As I wait on beta readers to finish with a book I’m hoping to put to print someday—a process which will yield a fifth round of editing—I find myself in search of a creative, if not slightly narcissistic, outlet. So I’m starting the blog back up. I’m told I need a voice, which I apparently lack. Perhaps a biweekly post will present an opportunity to locate said vocal direction. Welcome back.
Back to Work
He sat at his desk blinded by the rising sun gleaming off a frozen lake. It wasn’t particularly early, 0615, a time with which he was quite familiar, but the early January weather he’d avoided for two years in India—the frigid front that settled over his new old city in mid-October and wouldn’t abate until well after the last snowfall the following April left him longing for a warm bed. A strange digital line ran longitudinally down one of two computer monitors, turning the words in its path to Sumerian, or Akkadian, or maybe Greek gibberish. He watched in amazement as his inbox populated with 27-months worth of unread emails—14,236 to be exact—his left knee rocking back-and-forth to mark the passing seconds. He was back at work.
One of the first pieces of advice he received before moving overseas was, “Let India change you.” He was unmoved finding the condo renovation a month behind schedule when he arrived home from his two year hiatus, and a toilet clogged for over a week awaiting a plumber. He patiently stood in line for 10 minutes at a grocery store behind someone who shouldn’t be allowed in public. He and his wife slept on air mattresses, drank everything from two coffee mugs, and cooked all of their food in one well-worn pan for a month, but life was good. It seemed some things had changed.
As the emails continued to load, he considered some of those changes. In most ways that matter they were positive, although making such an assessment might be a bit self-serving. He couldn’t bring himself to call it growth, which implied progressive development or evolution. His change was more of a simple mental migration. Third world day-to-day existence tends to eclipse most first world life-dramas, and playing witness to the struggles of people in other countries creates an appreciation for small things. He could accept that he’d changed—become more patient, or perhaps apathetic—but describing it as growth might be taking the journey past the last stop.
He’d kept in touch with plenty of people while away. Friends, respected coworkers, and casual acquaintances all shared stories about the organization he’d left. A few mentioned positive change—was it growth or simple mental migration? They’d say morale had improved, but couldn’t cite specific improvements. Conversations seemed to circle back to the same realization, “It’s a beautiful new building.”
He switched his restless leg syndrome to the right and glanced around the empty office. A sea of bland, soft-tone cubicles illuminated by fluorescent bulbs and punctuated by a lack of color. He’d had ringside seats to 2,000 year old stadiums, 3,000 year old temples, and 4,000 year old religions. A newly renovated government office space left him nonplussed.
He was warned to expect a speech about locker room etiquette. “Your locker will be in the actual gym—the one’s in the locker room are reserved for people far more important than you.” Another person cautioned not to workout in the morning. Upper caste employees “can spend ten hours a week in the gym, but you cannot spend your 45 minute lunch on the elliptical before 11:00 AM” He was unmoved—another sign of Indian influence.
A nagging observation lingered as the email count ticked past 9,472: formerly wide-eyed, energetic, newbies and experience, dedicated idealists both seemed affected by the same disorder—the former disenfranchised and cynical, and the latter beaten-down pragmatics. The stories they told were not flattering. He wondered if he’d returned to an office dominated by judgmental bullies, petty gossips, and Napoleonic tyrants. In the end it really didn’t matter—he’d spent two years learning not to dwell on things he couldn’t control.
If there is one thing he took from India it was understanding what was truly important. He could walk to the grocery store without fear of being plowed over by a tuk tuk, drink water from a parasite-free tap, and sip wine without considering how much he had in stock or when he could re-supply. Even his normally stoic teenage granddaughter seemed happy to have them back. Despite the Midwest’s brutal, blustery, bone chilling weather reminding him of all the reasons he preferred to live elsewhere, it was good to be back in the U.S. He wouldn’t let a return to work change his focus.
A glance at the frozen lake visible from his cubicle caused him to instinctively pull his blazer closed. His mind drifted to growing up in Southern California—warm summer vacations watching movies at the drive-in, traversing Malibu Canyon Road past Pepperdine to hang a right toward a Zuma Beach bonfire, working twelve-hour days hauling car parts across the southland for a minimum wage that seemed like a lot of money, biking up the highest peaks in the foothills around Los Angeles County and racing down full throttle helmets be damned—all eventually yielding to a hopeful return to school full of new opportunities, new teachers, and missed friends.
Two years away from work was like those summers. He’d left feeling a little spent and in need of change. His two-year summer learning, exploring, and experiencing, gave way to an optimistic return to the office and hopes of new opportunities, new leadership, and missed friends. But as the email counter slowly ground past 12,183 and his right leg rocked briskly he wondered if this summer wouldn’t end with SSDD. In the end it really didn’t matter—he’d spent two years learning not to dwell on things he couldn’t control. He’d let India change him—patient or apathetic—either way, he was going to focus on what was important.
He’s back at work.
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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just plain scary. Copyright can be found here for my original work.