Failing Forward

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Monday, May 11, 2020. I oftentimes endure the sense that I do nothing, in the end, except fail forward. Which is to say fail into the next failure. It’s maddening.

I’m still enduring a kind of night shift hangover, feeling out of sorts despite the two nights of a normal sleep cycle. So be it. Life goes on. My schedule looks to be four days a week at six hours or so a day, not including a lunch of an hour or thirty minutes, depending upon the day (odd that it’s not consistent), and the while this week the hours are from 7-2pm, next week I have a noon to 6pm and a 4pm to 10pm, who knows why it varies and who cares, anyway? I don’t. I was seeking twenty hours a week and it looks to be playing out at twenty-four hours. Frankly, I’d rather skip the lunch hour (or half hour) and just do the fifteen minute break thing so as to go home sooner – lunch at work is just another hour wasted – but I’ll just play it by ear and try my best to be patient with it all, learning the job for what it’s worth and surrendering to the variability until it all stabilizes into a routine. It always becomes a routine and never a good one but so be it, such is employment. I long to regain my energy for the editing of TC2 but I may never fully regain it under the burden of a job so I’ll have to apply myself at my two pages per day as best I can. It’s never a perfect environment for the artist-craftsman, is it? Or if it is, then the success has already arrived and peaked and you find yourself with all the tools and money and time at your disposal to be one-hundred-percent devoted to your veritelos and damned if things haven’t changed in the meantime, whether you’ve run out of ideas or motivation or what have you. The point being I have to accept that there will never be the one fine day moment where everything seems to fall into place and I can live a perfect life devoted exclusively to my personal mythology. Meanwhile, it’s up to me to take this job day by day, to keep it all at arm’s length, to do my time and make my pay and otherwise not let it get the best of me. I make it sound like a prison sentence, I know, but that’s just how I see it and how I’ve always regarded employment.

None of this makes for a compelling story. And I’m never going to be enthused about working for one-third of what I used to earn per hour. But I need to keep my eye on the prize: sustainable authorpreneurship. So that one day I’ll be able to dump the employment and earn my own damn living off my talents. While I toil, then, the compelling story – that of vocational success – will have to wait.

DOP1 2012 VINTAGE POST:

Thursday, April 19, 2012. I consider this the first day of doing anything “officially” related to starting the hh s&b. Yes, I’ve turned myself and hh “into the wind” but I can tell you that not a moment goes by where I don’t think I’m nuts. Like Shackleton’s expedition to the south pole – it seems an impossible, death or glory type of endeavor where you’ve got to be stupid and desperate to even begin to think it’ll come to anything sustainable let alone profitable. Why the fuck would I pursue this? Only because it’s in my heart and my biophycomythology to pursue it. Unattached. One step at a time, I’ll work through the things I need to work through and I believe that if “it’s meant to be” so to say, then the s&b will be start up one day, with or without me. That’s the real point: that my work is to keep working, keep moving forward as slowly as necessary, as long as it takes until my heart or the world, or both, tells me to stop and move on to something else. This could take ten years and even then never get off the ground. But what else is life about? I do this until I no longer want to do it and that’s how I be who I am and live out my personal myth. It’s not about outcomes. I envision the outcome and then I un-attach – I let it go. So, I’ve started with reading some stuff and contacting Lorentz Meats – an apparently well-regarded s&b that I read about in the food & water watch article. According to their website, they appeared in The Omnivore’s Dilemma though I’d have to re-read it because I don’t remember them being in there. I like the philosophy and the vision – it reminds me of my own. They’re in Minnesota. Before I go on about them, I’ll wait to see if I get a response to my inquiry.

Meanwhile, here’s a shot of our new place: 3439 Plymouth Rd. I hate anything with the name “Plymouth” in it besides the gin. But hell, I like everything else about the space and place (at least so far) and as we really have no choice since our lease at 1433 is up and we hate it here and want to get the fuck out, it’s going to be our new digs for at least the next year.

3439 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor

This is a proposed condo complex built right when the market was crashing (just like our TX house) located on the north-east corner of town. I wanted to live on the north-east corner and I don’t know why, just intuition. Decent kitchen which opens into the living space; two baths (thank god); one floor, plenty of light and windows with at least a view of some type. Pretty much just like our vog for it. I just pray that it’s quiet. It’s the second floor corner unit above Olga’s and the “smoothie” joint. It faces north, but has a western exposure from the balcony with light coming in that way from the balcony doorwall into the living room. Whatever. I’m pretty sick and tired of even thinking about it. Let alone our house in TX which we still fucking own. Gads. Anyway, good or bad, we’re giving this a shot and envisioning greatness.

Friday, April 20, 2012. I’m not convinced. I woke up, again, consumed by doubt. I had a good day of biophycomythological action and now I’m wasting time contemplating everything all over again from the beginning. My only advantage now is that I’m getting used to this “rubber-band effect.” I stretch myself out into the future, into the vision-of-greatness, into what I feel is my personal legend, my myth, my destiny, my heart. Then, sooner or later, I feel like I’m falling back or being pulled back into the old, low-energy, low-expectation, wanting-to-conform type of mindset. All my dreams seem silly. I question everything again, back to front. I consider, yet again, just finding a job that “pays.” A job that would impress myself and others. Absurd thoughts. For what would impress me? More money. With which to accomplish what? The getting of more stuff? I’ve always believed that to radically, fundamentally change your material quality of life, you have to at least double your income. Anything less and your just dicking around with a similar level of “buying power.” Double your money, and you can see a change that is fundamental – you’ve got the ability to do and have things you couldn’t do before, no matter how hard you may have worked to “save” money.

The problem? Who the fuck really cares? Certainly not anybody besides yourself. Impressing others with your income level. A joke. First, they’re never impressed. They’re usually just jealous, envious or indifferent. After all, it’s not their money and if they walked around your beautiful mansion and acres of land and said “wow,” they’d be returning to their own less than affluent life at the end of the day or the evening and they’d just be depressed or frustrated that they don’t have your money to work with. Then you’d be left standing there, alone, or with your wife if you’re lucky, in your big house on your many acres, in the most beautiful part of the city or the country. I’ve had the experience, after my guests have left whatever house or hovel I’m living in at the time, in whatever city, of walking like a ghost through the rooms myself. Of standing on the deck or the patio or the front porch, or even the front lawn and trying to somehow see it all through their eyes – the eyes of the people whom I’m trying, maybe only subconsciously, to impress. Yes, it’s silly that I’m “wasting time” writing out the incredibly obvious. That money isn’t the answer. That all money gets you is some version of “stuff.” You buy “stuff” or “things” with it. Whether it’s a house in a better place in town, or the ability to buy a plane ticket to Hawaii whenever you feel the urge, or the means to simply eat, drink, and dress like you think you ought to, or you think you deserve to, because after all, you’re somebody special, somebody different and worthy of all that money and the stuff it can buy. You’d buy only the best, highest quality, worthy stuff versus all that tacky, bullshit crappy stuff that others waste their money on. You wouldn’t fall prey to any materialistic, unsophisticated, common or selfish extravagances. You’d spend most of it on others, right? You’d be a philanthropist with all your hundreds of thousands; with all of your millions and billions. Right? What the fuck?! I get older and I just continue to see how much bullshit is involved with chasing the buck. It’s not the piling up of the cash. It’s the using it as a tool to get what you really want out of life.

I’ve also learned that for me, my frustration with money, my most limiting belief if you will, is probably my issue with getting paid what I’m “worth.” I hate feeling like I’m being taken advantage of – exploited – who doesn’t? – and so many jobs make you feel that way. Like why the fuck am I schlepping shit around and putting all this time and effort and busting my balls on behalf somebody else’s dreams and desires? Usually just because they’re the “owner” who came up with the idea? And that justifies them making all the cash and me making not enough to take a shit with? So I spend all my time trying to convince whomever I work for (and it’s usually not the owner, but a member of his or her worthless ass-kissing minions) that I’m “worth more money.” I need that $10,000 additional dollars per year to justify me selling them my time. Because I’m really worth it. Most often, I’m not. But even if I am, who the fuck cares from the owner’s standpoint? They did come up with the idea and have the “sand” to start the business, however fucked up it might be, versus me, who just keeps trying to ride the coattails of success that others created. So you get the “gumption” to start something that needs employees, then you get to reap the rewards. It’s logical. Regardless of logic, it’s the way that it is, legitimate or not. You risk more, you win more. Your investment in larger, your take of the success is larger.

You can’t give it all away though without fucking up the natural order of things. People want their legitimate piece of the pie, but how big that piece is always seems difficult to put your finger on. I think that’s because it’s different for everyone, though probably not by much. That’s why I try not to focus on tens of thousands of dollars. Who cares? It won’t as I’ve said, change your quality of life. However, that’s assuming your at the so-called “living wage” which seems to be about fifty or sixty-thousand. Chump change really, compared to those that are really living, but at that level you can house, clothe and feed yourself in a fashion that creates the illusion at least of you “getting somewhere” in the world. What it actually does is just numb you to your situation – it placates you into thinking you’re doing okay, when actually you’re just fucking wasting your time by selling it on the cheap to someone else who’s actually taking a risk and/or living their dreams. Like Canfield said, the facts are that there’s only a couple reliable ways to wealth: becoming an entrepreneur at a young age (that counts me out, har!) or being an upper-level executive, it constitutes something like 75% of the folks making a million bucks or so per year.[1] Whatever. In the end, again, who the fuck cares about the number, about the dollars? Are these folks happy? I’ve had some cash. Nice places to live. I’ve had enough money and nice stuff to be pretty numbed to my real biophycomythological schism. Gold versus silver versus copper versus brass. What the fuck? You get your basics taken care of then you go about your own fucking business of living life. Some folks want this, others want that and it’s probably very rare that the money is the thing that keeps you from it. And if it is, then you can go out and try to get it.

Cripes, I go on and on about the obvious. Why do I find it necessary to write this shit down? It’s nothing that everybody, including my dumb-ass self, doesn’t already know in their bones to be true. Jesus. I feel like I need to just shut the fuck up about it all yet I’m compelled to turn it over and over and around and around in my fucked up head – what fucking waste of keystrokes and mental energy – arrgghh the schism!!!!

Living in the moment versus being anxious for the outcome of my deeds. It’s difficult as hell. Impatience is a strength of mine. I need to learn how to use that energy and indeed convert it to a strength versus just being a smart-ass about it. Maybe I can use the energy of my impatience in a better way than just getting frustrated? My impatience has helped me get things done in the past. It’s not that I’m full of busy-body energy, I just have a vision of happiness that I allow to go spiraling off into some unfocused purge when I could probably harness that energy, direct it and use it to move forward. I know I can. The frustration is just another one of my annoying habits. I have the choice to not get frustrated – it’s the one thing I learned from the anger management book that Angie and I tried to read before I tore it in half in a rage – har!

Ugh. I’m writing like crazy but all this shit sucks. I’m working, like Campbell wrote, like and ox over totally irrelevant subjects….[2] But I’ll do it anyway because it’s part of the process. No, that’s bullshit. I’ll do it anyway because I have no other option besides frustration, anger, anxiety, grief and despair. Campbell wrote those words when he was younger and still struggling to surrender to his own myth I think. He ended up creating work that is being referenced more than sixty years later and used by folks like me who desperately need it. He’s helping me beyond the limits of his own existence, through his printed words. Maybe that’s an example of the Self continuing to be manifested in some way too, beyond the printed words? The dimensions of most of our lives don’t influence those of others to any great individual extent – it’s more about the accumulation of the incremental influences we all have on each other and the universe. It adds up, over millennia, to a lot of energy and influence. Some, like Campbell, continue past their own life in a more concentrated and potent form. I think if you’ve really tapped into the transcendent, being alive or dead is actually irrelevant. You’re not in this form, in your own life, to accomplish things. You’re here to “be.” To be who you are. I’m here to be who I am. I’m writing now because that’s what I do. For me, it’s a vocation. It’s part of the six things that I’ve learned that I do, the work I have to do. I’m not putting the word “work” in quotations until right now because work to some is play to others. Work to some is a hobby to others. Work to some is a fucking big fat waste of time to others. You do what you have to do to be you. Fight it and suffer. Be “perturbed by grief.” I’ve got to choose to not be perturbed by grief. I’ve got to keep choosing to surrender to my master passions. I’ve got to believe that the key to happiness is the unconventional life. I’ve got to un-attach. I’ve got to surrender to who I am.

Saturday, April 21, 2012. We’re expecting to get the keys to our new place tomorrow and to start moving our stuff in. The pro moves will be here on Monday to crank out the boxed stuff and the furniture. It’s just good to be moving into a place that seems more like our style. There’ll be some down sides I’m sure, but we’re hoping that in balance, it’ll be a much better fit for us – it pretty much lined up with our vision-of-greatness for our new place so I’ve got faith that we’ll like it. Worst case, we think about moving again after another year. In the meantime, it’s important to include this move as an important part of our biophycomythology. Angie and I discussed how trying something out, like moving from a house to a condo, or me trying out maybe a handful of different part-time jobs, can at least be a way to eliminate options. You don’t always make progress by moving into something, sometimes you just need to know what to move away from. It’s a form of letting the inessential go.

We walked to the rh and had a good dinner (patty melt) with a whiskey flight and a couple small pieces of Askinosie chocolate for dessert. Chef Alex came over to talk to us and mentioned that he’d seen my s&b “viz-ness” plan that I’d given Ari. It’s cool that Ari thought enough of it to pass it along and I made sure to thank him for it. Alex seems to be my best “stakeholder” in the sense that he’s behind the idea. He gave me some good advice on how zcob is not likely to go ahead with any biz ideas beyond a food cart for the next couple of years given their commitments with the deli expansion especially. He also mentioned the several years it took him to get anywhere after approaching zcob with his own idea and how the path-to-partnership can be uniquely slow and arduous within zcob but that it serves the purpose of making sure you’ve got a committed person and solid support by the time you get to the end of it. It was good to hear his story and it gave me a shot in the arm regarding how long it may take me to get anywhere with my ideas.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012. We’re in our new cool place: 3439 Plymouth Road. We moved some stuff with my brother’s help on Sunday and almost all the rest of it the next day with the pro movers we hired. The place is a jacked-up mess – boxes everywhere, shit we haven’t seen and that we forgot that we owned for a year. All the boxes that we never opened and just had stored in the 1433 basement, along with some furniture and whatever else, are now back in our lives so to say. Unfortunately, we don’t have anywhere near the storage cabinet space that we had in TX, so most of our dishes and kitchen equipment will struggle to find a home. It doesn’t matter – we’ll give away, recycle or toss whatever we don’t need. This place is much more our style. It really did line up with our vog for it. It’s not as sonically isolated as I’d like – you can hear the person above us to some extent and there’s the standard-issue asshole who plays his music too loudly, but only it seems when he gets home at the end of the day. If it continues to bug me, I’ll track him down and try to work it out, and when I get my own system hooked up, I probably won’t be able to hear some of the incidental noise around here.

This place is exactly the funky, kitchen-oriented, jazzy space with a view that we envisioned. We can watch the comings and goings of lots of folks because our view is of the parking lot and garage area, which may sound shitty, but the activity is interesting – it makes you feel like you’re a part of the world. A franchise of our gym is downstairs – no need to drive to the gym nor stock a basement with our own exercise equipment anymore. We live above an Olga’s restaurant (a place to go when we’re in a jam for chow), and there’s a Sweetwater’s coffee shop, a Sushi place (middle-of-the-road but good miso soup), and a Subway (ugh, yeck, we’ll never eat there). A Mainstreet Ventures restaurant: Carson’s American Bistro, is less than a block away from us – it’s also a decent place to end up if we can’t cook something ourselves or need a place for drinks or to watch a game. It’s just another overpriced, over-seasoned, Sysco variant – while they have some local pork and they use a Zingerman’s bun for their French Dip, the food tastes just like it does everywhere else. The burger is passable however, so beers and burgers at the bar is a good thing to be able to walk to.

The hallway outside our place always smells like food and not in a bad way – it feels good to live above restaurants, even though they suck – Sysco services Olga’s and it looks like Subway has a different vendor. I’m having to come to terms with the brutal reality of most food service: it’s indeed the task of trying to make bad food taste good. Trying to turn a profit in that business is just so fucking brutally difficult that you end up going down the same road as everyone else with just another storefront and another image trying to schlep out your version of whatever everybody else is serving. Oh, and with the same employees. It’s disheartening and sad to think you’ve got to get it exactly right, get lucky too, and survive for twenty years like Zingerman’s just to be able to serve the best quality stuff and turn enough profit to expand slowly and pay people. Sustainability in the food service biz and most biz for that matter just seems almost impossible sometimes. That’s why you have to have your biophycomythology right, otherwise, like Ari says, “it makes it hard to do the work.”[3]

On that note, I contacted a small-scale slaughterhouse and butchery: Lorentz Meats, in Wisconsin and asked some questions about their biz and whether I could take a tour. Here’s what I wrote:

Mike & Rob, I’m interested in establishing a small-scale facility in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area and I find the information on your website compelling, both in terms of your beliefs (what a great quote from Wendell Berry) and in the obvious sustainability of your business over forty-plus years. While I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (where you’re mentioned), I was inspired to contact you by the brief description of Lorentz Meats that appears in the 2009 article by Food & Water Watch “Where’s the Local Beef? Rebuilding Small-Scale Meat Infrastructure.” That you maintain a “viewing room” where “the public can watch the entire process” speaks to my interest in integrating a slaughter & butchery into the fabric of the communities that it serves – such transparency (literal and figurative) is an essential component.

In 2010, through the assistance of Paul Willis (whom I’m sure you’re familiar with as the Pork Program Manager for Niman Ranch), I toured the Siouxpreme slaughter and fabrication plants in Iowa. At 4000 hogs/day it’s not the best model for what I’m trying to do, but I was very impressed with the CO2 stun versus electrical, their modern facility, the friendly and cooperative management team and their employees.

I spent the past year opening (and closing) a very small food service and production business – I operated a food cart as part of a permanent food court newly established in Ann Arbor and attempted to market my headcheese wholesale and retail – I obtained a USDA Grant of Inspection (Est. 989) and sold my product from my cart, my website, and through a regional upscale grocery/market (Plum Market) until very recently. I couldn’t sustain the business but it inspired me to retain my passion for hogs and my interest in humane slaughter & handling.

I find the start-up process quite daunting, not so much technically but financially. Despite that, I’m moving forward gathering information and attempting to find model/mentor businesses that have similar visions. It might be that we’re on the same page so to say and you’d be interested in answering a few questions:

1) How much of a challenge is seasonality? Do you scale down your operation and employees in spring and summer?

2) Have you any interest in expanding your business model into other parts of the country either on your own or through partnerships?

3) I’m interested in visiting your facility, especially in following the process from live animal handling through fabrication – would that be possible?

I wish you the best with what looks like a business to be very proud of – thanks in advance for your time, and I hope to hear from you.

Mike Lorentz’s less-than-enthusiastic response surprised me:

“Keith, I am not a big advocate of starting small scale processing
plants. It is a difficult way to make a living. Seasonality is only one of
the many challenges. You would be welcome to come for a visit. We pride ourselves in being very transparent. Let me know when you are in the area.”

Obviously, this isn’t the affirmation of my vision that I was looking for. However, I know exactly what it’s like to be in a business that everyone else respects and thinks is important but can’t support because of the price you need to charge them. Whether it’s the art gallery that my brother was working with in downtown Ann Arbor – the owners said “People like the fact that we’re here and they want you to be here, but they don’t want to contribute any money to keep you here” – or a food shop, it’s all about charging what you need to charge to stay in business and ironically, by doing that, you instantly go out of business. It’s back to Ari’s observation that most businesses are going out of business either slowly or quickly; it’s so very few that are thriving.

So today, sitting here in this peaceful new space, writing and looking out the big wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling window that is the north end of our apartment, I’m again troubled and biophycomythologically adrift. I’m not in schism, but I’m really wondering about what to do next and doubting again, the way forward. I don’t enjoy sitting still and it’s still difficult to listen to my heart, especially when I see that I could help out financially much more just by getting a different job – any job will pay more than zcob unfortunately, even an unskilled one. Cripes, the movers probably made more than twice what I’m making at zmo. That’s hard work and I couldn’t do it but hell, I made more putting signage together at PPC almost twenty fucking years ago than I do now – the same level of unskilled labor. It’s really too fucking bad that zcob has to pay some of the lowest wages around to stay in biz, but I know that they do. I see the numbers and to be sustainable, they have to charge what they’re charging and pay what they pay to get by. Nobody’s getting wealthy at zcob, even if you’re a co-managing partner.

I sit here and write this, “working” at one of my vocations, and wonder again if I should instead be working for somebody else, for some healthier paycheck. Where am I getting us – it’s not just about me, it’s about Angie too; by continuing to bring in only $175/week when I could try getting back into the college-educated job market and at least triple my income? Christ, at JCI, I was making five times what I make per hour now. And the thought of working full-time at zcob is not jazzing me at all – like any job, they demand more of your time than forty-hours a week and they demand your mental energy – your commitment, just like I would if I worked for myself. That’s the thing – I still want to work for myself, that’s what I need to do even though it doesn’t seem to make any financial sense at all. Yes, I’m leaving money – maybe the money of a lifetime for me and Angie – on the table so to say and it’s money I may never get back for us. I may be making our lives more financially difficult than I should. Trapped. When I start to feel trapped, or like I have no choice, I really need to look inside – stop, drop and listen to my heart. Feeling trapped is a big sign of biophycomythological trouble and making stupid decisions driven by my intellect versus my heart will get be right back into schism if I’m not careful. Schism is worse than death – it’s a form of death. I’ve got to hold fast and don’t panic. The s&b might just be a really shitty idea. Working at zmo or zcob may not be the right thing at all for me. But whatever my next move is, it has to feel right – it must be in line with my heart and I can’t ignore or deny what my heart tells me, I know this and I write about it continually, ad nausea. I also question everything, including my heart, ad nausea. Why? Why can’t I allow myself to just be?

This is a good place to live now. We can afford it, probably even if our TX house doesn’t rent and we have to talk to the bank to get our payment cut down substantially so we can try to pay for two fucking places to live at once – what hell. But there’s the money and how much shit costs, and the life-style we want to maintain and it’s what my heart wants and fuck if I’m giving up on being happy. It’s never going to quit getting sticky, this personal myth stuff. It’ll always be difficult, but it has to be a good kind of difficult – a challenge worthy of my heart and my life. It just MUST be that way – I have to keep working at this. There are my vocations and there’s everything else that isn’t and I have to surrender. Whatever the answers are, I need to surrender to them and quit fighting and denying them – that’s as big a waste of biophycomythological energy as anything else. I need to keep putting my energy where it belongs. I need to keep discarding my plans and letting the inessential go. I need to keep following my guides. Maybe I won’t ever stop questioning myself, or listening so often to the rational side of me, but I can choose my heart over my mind. I have a choice of who I want to be and what I want I want to do. It’s stupid and frustrating to continually have to write this shit out in an effort to convince myself of what I already know. But here it is, again. Me writing and trying to convince myself of who I am. Ugh.


[1] Jack Canfield, The Success Principles…p.??

[2] I obtained this quote from the Joseph Campbell Foundation website, jcf.org.

[3] Cite from GTGL1 (I think), or delete this line?