Saturday, November 7, 2009


The majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation. –Henry David Thoreau

Take a deep breath and let your body settle into the present. Anchor it; engage it to your chair, the walls around you and the ceiling above. You won’t need it.

Now let your mind drift back, back to, let’s say, when you were in college: five, 10, 15, 20 years ago, whenever you walked through those hallowed halls of learning. For those of you who never went to college, just play along and pretend.

And just suppose that one day, while you’re at your college job, flipping burgers or scooping ice cream or changing the sparkplugs, someone walks up to you from out of the blue and tells you that five, 10, 15, 20 years from now you’ll still be flipping burgers or scooping ice cream or changing sparkplugs. Would you laugh? Dismiss the person off hand? Get angry?

After all, you just don’t want to live day-to-day like all those the mindless sycophants out there, you have a CALLING! All your life you could feel it, all the way down to your bones. You were put on this planet for one glorious purpose. You are good at it and, more importantly, practicing it is the only time in your whole misbegotten, frustrating life that you actually feel whole and at peace.

Then, throw yourself to the present. You wake up. It’s early. Your spouse is still sleeping beside you. As wakefulness brushes aside the incoherence of your sleep while you watch the ceiling fan above you rotating in its eternal, circular dance, you realize today is another day of ice cream scooping.

You don’t arrive here at once, though. There were diversions and pit stops and illusions that fill this long expanse of time, cluttering your worldview with needless glamour that threatened to blind you from your calling.

Yet, in the beginning at least, somehow you manage to hang on to the vision of your calling, keep it in focus despite the distractions, from trivial to malign, in your way. Perhaps because you were raised to be a good person, to work hard, to be honest, put others’ needs before your own and speak your mind when you saw something at fault. With that upbringing came the karmic promise that, in the end, good things would happen to you in return.

But life, you find out as you grow older, isn’t like that. It’s a god-eat-dog world out there, so to speak, filled with those who would gladly stab you in the back or otherwise take advantage of you and your ideals for their own selfish needs. Even those you least expect, those closest to you gladly twist that knife as the opportunity presents itself. They view your ideals with contempt, as a weakness, making you unworthy of their respect.

Yet still you stubbornly hang on to your code of honor, hoping that in some bigger picture things will straighten out sooner or later and your search for your calling will end happily.

Still, in the searching you learn some hard lessons that contradict everything you originally thought. Why? Because this is The Ol’ Pueblo, kiddo, a seller’s market for employment even when the economy is good. And let the buyer beware, because the employers know it; they take every possible advantage over you with the backing of the Maricopa County State Legislature, that conservative enclave representing the few, rich, business-owning upper class, and everything bad that implies.

After awhile of banging your head against this employment wall in search of your calling, nothing happens and you begin to wonder if you are being too narrow in your search. So, in addition to looking for this, your calling, you decide you might as well look at that as a career as well. After all, it’s close to what you were originally looking for, isn’t it? At that moment, though you don’t realize it at the time, the compromising of your dreams and the slow desiccation of your spirit begins.

Eventually, after investing years of your precious time and attention, as well as several false starts, some more terrifying than the last, you do land something that suits your taste. It has good deal of “this,” at least enough so that what is possesses of “that” is at least tolerable and at times even interesting. Besides, in all realism you shouldn’t expect to hit the ball out of the park the first time you step up to the plate, right? So you make this job where you’ll cut your teeth, as it were, and at least keep your eyes peeled for something that would be a home run.

But your chance at playing Babe Ruth never comes. Sure, things come by, and you present yourself for them. But in the end you are ignored, just as you were before. Not that it matters too much. You’re not trying too hard, and you’re learning a lot at the “that” job that will make things much easier later on. Though the longer you stay makes it harder to handle the “that,” it is still well within your comfort zone and you feel you can still go on for a good while.

One thing you don’t understand is that how long “a good while” is isn’t entirely up to you. In fact, you have very little control over its definition, or the quality of its end result. Suddenly, your circumstances are removed from your control and, like it or not, leaving the “this/that” job and returning to ice cream scooping is your only option.

You’re not worried. Sure, you’re back where you were, but it was the best thing for your spouse and kids as well as a chance to put your drive more fully into taking an even larger step forward. Unlike before, you now have street cred; you’ve got the tools AND the talent; you can stand up and say, “This is what I’ve done. I’m great at my calling and I’m a true believer, and you’d be a fool not to hire me.” Rhetorically speaking, of course.

Somehow, though, time still goes by without the drop of acceptance to slack your thirst for your calling. In fact, before you know it even more time has passed than before you landed your interim position, on the scale of years, and all you can show for it are a handful of initial interviews, followed by the ubiquitous sense that, for some reason ignorant to you, everyone is ignoring you.

Then, you notice that your hope has mutated into something else. It is no longer a guiding beacon. Rather, it has transformed into a burden, a weight around your neck held fast by an unbreakable chain, a personal hell of doubt and shattered self-esteem. “You’re good, but not good enough,” becomes the mantra of those who dare hold you in judgment. “Not good enough—not good enough—not good enough.” It plays in your head every time your entreaties are ignored or forgotten in the din of the needy and disdained.

And as for those who should be there for you in your time of angst? They no longer care. They’ve abandoned you, in thought if not in deed. Either because your plight reminds them of their complicities in your state, or they are just tired of hearing your whining. They cease listening to you, and even turn away when you bring it up.

Not that what they say is supportive to you anymore. Those trite catchphrases, like, “Something will happen soon,” and “It’s their loss,” or “Keep it up. I know you can do it,” have lost their meaning to the point of cliché. You now find them condescending and patronizing, and you have bite your lip to keep yourself from saying some other cliché back at them, like, “Fuck off.”

In the end you know that, even in the unlikely circumstance that you get back into your calling, even if it is the “dream job” you’ve looked for from the beginning, you know you will hate it. That smoldering anger within has charred itself deep within your psyche and will never leave, because no calling is worth the time; the blood, sweat and tears; the anxiety of not knowing; and the final, climactic dread of being told, “no,” if it comes at all. Every day you arrive at your place of work, perhaps until you die, you will never shake the contempt you hold for your co-workers, your bosses, your family and your friends for not being there when you needed them, even as you were there for them.