“What Do You Do All Day?”

Guys in jackets and ties walking into the pretty blue buildings downtown never get asked what they do all day, unless it’s by their wives, recalling “Angel From Montgomery,” and wondering if he can be gone eight hours and have nothing to report. Guys with ladders on top of their vans and tools in the back never get asked what they do all day. People don’t ask them because the assumption is there, based on the evidence of dress or implement, that these people work for a living. Most people could care less what someone else does all day, as long as it looks like what they do is productive and somehow conducive to an incremental increase in the GNP, or DNP or whatever it’s called these days. Try to make a living playing the guitar, though, and people are constantly asking you: “What do you do all day?” When I try to make an appointment to meet someone in the morning, they give me the wink and say, “You mean around 3:00?” If I tell them I’m too busy to see them in the next couple of days, they start with the “What do you do all day?” I guess they figure the guitar player’s life consists of rolling out around noon, kicking back in the Barca with a cold one, catching some ESPN, maybe take in a ball game, smoke a little rope, take a nap, have dinner, get driven to the gig, noodle for a couple hours, go back to chicken shack for a snack and little what-you-may-callit with the old lady and nod off around three AM. Maybe a few observers are acquainted with some of your more serious type of musicians who spend a lot of each day trying to decide which foods to eat and which pills to take to get them to just the right level of performance before they go to work that night. Most of these analysts must figure that musicians spend the whole day just thinking about their personal weltanschauung, you know, man, their space, and not much else.

I ran an insurance agency for fifteen years. Nobody ever asked me what I did all day. Nobody in their right mind would ask an insurance man what he did all day unless their Nembutal script just wasn’t strong enough and they really needed some winks. I once went to the trouble of cataloguing what my Finnish amanuensis and I did all day. It was 1986 and I thought we ought to automate our agency. I wanted to be able to justify the high cost of automation, so she and I kept a log for two weeks of what we did. By dint of heritage and fear of narrative, she was somewhat less than forthcoming in what she actually did all day. She had entries like: “answered the phone,” “wrote checks,” “filed,” “had lunch,” stuff like that, usually with no times attached. I put all my post-Catholic, workaholic, Germanic obsessive traits to good use by pencilling in the duration of phone calls, mileage for errands, applications filled, all the numbers any efficiency expert would love to see. When it was all over, the eighty-twenty rule was affirmed. Most of the tasks we accomplished were devoted to satisfying twenty percent of the clientele. We proceeded with automation, although it was pretty obvious the computer would never be able to do what we were doing. In those days, “paperless” was a bold dream and what the machine actually did was increase our workload by a factor of ten and nearly bankrupt our operation. By the time I sold the agency in 1996, the machine had fulfilled its Peter Principle goal of serving as an elaborate adding machine and typewriter. We still had drawers full of paper and we still had to go to the bank and we still had to use the telephone. The computer forced a certain organizational hierarchy into our thinking and our way of doing business that resulted in an unquantifiable gain in productivity but made us feel mainstream.

My point in relating this automation history is to let you know I’m no stranger to computers. If you’re not either, then you know what I’m talking about when I say that any answer to the question “What do you do all day?” must include a certain allotment to the care and feeding of the computer. I can’t work without a computer. When it’s doing a maintenance task and I can’t access it, I have nothing to do. All my work is connected to the machine: music programs for writing and recording, addresses and phone numbers, bookkeeping, this Web page, my schedule, my list of vitamins–everything. It’s been a slow, inexorable process and one from which there is no return: I’m cybernetically attached, like a life-support system. When I can’t use it, I have to resort to some really time-wasting, ephemeral busywork, like reading or practicing guitar, sleeping or vacuuming.

Except for major maintenance tasks, you won’t see in the following logs any of the time spent in file manicuring, error analysis, software grooming, learning programs, disk defragging, reindexing and all the myriad time-consuming tasks required to keep a clean hard drive and a sporty desktop. We nerds know how long it takes, the rest of you will have to accept that what might appear as too much time allotted to certain tasks is the overhead inherent in owning the machine.

Other than computer-related busywork, my time is spent like yours: looking for meaning in life and trying to stay Two Steps Ahead Of The Blues.