Ladder or wheel?

I am new in town, and I asked someone for help. He is someone who I have worked with, and someone who I thought respected my work. I wasn't sure if I was a fit for the gig he could have hooked me up with, so I asked. I would like to tell you that asking for help is a sign of strength, but I didn't like doing it very much. The person didn't respond to my inquiries, at all, and I got mad. I did something mildly provocative to get him to talk with me, which worked. He told me that since he wasn't putting me forward for this gig, he didn't need to reply, because there is "nothing to tell." I suggested that not replying at all seems to me to be unprofessional and discourteous, and he responded with a subtle threat, saying that being insulting "wasn't going to help my situation."

This is the ladder. He has climbed to a certain height, and he sees the world as above him or below him. He can't really reach down to help me, because he needs both hands to cling to the rung he's on, and there is no room on his rung for anyone else. I wasn't thinking of the ladder when I asked him for help, because I sing and he does something else. Him helping me would not displace him as far as I can see. If I were thinking of this in terms of the ladder, I may have thought that he and I were on different ladders. But I didn't think of the ladder.

He did. And when I confronted him about his .... communication habits, he probably thought I was shaking the ladder, and from as high up as he has climbed, it's a long way down. So he didn't like it one bit, and while he doesn't really have the power to knock me down or threaten my career, he needs me to think that he can.

This is why I don't "do" the ladder. Or, I wish I didn't have to. Ladder is how the world is, particularly in wars and corporations and governments. Ladder is how we see many things, and it seems inescapable, but it's not.

Ladder means that the only way to go is up, and the only way up is to climb, and that climbing is a solitary and self-powered effort. Ladder is very American. Ladder is also very "or."

I had a mentor who got in my face when I was critical and catty about other singers. He told me that there is room for everyone, and if I don't believe that, then there won't be room for me. This mentor is a flawed human but in that moment he gave me wings to leave the ladder, and I did.

If there is room for everyone, and there is, then the ladder cannot hold us all. If there is room for everyone, even though some of us are "better" or more financially / artistically successful, then the ladder doesn't even make sense. I was happy about that then and I'm even happier about it now. In the arts we must enjoy diversity. Can I compare Joni Mitchell and Ella Fitzgerald, and decide that one is "better?" How stupid is that? The only answer is "yes." The only way to survive in the arts, I believe, is to be "and." "And" is so much better than "or." "And" is about abundance, and I like abundance better than fear and suspicion and scarcity.

Since that mentor, and that time of learning to have a vibrant career as an artist, I met someone else who doesn't "do" ladder. Here's what he says:

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:8-11

Jesus is so far from ladder. The only thing remotely ladder-like in Jesus' teachings is the cross - the thing he climbed in order to humble himself. It makes your head spin, and that's exactly as it should, because life is not a straight climb to "the top." Jesus got to "the top" of that particular ladder and it looks to me like that sucked.

For a while.

Life is a wheel, and in the arts that is especially true. We are all subject to whim and the subjective likes and dislikes of employers, listeners, audiences, directors, other artists and anyone else you can think of. We are up some days and down some days. We use physical talents that can wither or grow strong, and many of us live without a lot of safety net, so that a turn of the wheel like illness or theft of our sound equipment can derail some of us for another turn, or for good.

The ladder people also turn the wheel, as they seek to shove us off when we climb too many rungs and get too close. I am just now emerging from a bad turn of the wheel caused by the Bad Church Situation, where someone high up the ladder used his position to assassinate my hopes and my self-respect. I clung to the wheel and eventually it turned around.

Ladder people don't seem to know that the ladder itself is an inherently unstable thing, and that most ladders aren't designed to bear weight on the very top rung. Yet that is the only feasible destination for a ladder climber, particularly when the rest of the world seems to be nipping at your heels.

The best thing about the wheel is that we acknowledge its motion. It's out of my control, sometimes, when the wheel turns, and which way. When my motion is not self-powered, and yours isn't either, that's when compassion can grow. There is room for everyone on the wheel, and there is a way for everyone to be in the right place, even if that's underwater for some, or bumping along in the dust of a side road we didn't want to travel.

When I live on the wheel I can weather my underwater seasons, because we all have them; I can also help or get help from fellow travelers who know how little control we really have. I wrote about this in a song. The lyric is neither good nor bad - it just says what I have come to believe, and that's why I like it:

That dirty down-home diva thinks she's talented and rare
When she's up she earned it; when she's down it just ain't fair
But I've been on this wheel a while and this is what I've learned
You might be up for now, but then that wheel is gonna turn.

oh how the mighty fall - it happens to us all
the only thing that matters is if someone helps you up...

I still have questions. Should I have provoked that ladder-climber? Should I have just left him alone, clinging to his high rung up there, and not tried to get in his face or stir his anthill? I'm not sure. I appreciate some who got in my face back in the day, but that doesn't mean I was right to do so in this case. Arrogant, mean people are hurting too, probably more than nice people, and as a human I might have found a kinder way to avoid him or give him some grace. I should know - I am certainly arrogant and mean myself sometimes.

I just wish I could help him understand that life is better on the wheel.


Kandra said…
ugggg typical. Remember that guy in Chicago who was all 'youll never work again' ?? cant say his name but you know who I mean. he was a joke and this guy sounds hellarious too. i want to hear the song about the dirty diva !!! xo

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