Now that our cats are gone, the native wildlife is starting to re-emerge: rabbits, squirrels, moles, mice, and everywhere, birds. Which makes me admire the cats for how much they beat back the wildlife to the edges. They would never stand for this kind of disorder, working together as sisters to hunt, kill, intimidate. The English couple up the road complained how our cats had their cat pinned down in its own yard and all I could do was half-apologize and say, we’re practicing with medications on them and soon they’ll be gone for a year.
But the medications didn’t really take. The cats would just leer at me as if they knew, through a milky film that formed around the eyes (the ‘lizard eye’ my friend Brad calls it) and OK, perhaps they licked more than normal and seemed to go granular in their licking, but otherwise they were unfazed.
And I pilled Ginger for a Saturday outing with my mom at the local cafes in her small village in southern Germany, but she cautioned me not to tell the Germans she was medicated because they already think that about us Americans, we rely too much on drugs.
With this strange mid-life detour we’re taking, pulling our kids out of school, renting our house, going on the road for nine months around Europe, it feels like we’re moving through a passageway with no idea what’s on the other side — which is not much different than normal, day-to-day life, except it’s harder to predict what will come next when you take yourself off track.
I wrote out the last 20 years of my working life, trying to get at the underlying conflict between ‘work-life’ and life after work — the life you have outside of work, and how the two go together.
As I did, some themes emerged — namely, the fact I lived through a major transition in technology that started with the pager in the mid 90s, email (which was still pretty new at that time), PDA’s in the early 00’s, cell phones, and now smart phones.
Most people changed with the technology — that is, they leveraged the technology to stay connected with work, to stay on top of things. But for some reason, I didn’t change. I spoke about this with a friend who works for Microsoft and he smiled and said it’s good you did that, it’s admirable. And yet I still feel like it was kind of foolish on my part.
I really have no problem using my cell phone to retrieve Likes, Comments, Follows. I have just enough discipline to resist checking when a ding comes in if I’m eating dinner with my family. But I have no problem being distracted by it or not being present, because I love it. And we’ll do all kinds of things for love, we might even change.
My work didn’t overtly require me to work when I wasn’t at work, being paid. But I wasn’t operating at a high enough level either through lack of proficiency or too much work; the two get confused. To be on the safe side, you should really just put in more time outside of work: that sends a clear message you’re engaged and prioritizing work. You want to move up? Throw me some more work.
I had that attitude for a while because it’s like the conditioning bell, you behave a certain way and get rewarded for it. It was some ego-stroking for me, to be assigned the biggest, high-profile projects. There was a mountaineering quality to it, but without the views — a good amount of plodding upwards, the resilience to keep going.
Dawn and I thought it would be a good idea to show the kids (10 and 7) the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a story of adventure you can parallel to a number of conquests for something rare and elusive.
For my good friend Mark Graham, it was his favorite film when we were coming of age in the early 80s. He even wore the hat, the leather bomber jacket, and had a leather bull-whip. I’d walk to his house and we’d lose ourselves in his attic farting around with D&D campaigns and talking about books. And about 20 years later when I ran into him after we’d fallen out of touch and asked what he did, he said I’m a mystery writer. I write mystery novels.
I was happy and immediately envious, then embarrassed when I told him what I did, but that I was taking time off from work (1998) to move to France and roam around, write, figure out what’s next.
Here, someone I knew so well was doing exactly what I wanted to do, had figured it out, even had a glow when he talked about it, a far-away sheen in his eyes. He’d handwritten his memoir while living in Eastern Europe, teaching English, paying someone to press his shirts, and then he destroyed the manuscript because he had to get it out of his system, he said.
I was envious of him because he was doing what I wanted to do, but didn’t have the nerve. We exchanged numbers but I lost his and didn’t look too hard to find it.
I think our dreams are most appealing when they’re seen from a distance, kept somewhere safe.