I am no longer a productive member of society. I’ve always been on the fringes as it was. Friday was the last day of only the third permanent job I’ve held in 17 years. A good friend once described me as a drag on the economy, educated (though not overly) and underemployed.
I’ve lived mainly as a temp most of that time, refusing to take full time positions even when offered out of a stubborn idea of maintaining a sense of freedom.I still went to work every day just like everyone else, but I could leave anytime I wished. I wasn’t stuck to two weeks of vacation per year. And for awhile, it worked. For several years running, I never worked more than nine months out of the year. I lived cheaply, I traveled, I moved cities, traveled and moved cities again. It was the late 90s and it seemed then that if you had a degree and wanted to work, you could find work. Companies were happy to have a responsible college educated person come in for short term stuff. My main job skill may have been that they knew I’d show up every day. I really thought I could go on doing this indefinitely. I didn’t think about being a 39-year-old temp someday. Something would work out because it would. I’d be published and make money that way. I’d write about travel. Then the economy changed and I picked the wrong city at the wrong time, and ran through my savings. I have no special skills so when the market flooded with office drones my value dropped. I retreated to Chicago, I met S. One day my roommate asked me why I temp’d and I gave him my standard answer about it offering freedom to travel, and he asked me then why didn’t I ever seem to travel? I didn’t have an answer. I probably barely used even the two weeks vacation a full-time job would have offered.
S and I moved to San Francisco and I temp’d my way through. I was content. I was where I wanted to live. I took more time off, trips with S and backpacking in the Sierra Nevada. I still had no plan for the future, but at least I was doing something.
But temps don’t get promotions, so to paraphrase a movie, I watched as I kept getting older and my coworkers stayed the same age.
I started to put together a plan, and was making some progress when S’s company went bankrupt, and we ended up in Manhattan.
I temp’d at a place that eventually offered me a full-time position, and this time I took it. I saw the sense in paid vacation and benefits, at least for the time being, until we moved back to San Francisco. The pay was ok, I liked my coworkers, and I could walk there. I could take unpaid vacation and longer trips. Four and a half years I went in Monday to Friday. It was unchallenging and it was nice going to the same place, knowing what I was doing, instead of learning a new job and new people every week or even few days. Sometimes I felt uneasy. I used to be comfortable with change; moving around, getting myself from place to place, financial uncertainty. I worried I was losing or had already lost the ability to adapt on the fly.
I hadn’t done a big trip for a decade, so that kind of travel had long ceased to be my reality and was only an idea of what I imagined I wanted my life to be, what it had been. I was like a high school sports star forever replaying the big game in my head.
I got uncomfortable with being comfortable. That’s the best reason I can come up with for why I’m doing this. I don’t think it’s about finding myself or seeing things even. It’s about making myself uncomfortable. I wonder if I’m still a competent person or has unchallenging work and an easeful life left me incompetent, unadaptable. I wonder if I can still do things. I’m afraid to do this and I’m afraid not to. I’m terrified.
I get that it’s a privilege that not everyone can have, this choosing to make oneself uncomfortable. I’m lucky.
I’m not leaving myself an out, rapidly ripping myself out of my comfort, getting in a tube that is dropping me thousands of miles away in a strange place, then no choice but to make my way back watching those same thousands of miles pass slowly, gradually until I’m home again. Travel as an act, a commitment, something to be done. An adaption.
Jack Kerouac wrote near the beginning of Big Sur “One fast move or I’m gone.”
So I’m moving.