It has been 10 years to the month since I last worked a nine-to-five job and sat in a cubical day in and day out. It seems like it was only a few years ago, yet it is starting to fade. It was such a pinnacle moment in my life. It scares me to know that it is so far away and obsolete, now.
Since then, I have done a few interesting things, like traveling, working at NASA on a very cool project called SOFIA, going to grad school to earn my MFA, and most importantly raising my son. In these last ten years, I have also made decisions that have slowly eaten away at the opportunities I worked to create for myself. They aren’t what you would expect though. I didn’t get into anything seedy or indulge in a vice. I have, conversely, cleaned my life up, but I am starting to realize that I am now on the wrong side of society.
Where did it all start to go wrong? I think the first sign of my downward slide was when I gave up soda. It wasn’t much at the time but proved to be a gateway. That was right around the time I left my legendary first and only “real” job as a professional services engineer. Coincidence?
The next move in my downfall was to give up cable TV. Way back, after I started in that one and only job, I had ordered cable when I knew I would have a regular salary. When the AT&T guy didn’t show up twice, I said screw it. I told myself I would never order cable again. I am now hooked to the internet 24/7, but at least I am typing out my own thoughts most of the time, and not sucking up hours and hours of TV like I used to when I was a teenager.
A year or two later I was hooked on organic food. This was before Michael Pollen was even close to being in the public eye. I’m not totally sure, but I also think this was before there was even a corporate, I mean government, USDA organic standard. I remember talking to my brother-in-law about it whenever we would get a chance to see each other. It was new and sort of revolutionary back then. A rebellious move, but I only wish I knew what it would lead to.
Now, I buy organic cotton clothing, compost all our scraps, have a garden, can fruits, have no gaming system, live as a vegetarian, and drive a Prius. How far I strayed.
Over these years, I let my sports religiosity drift, too. As a kid I had a huge sports card collection, and would pour over the box scores each and every day. I played soccer, but I followed the main stream sports without question. At some point over the last ten years, though, I became a fervent “alternative” sports practitioner and dropped my fanhood. Can you believe it? I used to love the Sharks, Giants, Niners, and even the A’s, but if you asked me, now, to name a player on any of those teams, I couldn’t do it.
I’ve gone to a different major sporting event each of the last few years since my son was born, from hockey, to baseball and now football, in an attempt to maybe rekindle something. With my son growing up, I don’t want to deny him a chance at a normal life, so I feel it is my obligation to teach him how to play all these sports, and take him to professional games. I have to tell you though, at each and every pro game we have gone to, I have felt out of place, bored, and a little scared of the fans. At the football game, I intensely felt all three.
At first, I thought all this movement away from the main stream had to do with being a parent or a stay-at-home husband. I guessed it was all the kids songs and late nights reading Thomas the Train, or singing the ABC’s, but it went back further than that.
I started to blame all the artists I got involved with in grad school. They are a deviously “Unamerican” crowd after all, but again I think the seeds were planted long before my MFA program.
As far as I can tell, my current predicament began forming all the way back in grade school. I was told I would be “somebody who could make a difference.” It doesn’t sound like much, but to a wide-eyed sensitive boy like myself, that was a very dangerous idea to suggest. It was license to be myself, act responsibly, and make decisions based on my conscience (built up to seek social justice by those same teachers.) Going through high school the pattern was there, yet no one saw it in time to confront it.
I made decisions based on what I thought was right and wrong, and tried to not hurt or judge anyone, including my parents or family. As a result, I didn’t drink or smoke. I didn’t stay out late without telling my parents. I respected my teachers and wanted to learn, even though it was fairly boring. As a result, by the time I graduated, I had a job, a graduating GPA in the high 3’s, and one friend who wasn’t anywhere near my age. I was going to a good college, and I actually believed I would get somewhere important through being smart and doing the right thing.
Fast forward to today, and you can guess how out of touch I am, and how few people I interacted with, never mind friends. I am shut in my house doing chores, playing games with my amazing son, and without a job prospect or even much of a career path. I am an artist. Yikes! I kid myself by thinking that my artwork is relevant, and that I will have more time in coming years to get it out there for the world to soak up, but we all know that my work isn’t relevant, I won’t have more time, and no one will ever really care much for what I do. Without my wife’s grace, who knows what sort of depressing suit I would be.
I am on the outside after all, and time is not on my side. I am out of touch with the common experience, and therefore my timelines are off. My work talks to a different cultural site (if it even goes beyond my head,) and as a result little of what I make is useful or meaningful to anyone.
Beyond the basic question of how I will make a living in this type of life, there is a deeper question here. It is the question that I am getting at under my jest. How close to the cultural center does a person need to be for work to be valued? I am not truly an outsider; I speak the common language, I have the same middle class background and interests, but I am also not capable of being in the here-and-now. Being current is what cultural producers/employers/curators/etc. seek. Being in the here and now is what normalcy requires, and what sanity is based on is it not?
How far afield can a person stray before they become lost from society, I wonder?