Boston to the Bay- Day 3

April 13, 2014- 6 AM

Woke up beside a rail yard in Toledo, Ohio.  This little city was spoke of in reverential tones by my Mom’s small-town relatives hailing from the tiny town of Van Wert, Ohio.

Driving through the thickets and cornfields brings back memories of making the pilgrimage from St. Louis to the sticks of Ohio as a kid.  Everything was, and is still, so different from the suburban world I grew up in.

The water smells like sulphur, people believe the hymns they sing, and a chicken indolently pecking the ground can sometimes be your only companion.  It’s not about pace of life or a radical perspective.  It’s about flat ground and mile upon mile of distance between neighbors.  It’s about the fantastic inventions the mind conjures when forced to.  It’s about the personification of animals and crops.  It’s about community.

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It’s a dying way of life.  Some adjusted and moved to withering brick towns like Toledo or Youngstown.  Others go quietly, solemnly watching chicks peck over fallow land.

The train is a foreign experience, and I hesitate to call it an experience in the traditional sense.  This hurtling steel capsule doesn’t allow you to feel the subtle changes in the air or the ground over which you travel.  Certainly, you are more aware of obscure places like Bryan, Ohio, but you don’t come to truly know these places.

Miles and miles of diverse lands and people are taken for granted.  You’re given a private viewing of backyards and crumbling artifacts of antiquated industries for the negligible cost of a train ticket.  I saw a boy chasing a ball down a hill and the gravestones of countless grandparents.  What gives me the right to peer into these intimate moments and places?

April 13, 2014- 6 PM

We completed our first leg, the Lakeshore Limited to Chicago, and began a hunt for deep-dish pizza.  Luckily, there was a Giordano’s a few blocks away.  The pizza and beer did not disappoint, not surprising considering my train diet of peanut m&m’s and processed turkey sandwiches.

The three-hour layover was finished before it started.  The only tourist attraction we fell prey to were some photos of the Union Station staircase where Kevin Costner performs a few heroics in The Untouchables.

Luckily, we snagged upper-deck seats for the next leg.  Especially crucial because, you know, the towering cornstalks dotting Illinois and Iowa require a lofty perch to appreciate.

The train paused in Galesburg, Illinois, a surprisingly bustling rail stop.  A few trains were beached there and a beautiful mural adorned the station.

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Iowa came soon afterwards and, along with it, a subtle curvature of the land.  Good cheer must have overtaken the early settlers as they gazed over this pristine, virginal land stretching far as the eye could see.

It’s a wonder anyone voted to push past this fertile ground.  Thank God they did because, while the ample space and sun-soaked crops are beautiful, the soaring peaks of the Rockies and the sunny California coast are true jewels.  Man could not, would not, stop until he reached the ocean.  A human preoccupation with finishing what we have started.  I feel the same way now; satisfied with this peaceful land, but yearning for more.

Another delay.  The sky sits in pre-dawn silence, a weak light covers the land, and the fields are interspersed with brave islands of trees surrounded by a sea of fallow corn fields.  It rained earlier, but the sky and the ground have come to a tacit agreement.  The sky has ceased rumbling and the creeks have stopped jumping with rain.

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It’s April and spring still hasn’t sprung in this land.  I am embarrassed for complaining about Texas and the palm trees, green grass, and tropical temperatures of the Gulf Coast.  From Connecticut to Iowa, the landscape is dominated by grey skies and barren foliage.

From Boston to the Bay- Day 2

I spent roughly 70 hours of my Spring Break on a train traveling from Boston to San Francisco.  The following entries detail my experiences.  For the first entry, click here.

April 12, 2014

We boarded the train in Boston and so far it’s been relaxing.  The streams and dilapidated ruins of crumbling Northeast towns slowly burrow into my memory.

I caught a glimpse of the train as we curved around a bend.  For a moment, I saw the vessel carrying us forward.  In life, we tell ourselves we know what’s leading us, what’s driving us, but, like passengers on a moving train, we have a vague, elusive of what’s pushing us forward.

As soon as I reached for my camera, we crossed the bend and the train was obscured.  The train ride has been like that, brief glimpses of beauty and then onward, rushing through winter-famished trees and grey hills.

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The Northeast is remarkably uniform, but at least there’s been some sunlight.  The light warms and awakens a land ravaged by a brutal winter.  My mind has slowly drifted from the stress and rigor back in Hartford.

We stalled for an hour and a half in Albany, NY.  One more viewing of the ramshackle underbelly of a decaying upstate NY city.  I can’t imagine how life would have changed if my Dad had taken the job he was offered in Schenectady, NY back in middle school.  The brick and shattered glass, the monolithic decay would wear on you.

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Now that the day is over, the sun is eclipsed by consuming darkness. I’m left with my thoughts and the dark, vast expanse of a sprawling land.  Darkness envelops all like a deep lake only occasionally interrupted by the kindred light of a slow-moving houseboat.

I met a man working the dining car counter.  He was in his second week of training.  A dust-colored man of around thirty traded his job at the bank for a life toiling on the rails.  The man had never set foot on an Amtrak.  A desperate stab at a new life.  And then this beautiful song arrived, courtesy of Pandora, and this year, this long train ride began to make sense.

“Longer I Run”  Peter Bradley Adams

I miss the life that I left behind

But when I hear the sound of the blackbirds cry

I know I left in the nick of time

Well this road I’m on’s gonna turn to sand

And leave me lost in a far off land

So let me ride the wind tip I don’t look back

Forget the life that I almost had

If I wander till I die

May I know who’s hand I’m in

If my home I’ll never find

And let me live again

The longer I run

Then the less that I find

Sellin my soul for a nickel and dime

Tell my brother please not to look for me

I ain’t the man that I used to be

But if my savior comes could you let him know

I’ve gone away for to save my soul

From Boston to the Bay- Day 1

I spent roughly 70 hours of my Spring Break on a train traveling from Boston to San Francisco.  The following entries detail my experiences.

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April 11, 2014

Our train was to leave from Boston on Saturday morning.  Luckily my travel buddy kindly offered a place to sleep in Cape Cod, shortening the next morning’s drive.

We left Friday night at 6:45, headed for Sandwich, MA, a small town “on the cape”, as I’ve been informed is proper vernacular.  The town was tiny and reminded me of many towns and suburbs.  Grocery stores, dentist offices, schools, and houses predominated.

We ate at a Mexican restaurant, “Sam Diegos”.  The entrance had big letters spelling, “Buenos Nachos.”  I think it was supposed to be a lame play on “Buenas Noches.”  As a native Texan, sirens were sounding.  “Fake Tex-Mex! Fake Tex-Mex.”  In retrospect, the restaurant’s self-deprecating humor should have been refreshing.

In line with my dire predictions, the chips were buried in salt, the salsa was tomato paste with less zest than Tostito’s picante sauce, and the margarita was mostly water.  I sat down with Nikki and her friends, an energetic group of early 20-somethings.  Their energy and excitement to see each other conjured memories of coming home from college.  Their “present mindset” fascinated me as they fantasized about an idyllic summer on the Cape, drinking without a worry.  The kind of carefree summer I know I’ll never get back.

In another surprising twist, the conversation turned towards Nashville, Tennessee. The South was discussed in doting, romantic tones.  One of their boyfriends serendipitously met a song-writer and may have found his break.  Or not.  These are the Nashville tales you hear in so many country ballads.  I could not believe I was in Massachusetts eating Tex-Mex and discussing country music.  There wasn’t a more improbable situation.

They had dreams.  “My aunt used to write songs for Miranda Lambert.  Your boyfriend should totally call her.”  Their eyes gleamed with romance and hints of inebriation.  Small tables of hometown friends conspire to change the world in little towns across this country.

What It Takes to Leave

“No man can wander without a base.” – Bruce Chatwin

This year I quit my job, changed careers, and moved thousands of miles, seemingly dependent on little more than unfounded idealism and the structural integrity of my Honda Accord.  At first glance, this journey required an adventuresome spirit.  Upon closer examination, this may be less than true.

As a child in San Antonio, there was a creek running behind our house.  We spent hours chasing frogs, birds, and our dog Lucy.  I loved that place.  I remember bringing balloons home from the zoo and setting them free, watching them slowly float into the clear, blue sky for what seemed an eternity.

This was the first time I began to claw at the vast world.  Up to that point, my world consisted of our mountainous driveway, the healthy creek, and our looping cul-de-sac.

A few years later, we moved to Kingwood, where I spent most of my childhood.  I remember miserable weeding sessions amidst the sweltering Gulf Coast heat.  I remember sharing a room with my older brother and listening to Green Day and Bush into the wee hours of the night.  I remember late night walks with the dog, the humidity rising off the pavement as we stared at darkened house after darkened house.  We lamented that our town had nothing.  We had something, but didn’t realize it.  We had a loving, stable home.

Home is where all memories must travel.  It’s the place you journey back to with no worry of airfare or miles on the odometer.  The town may change, you may change, but that place’s magnetic hold on your imagination stands firm.  Indeed, if you hold still long enough, you can see the shadow of that mountainous drive that was really just a steady incline and you can hear the roar of the rushing river that was really just a dried-up creek bed.

“It didn’t matter where I traveled, what I saw, how desperate and lonely I might become out there passing through strange places, strange lands, because I could always return to the safety and sanctuary of home.” Kurt Caswell, In the Sun’s House

Thanks to supportive parents and a stable base, I have traveled freely.  Psychologists refer to this as secure attachment.

The first secure attachment an infant makes is to his or her mother.  Numerous studies have shown that the more secure a child’s attachment to its mother is, the more willing the child is to venture out and take risks.  A famous psychological experiment conducted by Alan Sroufe and Byron Egeland in Minnesota, found that infants “who received the extra dose of early care were, later on, more curious, more self-reliant, calmer, and better able to deal with obstacles.” (Tough,37) In other words, the more secure an environment you grow up in, the more equipped you are to leave it.

Not only does a secure home base make you more likely to venture out, it also gives you a continuing source of relief when times get tough.

At 9 pm on a cold March night, I was awoken by a phone call.  My little brother played “Green, green rocky road” for me, a song he had recently learned on the guitar.  For several months, I had been listening to the same soundtrack and suffering through the disillusionment of winter some 1,000 miles north.  That call, that song saved me.

Growing up, I never imagined feeling this way.  There was my older brother and I trading turns hurling each other against the iron support that held up our basketball hoop.  There was my little brother and I getting into a torrid fist fight.

But something incredible happens when you leave your family.  You realize how much you need and appreciate them, despite any maddening idiosyncrasies you identified along the way.  Within this realization, my brash, naive assumption that I could travel anywhere and build a fortress of self-reliance came crumbling down.  Reliance on family is what gave me the strength to make this journey.

Nowadays, it’s common to hear glorified tales of young adults giving up career and possessions to travel on the cheap.  The costs, in some cases, are low enough for nearly anyone to partake.  Why then does this movement seem overwhelmingly upper middle class?

“Any form of new organization or integration within the mind has to be preceded by some degree of disorganization.  No one can tell, until he has experienced it, whether or not this necessary disruption of former patterns will be succeeded by something better.” – Anthony Storr, Solitude, A Return to Self

This is not to say that all those that lie outside the upper middle class had difficult childhoods or that all upper middle class children had idyllic childhoods.  However, those belonging to lower socioeconomic brackets are more likely to have suffered through childhood adversity.  For these individuals, the answer may lay in childhood and crucial early attachments.  Perhaps those that have been scarred and bruised by turbulent childhoods have to make a larger leap of faith in order to trust a new culture.

The obvious counter argument is that these people have nothing to lose.  They haven’t found prosperity in their current situation, so why not make a change?  As discussed earlier, human instinct does not work this way.

Infants that are able to attach themselves to stuffed animals or other “transitional objects” are said to benefit from secure attachment to their mother.  They are comfortable connecting with other objects due to the confidence they have that their mother will not neglect them.  In the same way, those that lead blissful, peripatetic lives often do so as a result of secure attachments.  They are confident that their support system will be intact and waiting for them upon their triumphant return.

Less fortunate people have little reason to believe that their loved ones and their community will even be recognizable upon their return.

So next time you’re congratulating yourself for being an adventurous, atavistic wanderer just know that this ability likely exists due to the confidence gained from secure attachment to your family.

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With this in mind, instead of touting the perks of traveling and cultural immersion to poverty-stricken youth, perhaps we should first take time to assist them in the building of solid community bases.  Only then will they be free to wander and graze the meadows of varied cultural experience.

¹Tough, Paul. How Children Succeed.  Paul Tough, 2012. Print.

The Ghost of Everett Ruess

As has become tradition, I awoke before 4 AM and headed for the mountains in search of solitude that only a sunrise hike can offer.  I arrived happily caffeinated and ready to plunge into a sea of trails crisscrossing Mt. Greylock, a purple monster that lords over the small Massachusetts burg of Williamstown.

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I was granted the solitude I sought, encountering zero people for the first five or six miles.  Once again, I found myself in love with the challenge and silence of the mountains.  I came across several large animal droppings.  The first was a large pile of pellets indicating a large deer or moose.  Innocuous enough, I thought.  A mile further down the trail, a more human-shaped turd appeared.  From what I’d read, this indicated a big cat or coyote had been here.

For several miles, each rustling twig, each broken branch raised my blood pressure.  I clutched a rock and scanned the dense foliage.  What was supposed to be a loving nature walk, briefly morphed into the mental exercise of destroying a rabid mountain lion.

After a few miles of haunted stillness, I crossed a road.  This overt sign of society reminded me that humans are more menacing than all the cats and bears within the quiet forest.  When I reached the other side of the road, I came across a chilling sign.

A 31-year-old man had gone missing, leaving only a note saying that he wished to disappear “forever into the wilderness and to remain out of contact with humanity.”  The sign proceeded to detail his extensive mental issues and spelled out strategies if you encountered the man.

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My heart hurt, knowing that this man had been afflicted with a familiar heartbreak and love of nature.

“When I go, I leave no trace.”- Everett Ruess

People disappear into the wilderness each year, but none in as dramatic fashion as Everett Ruess.  Everett was an artist and poet, a manic-depressive capable of the highest highs and lowest lows.  He was a male with a gift for the aesthetic and the written word.  Unsurprisingly, he struggled to find a niche within the industrial 1930s.

Out in the wild and free of judgment and oppressing convention, he roamed and wrote a series of beautiful letters and poems.

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He boldly declared love for the lonely canyons and dancing tumbleweed of the Southwest.  He dreamt lucid dreams.  His poems were treacherous and vivid.  Everett was unafraid of the travails of love.  But if you listen closely, you can hear heartbroken murmurs, quiet as a rustle of leaves.

He was in love with the land.  But, like any love, his love required great sacrifice.  His sacrifices ultimately led to irrevocable estrangement with society.  His letters and poems became dark and he intimated that he might never wish to return.  Of course, this was before large-scale depressive medication and hyper-fast telecommunication, so his internal wounds were left to fester.

“As to when I revisit civilization, it will not be soon.  I have not tired of the wilderness… I prefer the saddle to the street car, and the star-sprinkled sky to the roof, the obscure and difficult leading into the unknown…”- Everett Ruess

Then, 80 years ago, Everett disappeared without a trace into the vast desert of Utah.  Some conjecture that he was killed by bandits or Indians, some are convinced of suicide, and others suggest he took refuge with a wandering Indian tribe.

“In my mind I conjured up a thousand forgotten cities, left behind by the years; sheer grey mountains; mile upon mile of bare, unfriendly desert; cold lakes unrippled by any breeze, with depths unfathomable; jungles filled with deadly snakes, immense butterflies, brilliant colors, fever, and death.  I swam in the blue seas, and in coral-tinted waters.  Through insufferable heat and incessant flooding downpours I plodded forward….These are the things I saw and the experiences I lived through that night long past.  Now it is night again–the night before I go.” – Everett Ruess- I Go To Make My Destiny, 1932

What’s not debated is that Everett was a disturbed, yet brilliant young man.  A headstrong vagabond, he wished to discover a philosophy that would liberate him from the stifling confines of an industrial society that, in his mind, had lost its soul, its direction.

Everett was lost in that philosophical pursuit.  His inexplicable disappearance leaves many questions.

Did Everett reach the union with nature he aspired to?  Did he find everlasting happiness on the banks of an undying desert stream?  Did he find love in the breathtaking space and emptiness of the desert?

His quest was seemingly logical.  Unable to find perfection in a complex, chaotic urban ecosystem, he sought perfection in an unspoiled land.  Everett was betting that complete contentment was there for the taking.  However, history has repeatedly found us incapable of finding contentment.

Artists, poets, and musicians like Everett are saints destined to die at the altar of an elusive understanding of our volatile human souls.

“Say that I starved; that I was lost and weary;

    That I was burned and blinded by the desert sun;

Footsore, thirty, sick with strange diseases;

    Lonely and wet and cold, but that I kept my dream!” – Everett Ruess “Wilderness Song”

What should we really fear?

I wonder what our chief fear should be when we’re all alone and the wind whistles through the trees atop a mountain.  Should our primary fear be savage predators or the seductive beauty of nature we seek?

Are jaw-dropping mountaintop views, the murmur of a rushing creek, and the still of a desert morning temptations too great for some?  Or is temptation being used too pejoratively?  Perhaps it’s a noble pursuit to become one with the land that birthed you.

But how dangerous is this idea?  How demented and disenchanting is this proposition?

The temptation is to give yourself to the trees, the air and the twigs.  The risk is tireless devotion to a cold, beautiful, and distant lover.  A risk that most only recognize in the seedy corners of bars or in the lust of youth.

Perhaps nature, beautiful and eternally young, lurks.  Perhaps nature waits for us to hurdle ourselves into its mysteries.  Perhaps it lies waiting for us to offer ourselves as martyrs against the injustices people have enacted on the massive organic edifice on which we sit.  Perhaps it relishes us prematurely leaving a world of understandable, loving fellow humans only to be crushed by its uncaring jaws.

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Truth is that everyone who runs from this cold world is bound to collide with the conclusion that the sweeping plains of the West or the shady, dense forests of New England are just as cold and heartless as the world they seem to spurn.

Wilderness is stubborn.  Wilderness will breathe and persist long after our feeble attempts to understand or capture it have ceased.

Our only hope is to find joy in our humanity and our shared misunderstanding of all that is greater than us.

You Must Go Through Winter to Understand

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The mornings begin to dip below freezing.  Street traffic slows.  Doors open and close.  The wind is faint, unwilling to wake.

I’m compelled to sit.  Desperation takes hold.  Accompanied only by the dim light of a cheap lamp and scattered photographs of places, people I used to know.

The trees are dull, the sky is low.  I’m so damn numb.  My hands are cracked, my inspiration is sapped.  Damn this winter, damn this town.

Outside, the snow falls in a steady, icy spray.  A bird alights onto my window sill, peers inside and flutters away.

Squeezing, strangling.  Winter grips trees, captures squirrels, and shoos birds away one by one until all that’s left are solitary pigeons.

Hardly awake, the masses slog through a rite of passage.  This frozen, lifeless land speaks no joys, only sorrow fills the cold, lifeless air.

Why would anyone stay?

And then it hits me.

You must go through winter to understand.

White noise falling all around,

Soft flakes of time coming down,

Falling, sticking, staying, leaving,

Clouds moving, weaving,

Meaning only found in their coming and going,

The dirty, frozen pond,

Nothing flowing,

The dirty, frozen city,

No one coming, no one going,

You must go through winter to understand,

Whispers of snow out your window,

Snow flakes piling high,

The drudgery of bundling up,

The aimless trudge,

The slippery sludge,

The stench of an overused coat,

A damp front porch,

The flicker of a dying torch,

You must go through winter to understand,

Clenched jaws,

Frozen eyes burning, twitching,

The numbing sensation of gloves,

The heater’s caress,

The unwillingness to undress,

Memories of sunlight, friends, family,

Good times come and gone,

You must go through winter to understand,

The convergence of days,

Time slipping away,

Stripped, bare trees,

The fear that time itself will freeze,

The quiet,

The restless slumber,

You must go through winter to understand,

The still of dawn,

The winds of change long gone,

An old folk song,

The need for others,

Missing my brothers,

You must go through winter to understand,

The thirst for sun,

The urge to run,

The need for mountains,

The thirst for flowing fountains,

You must go through winter to understand,

The mirage of white sand,

Tunnel visions of spring,

Wondering what that might bring,

You must go through winter to understand,

The slow melt,

The loneliness I once felt,

You must go through winter to understand,

Life first-hand.

Journalist Matthew Power: An Appreciation

First reblog. This is incredible.

GLITTERING SCRIVENER

Yesterday, the internet exploded with tributes to my dear friend Matt, who died in Uganda on Monday (probably of heatstroke), while walking down the Nile on assignment for Men’s Journal. I wrote a couple griefstricken posts on Facebook and a bunch on twitter, but Matt worked best in longform. He deserves as many words as I can give him.

I met Matt in 2004, at Breadloaf. He was 29. He’d just published his first piece in Harper’s and he was very excited about it. So excited that when I met him, this skinny, t-shirted guy in a pair of jeans that he’d bought in maybe 1992,  across a crowded room full of writers, he had a gin and tonic in one hand (for me) and a copy of the Harper’s issue The Poison Stream appeared in, in the other. His enthusiasm was so high that I mistook him for some…

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In Defense of “Do What You Love”

The Journey Begins

I remember walking along the edge of a suburban ditch surrounded by heat-scorched grass, my mother at my side.  We were discussing my discontent and scattered ambitions.

I threw out the cock-eyed possibility of someday moving to Boston and becoming a writer.  The idea seemed far-fetched, romantic even.  I imagined cobble-stoned streets, warm coffee shops, and perhaps falling in love with something, someone on a chilly night in Fenway Park.

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Sunset in Boston

None of those things happened, and the realities of East Coast living are radically different than I envisioned.  But I’m here.

I’m an hour and a half from that impossibly far-away place.  I’m writing and working, but mostly working.  I’m doing something enjoyable and am a happier person.

All my external circumstances have worsened.  I live in a shabby, overcrowded apartment.  The weather is miserably cold.  Middle school boys frustrate me to the point of exhortation daily.  Yet, I feel confident, buoyant even, about my path.

Alas, there are haters.

Recently, a scathing article received widespread recognition for its oppositional stance towards the “Do What You Love” (DWYL) movement.

Apart from the logical fallacies (hasty generalizations, straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks on Steve Jobs, and false dilemmas), the article’s portrayal of DWYLers as privileged and socially callous has motivated me to present a counter argument based on my own experiences.

Below are seven reasons that DWYL is at worst an innocuous, nebulous statement and at best a transformative message.

1.  Some people are miserable without meaning in their work

“We need to replace our youthful ideas of transcendence with the hard work of committing to the end of a way of life in which our work is not in line with our values.”  Michael Stone

A year ago, I returned from a perspective-altering trip to New Zealand.  Abuzz with energy and a more broad, daring view of the world, I was ready to make things happen.

Beautiful, right?

Beautiful, right?

Except things didn’t happen.  Not good things at least.

This drive to seek the best was born of pure intentions and great naivety.  I thought that moving towards greater financial security would positively transform me.

Instead, it granted me a first-hand account of the soul-sucking corporate world.

I interviewed for a shiny new job and expressed excitement to be part of the “dynamic” energy industry.  I only meant it in a theoretical, strictly tangible sense.  I had no deep-seated interest and passion, just a recognition of its societal stature.

In the office tower across the street, I see pacing lawyers and accountants.  Printer to desk.  Printer to desk.  That was me.  I sat in a windowless office, yearned for lunch.  I walked through a labyrinth of tunnels depriving thousands of professionals of sunlight or noises emanating from anything other than cash registers and computer mice. I ate lunch. I walked, dissatisfied, back to that same lonely spot each day.

I want more than a job.  I want a vocation.  I want to be proud of who I am and be one with my job, interests, and personality.

Success, judged by money, title, or power, is noise distracting from the deep, ignored truth that many are dying slow, painless deaths high up in towers across the US.

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/h2/h2_53.183.jpg  Edward Hopper, Office in a Small City

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/h2/h2_53.183.jpg Edward Hopper, Office in a Small City

2.  Money for lower-wage workers becomes more obtainable when privileged people opt out of high-paying, stable jobs.

If DWYL is truly an upper-class phenomenon, then those spots would necessarily be filled by a lower wage worker.  Wouldn’t that create more opportunity?

3.  The “DWYL” path requires hard work, sacrifice, and vulnerability

“I hope you live a life you’re proud of.  If you find you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”  F Scott Fitzgerald

I had never seen Hartford, didn’t know a single person that had even visited the place, but I was confident something in that tiny city would change my life.

After 27 hours on the road, I arrived in Hartford.  Even though it was July, the sky was steel-grey and rainy.  A depression settled in upon realization that I had no one to help me move and knew no one in the entire state.

I carried my possessions inside amid the rain and wind.  I felt foreign and isolated.  Eventually, I got my things inside and settled into a bare and uninspiring apartment.  The furniture was sparse and nondescript, much like what I had seen so far of Hartford.

My first day in Hartford was wretched.  The optimism I felt days earlier vanished.  I entered my self-imposed purgatory.  My voluntary exile would force me to come to grips with who I was, who I wanted to be.

Soon thereafter, I experienced the rigor of teaching.  Put it this way:  If a boss demanded that you prepare several hours of presentations each day, warned you of his propensity to get up and make strange sounds and occasionally disrespect you in front of the entire meeting, and then asked you to measure and evaluate his performance each day, you would quit on the spot.  Teachers don’t.

Each day time assails me.  My afternoons dissipate, my hair ripples with a tornado current.  Time knocks me out until I awake staggering back to the teacher’s offices wondering what in God’s name happened.

Now I understand why young teachers are reticent to go out on Friday evenings, their brains cooked from overstimulation.  Loud, inarticulate noises.  The impossible stench of a prepubescent sans Old Spice.  The constant movement.  You have to be so damn vigilant.

I love it though.

I do miss home.  I do miss my family and friends.  Sometimes, I even miss the quiet office environment.

I don’t miss comfort.  I don’t miss being insulated from change.  I don’t miss wasting time at a job I could never grow to like.  I don’t miss the days and nights that drove me to getting in a car and driving thousands of miles to a job paying pennies on the dollar.

4.  For many, DWYL entails helping others and performing services that benefit the same people Miya Tokumitsu claims DWYL undermines

” Civilization is going to end if we continue to drown in the competition for power, fame, sex, and profit.”  Thich Nhat Hanh

I do not desire money or prestige. I just want to say I did something worthwhile.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been inspired by the downtrodden.  I remember my Dad’s annual Company Christmas Party.  Each year they hosted the Harbor Light Choir, composed entirely of former inmates.  The soul and gratefulness they brought to each song brought a tear to my eye every time.  Seeing people in the lowest socioeconomic bracket impart optimism and hope to privileged businessmen left me awestruck.

For me, greatness is selfless dedication to the community.  I’ll be making nearly nothing this year, working investment banker hours.  Why?  Because I will be proud of my accomplishments.

5.  DWYL is not a binary system.  Almost no one has a job consisting entirely of things they love.  

DWYL is based on seeking an enjoyable vocation.

No, it won’t be perfect.  And, yes, there are popular bastardizations of the idea.  Yes, Tim Ferriss, I’m looking at you.

The DWYL movement is not prescribing a single love for all, just as the gay marriage movement does not denigrate heterosexuals marrying partners they deem unsuitable.  As varied as people’s life partners are, a person’s career ambitions can be similarly varied.  The beauty of the free-market is that there’s room for screw-ups, one-night stands (e.g. summer jobs) and even divorces.  And, just as everybody can’t marry a supermodel or genius or doctor, everyone will not find a perfect fit.  Still, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging others to search.

Tokumitsu’s argument leaves no room for nuanced wants and needs.  Some will love jobs that others hate.  Some will do a job they hate to have time for their passion.

Sure, I won’t be a full-time writer next year (or even a part-time one!), but I am confident I’m moving towards my vocation.

6.  Waiting until you’re older and more stable is risky

 “The most dangerous risk of all– The risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” – Randy Komisar, The Monk and the Riddle

People will say, “That’s good you’re doing that while you’re young.”  As if you must cease pursuing enjoyable employment upon reaching a certain age.  Thereafter, you must attend to the serious business of being miserable day in and day out.

What will freedom mean to you the day you reach your arbitrary financial goal?  Will your desire to be free be squashed by the familiarity and routine of oppression?  Will your wings be clipped and your heart disconnected from the legs and arms that move you?

Freedom stares you in the face.  Go be somebody.  Don’t wait for some fat guy in a pin-striped suit to cut you a check.  Screw it.  If you love clowns, work for the circus (besides, clown enthusiasts are creepy and have trouble finding gainful employment anyways), and if you love baseball, coach it.

Each minute you spend daydreaming about what you should or could be doing is a slap in the face of the old man (or woman, but I don’t believe in slapping old women) you’ll eventually become.

7.  America was founded on people searching for a better life.  Why should this stop upon reaching a certain socioeconomic status?

The greatest American triumph; the autonomy to determine your station in life.

Never settle for second-best.  Never settle for a life you don’t want to wake up to.

This is the premise our ancestors arrived with.  That is what emancipation was about.  That is what civil rights were about.  That is what the GI bill was about.

I pray the freedom to pursue a better life never vanishes.

Mail Attachment

My Top Three Regrets

“Twenty yours from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover. “- Mark Twain

In honor of Mark Twain’s timeless wisdom, I have put this theory to the test by listing my top three regrets from twenty years ago.  Mind you, I was just six, so take it easy if they are a bit shallow.

# 1  Screwing up my chance to be Mickey Mouse’s best friend.

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What other dude do you know that has castles in Florida and California, a horde of good looking dames at his disposal (Pochahontas, Jasmine, hell even Minnie Mouse–the list goes on), and does practically nothing but live off his stellar reputation?

The most damning part is that I had a chance to make a brilliant impression and blew it.  Hard.

We entered the theme park.  I immediately lost my cool and began a despondent search for Mickey, “Mickey, Mickey, Mickey, where are you?”.  Little did I know that this woeful desperation was going to wreck any chance of a bromance with Mickey.

Finally, I found him.  And what did I do?  Ran up to him, hugged him, and handed him the most measly offering one could think of–my peanuts from the airplane.  I couldn’t think of anything better?? That was the last I saw of Mickey.

# 2  Becoming a Cowboys fan.

As Bill Simmons mentions in his “Rules of Fandom”, once you pick a team you are taken for eternity.  I picked the Cowboys at age six when I made the mistake of asking Dad who the good guys and the bad guys on the TV were.  The good guys were the Cowboys and the bad guys were the Eagles.  Now I am stuck with Jerry Jones’s plastic face forever.

# 3  Becoming a Cub Scout.

Why would anyone agree to wear a get-up like this?  And this wasn’t 2013, a time where it has become fashionable to wear a scarf with no regard for temperature.  Once in first grade, my teacher punished me for talking too much by taking away my privilege to wear my Cub Scout uniform to school.  I put on the best fake crying performance of my life.  I should have just quit right then and there.

Out with the Adage!

After this exercise, I now disagree with Twain’s adage.  All three of my regrets relate to things I did.

Based on my stellar research and reflection, I will throw Twain’s adage out with the bowlines and dive into a life of caution and conservatism.

America’s “Vague, Uncomfortable Disconnection”

“most Americans today feel vaguely and uncomfortably disconnected.”  Robert D. Putnam from Bowling Alone (2000)

Walk the bustling streets of a crowded city, sit in a coffee shop, and you can not help but notice pervasive emptiness.  Human disconnection permeates public space.

“New York-Style Fisting” 1

New York City is a place long known to produce deep-seated misanthropic feelings.  A year back, a friend moved there and was ecstatic upon witnessing his first  New York shouting match.  Two people, in no uncertain terms, publicly expressing enmity.  Or the time I visited myself.  Upon my friend’s excusable second request for a young woman’s name at a boisterous nightclub, the woman responded with, “Am I a f***ing broken record?!”.  In economic terms, the overwhelming supply of people abates demand for any single human being.

Where Did it Start?

Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, asserts that our “vague, uncomfortable disconnection” started with our parents generation.  I disagree.  Our disconnection started further back during the American Revolution.  A time when America’s forefathers ardently fought for America’s individuality.  This idea was then dispersed to the masses through the Civil Rights movement.  America’s idiosyncrasies began to manifest itself as “disconnection” when it was transformed by the creations of Silicon Valley.

To be fair, America has come far.  From the depths of Japanese internment in the 1940s and separate drinking fountains in the 1960s, we have created a culture where most feel comfortable asserting pride in their ethnic heritage.  Americans, as John Elway so concisely summarized, “feel comfortable in their own skin.”

However, the advent of “selfies” and a blizzard of self-promotional Facebook posts forces one to wonder if this explosion of self-identification and confidence has contributed to a declining social structure.  For each self-shot picture of yourself or promotional post about your buddy’s gig you have unwittingly contributed to the devaluation of human interaction.

Tinder Moments

A new app, Tinder, has acknowledged and embraced abundant supply of trivial human contact by creating a trading market based solely on physical attractiveness.  The value system is simplistic, binary.  Heart or no heart.  I have noticed (and maybe even been guilty of) people clicking blindly until they got bored.  We are eroding the value of human contact.

The Binary Relationship

We have erred in our belief that we can write code for the construction of a fulfilling relationship.  We have invested in the delusion that we can create digital shortcuts to human connection.

Human connections have little to do with fiber-optics and high-resolution images and everything to do with physical proximity.  What has happened to front porches, lemonade stands, kids playing in the park? And what about the archaic art of hand-written letters laced with smudges, illegibility, and other traces of human fallibility?  Why have we allowed binary expression to prevail?

Perhaps other generations felt this distance.  Perhaps this is something humans will grapple with forever.  Or maybe, just maybe, we need to limit constant spoon-sized servings of humanity and hold out for heaping, meaningful slices of kinship.

1 Trademark, Dwight Lutz