There’s a lot to be said for arranging a business around maximum agreement of values, rather than around maximum attempt for profit. It’s more fun, for one thing; it’s creative; it’s arranging things more on a human scale than an inhuman one…it lets you mesh your work life with your real life, and with no sacrificing of the values of either. It’s more efficient, it’s happier, all in all it’s a better way to live. And if you don’t make as much money as you would have if profit was the main motive? So what? I mean, if you’re not starving. After that, it’s just a case of do you want more prestige than the next guy, and if you can forego that (this is a lesson I learned a long time ago), it’s amazing how much the sacrifice of it adds to your general freedom of movement.
It’s amazing, also, how, when you’ve set out to act out of a certain set of values, how many coincidences (or seeming coincidences) there are, that lead you to people who think, or feel, or both, in ways compatible with yours. Sometimes I think that the largeness of the world is just an illusion, that any feelings of being alone are self indulgent, almost romantically adolescent, nonsense. I had a lot of evidence of this, this past month.
There was the search for illustrations for the Jam Today cookbook we’re putting together. I’d had a slightly dispiriting experience trying to coax a neighborhood artist into doing the sketches; they just hadn’t worked out, and I was hitting my deadline, along with having done in my budget with the first try. Then I remembered a picture I had, one I’d valued for years, and thought a lot about. It’s done on cardboard, of a stove in the house where the artist and I lived as roommates about two or three lifetimes ago, and it says on the back, in his fluid handwriting, “A phantom stove for Christmas.” I hadn’t seen the artist in years, not out of any lessening of affection, just the usual time and space limitations…and we hadn’t talked since the woman who owned the phantom stove, who we lived with when we were just out of college, was found dead, drowned in her own bathtub while drunk, in the very same house. We were sad then, and she was all we’d talked about, of course. I remember thinking, as I always did when I thought of the artist, how very annoying it was that when he was starting out in his career, it was so unfashionable to do pictures that showed the…what’s the word? specialness? particularity? sacredness?…of everyday objects. And since it was unfashionable, he went, uncomplaining, into teaching and curating, and was hugely successful at both. Which I was glad to hear of every time I did, and every time I did, I looked again at my phantom Stove and thought how annoying it was that his art didn’t find his rightful audience, all because of a trick of fashion.
And I knew he had gotten very busy, and was becoming famous for curating art exhibits all over the world, and I suppose I was always afraid I’d be just adding a burden to an already busy person’s time, so I never called, until now, when I wanted to ask if it was all right to use the picture of the stove for the cover of the book. Of course it’s all right, he said, and what are you doing about other pictures? Well, I sighed, and I told him about shooting my budget already, and not having anything to show for it.
Then there was this kind of silence that it took me a moment to interpret, it seemed so unlikely. “Mark?” I said cautiously. “Would you be interested in trying to do a few sketches for it?”
“Oh,” he said. “I’m not sure you’d like my style.”
So I took a deep breath and said, “There’s no money in it.”
Another pause. Then, gently, “When, Tod, exactly, have you ever known me to do anything for money?”A few days later he sent me these:
And it was a little like falling out of a skyscraper in a dream, and then, at the last minute, being picked up by a large, gentle hand and deposited on some nice springy, grassy mound.