Monday, January 29, 2007

What do you want to do with your life?

Fast Company asked, “What do you want to do with your life?”

I answered, “You mean specifically or just in general? I want to be famous. I’m in marketing and advertising, and that will get me rich. But nobody gets famous by doing advertising.

I’m actually a writer. I’d like to write a book. About the insignificance of human struggle. How
we invent this full complicated machine of society and then strap ourselves to it. We are kind of like mice who would build our own little mazes, and then pat ourselves on the back for having made it through the thing. I would write a long book about insignificant conflicts being resolved by unimportant people who finally achieve a meaningless purpose.

It would be a history.

I think this would be an appropriate revenge. I want someday for some fourth grader to have to write a report about me and my life. So that people will reverence my choice of music and pay homage to my taste in breakfast cereals. My fourth grade teacher once told me, ‘By learning about people who have done great things, we learn how we ourselves can achieve great things.’

I remember that she had us write four-page research papers on famous people. For a fourth-grader, a four-page paper is like writing our own novel. She assigned each student the name of a person who did something meaningful and important in history. One girl was assigned Barbara Walters, a kid was assigned Sir What's-his-name, the guy who invented baseball. You see,
she tried to match up each kid with the personality of some great person.

I was assigned to write my four-page report on P.T. Barnum.
He’s a famous person who lived a long time ago. He’s best known as the guy who said, “There's a sucker born every minute.” He spent his whole life tricking people, lying to them, and stealing their money. He is also the guy who started the Barnum and Bailey circus. I learned everything about P.T. Barnum for that four-page paper: where he was born, how he grew up, I studied all the tricks, all the deceptions, and all the great scams this man came up with. I read about his family life, his favorite pastimes and all the witty things he said when he was drunk. 

I remember that we gave oral presentations to the whole school dressed in the attire of our assigned historical VIP. There was a kid dressed like Jonas Salk, a boy dressed up like Roy Rogers, even a fourth-grade Jane Goodall. I gave a two-minute speech on P.T. Barnum. Everyone thought it was real cute how my mom had gotten me a sparkling bow-tie and a little tuxedo jacket with tails. I had a top hat with sparkles on it, and even a pair of spats mom had put on over my penny loafers. I don’t remember what I said for those two minutes, but I remember I was terrified looking out at everybody’s moms and dads and I thought, “What did P.T. Barnum do that I am going through all this?”
And I couldn’t lay my finger on too much.

So I knew then that what I wanted more than anything was for some fourth-grader some day, probably after I’d died and my grand kids were all grown up, to have his teacher assign him to write a report on me, and he’d have to look me up in the encyclopedia and study everything I’d done.”

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