minor league ballplayer would have been delighted to be called up
for a multi-year contract to the Show with its million dollar
salaries.  Playing in the Major League was clearly a prime objective of
this individual; this was his risk/return trade-off.  


In your choice of who to profile, did financial considerations factor
into which endeavors you found to be the most colorful?  I'm not seeing
a direct correlation that "escape artist" equals "the inevitable poor
starving artist." I think of the Grateful Dead, for example, never
expecting that their band would last more than a year let alone three
decades.  Certainly, the persistent way the band "followed their bliss"
also made them wealthy over the long haul.  Along the way, and through
much trial and error, the band developed an innovative business model
that sustained them financially. [This is not to say that for thousands
of rock bands from the late Sixties trying to create musical bliss,
there were only a select few that earned enough bread to last more than
two or three years]. 

In other words, do you see your "escape artists" as more
entrepreneurial or more naive with regards to fiscal considerations? 
What seems to drive these "escape artists" most if it's not a financial
dream, at least in part?  Do you sense in these people a more
well-rounded "art of living" than most of us paycheck bound worker
bees? 



   
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #42 of 73: Dodge (clotilde) Wed 29 Aug 07 12:26
    
How many people that you talked to 'escaped' via a jettison, for
whatever reason, from the jobs they thought they were going to retire
from?  ie Suddenly I don't have a job - do I REALLY want to continue
doing THIS?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #43 of 73: Josh Piven (jpiven) Wed 29 Aug 07 15:51
    
<<Our society offers its largest financial rewards to the successful
entrepreneur.>>

I'm not certain I agree with that. These days the ones most richly
rewarded seem to be those who invest other people's money and earn 20
percent of their gains--plus a 2% mgmt fee. And the rich get richer. Is
this entrepreneurship? I'm not so sure. More like collective
psychosis.

But I digress.

<<Those who risk capital and
production/services for a return on investment must be "artistic"
businessmen/women to succeed. Is it that the rewards you discuss being
pursued by your "escape artists" are often pursued without financial
reward as the foremost consideration? >>

The people I profile in the book are not ascetics or cave dwellers.
They care about money. But accumulating lucre isn't their primary (or
even secondary or tertiary) goal in life. For most of them, money is
important in terms of how it can enable them to continue to pursue
whatever it is they've chosen to do. Nobody ever got rich working for
the DEA (not legally, anyway, ha ha), whitewater rafting, being a
doctor in a forlorn village in Sub-Saharan Africa, or being a circus
clown. I will grant you that Chuck Bechtel clearly saw the major
leagues as the best--or, really, only--shot and making good money doing
what he loved: throwing a baseball. But if you read his chapter you'll
note that he actually have up an opportunity to join the Yankees in
favor of developing his talent further. This strikes me as a decision
by somebody motivated by more than just money. He also continued to
play for a pittance with the Riversharks mostly because that's what he
liked to do--he knew, as they all do, that the chanced of making the
Show are slim from that league.

<<In other words, do you see your "escape artists" as more
entrepreneurial or more naive with regards to fiscal considerations?
>>

Neither. One doesn't have to be "naive" to reject the life of a
business entrepreneur or a life whose purpose is devoted to making
money. Rather, I found that there are simply people--and I believe the
book's subjects are representative of a wider group, perhaps tens or
hundreds of thousands of people--who DON'T want to work in an office,
who DON'T want a 9-5 career, who crave adventure and excitement and
activity in their work lives, and who are more interested in
self-fulfillment (and in many cases altruism) than in making lots of
money.

The Dead and other successful artists (music and the visual arts) are
among the very lucky few able to become wealthy following their
escapist, creative path. As you noted, they are the exceptions, not the
rule. However, and just as an aside, if you've read Phil Lesh's book
"Searching For the Sound" you'll also note that the financial pressures
of running "The Grateful Dead The Business" (as opposed to "The
Grateful Deal The Band") almost killed the later. At many points the
band seemed to be touring just to pay the health insurance of its
employees--as Phil told it, they felt trapped.

So, there's a case where even successful creative types became
beholden to the financial behemoth they (inadvertently) created. 

But clearly, they are no longer in it for the money--if they ever
were. I can't imagine they Bob Weir and Phil Lesh tour because they're
behind on their credit cards. They do it cause they love it.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #44 of 73: Josh Piven (jpiven) Wed 29 Aug 07 15:54
    
Sorry for all the typos. It's annoying that this mb doesn't allow you
to edit your posts . . .
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #45 of 73: John Ross (johnross) Wed 29 Aug 07 16:35
    
>edit your posts . . .

try typing :e at the biginning of a new line.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #46 of 73: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 29 Aug 07 16:46
    
Or, Josh, you can use the Engaged web interface. It allows editing
prior to posting.

In the meantime, Josh, when you discussed "The Escape Artists" with
your agent and editor, did they ask you to modify your idea somewhat to
make it more marketable, or did they see the subject right away as you
saw it? Take us through the book's development once you had the idea. 
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #47 of 73: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 29 Aug 07 17:10
    
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Josh. I posed my question in an
attempt to challenge a simplistic binary distinction between those who
work for a paycheck (and more security) and those who assume a higher
level of risk in non-traditional pursuits.


Whether business entrepreneurs make more than the Wall Street
investors was not the point. (The fiscal rewards in creating a
successful new business can be extraordinary).  Rather, I wanted to see
if you had considered the psychological similarity between
entrepreneurial business types and the "escape artists" that you
profile. (I believe there is a stronger correlation than one might
initially think.)  Looking strictly at the money considerations does
not get at the heart of why individuals take high personal risks.  This
is true for those pursuing the creation of new businesses as well as
to those setting out to explore non-traditional lifework.

You do a good job of highlighting the visceral allure of these
non-traditional paths, but sometimes we create a "grass is greener on
the other side" mirage.  Your comments about the members of the Dead
feeling trapped by their "financial behemoth" illustrates how life is
more complicated than simply following our bliss. The process of
finding an "artistic escape" does not remove us from the worldly
"marketplace" as you suggest.  This is not to say that the rewards of
creating a self-fulfilling, non-traditional life are not well worth it
either.  The Dead have told us to expect a long, strange trip.  Even a
salaried career in a cubicle can be rewardingly long and invariably
strange, too.  This is why I used the term "the art of living." 
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #48 of 73: Josh Piven (jpiven) Thu 30 Aug 07 04:51
    
[I am using the Web interface and don't see a method of editing posts
after they are posted. And actually cdb told me that it was impossible.
But maybe I'm missing something.]

<<Even a
salaried career in a cubicle can be rewardingly long and invariably
strange, too.>>

No doubt. And I never claimed otherwise. There are those who are amply
rewarded--monetarily and in terms of personal fulfillment--for
shuffling papers in an office their entire lives. And some people
aspire to such work. More power to them.

But that's not what this book is about. Clearly *anyone* starting a
business has to be comfortable with some level of risk--and not just
monetary risk but the risks associated with stress, failure, long
hours, and so on. 

ESCAPE ARTISTS are defined as people who seek to follow their passions
 into a fulfilling career AND people who eschew the traditional notion
of a 9-5 job: set hours, set management structure, working indoors or
in an office, and being in a setting that's not "active." 

<<Rather, I wanted to see
if you had considered the psychological similarity between
entrepreneurial business types and the "escape artists" that you
profile.>>

Yes, and I believe the chapter about Dan Egan covers this topic area,
though possibly not as thoroughly as you would like.

<<In the meantime, Josh, when you discussed "The Escape Artists" with
your agent and editor, did they ask you to modify your idea somewhat
to make it more marketable, or did they see the subject right away as
you saw it? Take us through the book's development once you had the
idea.>>

Good question. I would not describe this as an easy sale (if there is
such a thing.) This books falls into the "non-businessy business book"
category--and this meant it was too businessy for most publishers and
not businessy enough for business publishers. But with some alterations
I was able to sell it based on a proposal and a sample chapter--the
one on Rich Coyle, the Trekkie. People really responded to this
chapter, it's just that they had trouble picturing the entire book. A
few publishers wanted many more profiles (v. short, along the lines of
"What Do You Want To Do With Your Life?") but I personally had trouble
compressing entire lives into two pages, and much of what this book is
about is what leads one to pursue the life of an ESCAPE ARTIST, which
required much more background.

 
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #49 of 73: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 30 Aug 07 05:32
    
Rich Coyle's story is an impressive opening chapter for the book. I
was just as fascinated by the history of early Trekkie gatherings (and
I'm no Trekkie) as I was by Rich's determination to create a career out
of this odd world. The chapter also describes the toll this career
took on Rich -- a divorce, living out of his van for a while, etc. It's
a great opener, Josh, and I can see what editors responded to it. 

Have you followed up with him? For that matter, have you continued to
follow any or all of the people you profiled in "The Escape Artists"?
Have any of their stories changed significantly since you wrote about
them?

[re: Engaged, the web interface -- you can edit your posts in the box
before you click "Post." Once posted, though, you're right: no editing
is possible.] 

  
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #50 of 73: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 30 Aug 07 09:29
    
<< There are those who are amply rewarded--monetarily and in terms of
personal fulfillment--for shuffling papers in an office their entire
lives.>>


That oh-so-bleary cliche of being stuck shuffling papers has shifted. 
These days, even those of us who are "escape artists" as writers (or
many visual artists tend to shuffle pixels more than paper. 
  

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