Making A Living From The Dead – Part One – Cash And Carry

No, it’s not about embalming or other mortuary subjects – it’s about how to get your eating money by being a purveyor of history. A commodity that you did not make and cannot buy.

Every industry, trade, or occupation needs raw materials to begin with. Farmers need seed, land, sun, and water. Shopkeepers need stock. Coal miners need coal and desperation. Once the various parties secure their kit, they can start to make use of it…eventually turning out food, profits, or contributions to political parties.* The trick to making a success of the thing is to get the starting stuff cheap, economise on the making or handling, and sell the finished product dear. If you can find a market that simply must have what you produce no matter what, you can pinch the margins and raise the prices and do very well indeed.

There is no cheaper raw material than history. It may have cost the people who made it very dearly indeed, but by the time we get it, there is generally no more to pay – particularly if the old stock is well past the date. Time is not the enemy of the history salesman – it is the wonderful unpaid finishing process that coats the dull and disastrous with a golden layer of ” Respect “. If it is recent, the history clerk can flog it as nostalgia and if it is 200 years old it can be sold as heritage. The point of it all is that it can be sold.

The buyers of history are numerous; people who want to push a current political barrow and need some baggage to put in it – the idle rich who need amusement – and the idle poor who need amusement until the next dole cheque arrives – the student who needs something to get their next certificate. They’ll all pay for history, though in many cases they’ll tell you that they forgot their wallet and that they’ll settle up with you next time.

One of the secrets of successful history selling is to give credit where it is due, but never to  customers. Cash now and they can have the receipt next time…

*   I could use a million, Clive. Just sayin’…

Riding The Horse – Part Thirteen – The Call Of Cashthulu

Sooner or later in your serious pursuit of a hobby the temptation to make money with it will arise. Money Imps are everywhere; witness the internet. Every second communication you receive is urging you to monetise what you do. All you’ll need to do is send the person who wrote it your money….

It can be less sordid than that. You might be asked to take up prostitution or drug dealing, and what could possibly go wrong there? Or it might be as simple as someone remarking that your hand-sewn mechanical intestines are really very authentic and you should offer them to other gut-lovers. They’ll snap them up, if snapping intestines is a thing.

I write from experience. I was very good at making leather soldier’s accoutrement in the 1990’s. Cartridge boxes, belts, canteens, food bags, etc. I did a steady little trade in these for re-enactors in the black powder hobby, both in my own metro area and interstate by post. I even went round as a drummer for the business on one holiday trip – a lesson in itself. People paid their bills with admirable promptitude and I was able to make a tidy little loss on my investment.

Loss? Loss of money, as the price they were willing to pay was that of the items demanded in American catalogs or by Indian sutlers. I was buying raw materials at Australian prices. When the sources of cheap leather dried up there was no profit at all in it. Add to this the costs of postage…

Also loss of time and enthusiasm. Sewing 20 cartridge boxes for your own re-enactment group is one thing – sewing the same number for others where there is no profit, quite another. Eventually I was blessed with an opportunity to hand the business over to someone else who had just lost their day job – I could get out honourably and they could try to carry on.

 The same would be the case in every division of every hobby. As soon as it was converted into a commercial proposition – however sketchy – the thing would become a job. It would take on the form of a task rather than a pleasure and the time spent doing it would be robbed from the day, rather than adding to it. Far better to do nothing for gain, and spend the time doing it for fun.

Being A Pariah Is Fun

I have been a pariah on several occasions in my life and look back on them with a certain fondness. Of course that warm glow is tinged with a sense of shame as I brought it on myself each time – but any memory is a good one, when you consider that there are people who are losing theirs day by day.

First incident occurred when I visited our local water treatment plant with an excursion group from dental school. We were shown the fluoridation equipment and harangued about how it would make our jobs redundant. Some forty years later I thought about this when I sold the practice and retired. How prophetic…

Any rate, we had been told to bring our own lunches so I stopped at a supermarket on the way up and bought some bread rolls and fillings. Cheese, salami, and olives from memory. I was rounded on by the classmates and laughed to scorn for eating dago food. The professor who accompanied us on the tour was a Greek gentleman and he sampled the salami and the olives, but said nothing. It rather soured me on eating with my classmates ever after – even to the extent of avoiding their graduation dinner. In the event, I graduated 6 months after the rest so the dinner would have been a pain anyway.

The next time I was asked to dine with the erstwhile classmates was a couple of decades later – after I had established my own marriage, family, and surgery and had moved past the point of being a worried little wart. I’d joined the ranks of the muzzle loading rifle shooters, got into historical re-enacting, and collect a number of uniforms and costumes.

When we were dressing for the 20th year dinner of my university class I remarked to the wife that everything I had to wear was dull and old. She suggested that I wear the latest bright costume that I had – a New York Zouave outfit. Ever the fool, I agreed.

I have never been greeted with more disdain or a colder shoulder than at that restaurant meeting. Old classmates literally turned their backs on me. Their wives flocked to me and we had a great good time discussing the oriental-style costume. The dinner was eaten and I retreated, and from that day to this most of those old classmates – resident in this city – have never spoken to me. I hear news of their madnesses, decrepitude, or business failures through the grapevine, but aside from that have no contact.

And the result? I am free to live my own life as I please – no posing to please and no tiresome social gatherings based on forty years ago. I may have done myself – and other pariahs – some good.

Living Your Own History

I have given up pretending to be other people; I have commenced pretending to be myself. Whether I will be more successful at it remains to be seen, but I know one thing – the clothing bill will be considerably lighter.

Do I have enough life accrued to have a history? And is it notable enough to be worthy of re-enactment? I’m not Dwight Eisenhower or Jim Carrey…so I don’t know whether anyone else will want to see me playing me. But I will still pursue the idea for my own purposes.

What was I? A little kid, then a teenager, than a young man, than a middle-aged man, and now an oldish sort of man. I have never climbed a new mountain, nor discovered a new cure for anything. Equally, I have never murdered people nor stolen money from them. Just an average Joe.

But an average Joe who had a great good time doing several things; taking photographs, reading books, and building scale models. If I re-enact what I did then I will not please or harm anyone else, but I can still please and harm myself…hopefully in equal portions.

This column, and the others I write, are part of the re-enactment I do of success in school. That petered out early, but these WordPress posts are going along nicely.

The Little Studio continues to take dance pictures as well as commercial illustration to the satisfaction of the customers.

The Little Workshop is spooling up to produce more and more scale models that please and delight me. And keep me agile of mind and hand. The activity is totally beneficial.

I may decline to wear the clothing of my childhood – the Howdy Doody vest is a difficult garment to integrate into normal day wear – but I’ve noticed recently that I can rock the flannel shirt and work trousers…and as a retired man I can wear them in more places than you’d think. The white moustache and flat cap help as well.

Reliving The Lives Of Someone Else’s Ancestors…

I used to take a great delight in the re-enactment hobby. I discovered it in the 1980’s as an adjunct to the activities of our local muzzle-loading rifle shooting club.

We’re in Australia, but a section of the country that has little colonial history of note – few battles and none of them famous. Re-enacting colonial times would mainly involve hard work, dirt, and discomfort. It is an unattractive prospect compared to the pageantry and bloodshed of  the United States, Britain, or the European continent. There is little in the way of glamour to it all.

So I reached out – gathering materials to pretend to live in 1860’s America, 1800’s England, and various areas during the Middle ages. There were a lot more things to wear and do when one concentrated on these cultures. At various times you could have seen me as an ACW soldier of either side, a British soldier of 1815 or 1860, a medieval dentist or crossbowman…it was a varied picture. But none of it was a picture of my own life …or of the lives of my ancestors.

Ultimately, this is where the activity failed. It introduced me to like-minded individuals here and now, and I value their friendships….but it had no valid connection to my life.

So what has taken the place of this once all-consuming passion? What fire burns in the grate now? And why is it producing a better heat for me? Read the next post and see.

Am I A Clubman? – Part Five

The last question that you need to ask yourself is the first question you should ask. If you don’t know the answer you can call a friend. If you haven’t got any friends, you have your answer already.

Some people are born clubmen or clubwomen. They are loud, make friends easily, are unruffled, take hearty exercise, eat breakfast, produce bowel movements every day ( frequently at the same time…), and are kind to animals. They can stand for office, scrutiny, the flag, or any other thing that the club needs. They are extroverts. indefatigable, ineffable, and impossible to have anything to do with. You’re soaking in one now…

Other folks are born to be recluses – hermits – loners – individuals  – eccentrics – etc. They are generally distinguishable by the simplest senses – silent to the hearing, invisible to the eye, clammy to the touch, and slightly odorous. No-one has as yet tasted one, and no-one is about to start…

And there’s a lot of people in between. Most of us have aspects of each of these types within if we would only see and admit to them. And most of us can choose a club or organisation to suit our real personality. It might not be a fashionable or distinguished society we move in, but if we find genuine correspondence in a group – that is the one we should join. Here’s a few checkpoints for you when trying to match yourself to others:

a. DO I ENJOY LOUD NOISE? If yes, take up shooting. If no, take up reading. Read about shooting if need be.

b. Do I enjoy working with my hands? If yes, carpentry, model making, and any number of crafting clubs are ready for you. If no, run out on a field and hit a ball somewhere with something.

c. Do I enjoy thinking? Yes? Literary and intellectual clubs, political parties, business clubs call. No? Singing and drinking, eating and dancing are for you, and there are people who will help you do it.

d. Am I artistic? Yes? Go to the art store, spend a week’s wage, take the resultant small paper bag to an art society, and ask for help. No? Gardening’s for you – Nature will make what you cannot, and you can eat some of it.

e. Am I an opinionated smart-arse who wants to best everyone in argument? Yes? Become a member of a debating team or get your own secret identity as a troll on internet forums. No? Have you thought of joining a religious order? Or the Asian version…a religious suggestion?

f. Do I love sports? If the answer is yes, join a sports club. If the answer is no, get a competent surgeon to tear your cruciate ligament for you. The cost of the year’s membership to the sporting club or the operation will be about the same and the hospital is quieter than the club rooms.

Less May Very Well Be More

Mies van der Rohe was thinking of architecture when he used a variation of the phrase that heads this column. It has since been adopted by minimalists all over the world to cut away the dross in many aspects of life.

I’ve been looking at the lives of some of the people I know to see if they use the philosophy. In a lot of cases I can be forgiven for thinking that they don’t – they have vast collections of weapons, armour, sewing materials, toy cars, and books…their lives have more more than most. How can they be minimalists?

Well, if look really carefully I can see the tiny little sections of their milieu that are clean, bare, and soothing. One person does not keep credit cards. Another eschews all interest in Facebook and social media. A third edits out all unused hobby items and gives or sells them away. No-one does it all at once, and no-one lives in a clean white space…or even a beige one. But they have all made a start.

Some are started on the road by chance…they have changed their life circumstances and do not have possessions they once owned. They may pine for them or not – in some cases I think they came to regard the possessions as owning them, and the separation has more freedom than deprivation in it.

Some have looked ahead and seen the entanglements…and have been strong enough to avoid them. There’s a degree of discipline and sensibility in this if a person knows their own limitations and is determined to stay within them.

Some have been attracted by a growing movement in the world for simplicity. This isn’t even religious in some instances – just people wanting to free some part of their psyche from the entanglements of possessions and relationship and acquaintance.

Of course there are detractors. Anything that you do or feel or think will be a target for someone’s disapproval. You have only to set outside a café on a busy street with a bag of Maltesers and pick off passers-by with a slingshot to find that out. You’d think people would be grateful to get free chocolate candy, but No…However, every individual can design their life and surroundings to some small extent, and the incipient minimalist can make those tiny little islands of simplicity in the hope that they will one day coalesce into a haven of calm.

Me? I am going to go through my shed and discard all that I derive no good from. It’s started already and the floor is getting less crowded already. That this will make room for more model building is inevitable, but then model building does me good.

And then I shall start on the clothes closet. The time has come to admit to myself that I shall never wear the historical costumes again. I must find someone who will.