Thursday, April 19, 2007

Part Two: RJA and the Smoke Shop of Doom

The next day, after enjoying lunch with RJA and Chip without a tape recorder for interview purposes or a camera for the “RJA with Orange Crush” photo op, the chat resumed.

SLC: So are you having a slow day?
RJA: Today is stupid slow.
SLC: Sorry I wasn't in the mood for a cigar.
RJA: I was counting on that sale, too.
SLC: So how long are you going to run that store before moving on to the next thing?
RJA: I have no idea.
SLC: You haven't started thinking about it? It's going okay for now?
RJA: Oh, I think about it. Kristy thinks about it. I'll either sell it, shut it down or it will be taken from me. Then what? I'm unemployable. No diploma.
SLC: So you don't think about selling it and buying into something else? Your assessment seems kind of negative.
RJA: I can be very negative when it comes to this place and what it takes to run a business in Memphis.
SLC: Well, good that you spend a lot of time there then.
RJA: Our debt is so monumental that if I sold, it would probably only cover (hopefully) that debt.
SLC: I'm sure in some ways it would be a relief to do that, but not at the expense of your daily happiness- assuming that being a business owner makes you happy.
RJA: I hear my brother-in-law, who works for a bank, and my office-working customers talk about meetings and conferences and power point presentations, etc, and I don't know how they do it. . . I honestly can't think of anything that would interest me. Except writing. Or being a professional cyclist. Or an adventurer, like Indiana Jones. Or being a character actor in major motion pictures.
SLC: So if you were writing for a living, what would it be? Fiction, short stories?
RJA: If I could do anything at all? Novelist. But I'd also write short stories, screen plays, plays, some journalism. Blogs.
SLC: Blogs plural? Like Stacey?
RJA: Well, if I'm writing for a living. Sure.
SLC: So do you have half a novel lying around somewhere, or what?
RJA: I've been working on a few short stories that could probably be combined into a novel at some point, provided I had the time and focus to figure it out. I haven't actually written in years because of time, mainly because Kristy wants to write, too, and it didn't seem fair for me to do so if she was tending to babies. However, a few months ago she said something that changed all that. I told her how I felt and she said, "If I could think of something to write then I'd write no matter what." So I've been writing a lot more since then.
SLC: Has the blog helped get you back into writing regularly?
RJA: Very much so. It's really good practice.
SLC: Looking back, do you think you'd actually have more time for writing if you weren't your own boss?
RJA: Yes. I can't get away from this place, even at home.
SLC: Do you ever think about getting your degree? In your abundant spare time, of course.
RJA: I've thought of going back to school. It would be to study creative writing and literature.
SLC: If the diploma thing is what's keeping you from thinking you can move on, there are lots of online programs you could do in order to get that piece of paper.
RJA: To do what? I don't even care about going to school for a diploma. I'd like to go to learn.
SLC: Of course. But you said you felt that if you sold your business you'd be "unemployable" without a diploma.
RJA: Right. But I also have no idea what I'd want to do. None.
SLC: You don't think you'd enjoy doing something somewhat mindless so that your mind would be free for your real passions?
RJA: I don't know. That does make sense, but I just feel that being a salesman or something - selling some product I don't really care about - would just depress me more than anything. I don't really know what jobs are out there, I guess. What do people do?
SLC: When I left teaching, I really had no idea what jobs there were out there, or what I was qualified for (jinx!) so I was surprised by what I found. . . But you're right about the diploma- if you have one, people assume you can do whatever they need done. There were times I regretted the liberal arts education- I felt lost not having learned any particular skill. I didn’t realize people are willing teach you anything if you’ve got a documented education.
RJA: What I wonder, though, is what the equivalent to a diploma is? Is running your own business for eight years as good to someone hiring as a four-year degree?
SLC: For a lot of things, I would guess it is. But some places are going to be run by strict HR departments that are stupidly rigid- like how the CA was.
RJA: Right.
SLC: If I win the lottery tonight, I'll be your patron. Can you tell that pretending I've won the lottery is my favorite hobby?
RJA: We do a lot of that pretending, too. I often wonder if there's a job that would pay me to listen to jazz all day and read. Then I realize that's what I'm doing.
SLC: Good to hear you say you enjoy it.
RJA: I like this job okay, except for the financial part.
SLC: Knowing your sunny disposition, that actually reads as the highest of praise. Does that mean despite it all, things are pretty good?
RJA: I do like this job. I actually love this job and love being my own boss. However, I tend to obsess about the problems and debt and cash flow issues. But I'm very proud of what I've created here. I've met a lot of good people and a lot of people have come to know each other while sitting around smoking cigars and drinking coffee. My store has become an oasis in downtown Memphis and that thrills me.


Memphis Urban Sketchers said...

I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.

Stacey Greenberg said...

e, you are FUNNY!

great interview steph. i like that you didn't let RJA get you down. in fact, you actually got him to admit that he is happy! ha!

Stephanie said...

RJA get me down? Please. I find him to be delightful.

Shannon said...

i know a few other exceptional people without degrees who manage to work in corporate america, or for foundations, renovating houses, and directing non-profits.