Friday, May 7, 2010

Ecuador (or, why is the title of this post not even mentioned until the end?)

The best way to describe my friend Mark is by the nickname we've given him, "the Cuban Caveman." He's stocky, hairy, loud, obnoxious, and curses like a sailor in family restaurants. He's also an intelligent, driven, and incredibly principled man. A fellow Academy grad, I've known Mark for about a year, and I can safely say that some of my more interesting moments in Alabama I owe to him. He doesn't live here any more, but visits occasionally and the last time he was out here nearly started a fight in the Officer's Club when poor dumb kid decided to make a sneering, yet unclever remark about his beard.
He just left after being out here a week, and I am run down. We've spent nearly the entire previous ten days barbecuing and drinking heavily into the night. You might think that days upon days of drinking beer and eating red meat might have made me more of a man, adding some chest hair and perhaps an extra testicle, but instead I feel slow, fat, and tired. It's all part of the game though and I wouldn't have done it any differently. Mark is one of those rare people I can enjoy drinking with just for the conversation. See, it is entirely possible that in a drinking session with Mark the dialogue will get more intelligent rather than less. We spent some our time screaming at each other about politics, while watching Bill O'Reilly. BTW, I can't help wanting to scream when I watch anything on Fox News, and Mark is a Cuban conservative, so a skyrocketing of the volume level is virtually guaranteed. I must say I'm lucky to have some friends that I can actually learn something from in a typical conversation. It could be drunk Mark philosophizing for hours on the nature of God's love and tolerance for others, as he did a few days ago (yes, I said hours). It could be Sal talking about the realities of growing up in a crime-ridden neighborhood, or maybe my friend Dan speaking on the need for a more practical and sustainable energy policy.

I had another one of these enlightening moments when I was talking with my friend Marques several months ago. Another Academy grad turned Air Force dropout, he was out here visiting Sal, and he started speaking of a feeling he had been having that he needed to shed all the superfluous crap in his life and go travel. With no timetable or agenda, just go on an adventure. Needless to say this is an idea that really resonated with me. From this one conversation sprung an idea that we both knew we had to follow. We will be taking a flight to Ecuador in August. I only bought a one-way ticket.
Marques' motivations are similar to mine, but I wouldn't want to speak for him, so I will just point you to his blog.
For my part, I am simply looking for a decent way to live a life. There has got to be some way to survive that doesn't relegate me to an office desk for 9 hours a day, taking orders from someone I don't even care to know. And I know I don't have to travel to Ecuador to embark on this quixotic little journey of self-discovery, but why the hell wouldn't I take that opportunity. That's kind of the point behind this entire exercise-- I'm just going to do exactly what I want to do. And I'm going to be writing all about it here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Adjusting to Freedom...

I agree absolutely with Johnny Rotten. I don't want a holiday in the sun. I refuse your paltry offer of two weeks on a beach (boring leisure) as a break from fifty weeks in the office (boring work).

-Tom Hodgkinson

It’s been about a week and a half since I’ve gone in to work and I feel great. Not being confined to a rigid schedule has done wonders for my mind and body. I’m not spending my nights with that small bit of dread about going to work the next morning. I’m not forced to try and cram my life in to the small stretches of free time that are allotted for me. One of the first major changes to have taken place since I quit working has been the end to my perpetual sleep deprivation. See, my body’s natural sleep schedule has never lined up with traditional work hours. I have trouble going to bed early, so with an early wake up time I never had enough sleep. Every morning started miserably, as my cell phone alarm would play the same tinny music that I've woken up to for years now. As a rule, I started every day tired and pissed off. I carried through my mornings in the office like some sad creature-- the most telling description I can think to offer is "irritable zombie". Now I stay up until about 2 and wake up around 10 or 11 am. After doing this for about a week I no longer spend my days feeling tired and lethargic. In fact I have so much extra energy it’s almost become a problem—I have trouble sitting in a chair to read and write during the day. I played a soccer game last night where, even though I haven’t run for a week, I had some of the best stamina I’ve had in a long time. And I’m starting to lose weight without having made any significant changes to my diet. I get the real sense that this sort of self-driven method of living is healthier for the body and soul.
After all, I think it makes much more sense for a person’s “work” to be varied and interesting. People were not meant to be chained to desks, shuffling papers and staring at screens all day long. I’m still working to refine my schedule and come up with a routine, but here is how my day looks so far:

-wake up anywhere between 9 and 11
-eat fruit or drink juice
-go for a jog
-eat a real breakfast (eggs, milk, etc.)
-do some sort of work until a normal work day ends
-play soccer, lift weights, or play rugby
-grab dinner and/or drinks with friends
-do more work
-read until I fall asleep (usually between 1 and 3 am)

It’s not anything perfect, and as a rule I don’t stick to any sort of schedule too strictly if I can help it. For instance, an old buddy is in from out of town right now so I skipped rugby and spent the better part of the day barbequing and drinking beer and talking politics with him (actually he's Cuban, so we yelled at each other about politics). But that’s the beauty of this sort of self-driven life: I can change the rules when I feel like it. When circumstances arise, when “life happens”, I can just change course and adapt.
At the end of last week I made a short notice decision to fly out to Albuquerque to stay with Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He was gracious enough to invite me, so I jumped at the opportunity to do some travelling and work for an organization whose cause I believed in-- I didn't have anything holding me back. I actually spent most of my days out there doing work to prepare for an awards banquet, but I didn’t end my days feeling beaten and abused. I was working hard, voluntarily. You can read more about that weekend on my more “serious” blog, American Commentary.
Speaking of work, I give myself work to do. It may sound counterintuitive, but I don’t think I would be happy with a never ending vacation. Work makes people feel productive, useful. My “self-assigned” work doesn’t pay, but it’s work I enjoy, in support of causes that I feel are under-supported in society at large. After all, there’s rarely a paycheck for doing the right thing—but there is a payoff. You carry yourself through your day with so much more vitality when you are the master of your domain, working on your own schedule, for things you believe in. I am working with Iraq Veterans Against the War to help reconstitute the Montgomery Peace Project here in Alabama. I also spend my time writing for my two blogs and reading. It’s a life that works for me, but it won’t be sustainable in the long run. Right now I’m living off the last few paychecks the Air Force will give me. After that I have saved up a small sum of money to keep afloat for awhile—so I will have to find that dreaded thing that everyone has to find: a job. But I’ve known for a long time that I would eventually have to make my way back in to the mainstream world of working for some rich guy to survive, and that’s why I planned ahead. See, debt is a prison, it forces you into places that you wouldn’t ever choose to go otherwise. I have no debt; in fact I have a little extra cash, so I can really take my time looking for a job that's enjoyable and fulfilling. I don’t know where I’ll end up, or how much I will make, or even if life will be easy, but I can guarantee this: I won’t be trapped in a contract for years at a time, I won't stay in a situation I don't like, I will be doing something I believe in, and I will have as much control over my life as possible.
This blog, The Search For the Good Life, will chart my journey outside the bounds of the pre-planned life, in search of a more satisfying existence.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Take This Job...

Today was the last day I will ever go into work in a US Air Force uniform. I went in this morning to take care of some administrative things, get all my “outprocessing” ducks in a row, and then simply left the base. When I walked out of that building for the last time the sun seemed a little brighter, and the air tasted cleaner. This is the end of a long and tiresome journey, and I can finally say I’m free. I have no job lined up, my income will drop to zero in a couple months, my cell phone is in pieces, and I’m driving around a sad old car whose latest trick has been to lock up the driver side door so that I have to climb in and out the side door. And yet life looks so much more promising than when I had a generous income with “stability” and “security”. Now I won’t be spending every day of my life beholden to some other person’s whims, like some kind of slave.
I came to the decision to leave when I still had 3 years of commitment to serve out. Since then I’ve spent much of my time wallowing in desperation, enslaved to a system I could not escape. Here’s some advice: never enter a contract where you have to sign your body over to someone else for years at a time. It’s a ridiculous notion, and was called by its rightful name, indentured servitude, in more honest times.
Of course I didn’t spend the entire bulk of my time in the depths of depression—after all, no one knows how to make lemonade out of lemons like a military academy cadet—but the lows were very low. The stale and stifling nature of daily office drudgery has a real way of killing a person from the inside out. Some old journal entries I wrote show just how frantic I was capable of becoming:

“It’s getting continually harder to keep up the charade of going to work. Pretending I care about various job-related things that I simply don’t give a shit about. I can force myself to get into work mode, but its getting harder and harder. Somehow, I just wasn’t made to be content with this. All this, that’s supposed to pass as an ‘adult’ life these days, with the normal office job. How spirit-crushing! I didn’t suffer through a high-level education so that I could lead a life of wage slavery, crushed under the oppression of a boring and monotonous office life.
Emails, meetings, punctuality, professionalism, courtesy copies, deadlines, conference calls, meetings, reprimands, boring conversations, sitting all day long, powerpoint, excel, management… good-bye to all that! Rotting away inside an office, for what? A steady paycheck? The question isn’t “why can’t I put up with it?” The real question is, “how does anyone else?!”
After proving to myself that I was more than capable, the novelty of the whole “job” thing has really worn off. Fuck security. Fuck stability.”

My military experience was not one of constant deployments, and tense situations in faraway deserts. The best way to sum up my time in the military is “Office Space in BDU’s.” When I was younger I had requested deployments just to break the monotony, but this is before I learned what would become an unbroken rule during my military tenure: you will never get what you ask for—in fact you will usually get the opposite of what you ask for. It's worth mentioning that these deployment requests came before I looked further into my government’s motivations for war and learned just how deeply I disagreed with it all… but that’s a story for another time.
As I was entering the work force I would often look around me, at all the other people shuffling to and from their jobs, and wonder if my dissatisfaction wasn’t just a byproduct of some sort of laziness that was coded into my DNA. How could everyone else be so content with this arrangement, while I was so distraught? But as time went on I got the impression that my sentiments were not uncommon. At the time of this writing I know few people who really do enjoy their jobs—in fact, a lot of the people I know are downright miserable. They spend the majority of their time doing something they don’t want to do.
Take a look at your week: 168 hours. The average person works a job that takes up 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, which comes out to 45 hours. A healthy person should be sleeping 8 hours a night, so that will take away 56 hours out of the week. That means that you have 60% of your time sucked away just so you can get by, then you get to live your life in the margins. Is that progress? Is that the kind of existence we should be aiming for? Should we spend the majority of our waking hours in cubicles? Something tells me that people just weren’t made for that kind of existence.
Now I’m free, and it’s up to me to see if I can find a better way of living.