I have been reading Stephen King's non-fiction autobiographical work On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This is a book in which he shares some humorous anecdotes of growing up (e.g., Eula-Bulah, the "big as a house" teenage babysitter who would repeatedly pin King down, sit on his face, and then fart) interspersed with some advice for aspiring writers.
King comes from humble roots. His father split when he was two, leaving his mother perpetually single and moving around from state to state in search of work. Her jobs pay poor and are of the dead-end, mindlessly rote kind. At the Statford Laundry she feeds sheets through wringers, in an environment where summertime temperatures reach highs of over 100 degrees and salt pills are handed out to combat the sweat loss. After college, in his 20s and with a family to raise, King finds himself working at his own dead-end laundry job, downing salt pills in the summer and thinking, "this isn't the way our lives are supposed to be going."
However, it wouldn't be long before King is hoisted from his sweltering laundry job into riches and fame as a bestselling fiction author. But, wait, how does it happen? Of course, King doesn't really know. He shrugs it off as a whole lot of inborn talent (writers, he suggests, can't be made, neither by circumstances nor self-will, because "the equipment comes with the original package") combined with some good luck. The ideas for bestsellers, he says, essentially come out of thin air.
Now, in the age of our so-called economic crisis, I wonder how many humble-rooted factory workers, floor moppers, cubicle-confined state workers and coffee servers have the same thought as King did: namely that this isn't the way their lives are supposed to be going. How many people cringe at the sound of the alarm clock and yearn to be hoisted, like King, out of serfdom so that they too can hang out with the Lords in their ivory towers, mansions and five-star restaurants?
In the new song, Troublemaker, lead vocalist Rivers Cuomo of Weezer sings that he can't work a job, "like any other slob, punch it in, punch it out, and suckin' up to Bob, marrying a bitch, having seven kids, giving up, and growing old and hoping there's a god." In the song Rockstar, the band Nickelback points out that everyone wants to be famous, living in hilltop houses, driving fifteen cars, with no-limit credit cards, signing autographs so that they can eat their meals for free. Madonna drives the point home with her song, American Life, in which she explains that she has "a lawyer and a manager, an agent and a chef, three nannies, an assistant, and a driver and a jet, a trainer and a butler, and a bodyguard or five, a gardner and stylist..."
Such witty ditties would be cute and even amusing, were it not for the fact that they are true. The rich and famous really do live like this, enjoying the peace-of-mind that naturally comes from having tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in disposable income. Corporate CEOs rake in yearly salaries that an "average" middle class American worker -- were they to somehow make $70,000 per year -- would not accrue in an entire lifetime. Bearing Voltaire's classic quote, "the comfort of the rich depends upon an abundance of the poor," in mind, does one ever get the feeling that they are like so many Egyptian slaves, builders of pyramids for god-like Pharaohs?
Stephen King, having now sold over 300 million copies of his tales of blood, guts, torture and mayhem can now look back on his life from a cheery and optimistic perspective. But how do millions of others, whose equal success is logically impossible, feel about their own "average" lifestyles? Further, with children starving over in impoverished nations, shouldn't our priorities somehow change? Or will we remain complacently satisfied with our run-of-the-mill, salt pill popping, laundry job lives; perhaps thinking that our reward is in heaven?
I wonder what you think.
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