(I’ve got a) Golden Ticket

Children’s movie’s are among the most destructive forces influencing the emotional growth of small humans.

So there I was, working from home with standard fare on the television at an exceptionally low volume. Criteria for work from home mindless television are… it needs to be something I’m familiar with so I’m not distracted, and yet enjoyable for moments when I look up. Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Gene Wilder in his brilliance. A cast of children who mostly never worked again. Glorious. I always tune in for the scene in which Gene, brilliant, leaves the factory, limping, with the cane…and then does the somersault. Luke tells me he heard an interview with Gene explaining this; he knew if he did that switch, that physical mendacity, during the introduction, the audience would never be able to trust him. That was his goal.

So, I’m working away. Augustus, Veruca, and Violet have found their tickets. And then, this exchange snaps my head up to stare, riveted, at the screen.

CHARLIE: Well in case you’re wondering if it’ll be me, it
won’t be. Just in case you’re wondering, you can count me
out.

MRS. BUCKET: Charlie . . . there are a hundred billion
people in this world, and only five of them will find Golden
Tickets. Even if you had a sackful of money you probably
wouldn’t find one. And after this contest is over, you’ll
be no different from the billions of others who didn’t find
one.

CHARLIE: But I am different. I want it more than any of them.

MRS. BUCKET: Charlie, you’ll get your chance. One day things will change.

CHARLIE: When? When will they change?

MRS. BUCKET: Probably when you least expect it. 

What was that? Once more for the cheap seats!

But I am different.  I want it more than any of them.

Oh sweet lord, I never saw it before. Maybe because Charlie’s mom sings a terrible, forgettable song immediately after her last line here. But there it is. Wrapping words around the deepest of entitlements; wanting it is the reason you deserve it.

I can’t help think about all of the ways in which this manifests – the attention of someone to whom you’re attracted. Winning the lottery. For people you love not to die. Not wanting to die yourself. And then I think about the ways in which it sounds ridiculous – flying a plane, getting a PhD, being a virtuoso piano player. What is the difference?

I deserve for that person to find me attractive because I find them attractive.
I deserve to win the lottery because I need the money.
I deserve for my loved one not to die of cancer because it will hurt me so much I may never recover.
I deserve not to die because I have so much to live for.

vs.

I deserve to fly a plane because I’ve studied for years and had hours of flight time.
I deserve a PhD because I have written and defended and theorized and iterated and worked with peers and advisors and my theories are sound.
I deserve to be a virtuoso piano player because I have practiced alone for hours a day for years, with no accolades, just trying to be happy with slowly improving.

There is nothing interesting and overnight-success-story about earning it. Getting good enough at something to deserve the benefits that come with it (a job. adoring fans. an honorific.) is lonely and boring. After decades, I’m a pretty good opera singer, a pretty good performer, and I’m pretty good because I love the rehearsal process. The slow getting better. Competing with myself. Challenging myself. Memorization is boring and tedious, but it’s worth it to know an opera, even if I only ever sing it to myself. The performance is the iceberg, literally far less than 10%, of the work that goes into working on a role. Yet, because it’s often the first time this appears to people, if we’re pretty good, it looks flawless, it looks seamless, it looks like an overnight success. Sometimes, after singing, people will come up to me and ask if I had to study to do that. It always takes me by surprise. It’s difficult to not be snarky.

“No, I just started singing like this one day. I magically knew all these languages, too, and I was born knowing how to read music.”

 

The real answer is so, so incredibly boring (and, yes, involves an obscene amount of privilege, which is not the topic of this post but needs to be acknowledged)… and, frankly, unbelievable to anyone who has never tried to master a craft. Why would you do that? Asks the person who does not thrive in creating, in learning. What could possibly be worth all that work? Questions the person who only works as hard as they need to. Does it pay well? Is the question of the person whose only motivators are material. To say nothing of the questions from people who, when they find out what I do for work, respond with, “How’d you get that job?” I find that saying “I’m really, really excellent in bed,” creates discomfort in people who were thinking this anyway. People who think “If she can do it, I certainly can,” and, while that may be true, they don’t get that the differentiator is not can, but am willing to do the work to achieve the same or similar goals. The irony here being that these questions, very often, come from the most privileged set – straight white men who already have so many natural advantages, who already come from a place of extreme privilege. So naturally, the real question is, “What did you do to get this?”, with a subtext of “because I deserve it.”

So, for these questioners, we create tropes. Marrying the prince. Finding the golden ticket. An older wealthy childless man seeing a “spark” in us and letting us inherit his life’s work (that’s just pretty creepy all around). Tropes that would give us all of the perceived benefits of work without any qualifiers but wanting, and perhaps being in the right place at the right time, or even – even! – just our sparkling, witty personality. The same people who believe this is possible believe that they can experience the success of Bill Gates because they are both college dropouts. That’s what we call a false equivalency, and being a college dropout doesn’t up your chances of becoming a billionaire tech genius philanthropist any more than being a drug addicted alcoholic will give you the writing chops of Hunter S.

Charlie’s mom had a chance here. She started well, acknowledging he likely wouldn’t get the ticket and that, in the end, he’d be just like everyone else who hadn’t found a ticket. But no. Then she said “things will change when you least expect it.” It could have been realistic. “If you work for years, and make sure that you are the best at the thing you want to do when opportunity comes around, then things may change when you least expect it,” but no. She crapped out.

We, and by we I mean “I”, often think that this mentality came into full swing during the reality television, get-famous-for-nothing, youtube-star era. But no. No, this cripplingly lazy, entitled mentality has been poisoning us for generations. It’s even worse than the libertarian bootstrapping “as long as you’re a white man and work hard, you can do anything” mentality. It inspires nothing but a false sense of entitlement coupled with the lesson that our feelings are enough to warrant an outcome. Taken to the extreme, this is an incredibly dangerous premise that we’re seeing playing out in a lot of ways; sexual assault and cultural appropriation, to name just two, but I know there are more.

But I also see it in daily, art-killing ways. A lack of creativity of thought. Industries built on the creative backs of just a few people willing to do the work and a lot more people willing to do sales and marketing. An unwillingness to pay for art coupled with a willingness to buy mass-produced, money-signaling items.

So tell me – what are you perfecting? What are you crafting, learning? What is something you have worked on for more than a year, that haunts your dreams, that still isn’t ready, that may never be ready? What are you absorbing, working on, that may never yield money, or accolades, but that drives you to simply Be Pretty Good for the sake of Being Pretty Good? This is the golden ticket to earning anything at all.

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One thought on “(I’ve got a) Golden Ticket

  1. And, because I asked; I am memorizing Norma. This means speaking the entire opera in rhythm and then listening to the recording. So far I’ve only recorded act I and none of it is memorized. Over late spring and summer, I spent several days perfecting 1.5 beats (under a half bar) of the fifth element piece, a piece I’ve been working on for 18 years. And I have begun production of a music series that literally 8 people will pay money to experience but I don’t care because I think the people involved will love it.

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