It is late. “Tales From Topographic Oceans” by Yes is cranking out on the Mac as I type; at this “magic hour” when I manage to do my best writing. Don’t ask me why, but only at this time of the day something happens in the creative process that opens the mind’s eye to different things. Just like the simple beauty of this album. I haven’t heard it in ages, and yet it remains one of my favorite albums of all time…perhaps because I don’t always play it, it takes on a meaning for me that is special. It’s not one of those things you break out on a road trip and crank from the car stereo with the top down (although I sure as hell would if I were out crossing the desert somewhere in Arizona). Something as simple as this, these moments that I am enjoying this music mean so much more to me as I get older. Perhaps it’s because I look at the days so preciously now rather than as being disposable pieces of a puzzle to get through like I used to.
Once upon a time, I was a guy who worked at a bank. I was a Vice President who had people working for me. I was making six figures, had pretty much the rest of my career ahead of me. Smart money had me making Senior VP before I was 50 as I was one of those guys who rose to the top of the game by playing some of the best political games ever devised by man. You want to see politics? Try working in a bank for 17 years; knowing which star to hitch your career to, and knowing that there were others who hitched their star to yours. You rose and fell as your superiors did at times. You moved ahead of the next guy by not necessarily being the nicest guy on the block. If you had to step on someone to get your way, then you did. It was as simple as that. No hard feelings, and it was just like they said in “The Godfather”, “Nothing personal; it’s only business.” There were truly some guys who I thoroughly enjoyed getting ahead of by stepping on, mostly because they were bastards. They were bastards to me once (forgetting the axiom of always be aware of those who you climb the ladder with because they might be the same ones you see when you descend while they make their climb) and I got them back at a later date. Or I didn’t like the way they treated a friend. I almost felt justified in being a bastard at times; I guess I had to keep telling myself that because the politics was tough. If you wanted to go where I eventually wound up in the bank, then you played tough and most importantly, you were VERY good at your job aside from the politics. But the politics was always there.
I like to refer to the upper level of any organization as “The Adminisphere”; kind of like another layer of the upper atmosphere. The air is very thin up there, and the people who work at that level move the world with levels that they control and have others push for them. These are the Senior VPs and EVPs, and people who run the organization. These were people who were always used to getting their way, regardless of who or what stood in their way and trust me, YOU would be the one moving the levers and pushing the stone uphill like Sisyphus. The Adminisphere is where all the decisions were made and they had a very deliberate way of treating one another. They were very much like the US Senate and had power within the bank that was equivalent to that so-called august body. But just like me, they rose through the ranks upward knowing what politics to play, and who to play them with and for. And my goal at one point was to get there. To have that nice McMansion… To get a nice car, and to get a home theater system that was off the wall (although I can’t imagine what I would have bought had I been able to given my current system…which is excellent). I wanted it all and was getting there slowly and surely.
Then September 11th happened, and nothing was quite the same after that.
My job became less meaningful for me; I lost my drive and ambition. My new boss turned out to be the biggest asshole I EVER worked for; he made me look like a Saint in my worst moments. He was one for the ages this guy, let me tell you. And I had met my political match in this guy who decided he didn’t like me or want me (whereas I received stellar reviews for almost all of my 17 years with the bank, this guy gave me mediocre to a disastrous review for my last one). He was by definition a political animal as well, but he was a back stabbing bastard. With me, you always knew where and sometimes when the knife would strike, but with this guy it was completely underhanded and stealth. And always, ALWAYS in the back. In the end, he won. All of my connections in the Adminisphere were severed when we bought another bank, and their old chairman (who would be the new chairman of the combined institution a few years down the road) put all of his guys into positions of power. And this guy moved in very nicely with the new sharks swimming in the water because they were all like him. And after all my politicking, and doing a damned good job at whatever I did for the bank at every position, it was over.
And just like that…I was voted out of office. I received a nice severance package, and had a year of salary and benefits that I managed to spend 24/7 drinking away. I had begun my immolation as a corporate bastard. I became something else, and it wasn’t pretty. During this time my wife fell out of love with me (although I didn’t know that until recently). During this time I became lost as a person, because I no longer had any direction. I didn’t know what was going on anymore until I sobered up the following year. In the 5 years since, I started to get my shit together but many things have suffered.
My marriage is pretty much gone. I deal with acute PTSD and Bi Polar II as well as an ailing back on a daily basis that leaves me in a lot of pain both physically and mentally. I’ve become a stay at home Dad, and in that sense I found some type of identity, but like the old saying goes, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Oh without a doubt, I want to either write or teach once the opportunities present themselves…something I should have done immediately after college instead of selling out for the corporate buck. Then perhaps I can get off Disability and make a decent living for myself once again, because you see there is no way I could ever go back into the corporate world I once inhabited. I’m not one for having a lot of people around me, and I really don’t like crowds. PTSD is not a great thing to have, trust me. It tends to put a damper on what you can do and how far away you can travel from your home base, at least in my case. I need to be in a small environment or work on my own which is what is probably the best thing for me. Writing affords me that, and one of these days (hopefully by next year), I’ll finish a first draft of that book and get an editor and try and get it published. Until then I’ll keep working on it and blog away, because it seems as if I found my voice once again.
I think I’ve learned to accept my present circumstances; I don’t like them, but it doesn’t mean I can’t change them. My old job is so far away…my old way of life belongs to another time and place. That person died on 9/11. It’s taken me some time, but I’m finally figuring out what makes me tick. Confrontation is not it. Stepping on other people is not it. Enjoying power is not it, because quite frankly, I’m not even the guy who really runs this house anymore. I handle the finances, because I did it for years, I cook, I do what I can for the kids and try to guide them as best I can (if they are willing to listen. My oldest has become rather existential, and given her life, I can’t say that’s surprising). And I try and write…because I am finding out that is the one thing that makes me tick. That is who I am; a guy who can put words on paper and put together something that’s going to express how I feel or what I believe. It’s starting to become a necessary thing for me to do again, because I cannot live without it. As Ray Bradbury said once, “You must stay drunk on writing so life does not kill you”.
So dear readers, you get to watch me get drunk on writing again. The bits and pieces that make up my life might appear on these pages or what I think about politics (which is a lot. Old habits die hard). But I’m encouraged that I’m getting people interested in what I have to say once more, and that is humbling…just like the last few years have been for me. I had to fall from a height and into the abyss and pull myself out slowly and surely. I’m out of the hole now and dusting myself off, looking around at the sky and the endless horizons before me.
And it’s beautiful…
“The only thing worth writing about is people. People. Human beings. Men and women whose individuality must be created, line by line, insight by insight. If you do not do it, the story is a failure. […] There is no nobler chore in the universe than holding up the mirror of reality and turning it slightly, so we have a new and different perception of the commonplace, the everyday, the ‘normal’, the obvious. People are reflected in the glass. The fantasy situation into which you thrust them is the mirror itself. And what we are shown should illuminate and alter our perception of the world around us. Failing that, you have failed totally.” – Harlan Ellison