This angst I feel for most things corporate and capitalist? I come by it with a modicum of honesty. you see, until February of 2009 I was part of that world. Not an executive, but a manager just a whisker below the executive ceiling. Not in international banking, but in that other gambling racket – casinos. How I got there, to that place that I’d never ever imagined myself standing, and how I got out alive, is important to understand.
I spent from 33 to 42 years of age working in the casino industry. I had experience and education and I could string sentences together with relative alacrity, all traits that are somewhat rare in that particular line of work, and so I advanced very quickly. Before I knew it, a job pitching cards had turned into a career managing card pitchers. I was good enough with people, and idealistic enough to think that I was making a difference, that I ended up being on a regional industry recruitment list. Every year or two someone would call and make me an offer I couldn’t refuse, provide a new challenge, bigger salary. I was a ronin for seven of those nine years, going where they needed someone who specialized in rebuilding teams.
Like I said, I thought I was actually making a difference. I always saw the inequities and unfairness. I saw my job as being an exception to the rule. I really believed and I really tried. This suggest a fundamental truth: Sometimes there just aren’t enough fingers for the dike, or, there’s no point trying to plug a dike that’s under water already.
In 2009 I finally came to two realizations: I wasn’t making any real difference, but was rather just propping up the corrupt industry; and the company I was then working for was as morally bankrupt as was possible. I hated my job, I hated myself. I had become the thing I had hated when I decided that I should try to make a difference.
This entire time, for a decade, I told every person I was close to that I wanted to write, yet never wrote. Nothing serious anyway, nothing outside of policy documents for work. I was always too tired from working sixty hours a week, too drained from trying to mitigate the random damage that the companies I worked for inflicted on their employees, too subconsciously disgusted with myself to be proactive.
I don’t remember the moment that all changed. Some time in the fall of 2008 I started reading non-fiction again, mostly relating to activism, politics, NGO’s. I started watching documentaries instead of the latest Hollywood releases. It might have been Noam Chomsky’s Failed States actually, now that I think of it. That might have been the first domino. I woke up and realized both that I was working for the wrong side, and that if I was ever going to be actually useful, I had to start searching for my bliss.
There was no way for me to segue from what I was doing to what I wanted to do gracefully. Like most people in our society, I lived just a bit beyond my means. I had a ton of crap, the accumulation of stuff being the primary way we measure success in Western Civilization. What I wanted to do would require a desencumberment of epic proportions. Exactly one month after my 42nd birthday I hit a breaking point and quit my job. I was scheduled to interview for a profoundly different job the next week, but it wasn’t guaranteed yet. That didn’t matter though. The uncertainty made it more right.
I sold or gave away almost everything. All the furniture, the electronics, tools, toys. I found people who needed stuff, people with kids or single folk with limited means. I kept my books, my climbing and martial arts equipment, a desk, and my laptop. I got the job, care-taking a remote powder ski lodge through the off-season, a position that would provide minimal pay and maximal isolation. And I dropped out.
I called it my life inversion. I told my brother that I was too tired to turn my frown upside down, so everything else would have to flip right over for me to find my smile.
It was extreme, but I’ve always had to go to extremes to make positive change. We do what works for us, and I try not to judge. Whatever it takes to make it right, yeah? I put the stuff that was left in storage and moved up to the lodge for seven months, the idea being to start a novel while in self-imposed quarantine. I did start the novel, but didn’t get very far along. I read a lot, started my blog by writing Facebook notes, formed opinions and theories, ruminated to myself. And healed. So much of that first half a year was about healing.
I had to forgive myself, you see, for all the violence I’d done to myself, all the ways I’d tried to conform, all the times I’d compromised and sold out. For all the ways I’d betrayed my own integrity, and betrayed those I was sworn to take care of. There were messy days, I won’t lie, but it was a glorious place to deal with those demons. Living at a mile above sea leve, two hours away from the nearest gas station, surrounded by mountains and glaciers, so far away from any city that light pollution actually did not exist unless I created it, is like an excoriation. My lungs, my body, my mind and heart, all felt scrubbed clean by the time I came off the mountain.
I wish I could give a sphere of time like that to everyone; a chance to sit, think, reflect, mourn. To become without expectation or deadline. We all deserve that. From the cradle to the grave these days, especially in North America, but more and more everywhere else too, we’re forced into a clock-watching race to measure up, catch up, buck up, and clean up. We race and race on the gerbil wheel that we’re told is “just how things are”, and we’re encouraged to run fast enough that everything except that lie is a blur. I have no desire to give the world a coke, as the ad used to say, but I’d happily sacrifice everything to give the world a chance to breathe.
When I came down off the mountain, then I was ready to write. But it literally took turning everything upside down to get there. The life inversion, probably literally, saved my life.
The manuscript though… that gives me reason to live. Maybe I’ll tell you about it next time.
p.s. Chris Hedges cried on OccupyWallStreet tv last night. It was a good moment.
p.p.s. I promised fewer pictures this time, but I have to share one from the lodge.
See why I was in love with that place?
p.p.s. part deux: Love and peace, peoples.