Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Sand Dancer

When Niki Buchan and I arrived yesterday in Christchurch, New Zealand where we will be holding our final Inspired EC presentation/workshop/training on Saturday, we found a stunningly gorgeous day, so we headed for the beach before even checking into our hotel. After a couple hours exploring it was time to find some lunch. We were craving fish and chips, so figured we would stick to the beach drive, heading toward what we would later learn was the New Brighton pier.

As we drove in this place that is halfway around the world from my home, I spotted someone I recognized: a thin little man, wearing a floppy hat, riding a distinctive "chopper" style bike. It was the Sand Dancer! No way! I'd included an inspiring video of this eccentric artist in a post five years ago in the first few months of this blog. I was still in doubt that it could be him even when the pier and the beach looked exactly as I'd remembered it from the video, so I asked the restaurant owner, "Would you know if there is a sand artist who sometimes works on this beach?"

He answered enthusiastically, "He's here from time to time." When I asked if he worked at specific times or on any kind of predictable schedule, he laughed, "It has to do with tides and weather and . . . I think mostly it's up to his mood. No one can predict guys like that." I suppose that's exactly the answer for which I should have hoped: a man still living according to his calling.

As soon as I post this I'm going to be checking the local tide tables and Niki and I are going to hope today is the day. In the meantime I'm re-posting that long ago reflection, complete with the Sand Dancer video. I think you'll like it.


One of the important things I’ve learned about myself, and it took me 40+ years to figure it out, is that I’m not cut out for having a job. Of course, I’ve had jobs, and in every case I’ve eventually grown to resent them. I come to despise the financial hold that jobs have over me, the control they take of my time, and the waste they make of my energy.

It has been a recurring theme that began back in college when I found myself disliking any course that smacked to me of vocational training, while loving my classes with names like “The Sociology of Leisure,” “The Biology of Animal Behavior,” and “Mann, Kafka, Hesse, In Translation.” During my years working for the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, I squirmed around so uncomfortably in the job, that I would arrive at the office at 5 a.m., and leave to go home at 2 p.m., anything apparently to be somehow in charge of my daily life. I grew a beard, wore bow ties and suspenders, and kept a collection of toys in my office, but none of it worked.

I suppose this could simply be written off as immaturity on my part, and maybe it is, but what I’ve come to understand about myself is that I do much, much better in the world when I’m pursuing a “calling” rather than a job.

Most teachers I know, like me, consider their vocation as a calling. The ministers I’ve known feel the same way, as do most of the artists. Indeed there are teachers, preachers, and creative types who’ve managed to make millions, but most of us could easily earn more money elsewhere. We’re not in it for the money, and that’s what makes it a calling rather than a job.

Compulsory public education had its origins in the industrial revolution, and was at its core vocational. As we moved into an age of economic centralization and mass production, commercial interests needed a trained workforce, and for many, maybe most, that’s what education remains today. We go to school ultimately in order to get jobs as doctors, lawyers, accountants or advertising executives. What are you going to be when you grow up? When are you going to declare a major? How are you going to use an English degree? These are all, at bottom, questions about how you’re going to make money.

They are questions about jobs and I've tried, but I find them uninteresting. The question that I’m instead cursed to always return to is: Time is short, how am I spending it? Chasing money seems like the ultimate waste of the only resource we really have.

And I’m not alone:

His art that gets washed away with each tide, and I don’t think this guy is wasting a second of his time.

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Annie Hosking said...

I hope you get to see him in action!

Anonymous said...

That's incredible!! I hope you get to see him!

Anonymous said...

Over a year after this blog post was written and here I am with my daughter who is playing with sand art. I remember Teacher Tom's post about the sand dancer and have got to show my little one. I'm assuming Teacher Tom didn't get a chance to see him. Sure would have been cool though!