Saturday, April 02, 2011


When I was a young fellow, sixteen or so, I decided that some day, I wanted to be a writer. That gelled when my eleventh grade English teacher, Mary Ann, found favor in a short story I wrote for class. She was gorgeous and I was a little geeky guy, and unexpectedly, all of a sudden, I had a skill that would impress a beautiful woman. Ho, Momma!

My ambition was mostly to be able to make a good living at it. Of course, I had those fantasies of being a New York Times bestseller, movies being made from my books, fame, fortune, all like that, but I couldn't get so attached to those fantasies as to put myself into full throttle for the trip–that is to say, that anything got between me and that pipe dream had to go.

I can admire people who have the dedication to let nothing stand in their way for their career, but I'm not them.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a guy who gets a million or two as an advance for his bestselling novels, and who has been doing so for a long time. I know another writer whose every novel for the last three decades has hit the #1 bestseller slot all over the world, and who gets Stephen King-level money. Both of them are smart, good people, and I much like them.

It would be a lie to say I wouldn't enjoy that level of sales for my stuff. But I don't begrudge either of them a penny. More power to them. I like them, I'm happy for them, and it really has nothing to do with me. If I could, I wouldn't swap lives with either of them. Fame and money are nice, but there are other things in life that are more important. 

There's a verse from Desiderata, a great poetic piece written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920's:

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. 

That is about as good a piece of advice about work as I have ever heard. 

Money won't buy you everything, though the old saw is that it will buy you a Rolls Royce and a pound of cocaine and two eighteen-year-old girls to help you enjoy 'em. And if that's what your heart desires, then the lack of money will be a problem. But if you have a relationship with a loving partner, your health, children who grow up to be good people? Impossible to put a price on those.


ian sadler said...

money doesn't buy you happiness, but it certainly gets you a better class of enemy

AF1 said...

I like that verse from Desiderata, needed to hear that advice right now.

Jim said...

I've always liked Richie Nelson's song "Garden Party" for a very similar message...

I could have made more money in a lot different ways. I could look back at a lot of things in my life, and say "if only..."

But I wouldn't be me, as I've become. And as long as I like the guy whose face I see in the mirror each day when I shave, I think I've done all right.

Though it would be a nice experience not to feel stress over money...

Mark said...

And, hey, as far as lifetime goals, last time I checked you ARE a NYT bestselling writer, and there's a sharp guy taking concrete steps to turn one of your books into a major movie...

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, well, stuff happens, and as long as it's the go-with-the-flow business, I'm not gonna kick if I accidentally get rich and famous. Hasn't happened yet, but you never know.

I could have had some kind of career in Hollowood. Back in the day when I was doing animation scripts, I could have used that as a lever to pry my way into TV or movie writing, had I been willing to move down there and hustle. If you have a pinch of talent and skill and a barrel of hustle, you can play the game in LaLaLand well enough to make a living at it.

But I didn't want to live there -- wouldn't be worth the aggravation, not to me. If I could sell stuff without having to live there, okay, but that's a much more narrow venue, so my chances were -- and still are -- much less likely.

Choice. What is most valuable is your time and energy, those arrows go one way, and I would rather shoot them here than there.

Justin said...

One of my mantras is, "Don't hold others to the standards you set for yourself." I remind myself of that one weekly -- which doesn't sounds like much until you note that I am not around people that often.

Part of me wants to invite you to spend a few days with me in my LA, Steve. It's not near the salacious cesspool of which you feel our county is made. It's a sunny spot where most necessities are a walkable distance and the biggest concern are yappy dogs and too-early lawncare.

Steve Perry said...

Justin --

I know there are good people and places down in LaLaLand, that not everybody is a backstabber in the Biz. But I did live there for some years, both my children were born there, and I have family in SoCal and have visited often enough for dealing in the Biz that I wouldn't live there again. Unless you can afford to live outside the smog curtain, there's that. And the traffic is worse than it is here, which is saying something ...

Justin said...

I wouldn't want to raise a child here, no matter how high on the Hills I could afford to set up shop. Of course, being married and childless for ~6 years shows that I don't want to raise a child, period.

And yes, the traffic is one of the worst parts about this place. We preface our highways with "The" because they are omnipotent, evil overlords to be feared. The 405 is a harsh mistress indeed.