From Cleaning Windows
By Van Morrison (1982)
Oh, the smell of the bakery from across the street / Got in my nose
As we carried our ladders down the street / With the wrought-iron gate rows
I went home and listened to Jimmie Rodgers in my lunch-break
Bought five Woodbines at the shop on the corner / And went straight back to work.
Oh, Sam was up on top / And I was on the bottom with the v
We went for lemonade and Paris buns / At the shop and broke for tea
I collected from the lady / And I cleaned the fanlight inside-out
I was blowing saxophone on the weekend / In that down joint.
What’s my line? / I’m happy cleaning windows
Take my time / I’ll see you when my love grows
Baby don’t let it slide / I’m a working man in my prime
I let the lyrics roll a little longer than my standard approach (apologies to the copyright holder) but it was important to develop the point. Van Morrison speaks of a man happy cleaning windows, playing saxophone on the weekends, and wringing pleasure out of everyday things like lunch, a tea break, and his enjoyment of a Woodbine smoke. It has a lot of appeal, but I see a huge disconnect between this point of view and the 21st Century American point of view.
We’re trapped in a world of striving. Even at my long-experienced career stage, with retirement hopefully just a few stop lights down the road of life, I have to exceed every expectation in the workplace to have status and rewards. Years of effectively doing your job means nothing, what you might be able to do if you work a little harder, a little longer, and even a little quieter is what matters.
So I remind myself of the point of view that Morrison nostalgically relates: he’s carefree, content, and open to the day’s adventures. Somewhere between the stress of worrying about work not completed and what was said/not said/heard/not heard on one side; and the simple pleasures of enjoying your time (your rules) on the other; lies the middle ground where we need to inject meaning into our relentlessly diminishing time on the planet.
Roseanne Barr is running for President. (I wonder if my clunky segues can be made into a drinking game?) I haven’t been a big fan even though I recognized that her show, Roseanne, was ground-breaking in the portrayal of people with everyday problems. Turn on any TV show depicting modern life today and you’ll see people fantastically successful in their careers, dressed in thousand dollar outfits, driving shiny new cars. Now get out of the house and look to your left and right. Drive into the city and check the bus stops or train platforms. Go to Wal-Mart. Happy people maybe, but not shiny happy people there. Why are we watching these materialistic, selfish, and often whiny TV characters? How is it relevant to us?
Alternet’s Joshua Holland asked Barr that question.
Holland: But why don’t we see more of that? I mean, so many families are struggling you would think that our culture would reflect that once in a while.
Barr: I know. Since the success I had on the Roseanne show I have not been able to replicate that success anywhere. It just fell out of popularity and at the same time being an outspoken women and all that stuff fell out of popularity right around the same time.
JH: It’s a shame for our culture I think that we don’t see regular people dealing with the issues that regular people actually deal with.
RB: I don’t think that would be in the interest of the people who control what goes on here.
Certainly if you want to stimulate consumption then show beautiful people in expensive clothes and environments as the norm. This works conveniently against citizen empowerment. If the ideals we absorb are unattainable we tend to blame ourselves (the residue of the American Puritan Work Ethic) rather than question the ideals. While many would SAY they are unaffected by mere television shows, how many times have they laughed or cried while viewing shows and movies? How many catch-phrases have been launched making us think that resistance is futile? There is an underlying impact to television that needs to be acknowledged. It is a sophisticated culture-bending and product-pushing machine.
The Puritan (or Protestant) Work Ethic, espoused by early industrialists and deeply ingrained in American culture, proposes that 1. Hard work is the main factor in producing material wealth and 2. Hard work is character building and morally good. But while Americans typically spend 40+ years working hard, U.S. government figures from the eighties showed the average savings of a person reaching retirement age is less than $500. More on happiness and the P.W.E. here.
So in addition to the work we don’t want to do, we should also keep a hand in at the work we do want to do, which will be specific to the individual and their psychic makeup. To follow our bliss, as Joseph Campbell suggested, we have to have to be aware of what makes us happy. In my experience, most people don’t get past searching for what makes them happy. That’s not terrible, it’s way ahead of not wanting or expecting to be happy at all.