Okay, right off the bat, nowhere in this essay are we going to be talking about money. Houses, cars, jewelry, pretty much all of the “stuff” out there can be purchased with a well-placed swipe of your credit card. This isn’t about that… Actually it’s about the exact opposite. Allow me to explain.
Fame, Fortune and Power: If you were to invite a handful of your best friends over and ask them what they really, really wanted, most of them would answer one of the three. ” I want fame. I’d like to be able to walk down the street and have someone wave from the other side of the street,’Hi there! I know you! I read your book, or I saw your movie or I bought your album'”…something on that order. Fame is a common dream. Or… a man might say, “I want a whole lot of money. With that I can buy happiness, great meals, houses all over the globe. Money is the answer.” Some, on the other hand…usually men, might say, “Power. I want the power to make people do what I want them to.”
FAME: By the way, these three are pretty easy ones to dispel. Fame? To the degree that you are famous, you have to give up an identical amount of freedom. Sounds like a good trade-off at first, because you are, most likely, not accustomed to a large amount of fame and it just sounds pretty terrific. Ask any movie star, rock star, well-known politician and they’ll smile and confide that they hadn’t ever really realized just how much freedom you must give up.
Fame is not a tap you can turn off when you’ve had enough. You’re at an airport trying to make a flight and fifteen people want to chat with you. Or…you’re sitting in your Manhattan apartment and you want to take your kid out for a good ole-fashioned pizza. No-can-do. And every actress knows that you go out the door without your make-up on and your hair and outfit just so, and you are toast. Is it worth it? Maybe. But that’s just one of the minor costs of fame.
Getting Cooties: I am not famous, not even close to being famous and at this point in my life would not choose to be so. I wasn’t always like that, however. Even without the “f” word, there are enough people who’ve read my books or seen my sculptures that I run into once in a while who know me. I would have bet a whole lot of money that I’d enjoy it…at least a little bit. That wasn’t the case. I get what Pam likes to call “cooties” when someone comes up to me and wants to talk about something I did. Inwardly, my mind starts looking for an out…somewhere to escape to, a reason to excuse myself. For me, the feeling most resembles claustrophobia. I suspect there are a whole lot of actors, singers, writers who must learn to grapple with it. It’s seriously un-fun.
Professionals: Let’s go a bit more oblique for a moment…somewhere that might raise an eyebrow. What does it cost to be a doctor or surgeon? Remember the ground rules: We’re not talking money. What does it cost? Pamela and I both grew up in families heavy into the medical profession. Pam’s dad and brother were doctors. Her mom…a nurse. My grandfather founded a huge hospital in Ohio which they named after him, Holzer Memorial in Gallipolis, Ohio. Uncle Charles was a surgeon. My grandmother…a nurse. The running joke was you can only marry one thing in your life. You can marry your wife or you can marry your profession. To put it bluntly, it’s true. Doctors for the most part, make less than stellar husbands. You should know when you marry…precisely where you stand. There are other, more subtle prices that doctors must pay, but that one is a biggie. The concept goes for lawyers as well or any person who essentially marries his or her job. You pay a price.
Friends: Let’s dive deeper toward a place where you can disagree and make a face. Does having friends carry a price? Oh, hell no. The more friends the better! And on Facebook I can have 500 or 1000 friends and we all sing kumbaya when we get together. Sure… Actually, I’m talking about real friends…true friends, friends for the long haul. Do they cost you? Sure they do…a whole lot, and once again I’m not even considering $$$. The old saw is that to have a friend, you have to BE a friend. In two words, “It’s true.” It’s a bit like growing a bonzai tree. It takes proactive work to survive.
We have a large number of people we like to hang with, joke with, grab a bite with, but being a true friend (in our world) comes with a different price. You have to be there when the wheels fall off the wagon…the shit hits the fan…it’s not a lot of fun… Pick whatever metaphor works for you. It’s 3:25 in the morning and it’s 18 degrees outside and snowing. And you get a call from your friend… “I’m in trouble.” The only correct answer if you’re their friend is, “Where are you and what can I do?” That sounds good, but it is a very real cost which you should not undertake lightly.
Our furry best friends… Those who know us know we are dyed-in-the-wool dog people. I’ve had dogs all my life and deeply loved virtually every one of them. Unlike most people, there are no hidden agendas, no sub-text to friendships or relationships. I’ve never had a dog that was a frenemy. They’re in 1000%. What does it cost? Again, we’re not talking money now, but emotions.
For complicated reasons, the death of one of my furry buddies is something for which I have no psychological defenses or invisible barriers. It comes through in spades and I’m left zombie-like for an embarrassingly long time. The worst moments I can conjure are the ones when I had to put my best buddy down because he was suffering and hopeless. It’s a huge emotional cost and leaves a scar that never goes away. Is it worth that emotional cost? Yes, without equivocation, it is worth it. Picture is of Oogie…Best Dog in the Universe. I’d give a thousand bucks just to give him a hug right now.
Deeper still: What does LOVE cost?” “Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” (Key quote from best-selling novel, Love Story). Well…..Pamela and I fell off our chairs in laughter the first time we heard this. We’ve been together now for 46 years and Love means almost always having to say your sorry copious truckloads of times. Discard the sentence, “I am sorry,” at your peril. More seriously, real love costs a whole helluva lot…in time…in commitment…suffering sometimes agony.
When you are utterly 100% in love, sentences like, “You might have to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of your life,” can scare you off. Or…”it was malignant. You’ve got a long fight in front of you.” Or… “We’re sorry Mr. Jones…or Mrs. Jones, but your mate suffered severe facial scarring in the accident. You’re going to have to accept things.” These are things which Pam and I have thought seriously about for close to a half century. If she needs a kidney, lung, two lungs…a heart…all of the above, I’m in. Pam’s wiring in this regard is identical. Is that a cost? Oh, hell yes. No one wants to die. But we all do, every one of us. I’d rather mine went to a good cause. (BTW…Pamela hates this shot of her. Hates it. I love it. She’s crazy, happy, sad, vulnerable, gritting her teeth and pissed… all at the same time. A difficult thing to pull off. We flipped a coin. I won.)
The Ultimate Driving Machines… Okay, to lighten up a whole lot… Hidden, unexpected costs. You say you just bought a new stretch Mercedes S-class? Well, it’s a gimmie that it cost a lot of $$$$. But stop for a second. It cost you much more than that and I’m not talking about gas. Here’s something that’s just about a universal and NOBODY gets it right. “If I buy a new Lambo, Porsche, Jag, Maserati, Aston Martin…etc. etc. etc. my friends will be impressed. People will respect me and want to be with me.” Exactly the opposite is true. No one ever gets off the phone, even with their best buddy and says, “Wow, this is GREAT!!! Freddie just bought a new black Jaguar limo!!! Hurrah!” Human nature doesn’t work that way. Expect consequences and figure out if what you paid in $$$ and what you paid in relationships is worth it.
Time: Lastly, even if that new desire of yours costs nary a penny, ask yourself, what does it cost me in time? Time is the most priceless thing you have on this planet. You don’t know that till you hit the wall a couple of times. When you do…and you survive…the other things, fame, power, stuff, cars, jewelry come into crystal clarity. Give me Pam, my family and a handful of friends. You can keep the rest and all their hidden costs. Life is short and this isn’t a dress rehearsal.
P.S. Please, please, please…by all means, write in and tell me the category of things you have that don’t cost you anything at all. As a pseudo-quasi Zen Master/philosopher, I’ll be happy to arm-wrestle! I’d love to lose, but this is a hard topic to lose on.
Really good topic today. Yes, everything does have a cost. Each time my husband and I bought a new car or house, we lost some ‘friends’. They just disappeared, which is passive aggression. We made a point of not rubbing anyone’s nose in our purchases, and that still annoyed them.
Also, when my husband became quite ill many years ago, I definitely found out who are true friends are. The reactions boiled down to three: 1) they voluntarily showed up at the hospital to wish him well. 2) They said, “If there’s anything I can do for you, just let us know,” and
3) They either had amnesia or were in absentia and never asked how he was doing…some of them even resented him being sick, as if it were a great inconvenience to them.
Give me a dog any day where there is no game playing, jealousy, or indifference.
Time to get some new friends!!! Or…you could open up a puppy sanctuary for the people who get sick of their pets. What a shame. And they can’t even talk.
A reminder of the phrase “the price you pay” Sometimes it is a heavy price and sometimes it is a “freebie” but there is always a price to pay for time, experiences and “things” but most importantly is what you receive out of that price that is important, particularly if it is the love of another human being. That being the most important reward of all.
Thank you, Beth. There isn’t anything on this planet that compares with the love of another human being. Without that, there’s no point…
That sounds good, Henry, but answer this one, for real. Which would you rather have, another five years tacked onto the end of your life…or a best-selling book? Ego is what drives humanity.
Taking your question seriously, it takes me back to a Situation Ethics course back at F&M. Would you kill a baby if killing the baby meant saving the entire population of New York? It’s hard for some folks to answer, easy for others.
If those five extra years at the end of my life were good ones…I’d choose the time over the book. If not, if I were in a hospital with tubes up my nose…not so much.
A secondary question: I’ve enjoyed several of your books and don’t know any other authors. The question is: If you don’t do it for the money, and you don’t do it for the applause, why do you do it?
On several occasions I’ve seriously asked myself that very question. There are a couple of answers, none of them spectacular. One is, I love to delight Pamela. When I write a scene that’s humorous or very sad, I can’t wait to see if I’ve been successful. The other answer is similar, I guess. Life is soooooo weird with its twists and turns. It’s exciting and at the same time humbling to write something that is way out in left-field…and then have people read it and discover that they’re out in that very same spot in left field. That probably doesn’t answer your question but it’s the best I can think of.
Great article! I’m in Porto, Portugal reading it. Hits on some many levels. Elle, our Golden Retriever, passed away a month ago just shy of her 13th birthday – she was very sick – cancer – and we were trying to decide when to put her down. But she made that decision for us – she passed on while she was on her dog bed and I was on the floor holding her paw and telling her she would be ok. Powerful stuff.
I’m in Porto to produce a little micro-budget film with a first time director and Anton Yelchin starring. But it is off to a rather rocky start – as I am sick as a dog – 24 hours of projectile vomiting and projectile diarrhea – but thankfully not at exactly the same time – altho close! So far, I have managed to contain all effluents in the receptacles provided!
Hang on, I’ll be right back…
Ok, that’s a little better!
Best wishes to you and Pam for 2015!
Good to hear from you but hugely sorry about Elle. I understand. When Oogie died, his last meal was a scoop of peppermint ice cream…his favorite. He ate half and then we went to the vet. Held him tight while the shot was being administered…felt him relax. It’ll never go away…and I don’t really want it to.
Sorry about the projectile vomiting. You could put a bullseye on your trash can and… probably too early for those kind of jokes.