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“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” 
― St. Francis of Assisi

I have a friend who has spent most of his life in corner offices overlooking city landscapes where he has scuttled between shuffling words and numbers for corporate newsletters and balance sheets.  He began his life with passions for a life in academia for he is a true intellectual but life's twists and turns led him to the financial sectors where he traded the words of the likes of Flaubert for Citibank's shareholder reports.
He retired and moved to Utah and now resides in the mountains of Park City.  His encounters with snow and mountain lions have replaced mahogany desks and computer terminals.  Through all of this change, and it's been a big one, his copy of Stendahl's The Red and Black has never left his side along with tomes on the philosophy of science, physics, the cosmos, intellectual history and the major literary classics of the likes of Cervantes, Lawrence, James, Proust, Tolstoy, and Forster. 

Through the years we have corresponded by letter and the modern letter--email.  I have treasured his epistles for they are literary gems and reveal a beautiful mind at work with its enthusiastic quest for understanding and sharing.  I think it's great to enjoy an exquisite sunrise on fresh snow but to be able to articulate it in words (or music, or paint on a canvas, etc.) in order to share it with a friend is indeed a gift.  In the end, isn't that what it's all about?  Communication and sharing.

I have nudged this friend to explore his literary bent either in a blog or some other form of creative writing.  He claims he has no gift, no ideas, what could he say that has not already been said and how could he say it any differently (i.e. better) than those who have gone before him.  I say his expressions would always be unique because no fingerprint is the same.  (How many actors have put their stamp on Hamlet?)  But he has remained stubbornly resigned to appreciating the work of others rather than publishing or creating works of his own.  

My friend loves to ski and not long ago he was signing up for a season's pass at one of the exclusive resorts in the area.  He had such a good time talking with the front office people there they suggested he apply for a job as a mountain "ambassador" or "host".   As a "mountain host," he would get a FREE season's pass, free breakfast, courtesy passes at the other local ski resorts, a modest stipend, 20% off those fancy restaurants, a free underground parking space (it snows a lot up there in the mountains).  He was assigned to a little village, Silver Lake, nestled away up on the mountain about two miles from the base lodge. Among the duties would include meeting and greeting guests, shoveling snow, providing ski-coral services, and maintaining the appearance of the resort including empting the trash binds and driving a six-wheeler snow plow. He was offered a full-time position of either four or five days per week and took the four-day offer. He had a feeling that being one with nature while interacting with the public, with a little manual labor thrown in, might get the creative juices flowing.

His feeling did not betray.  I received a report back from him on his first day at his new "job."  In his words, which I don't think he would mind my sharing, he writes, "Actually, my first day on the job was particularly demanding. In sub-zero degree weather, and in two feet of snow, we had to move heavy wooden ski racks into place in front of the lodges and restaurants.  It took us hours knee deep in snow to drag them to their proper locations. My duties were less 'ambassadorial' and, as it turns out, closer to that of a maintenance man with responsibilities that include emptying garbage bins, shoveling snow as well as greeting guests and retrieving skis for them.  Somehow, the manual or servile aspects of the job have been psychologically liberating, more personally rewarding than schmoozing with quests in an “ambassadorial capacity.”

Later he expresses how he believes that physical work for older retired people (whoever they are) is healthy and therapeutic and how as he embraces his menial tasks and now as a result he is "getting more out of his books."  He often wakes up at 4AM in the morning to read the likes of Stendhal, Flaubert, D. H. Lawrence, Umberto Eco before heading to the slopes. And again, in his words, "'real work', including empting the garbage, manning the parking lot, shoveling snow, is grounding me better and simultaneously enhancing my sense of the beautiful which is at the essence of life."

This all reminds me of a conversation I once had with an actor.  I was a fledgling apprentice at a Shakespeare Festival at the time and I was sharing a train ride back to the city with one of the older members of the Equity company.  I was bemoaning the fact that I had to supplement my meagre income with a temp job.  He countered with how necessary it was for an actor to work in the real world, i.e. in an office, a restaurant, a school.  After all weren't we holding up the mirror to nature, so to speak?  Getting close to humanity and mixing in was a good thing for an actor's soul and creative zeitgeist.

So what is the takeaway from all of this?  Perhaps it is...Grab a shovel and enjoy shoveling the snow in your driveway this winter as the blood flows to spark creativity.  And embrace opportunities to interact with fellow human beings where sharing becomes a two-way contribution. -Margaret Emory

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