Monday, September 7, 2009

Though I spends me time in the ashes and smoke, in this whole wide world there's no happier bloke!

I've been revisiting a lot of old favorite movies lately, whether on TV or from the discount DVD rack at CVS. And I've come to the conclusion that I have two role models for job satisfaction: Caractacus Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Fairchild from Sabrina (the new one, although the character isn't materially different in the original).

I'll start with the former. Played by Dick Van Dyke, Caractacus (as in, "and tell you every detail of Caractacus' uniform") is an inventor whose inventions, by and large, don't work. He does manage to come up with Toot Sweets, but purely by accident, and they turn out to be better for dogs than for humans. There's that "vacuum" that sucks up the whole rug, and the haircut machine that makes a guy at the carnival look like a Treasure Troll, and my personal favorite, the breakfast machine that makes eggs and sausage--Jeremy and Jemima get their breakfast, but Grandpa gets a raw egg. Oops.

What I admire about Caractacus' life is that he loves his work (I've just realized that I could write this same post about Bert from Mary Poppins, except it would be more about having a variety of interests). He wouldn't do anything else just to make money, even though he has no money and only makes enough money to buy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by singing and dancing "Me Old Bamboo" at the carnival, in true Dick Van Dyke style. Most of all, he believes in his inventions. When Truly Scrumptious comes into his workshop and laughs at his gadgets and gizmos aplenty, he defends them passionately. What he, Jeremy, Jemima and Grandpa may lack in worldly possessions, they make up for in imagination. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Caractacus goes up to tuck in his children, and they suggest that he sell their "treasures" to raise the money to buy the car. Things like a seashell, a rusty ring, a piece of coral...and he has to tell them that he thinks most people wouldn't consider these treasures, and wouldn't pay for them.

Sabrina is a movie that most people remember for the basic storyline. The chauffeur's daughter is in love with David Larrabee. She goes to France to find herself and comes back a glamorous, beautiful creature, and David, who is engaged to somebody else (and the somebody else's father is planning a merger with the Larrabee company), finds her irresistible. So Linus, the serious, workaholic older brother, is called upon to distract Sabrina from David. In the process, Linus falls in love with Sabrina, and finally follows her to Paris, where he had sent her to get her out of the way.

But it's the chauffeur who interests me for the purposes of this post. Recently I was looking through the original play, Sabrina Fair by Samuel Taylor, and I came across something that Sabrina says to her father that I thought was just brilliant. The scene is recreated in the remake of the movie.

Not that being a chauffeur is an entirely undesirable profession, but wanting to have time to read seems like a funny reason to choose it. And yet I completely understand his viewpoint. I'm currently working a job that I leave at the office when I go home. It's much different from school, where after class there was homework to do and papers to write. If I so choose, I can come home from work and read all evening. I can sing to my heart's content without worrying about saving my voice for the next day's singing. I don't have to think about work until I get there in the morning, and I don't have to think about it after I leave.

Given the nature of my work (and my mode of transportation), I've had a lot of time to observe people in jobs that I would never want for the long haul. I work in a more or less clerical position in the scintillating world of finance, and yet the people I work with deliberately went to school to be able to do what they do for a living. And then there are bus drivers, as I've already noted. Do people ever become bus drivers because they want to drive a bus? Because they're passionate about it? Did Fairchild become a chauffeur only because it would afford him time to read, or did part of him just love cars and driving? And is it worth it to work in an unfulfilling job if you can come home and do what you love to do?

I think the trick would be to combine Caractacus Potts and Thomas Fairchild. The ideal job, to my way of thinking, would be one that I'm passionate about, that I love to do, but that leaves me time for myself at the end of the day (or whenever the hours happen to be). If I ever get to be a professional opera singer, I will thank my lucky stars for my good fortune--to be making a living doing something I love. But I think that if traveling for gigs, rehearsals, shows, whatever, cuts into my "me" time, I might very well think about chucking the whole thing. And that's when it would be good to be Bert. Throughout the movie, he works four low-paying jobs--one-man band, screever (the guy who draws the pictures on the sidewalk), chimney sweep and kite-seller (he also mentions selling hot chestnuts). Like Caractacus, he has little money, but he seems to always be thrilled to be doing what he's doing--"Chim chiminee, chim chiminee, chim chim cheroo, / I do what I likes and I likes what I do!" None of these jobs are a back-up plans--he's equally passionate about all of them. I hate the idea of a back-up plan, because it's inherently something that isn't as good as what you originally wanted to do. Otherwise, why wouldn't you have done it in the first place?

My undergraduate experience was the ideal combination of these two characters. I started out in a five-year program because I didn't think that after working so hard in high school, I could possibly drop the liberal arts. But then I realized that I'd never have time to take the fun interesting classes if I had to squeeze a second degree into my schedule--so I dropped that BA like it was hot. And then when I was singlemindedly pursuing my passion, I discovered musicology, which I also love. So now I have a back-up plan that I can be passionate about, in case I find when I'm in the thick of an operatic career that the "posh, posh traveling life" isn't for me.

And if neither of those things work out, I think I could be content to live in a house with an egg-and-sausage machine, or to do something mindless so that I have time for myself.

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