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 . . .
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.
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?
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.
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."
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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 . . .
John Ross (johnross) Wed 29 Aug 07 16:35
>edit your posts . . . try typing :e at the biginning of a new line.
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.
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."
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.
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.]
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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