For the last 10 years, I've edited a magazine for the Subud world called Subud Voice.
I am in Australia but by the blessings of modern electronic communication, I work closely on the magazine with a man in England called Marcus Bolt.
Marcus is a writer. He wrote a very good autobiography about his life in Subud with a very good title, Saving Grace, but he has also written a novel and lately he has been writing science fiction.
He is also an artist, a very good painter, and also a graphic designer. So, with Subud Voice, he has mostly looked after design and layout aspects of the magazine. (Although at the moment, he is also guest editing the magazine.)
We frequently have long conversations about the magazine, thanks to the miracle of Skype. These are usually also extremely enjoyable conversations. For some reason, talking to Marcus always generates lots of ideas, and we also laugh a lot, usually about the crazy things that people say and do in Subud, including especially our own foibles. (The stuff we can't print in the magazine.)
I laugh more in these conversations than I do in any other situation in my life. I laugh until my belly hurts and I practically fall off my chair. It had been one of the main pleasures of editing Subud Voice.
The motto business...
The other night we were talking when the idea of the motto business came up.
The way this started was that I called to mind an excellent slogan that Marcus puts on his Skype profile. It is, "I spam therefore I am". Marcus is very good at these pithy sayings and has in fact worked in advertising as a copywriter as well as a creative director.
Marcus then told me of an experience he had with someone who was a hypnotist. This person could not make up his mind whether he should go on the stage as a stage hypnotist, making people act like chickens and so on for the entertainment of the audience, or whether he should be a hypnotherapist who could help people give up smoking and so.
In a brilliant flash of inspiration, Marcus said to him, "You are more showman than shaman."
This was, of course tremendously helpful to the person involved, giving him a clear direction in life.
Round about the same time, I met a girl at a party who complained to me that no one ever recognized what an extraordinary person she was, but instead always laughed at her.
In a brilliant flash of inspiration I said to her, "That's because you are more amusing than amazing.”
At that moment, the business was conceived....
Marcus and I realized that through our practice of the latihan, we had discovered a gift inside ourselves, a talent. It is rather like the talent that some people have of giving other people their "right name". In our case we could give them their “right” slogan or motto.
We realized that we had stumbled on the seed of an enterprise. We would set up a business giving people slogans that would explain them to themselves and point out their path in life, their “destiny” no less. We decided to call the business, Destiny Mottoes, and I went right out and registered the business name.
In order to test the waters and see if the business idea really was sound and people really would pay money for us to give them slogans, I suggested to Marcus that he should be prepared to give up his personal use of his slogan "I spam therefore I am" and that we should try and sell it to someone.
In this endeavour we were extremely successful, and a Russian entrepreneur involved in a criminal enterprise of internet fraud and identity theft, paid us a colossal sum of money to have this for his slogan.
Thus encouraged, we immediately set about our business plan which we wrote on the back of an envelope. We could see quite clearly how the whole thing would develop.
We would offer a variety of products at different levels of pricing. For $1000 we would give people extremely original and helpful slogans. For people who could only afford less than that, we would also give them very good slogans, but not quite so...scintillating. We would also of course have a Susila Dharma aspect to our business, giving some poor people slogans for free, or at a much reduced rate. (We could claim it on tax.)
The essence of any successful business is of course repeat business, and we saw how our business was just made for this, because people would have to keep coming back to us for new slogans as their situation in life changed after getting our slogan. (Changed for the better, we hoped!) We would also offer people special 5-year, 10-year or even lifetime plans whereby at discounted prices they could come back to us every year for refined and refreshed slogans.
With every motto we gave, we would give a T-shirt and a coffee mug with the slogan emblazoned on it, all included in the price.
Of course, we needed some start-up capital, so we approached Subud members to invest in our business. We used this money to obtain things that we needed such as expensive office suites in the most prestigious part of town, with modish furnishings such as couches of fine Italian leather on which our clients could sit.
We also required a bevy of female assistants whose beauty was only equalled by their charm. We were hopeful that some of them would eventually learn to type and file. This did cause some friction with our wives, but, hey, business is business.
Our start-up was accompanied by many astounding synchronicities, signs, wonders and angelic visitations. It was clear that God was on our side. Our business took off like a rocket with clients coming to us from all around the world.
Soon our waiting rooms were filled to overflowing with movie stars, pop stars, the presidents of nations and various other celebrities famous for being famous. But perhaps our proudest moment was the day we gave the Dalai Lama his slogan – "Grin, not sin". He seemed very pleased with it. At least, he smiled a great deal.
And so the business prospered and expanded. We made enormous amounts of money and soon had offices in all the major capitals of the world.. We trained people in how to develop a gift for giving slogans and we set up franchises all around the world, just like the McDonald's.
There were some danger signs. The fact that all our franchises collapsed after just a few months and all our franchisees were suing us was a worry.
Yes, we probably did try to expand too quickly.
And in retrospect, we probably bought too many pairs of red braces to hold our trousers up and to indicate that we were persons of power and prestige. We see now that they were symbols of the pride, arrogance and hubris that had overtaken us.
And, yes, it could be argued that we purchased too many country estates mortgaged to the hilt, and yes, perhaps we could have chosen some more affordable hobby than collecting fabulously expensive vintage cars.
And yes, it would have been better if Marcus and I had not gone mad, each trying to do the other's job. Marcus was supposed to be in charge of marketing while I looked after admin, but he kept interfering in my excellent admin arrangements while refusing to take my good advice about what was wrong with our marketing.
And yes, it is likely that we diversified our business too quickly, going into “side business” like the production of t-shirts and coffee mugs on a multi-national scale, ventures which proved to be wildly unsuccessful, totally erasing whatever profits we might have made from our “core business”.
And yes, it is probably true that we should not have spent so much time in night clubs, drinking so much champagne with so many supermodels. This probably more than anything else contributed to the loss of “our gift”.
Soon we were only able to give people dull, boring, unhelpful, slogans. We could no longer give slogans “from the inner”, but instead searched desperately through books of quotations and proverbs to try and find something, anything, to give people. “Pride comes before fall, that is your slogan,” we would say.
Naturally, people soon stopped coming to us and our business collapsed. What a pity that all the Subud investors lost all their money yet again.
And what a pity that Marcus and I had such an acrimonious falling out, each blaming the other for the collapse of the business. What a pity it all ended up in the courts with Marcus and I suing each other for enormous sums of money that neither one of us any longer possessed.
But all was not lost...
Fortunately, all was not lost. We managed to drawl back our wives who out of the kindness of their hearts took us back, though at a much reduced status from what we had enjoyed before.
And fortunately we were able to find casual employment in telephone call centres doing “market research”. Not only have we survived but we have even started paying off our million dollar debt mountain at $5 a month.
But Marcus and I do not regret the whole experience. We have personally learned so much. I am sure that if only the investors could only understood what an important learning experience this has been for us, they would feel so much better about it all.
It was clear that we had been extremely comfortable dealing with the problems of failure but were totally unprepared for the temptations of success. Like people dying of thirst in the desert, we should have taken little sips of water, not tried to drink whole bucketfuls right off.
So we settled back into our comfortable lives of failure, lethargy and sloth.
And how good it was, that Marcus and I met by chance at a world congress and managed to forgive each other, and even had a good laugh about the “old days”.
Actually, Marcus and I have decided that we can so clearly see the whole process of the motto business, its rise and fall, that in fact there is no point doing it. Whatever benefit might be derived from doing it we have already achieved by imagining it. Besides, Marcus and I too much value our harmonious relationship to ever want to lose it.
Nevertheless, we intend to publish this account of the rise and fall of our enterprise on the SESI listserver as a help to other Subud members.
And we have recently discovered new talents within ourselves on the basis of which we are setting up a new enterprise. Yes, we stumbled on the fundamental principle that the basic indicator of life is sensitivity. So, put anything in front of us – a stone, a pumpkin, a mouse, a human being – and we can tell you how sensitive (and therefore how alive) it is on a precisely calibrated scale of zero to one thousand.
We have patented our technology and our feasibility study indicates a worldwide craze of people want to know exactly how sensitive they are. You will be receiving the prospectus shortly for our new enterprise, SensoMeter Inc..
This story comes from Harris Smart's forthcoming book, Footsteps, about the real and imaginary experiences of Subud members.