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A Meaningful Life: Life Beyond Affluence

What I care about is art and people and my relationships and animals that are very fuzzy, and as far as money goes I just want to not be in debt and have enough extra to buy pretty clothes.

 

I don’t know about this whole “job” thing. Have I said this before? I feel like I’ve said this before. I put off the inevitable until my employment ran out, siphoning those coveted government funds into staying alive while I tried to finish my novel, but now I’m working again. Can’t complain; a 92-week vacation ain’t too shabby. And I like my new job.

The great part about my new job is that I get to talk to people on the phone a lot, a skill I managed to polish off quite nicely when I was working in New York. Four years of talking to enraged translator and grumpy Board Members while they scream at you on the other end of th line has a tendency to fine-tune your phone manners.  I like to charm people and strike up a rapport, and my new job allows me to do that.

Please refrain from biting off the head of your telephone sales operator.

This position is also a night job, which gives me the day to mope around in my pajamas, go for a run, walk my dog, and attend to the number one priority in my life: writing. When I was training for this position and working days, I would come home at night at laugh at the idea of using my brain anymore. I was so tired it seemed ridiculous to try to use what little part of my brain remained to do anything but watch something on Netflix or Hulu. Why write something new when somebody has already done it for me, and done it so well?! I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the writers/producers/actors of the following television shows: New Girl, Tough Love: Miami, and Midsomer Murders. Yes I have eclectic television tastes.

Anyway, I was starting to doubt my choice of working nights. I was wondering if I was too old for this. My first job was 2 to 11pm, working second shift as a project manager at a translation company, but I took that job during a time in my life when I rarely saw the sun before high noon, and I could easily roll out of a late night of work  and over to Korea town with my colleagues at 4am for Korean barbeque. Now my brain starts to shut down at 10 p.m., when my cognitive abilities are only slightly more efficient than my German Shepherd’s. You should see me try to type! It’s very difficult when I’m in the midst of a fit of fatigue-giggles and no longer confident in how to use keyboard.

The night shift has ultimately been a success though, because I get to use all my sharp brainpower on writing during the day, which is thriving much more than before. Having somewhere to clock in at night seems to be a great motivator to get my shit done. The only thing that is hard about it is swatting off the nagging insecurity of “what am I doing with my life.” This vicious but well-intentioned seed was planted and cultivated from growing up in a college town filled with satellite parents who bolstered their self-esteem by listing their kids most recent accomplishments in the rice and beans aisle of Stop & Shop. “Little Scottie got a 1540 on his SAT’s! He’s been accepted to eight Ivy Leauges early decision!”

The biggest downside of living in my hometown is running into these satellite parents yet again and finding out where Little Scottie is now, which I really don’t care to know. “Little Scottie is working on his PhD at Harvard! So what are you up to?”

Winning.

If I answered accurately, I would say something along the lines of “trying to take myself seriously and become a writer, but I’m wagering that is going to take the better part of a lifetime. As for my professional life, I kind of gave up trying to climb the career ladder towards becoming a CEO or a CFO or anything else with a “C” in the acronym because I had an epiphany a couple of years back when my Dad died and realized there was no point in slaving 60 hours a week at an office job when I don’t give a crap about corporate culture or making bank. What I do care about is art and people and my relationships and animals that are very fuzzy, and as far as money goes I just want to not be in debt and have enough extra to buy pretty clothes.”

I usually stammer and panic instead of spouting this off, though, because I know that what these people want to hear is my plans for becoming a Winner and a 1 percenter. Ok, I guess I should give them more credit, I don’t know for sure that’s what they’re thinking, but it’s really hard to not feel like I’m stuck in a never ending pissing contest with their children. Why doesn’t it occur to people that life and living isn’t a competition?

I’m still trying to get past the idea that my life is more than a series of milestones I need to pass, a list of accomplishments I need to check off, a bunch of proverbial golden Easter eggs I need to find and carry around in a basket. Living here has helped that, though. Outside of the affluent bubble that is my hometown is a whole county of people who value the things that I think are really important: family, hard work, being genuinely friendly and caring, and putting enough money aside to buy a house or something else to call your own. There’s actually a lot of tension between the people who live in my hometown and those who live outside of it, and it’s easy to see why: their values are strikingly different, and the people in this town have a reputation for being snobby or uppity. I don’t think that’s necessarily a truth about their nature, but it is true that that’s what other people think of them.

And why not? If you put value on what school you went to or how badass your salary is, but fail to keep your marriage together or neglect the genuine goodness of most people because they aren’t making six figures, of course people are going to judge you. You probably should get judged.

As I’ve been struggling to figure out who I am, define my art, and come up with a reasonable way to make a living without draining my energy away from my writing, I’ve met other wayward would-be professionals along the road. Given the current shit status of the economy, there’s a whole lotta 20-somethings who have no idea how to get a foothold into something they can depend on for their livelihood. A lot of them are still dedicated to the notion of becoming somewhat professionally important. I’m unsure, at this point, if I want to strive for anything more than being a good/great writer.

But every now and then I’ll come across someone younger than me and slightly more confused and unsure than me who just needs the kind of solid advice my parents were wise enough to give me growing up. I ran into one such girl, the younger sister of someone I went to school with, who was working at Best Buy. We had a refreshingly candid conversation about what was expected of us growing up and what we wanted for our lives and ourselves.

She said some people gave her shit for working at Best Buy, to which I just shook my head sadly. Words from my favorite movie, “What Dreams May Come,” came into my head at that point. There is a scene when the two main characters who are both navigating the afterlife venture into hell, the guide (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) warned the husband (Robin Williams) that when he went looking for his deceased wife he should not to pay attention to these people. In the book the movie was based on, the author Richard Matheson described the people in hell as having words like bile, which they spit out into the world of the living and onto unsuspecting victims. The point is, these people were full of shit, and were just looking for someone to spray with their negativity. “When you get there,” Cuba said, “Don’t you listen to them.”

Robin Williams navigating the afterlife. You should see this movie!

I said the same thing to this girl. She’s doing the best she can, as am I, as is everyone else. It’s a hard-ass world, out there. We’re all trying our hardest. Anyone who is giving you shit about your choices or what you’re doing needs to shut up and re-examine themselves. I try to tell myself this, remind myself I’m doing the best I can, and that no matter how well I follow a seemingly fool-proof plan, life is a journey and there will be inevitable bumps in the road and lessons to learn. I try, but it’s hard.

May we all be so lucky to have Cuba Gooding Jr. lead us from temptation

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