“Where should we go first?” i asked my lover Amanda when we were leaving college and embarking on what we thought would be a world tour.
“We should go to San Francisco, because the Grateful Dead play there more than anywhere else,” Amanda said smiling.
That response was the feather which tilted the balance and i ended up spending several amazing years in San Francisco – but that is a different story.
When we got there i took a temp job working for Standard Oil of Ohio. What was Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) doing with a skyscraper in San Francisco? The back story here is that in 1973 there was a huge oil discovery in the north slope of Alaska. By most estimations the Prudhoe Bay oil field was the largest natural resource deposit in the Americas. BP was one of the big winners in the bidding for leases and then the Arab oil embargo hit. The US gave BP the option to sell the leases to a US company, acquire an American affiliate or have it nationalized out from under them. Sohio was that affiliate. San Francisco was somehow halfway between Cleveland and the North Slope.
When i interviewed with Mac Creveling, he was excited and crazy busy. We spoke about his special projects group which was picking up all the loose ends of this office which had expanded from a dozen British geologists to over 500 professionals, in less than 3 years. [4 years later BP/Sohio would actually close these offices.] We talked about volumetrics and computer simulations. He needed someone flexible and someone comfortable with technical things. At the end of our interview he said i needed to do one more interview, but that he thought they would bring me on quickly if that went well. I did the second interview and then a month went by.
i decided to take a chance. i decided to write a really pushy letter to my prospective boss. The letter started something like this:
It has been over two months since you told me that you wanted to make a quick decision about me working for you after my interview with Pat Calhoun. Pat said in our interview he was excited about working together more than a month ago. So my guess is that you are crazy busy and just not quite convinced that i am the right fit. So i thought i would send you this letter to help you decide. Enclosed are two sample letters. They both take the form of letters i am writing to you. But i am not actually sending either of them to you.
- The first letter was a very polite and compelling letter about all the things i had learned working as a temp within Sohio that might be useful to the operations he was involved with.
- The second letter was a very diplomatic letter slamming him for bumbling the interview process with me, reminding him what he said, pointing out that he was unlikely to find someone better qualified, that they were in a crushing hurry and that if it did not work out i would gracefully vanish.
After these two unsigned but otherwise complete letters, i added this.
Please remember i am not actually sending you either of these letters, they are simply samples of my work to help you make your decision.
E. Schuyler Flansburgh
PS Have you considered hiring an administrative assistant?
Because i was already a temporary employee working in the same office complex, i was able to put this letter on Mac’s chair so he would see it first thing when he got in. When i got in to my office the next morning there was a short note taped to my chair. “Come see me immediately. – Mac”
i went to his office with some trepidation. When i got in he said.
i have a job for you, actually i have two jobs for you. The first is the reservoir engineer position you were applying for. The second is i want you as my administrative assistant.
“i have not seen the job description for that job” i replied
“That job description is easy” he said “you must always answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘Can you make this problem go away?'”
And thus in the bosom of corporate America i began my real training as an organizer.
Craig and i lived together at Paradox in the late 1980s. This sprawling group house was in the Castro district of San Francisco. While we were not close, we were certainly friendly. We shared a razor, which would not be a big deal, except that Craig is HIV positive.
Before you start ranting about how crazy this behavior is, remember what San Francisco was like at this time. HIV was a death sentence then and the Castro was the center of the epidemic. Which means we knew more about AIDS then than most people do even today. We knew the virus died in 90 seconds at room temperature.
Craig’s first story tonight was in part about passing trucks on the curve. It is not so much about a reckless style of living as it is embracing the idea that if the odds are against you then you make sure there is a lot of life during your days. Long before he got HIV from a blood transfusion, Craig was supposed to die of hemophilia. Turns out he is good at not dying on schedule. His first story got me choked up. Craig is far more personally daring as a story teller than i am.
And he is much darker. It turned out to be quite a good balance with us alternating tales. My stuff tends to be upbeat, hopeful or funny. Craig’s stuff tends to be heavy, somber and deep. He told stories about trapped chimps on tiger ranches. I told radical fairytales of feisty princesses and juggling paupers. Craig told inspiring stories of his daughter’s struggle looking at two parents who were supposed to die. i balanced with a number of Willowisms.
i definitely felt my skills sharpen listening to Craig. His prose is rich and descriptive, his timing more polished than mine. The audience seemed engaged and pleased. We’ll do it again when i come back through, perhaps on a bigger stage than the co-housing common room.
You can find more of Craig’s stories on his blog.
San Francisco asks one especially tricky question: Are you doing what you love?
When i was in Eugene i got into a long and heated argument with one of our larger hammocks customers who was upset about our prohibition on them selling thru Amazon and Walmart. At the end of the conversation Abigail asked “How as that for you?” After some brief reflection i replied “i have one of those conversations a month, many of my peers from college have those conversations all day long. They make 6 figures for doing that work, i am willing to have one conversation a month like that for the rest of my lucky life style.”
But it is not completely true. One of the things that this trip to San Francisco has taught me is that i need to be initiating more things. Talking with Kyle at the Feyboy Mansion got me excited about being a community creator, even if they were not places i would live. They are exploring buying land and creating a radical faery event space and commune. It was clear early in the conversation that i could be of assistance to them. Especially since they were not looking at the classical community start up problems (like a lack of cash) but instead had investors eager to support them, they had the high class problem of design and donor relations.
And i am still more than toying with the idea of starting community in this area, a net zero, income sharing, consensus decision making and transparency based communication model for maintaining personal relationship. i dont know if these will be the values of the other pioneers who i work with, but each of these ideas/philosophies has some compelling aspect.
It has been good for me to sell hammocks. It has both sharpened some of my skills and reminded me about the world that i dont really live in (despite being breed for Babylon). i am happy there has been a positive contribution from my skills to the communities economic needs. However, in the odd internal calculus i do, the community does not need my support in generating income as much as the movement needs my particularly pushy style in getting new community initiatives off the ground.
What also feels true is that i personally will enjoy initiating these next projects more myself. So listen to San Francisco and if you are not saying yes, do something new.