Lately, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with conformity and convention. My lifelong ambivalence. I half-conformed. Reminds me of what a horse trainer said to me once. I took my little red-penny horse to a clinic she ran, a one-day session within my budget. My steed was a touch unruly. She said to me, “Your pony’s only half broke.” She said if I trained him I could win in the ring. I decided I liked him better the way he was. Wild, a little dangerous. Not blue-ribbon material.
You could say the same for my professional life. In some ways I bowed to convention. I went to school, got degrees. After that you’re supposed to get the job, keep the job, get better at the job, move on to a better job, pay the proverbial dues. I never had the patience. I couldn’t stand the boredom, the disillusionment. I chose the grand rebellious gesture. I chose the adventure.
First example. After college, I had a job at a copier company. Data entry, nothing special, but it paid the bills. We found out that we were all going to be laid off. The information was leaked. It made me angry. I could have stuck around, helped them set up new processes. Sure, I would have been working to eliminate my own job, but I would have received a severance package. My job was gone anyway. Instead, I blew. I walked out, but not before I told off my craven little sexist of a supervisor, the dude who was always staring at my breasts. It was liberating. It was fun. It was stupid. You know what isn’t fun? Wondering if you can pay the rent.
Eventually, I went back to school. Got another degree, this time in journalism. Instead of looking for work in my chosen field with my newly minted diploma, I moved to Japan to teach English, the greatest adventure of my life.
Fast forward. I’m back from Japan (I would never have left but the contract was three years max). I manage to get a job with a newspaper as a reporter. Not an easy job to get, yet I don’t tell myself this and be happy with what I’ve got. I become disillusioned. This isn’t investigative journalism! My interview subjects are always trying to spin me, dishonest fucks. I’m working for “the man,” not the Fourth Estate!
Ah, the idealism of semi-youth (I was in my 30s). I quit. I took a job as a copy editor in Beijing, China. Adventure time again. China was on everyone’s lips. I figured I’d go learn about the new superpower. And learn I did. Travel is the best education anyone can ever have. Unfortunately, going to work for the English-language propaganda rag of the Chinese communist party was hardly a good career move (and the FBI might have a file on me).
My colleagues at the newspaper threw me a send-off. I told the photographer about my plans to head out west for a while. He said, “You’re a free spirit. That’s good.” I know in a way he was right, but all that freedom can sometimes break a person. All it takes is a little bad luck. Maybe that’s why most people follow convention, especially if they have little ones.
I was unemployed for a while, which is scary when you have law school debt. That’s right. I quit my job without having another. Who does shit like that?
By this time, I’d begun my first book. I’d always wanted to be a fiction writer, but it seemed too daunting. After working full-time while going to law school, it didn’t seem so daunting. Law school gave me confidence. Of course, I had dreams of making a living as a writer. All you other writers out there who are reading this, I can hear your laughter. Truth be told, I’m chuckling a little myself.
Now, I’m back working as a lawyer. I loathe my current job more than my first. Long hours, repetitive tasks. Also, suffice it to say, that if I thought I was working for “the man,” before, I am now doing “the man’s” laundry and cleaning his toilet.
Will I keep my horrible job like all the other grown-ups in the world? If I can cope, I will. The way I crave experience tells me I’m a born writer, but reality creates its own necessities.
I’ll also keep writing. My third book is underway. Long work hours makes it hard to find the time, but I’ll keep plugging away. Writing books is my adventure now.
I wonder if my poor decisions were my subconscious trying to tell me—beneath all the, “you should do this,” and “you should do that” bullshit—that writing is what would make me happy. I don’t know. I will say this. If I made a mistake, it was in my failure to throw off the yoke of conformity completely. I was half-assed.
So, to all you rare birds out there, do it right! Half measures avail us nothing! I leave you with the Butthole Surfers. Listen to the first minute or so, for a little wisdom on regret.