Corporate

Writer. Traveler. Happy. Really?

 
it must be true--I mean, it's there on  linkedin  and everything

it must be true--I mean, it's there on linkedin and everything

There's a tension between these three claims. As a writer, especially when banging out longer forms narratives, I thrive on routine and a borderline boring environment. I don't need much--a comfortable workspace, relative quiet, easy access to food delivery when possible.

These are hit and mostly miss when traveling. Maybe because I'm on an unemployed aspiring writer's budget, but my hotel rooms tend to be "cozy", food is far more interesting in stalls and hidden holes in their walls, and, on nights like tonight, the sounds of tuners and rice rockets buzz up alley funnels and right into my ears. 

I heard you coming, asshole

I heard you coming, asshole

Plus the whole point of traveling is to get out of my hotel room and see the world--otherwise I could've stayed in that corporate life, where I had status and spent time in the best windowless conference rooms.

all that remains of my platinum--a broken bag tag. fitting?

all that remains of my platinum--a broken bag tag. fitting?

A fellow consultant once said to me "Know what's better than having status? Not having status."

Each day I see it's true, whether getting rained on in Laos, getting tested in Cambodia, or getting no sleep tonight in Kuala Lumpur. No matter how bad it has been, it's better than having my soul slowly sucked away. 

So yes, I am happy. Loving life (which, historically, is also not a common claim writers make). But that doesn't resolve the tension between writing and traveling, the push vs. pull of often diametrically opposed desires. With the novel nearing queryable status, it now demands my attention.

But so does Malaysia. 

I'm still not sure how to harmonize these competing demands. Maybe I could think of a solution if I could get some sleep...  

Prada Wat

 

This is Wat Phra Kaew--or at least, a sliver of it at a distance. It's considered Thailand's most sacred wat, and like the Taj Mahal and Chichen Itza, no photos I've seen--much less those taken on my iPhone--do it justice. That said...

Indeed, the most sacred part of this most sacred wat cannot be photographed, at least not by visitors with iPhones and the like: the Emerald (jade) Buddha. But I did see it, along with thousands of other visitors that morning alone.

taking a stand for peace at Thailand's most sacred Buddhist shrine

taking a stand for peace at Thailand's most sacred Buddhist shrine

The constant tourist selfies and "wonder how many likes I'll get" snaps harshed my zen, but I reminded myself Buddha doesn't need my righteous indignation on his behalf, he's doing just fine thank you.

Though, crowded as Wat Phra Kaew is, it can't approach Bangkok's most popular temples, dedicated to the world's most popular -ism: Consumerism.

commerce is merit

commerce is merit

This is Prada Wat. The temple keepers claim it "captures the contrasts, the quirks, the qualities that make the city so distinctively Thai: a love of expressive fashion, amazing food, emerging art, enrapturing music, the sanuk (fun) and the sabai (comfort)."

And what is more distinctly Thai than Audemars Piguet? Bottega Veneta? Givency? Hermes? Hublot? Gucci? Omega? Ralph Lauren? Rolex? Tom Ford? Versace? Chanel? Chopard? Christian Louboutin?

This and more on just one of eight floors, mind you.

ministers to meet your every need

ministers to meet your every need

I arrived believing Thais were more centered and balanced than Americans--that they prioritized fun over work and spirituality over money. And I believe there remains truth in that.

But a truism of travel, I've found, is that we're more alike than different. People like stuff, and sometime feed the needs of this world ahead of the next. This is nothing new.

And that doesn't make them bad. But when surrounded by conspicuous Consumerism, one (this one, at least) has to question the motivations.

mantra

mantra

are these the leading men in your life?

are these the leading men in your life?

And so let's question, and start with the man in the mirror. High-minded Citizen of Rome that I am, raging against the corporate machine. Throwing it all off to live out of a backpack makes for a good story.

But open that backpack and what do you see?

complicity? hypocrisy?

complicity? hypocrisy?

Makes it easier to live simply when you still have nicer things--and the leftover money from that pursuit up the corporate ladder. Am I really carving out a new life, or simply shopping at a different store? Trading clothes for plane tickets?

Buhbuhbuhbuh wait: it gets worse.

Leaving Prada Wat in search of a photomat for my Vietnam Visa, I further marinated on the bullshit I might be serving myself. Might this pursuit of deeper truth and understanding via travel and writing be itself a lie--cover for the fact that I just couldn't hack it? That I wore the clothes and drove the car and got the degrees and even learned to doubletalk like a good corporate drone, but in the end I just couldn't make it more than halfway up that ladder? That, in a world where money equals worth I just wouldn't add up?

yes, but you're just saying that to sell things

yes, but you're just saying that to sell things

Bles$ed and Fortunate

Some nice cooked food, some nice clean draws.

I am blessed and fortunate for all that I have. For free lunch mocking in the school cafeteria and 19 cent pot pies with half a crust but not going to bed hungry. For middle class in high school, eating name brand mac n cheese. For moving out to prove a point and one pack of ramen per day. For going to bed hungry. For splurging on a cheese slice or can of tomato sauce and going to bed a little less hungry until I'd forgotten what point I was proving.

I am blessed and fortunate for second chances.

I am blessed and fortunate for a bit of college and ambition that revealed success' outlines. For the fall that followed when I couldn't get past the fear. For getting my electricity shut off. For sleeping in or under two pair of pants three shirts two hats four blankets. For anger caused by ice showers in darkness.

I felt neither not blessed nor fortunate while line-standing to pay reconnect fees when I could've earned $3.37.

Approximately $3.00 rounded down

I am blessed and fortunate for third chances.

For Henry Coffer who befriended and mentored me. Who, when my car got repo'ed sold me--for $10--his van with AAA coverage. Then, when its battery died, came to where I sat because AAA isn't a thing that conveys--when he should've been resting since his latest chemo was the day prior. I am blessed and fortunate that was the last time he, the finest man I've ever known, had to fix something I screwed up. 

For Aljon Go, because it was his show on 103.3 or 102.9 that I called into, and he was amused enough to play it over the air. Days later I did it again and he did it again and I thought maybe I could do that.

For WVCP and Mr. E., who let me learn. For Lokey who showed me how fun it could be. For Eastern European tennis players who made me enunciate. For whoever posted the Help Wanted at SuperTalk 99.7 flyer, and for everyone who saw it before me and didn't see opportunity in a weekend board-op shift.

For small radio clusters with blowtorch transmitters. For Doug Kellett who gave a smart punk more than one chance and was punished with listener complaints for it. For Richard Bachschmidt who showed me excellence. For Steve Gill, who showed me how to get paid. For everyone else who made $8.75/hr so fun I earned it 60-70 times each week. For the coworker who picked me up from the roadside after my car's next thing broke.

I am blessed and fortunate for penance, as pride greed and sloth are sins with built-in retribution. For the lows since they made me sacrifice to reach the highs. For getting the damned degree. 

For the terrible company that led to the crazy company that led to the inept company. For the brother I met there. For Deanna Flannick, the great manager I met at the great company--sorry our timing sucked. 

baller

baller

For the 1991 Toyota Camry with shot clutch rusted wheelwells and steering cover that flapped each time I accelerated or broke, and did it for 7 years with few complaints.

I am blessed and fortunate for the brass ring, and less of both for grad school loan interest rates. For a corporate job that showed me what money does, and what it can't. For a coworker who passed the happiness it can buy. That the voice inside me saying "no more" found my mouth.

All are blessed and fortunate it did before the peestick changed colors. We were for mediation and being reasonable.

I am blessed and fortunate to have found my golden chains

For a higher power should it exist.

For more chances than I can count.

For people who helped and hurt me, including me. All of us got me here, which is exactly where I should be.

And when I realized all of this to be true, all regret lost its hold and slipped away like Dawn kicking even the toughest grease's ass.

Damn you Proctor & Gamble for all this dust in my eyes.

So how could I be angry at anyone? How could I stay angry at myself?

I couldn't. So in that moment I forgave everyone for everything.

And my chains are breaking.

The Reasons

I've always been a communicator. In Kindergarten I won "Most Talkative" and repeated the feat in 6th grade. Had they collected superlatives at each school year's end then I no doubt would have been reigning defending. I wrote short stories and poetry through middle and high school--self-published an anthology of my and several friends' work. My first major was journalism, and my second college try was in broadcasting. I dropped out again to work fulltime in talk radio.

But I went corporate because that's where the money was. Even so, I wanted more than numbers. I had zero desire to be a consultant until multiple people I trusted described the job as storytelling. I found that to be true, though through less appealing media (maybe some would rather read a slide deck of frameworks than a novel but I'm not among them).

Oh, and there was that whole divorce thing. It left me with a lot of processing to do. I heard the voice of Stewie saying if you can't get that novel written now then you never will. So I did. Wrote my first draft in five months--finished it on Christmas Day 2014. I expect the final, publishable draft of it to be complete in 2019. 2022, tops. But the catharsis was worth more than any agent contract.

New relationships, new priorities. My ex liked calling us "joyless little strivers". My new girl was a hippie at her core, despite being a good little company drone 9:30-6. Soon my time away from the office was filled with lots of sex and laying around--far preferable to fretting over bills, optimizing future vacation plans, and trolling Crate & Barrel for the perfect silicone spatula.

But unwedded bliss had its costs. She's young and in a complicated relationship, which complicated our relationship. Still the writing gave me solace--and the complications gave me creative fuel. Meanwhile, work didn't do for me what I wanted anymore. 

So I face a convergence: single, no children, not getting any younger, no need for a big house, no desire to climb straight up the corporate ladder. And a burning wish to find out, can I write for a living? Can I tell the stories I want, the way that I want, and do it well enough that people will pay good money just to read them?

Tall order. I'll be "competing" with great storytellers--people who've been at this for decades, logged tens of thousands of hours more typewriter time than have I. Authors who long ago corrected errors I don't even know I'm making. So I need runway. Time and space to make those mistakes and continue learning by reading rejection letters and best sellers and Pushcart Prize winners. I need an arbitrage play--time arbitrage, since servicing a McMansion mortgage ain't cheap, and the very thought of that hanging over my head without a predictable income stream makes the walls feel closer.

Turns out one of the cheaper places to live in this big world is also among the most exciting and inspiring: Thailand, and the whole of Southeast Asia. I have friends from school in Bangkok and a stepbrother just across the border in Cambodia.

Now or never. And if the worst thing to happen is I work a few extra years on the tail end then it was worth the cost. Money may have a time value but so does life.