I come here for pharmakon, the healing act of writing: I need it as I’m rediscovering myself as an adult, seeing my light and dark in their full brilliance. And, really, I just want to trust myself, that I will follow my inner voice.
Fear can make people do funny things. It’s made me forget myself, shy from deepest dreams, and do things I hate – for far. too. long.
This is the beauty of being overwhelmed. This is the beauty of feeling like you don’t want to carry on in this way. This is the call to go into the wild again; for, often, in our quest to stay within our comfort zones, we end up massively, painfully uncomfortable.
Anyone who has worked hard to pay their bills month in and month out, and has woken up miserable one day, and asked themselves, ‘Why the fuck am I doing this?’, knows exactly what I am talking about.
I am reminded of the opening to Moby Dick, in the appropriately titled first chapter, ‘Loomings’:
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely –having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
It is a damp, drizzly November in my soul.
And though I ran off “to sea” after high school by joining the Navy, it is surprising I – who loved ships and men and sailing as a child – ended up a fucking pale computer nerd rather than a salt-tanned sailor. But there is still time. I’m just ready to get out of my “comfort zone” – or perhaps it’s just changing. But this is no longer comfortable.
I have made myriad mistakes in life. In-fact, I have gotten very few things right.
Books. Writing. The Ocean. These are my original loves. These are the places where I am my own again. Where I am whole and home.
Frankly, the most challenging thing about these 2.5 years I’ve spent in the mountains has not been the isolation, but the people.
As a non-binary liberal, I’m just not in a place where I am very accepted, much less all that welcome.
Yet here I am. In my house full of books. Alone. And it almost works. But it doesn’t.
Perhaps if I didn’t work. If I were only writing. That would work. Only, I work – a ton – and way too hard, for way too little.
I ended up in the same trade as my father: building websites. And I fucking hate it. Firstly, spending an obscene amount of time hunched over a screen is not natural.
In the words of Mystic Mac (Connor McGregor), “Machines don’t use machines.”
He is speaking about the naturalness of using body weight or free weight exercises, which have made him a “machine”, like a Jaguar, lean and powerful, as opposed to the unnatural nature of using “machines” in the gym, which will never turn one into a true machine. So, “machines don’t use machines.”
And I think about that. How much I would love if the only time I sat at my desk was to write. Rather than the up till now arrangement where I spent long, unrewarding workdays staring at a screen, punching keys. It’s very 1984.
Society is, after all, an incredibly shrewd machine, designed to spit out the lowest paying work for you – and in exchange for all of your time, society gives you the bare basics: a roof, food. We: the grinding gears of capitalism. Ground up and spit out.
It’s called a “rat race” as a takeaway from a laboratory experiment, in which two rats race each other for a piece of cheese. But they have used so much energy, the cheese isn’t even really worth its calories.
Life can really be like this. How the fuck do we work for years sometimes with nothing to show for it? Bad decisions. Maybe. But it’s also just the system. You are racing against all the other rats for the same cheese.
And if you are, say, an artist, cheese may not even be your goal. Your art is. So, now you have another problem: time.
Only, the time equation is compounded with another: stress, discontentment; any artist not practicing their craft knows the reality of these feelings.
So, now you’re basically living a life that is very ill-suited to your nature, your temperament, and your talent. It may even be contrary to those things.
It hurts. Trust me.
And so, here we are.
I’ve wanted to just work through it. I’ve wanted to “beat this level,” so to speak.
And I still feel like I have to.
The New York Times has an interesting piece about escaping the office for hands on work, and one of the most interesting lines is this:
Matthew Crawford, a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia and the author of the 2015 book “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction,” sees good sense at work among those who leave office jobs for something more concrete-seeming. The reason? Much white-collar work has become similar to assembly-line work, comprising a series of mindless tasks.
Ding ding! Bingo.
The mindlessness of programming along with the mental bandwidth required simply just aren’t worth it. Then where is left my energy to write? I’m brain dead after. Forget time to read….
As was said of one person in the article above, who left graphic design for stone masonry, as he was being “driven mad by the monotony of moving fonts around on a screen and designing restaurant menus.”
“I was giving myself up all those years to this idea that graphic design was my only choice,” Mr. Kelley said. “I went to college for it. And it really emotionally brought me down.”
Brother, I get it. I suspect many people in desk jobs get it. I don’t want to escape a desk job, I want to escape the “oppressive computermatron.” I want to spend my time writing prose, not code.
I’m reminded of Jack London’s wonderful novel, Martin Eden, in which Martin, trying to become a writer, gets a job at a high volume laundry:
But there was little time in which to marvel. All Martin’s consciousness was concentrated in the work. Ceaselessly active, head and hand, an intelligent machine, all that constituted him a man was devoted to furnishing that intelligence. There was no room in his brain for the universe and its mighty problems. All the broad and spacious corridors of his mind were closed and hermetically sealed.
Here, the main character faces the same problem I now have.
But it was only at rare moments that Martin was able to think. The house of thought was closed, its windows boarded up, and he was its shadowy caretaker. He was a shadow.
As his boss tells him:
“Rest. You don’t know how tired you are. Why, I’m that tired Sunday I can’t even read the papers. I was sick once—typhoid. In the hospital two months an’ a half. Didn’t do a tap of work all that time. It was beautiful.”
“It was beautiful,” he repeated dreamily, a minute later.
Oh, how I can relate. My own Yung Lean style breakdown early this year afforded me a similar escape from work.
But Martin Eden gets no escape, so he drinks:
He forgot, and lived again, and, living, he saw, in clear illumination, the beast he was making of himself—not by the drink, but by the work. The drink was an effect, not a cause. It followed inevitably upon the work, as the night follows upon the day. Not by becoming a toil-beast could he win to the heights, was the message the whiskey whispered to him, and he nodded approbation. The whiskey was wise. It told secrets on itself.
And finally, he decides to chuck it in:
“By God, I think you’re right! Better a hobo than a beast of toil. Why, man, you’ll live. And that’s more than you ever did before.”
And he quits, resolved to go to sea:
At first, Martin had done nothing but rest. He had slept a great deal, and spent long hours musing and thinking and doing nothing. He was like one recovering from some terrible bout of hardship. The first signs of reawakening came when he discovered more than languid interest in the daily paper. Then he began to read again—light novels, and poetry; and after several days more he was head over heels in his long-neglected Fiske. His splendid body and health made new vitality, and he possessed all the resiliency and rebound of youth.
Ruth showed her disappointment plainly when he announced that he was going to sea for another voyage as soon as he was well rested.
“Why do you want to do that?” she asked.
“Money,” was the answer. “I’ll have to lay in a supply for my next attack on the editors. Money is the sinews of war, in my case—money and patience.”
“But if all you wanted was money, why didn’t you stay in the laundry?”
“Because the laundry was making a beast of me. Too much work of that sort drives to drink.”
She stared at him with horror in her eyes.
“Do you mean—?” she quavered.
It would have been easy for him to get out of it; but his natural impulse was for frankness, and he remembered his old resolve to be frank, no matter what happened.
“Yes,” he answered. “Just that. Several times.”
She shivered and drew away from him.
“No man that I have ever known did that—ever did that.”
“Then they never worked in the laundry at Shelly Hot Springs,” he laughed bitterly. “Toil is a good thing. It is necessary for human health, so all the preachers say, and Heaven knows I’ve never been afraid of it. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and the laundry up there is one of them. And that’s why I’m going to sea one more voyage. It will be my last, I think, for when I come back, I shall break into the magazines. I am certain of it.”
She was silent, unsympathetic, and he watched her moodily, realizing how impossible it was for her to understand what he had been through.
“Some day I shall write it up—‘The Degradation of Toil’ or the ‘Psychology of Drink in the Working-class,’ or something like that for a title.”
Oh, yes, Jack London, I understand your Martin Eden well. Too well.
So, my desk job, programming, is my laundry, and the degradation of toil has taken its toll on me.
Only, I don’t see myself running off to sea. I moved here, to the mountains, to write. Only, two years supporting us before we broke up, and I worked a lot and wrote little. Now I have been alone four months, and there has been no big magic. Just more toil. More degradation.
But, alas, wherever you go there you are.
I have never lived anywhere two and a half years as an adult. And I don’t just want to run away; although, I miss my family deeply, having come to realize recently that I have not been there for them: the most important people in my life.
So, here I am. And it’s very uncomfortable.
I’m 33 and still figuring out how to make it work.
As part of my personal mythology, I have come to view technology as a kind of enslavement. An uncaring machine focused only on your output. As a futurist, I lean towards neo-Luddite views.
The Luddites arose in response to the rise of machines in factories in the early 19th century. Eccentric weaver Ned Ludd smashed his loom and became a folk hero. Other workers rose up, calling themselves “Luddites.” And soon factory owners were having Luddites shot, and military force finally stopped the movement.
So, a neo-Luddite, is one who is opposed to technology on moral grounds.
As someone who has wasted years of my life writing code, with nothing to show for my work, no freedom, I can’t help but feel pulled toward wanting to smash my own machines (When I had my breakdown, I did, in-fact, smash my laptop).
But the house of cards rose up again, and I am yet hounded via email and text, by my clients 7 days a week.
And I thought I could balance it. Thought I could just work hard, wake early, and write.
After having revisited Martin Eden, I feel like this goal of intellectual work / writing duality and balance is less and less realistic.
I only have so much bandwidth and the toil takes its toll. So, what am I to do?
Well, I’m here tonight, spending my Saturday night on this. This entry is an alchemical effort for me to see what I need to see.
It’s just so difficult to escape our own matrices. I thought I could gain healthy self-esteem by paying my bills. I thought I would gain my own respect and feel solid. But I feel like Bukowski, after ten arduous, soul-crushing years in the post office:
“I have one of two choices—stay in the post office and go crazy . . . or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”
I think there is something noble in that.
Of course, I have already starved. And it wasn’t easy, but I wasn’t losing my shit and smashing my laptop.
Of course, there is the question of living. I don’t think I want to go sleep on a park bench. That’s not what my soul needs.
But I need to do something to escape the laundry, the toil and the toll.
If I were less of an introvert, I would have taken up roommates long ago. I have a 3 bedroom and live alone, but I am not much for living with others. Especially having lived with others so much in my 20s.
Taking back the means of production by building a business makes sense, only, my last two business did not succeed – despite how much I believed in them and the countless hours I put into them. So, I returned to building websites. Only, you suddenly become an employee with multiple bosses. Pulled apart in all sorts of directions, with a 24 hour workload that never actually ends. There is no, “Okay boss, we completed the tile job.” No, websites are never done.
I do have a business I want to build, and perhaps this is my last chance to try and regain control of the machine. As one youtuber said, “You have to sacrifice to regain the means of production.”
Starting a business qualifies. Also, writing books. Only, there is no promise of recompense with books. Only a firm sense of destiny. Although, there is neither promise of success with a business.
My plan has been to build this business as a means to “own my time”.
And maybe I just need to go once more into the fray. Frankly, I’m not sure I have it in me. I have been basically building websites now for the last nine years.
And I’ve had my stories ready to write for the last six. And I only nearly have one finished. And there are far bigger, more exciting stories I have to tell.
So, what am I to do? Let it all fall down around me? I have done that. Seems to be a pattern after each of my breakups. I am not interested in repeating the past any further. I get it: I need to be by myself.
I’m just in pain over my work. The stress of it. Clients expecting me to jump on the phone and spend my Saturday working. Total bullshit. And I did it to myself. Because I wanted to pay my goddamn bills.
And really, money is the root of it. I have to work in accordance to my demands. And, as I have already said, I moved here to lower them. Only, it didn’t work. I couldn’t support S and the dogs by myself. But god did I try. She knows how hard I worked.
Only, I struggled. And struggle will end most modern relationships. It’s simply too easy to find someone else. And the world is larger than ever before. If we only had 10% of the current world’s population on earth today, we would still have more people on earth than we did in the 1700s. What I’m saying is: in three-hundred years, the world’s population has exploded tenfold.
So, I think that, existentially, we live in an incredibly challenging time of rapid change. Humans never had these problems. And change is so rapid today, that we cannot even imagine the world five-hundred years from now, or even fifty years from now. I grew up before cell-phones. Soon, the phone will dematerialize into the user, as the UI becomes a part of us. And inequality will only get worse. But the system seems to work. Give them cell-phones, cars, Netflix, legal weed, Amazon / Wal-Mart, and in exchange, they’ll give you most of their waking hours. This is most of us. And if you think you’re special or somehow outside of this, you may have had some advantages…
Where we are born and who our parents are determines much of our trajectory in life. I was born to poor parents and in no way intend to continue that cycle with my own potential children. But a lot of people do, they have kids in lives they don’t like, and they essentially relegate their offspring to similar fates.
If you think I’m being too fatalistic, I recommend you take a good hard look at the world and the different class strata. People are simply born on different levels. Not to say you can’t “rise” – you can, and you can certainly “fall,” but it takes much more work to rise than to fall.
To rise, we need to establish a few things:
1. You will die, so don’t fear taking chances.
2. The means of production must be taken back from the masters (Meaning, you have to start a business or a means to produce something you can sell, rather than selling yourself or your time).
3. Your means must passively cover your expenses in order to free up your time to do what you love.
Imagine how many successes there are because select people were free to do what they loved… look at the bios of your favorite artistic heroes, there is even a classist ceiling there. The point isn’t that life is unfair, but that you need to give yourself the opportunity to succeed.
Look at my situation, I have tried and failed to give myself the opportunity to succeed as a writer. I’m still seeking out the opportunity. As any wage slave knows, you rent yourself out and do not own your own time, meaning, you don’t really own yourself. Hence, you have ‘masters’ (“clients” / “supervisors” ) and are not the master of yourself.
If you love what you are doing, this is not necessarily a problem. But if you loathe what you do, oh boy, you’re in some deep shit. And this is not a good place to be, because our time here is limited. The clock is running.
So, this the perfect time to think long and hard about dying:
Imagine you know you are dying. What do you want to do? Probably sure as shit not what you’re doing. You probably want to be with family, friends, lovers. Now imagine you’re dying and you never changed, never did what you loved. How much do you regret it, now that your time is up? ‘Immensely’ wouldn’t even begin to describe it. And if you could go back and change your life, you would.
But you can. There is yet still time.
So, what are you going to do Lawrence?
Well, once more into the fray.
I’ll put my heart and soul into the two difficult projects I have on my plate now and finish up with them (November)
I’ll beef up my portfolio and sell 2-3 large projects. (Dec-Feb).
I’ll then use a month to build the means of production to reclaim my time (AI based lead gen).
Provided this last step works, I’ll own my time.
From here, I need to decide where I am moving – the mountains are serving their purpose but it has been a self-imposed exile of sorts, and I miss my family.
I had been planning to move to LA, which I think will suit me, but I know it will only suit me provided I spend some time each month in San Diego as well.
This is big stuff but I have to see it in my mind’s eye. The third eye.
Where romantic love was once the impetus of my actions in life, those emotions have since been blunted in the face of knowing that no one can love me more than I love myself. And getting the relationship right with me will pave the way for any future romantic journeys.
My family is really important to me. And right now, I hear Churchill’s words:
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
A younger me would cast off the lines and “go to sea”, so to speak, but I owe myself my most dogged determination toward my vision. What I laid out above is not a new plan. It’s my vision, and I think it will work.
It just seems to me that there is something to being closer than you think.
There are going to be obstacles. There are still unknowns that need to be resolved.
There could be a setback or two. But I can’t throw in the towel. My first tattoo was ‘n.g.u.’: never give up. I can’t think that is without significant meaning. If I gave up on my vision, who would I be: I wouldn’t be me.
But I’ll be damned if I pass the time idly and am still a servant to the oppressive computermatron a year from now. I’m too damn old and life’s too damn short.
I just watched ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ again, a movie that is deep to my personal myth, as significant as is ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’.
One of the functions of myth is to teach us to survive, and how to live a life, and what to expect.
To me, the most poignant part of Benjamin Button is this scene:
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. And if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.“
And I want to live a life I am proud of.
And if I find that I’m not, I want to have the courage to start all over again.
I know the big goals I have for my fiction. Those will not change. How I get there, however, may.