I'm out. 44 years has been long enough for me to learn to listen to my heart. My early diaries here and at Street Prophets, already years old, told some of the story of my graduation from Christianism at 18.
Losing one's childhood faith is a difficult thing. What is left? Why am I here? These questions confronted by all thinking beings, religious or not, are much more deeply felt when you once believed you knew the answers. I found some succor in Taoism, because of its ruthless simplicity and calm rationality; and later I became a sort of Buddhist, though I am no longer a joiner. Thoughts of still pursuing a spiritual life got confused by the practical implications: who pays the bills?
I yearned for some kind of monastic life, a cloistered intellectual life; but having been cured of the mental illness of faith in authority (and proportionally much less capable of obeisance) and oh yeah the little matter of being gay, all combined to close any such doors. Besides, even a monastery has to balance the books.
So I just did the best I could, often living in the countryside where I could be alone with my thoughts and queries, finding my spiritual life in a rather odd place -- number theory. I did some database design and application development, and in those days it was pretty easy to find such work. In fact, it practically found me. But I guess I figure that if there is any such thing as a completely spiritual language, it's probably based on numbers; so finding patterns in number, searching for an understanding of numbers, replaced prayer as my act of devotion.
The thought of making a living as some kind of new age guru just makes me laugh -- I don't know a damned thing, and if I did you probably wouldn't understand it when I told it to you. No, spirituality is not a career path; words that trigger awakening are very simple and delivered in a completely individual context. The choices aren't intellectual as much as -- I don't know, maybe physical, having to do with the heart somehow. Like I said, I don't know. But teachers only teach you one thing, and often don't have any idea what it was they really taught you. And they don't even think about money at the time.
But there was constant pressure all during my twenties and thirties to get a job, make money, be normal. And loneliness also took a toll on my psyche. So I found a boyfriend. He had a job. And pretty soon, I had a job too, a good one. Heh, it was the late 90's -- we programmers wrote our own tickets in those days, even while the Indian software engineering juggernaut was being offshored into existence by the Y2K scare.
You see, American programmers were busy dot-bombing their way into the history books, enabling the venture capital set to rob our parent's retirement investments on the bubble. The dot bubble burst precisely because the VC's decided it was time to get out. Oh, about a week after the last boomer hold-outs finally began to believe in a Dow Jones Industrial Average of 15,000 just over the horizon. The day after they sold the GM stock they'd been socking away for 50 years to buy shares in Startups.com.
So our corporations largely turned to India to find people to review their business code for Y2K compliance, and found a paradise: good programmers who were much cheaper than Americans.
So I went from being able to be casual about work, taking it only when I needed to, to being unable to find it. Very common story lately, huh.
I still had money after the bubble burst, since I was so well-paid and working so much more to please my boyfriend. No work, so I did something normal and practical: finished college and got a degree in Business Administration. Trying to get to the heart of the beast in some way, I suppose. But it's useful information, as good for managing a farm as a multinational corporation, so that's fine.
After business school, I got a job managing a machine shop. It was pretty cool, but the coolness wore off after a while. I grew less enchanted with the machine tools the more I realized the plight of the good men who operated them. And the basic inequity of the owner's family doing very well for themselves on the backs of four or five Hmong machinists. Those boat people, you know, they're just glad to be in America. Why, that's worth half their pay right there, right? Bleh. Was I next in line for that?
Isn't that the point of going to business school, to become an entrepreneur, to become wealthy, and in the process of course (for the benefit of the investors, you see, it's about their money and we don't really have a choice do we) to give as little as possible to our workers in return for their making our products? Of course it is. It's the American way.
And of course, once the owner's wife got wind of my communist sympathies (I don't know what else she might have called them), she hated me for representing a soft-hearted threat to her boys' inheritance. And probably rightly so. If I had the wherewithal to buy the company, I would have just turned right around and distributed equal shares to the workers somehow. Never was gonna happen anyway. I had to come to grips with the fact that I was a snake in the grass from her perspective; and yet, she actually thought that giving jobs to Laotian refugees was her "ministry"! One foot on their backs, hands raised in Praise to Jesus. Good fucking lord.
I came very close to crying out in astonishment when she let that one loose in my brain...so whatever, this was all very discouraging. I could see I had no future in entrepreneurship, no matter how good a manager I may be.
After they laid me off -- and it wasn't just my inability to embrace capitalism, but also the fact that AMERICA HAS MOVED ITS MANUFACTURING BASE TO ASIA (sorry for screaming). Double bleh. My ideas of social justice in the workplace never had a chance in the best of times; in this environment? Comical.
Ah. Yes. Comedy. That's what it is, right? A giant farce of some kind? Is that why I am here, after all, to get a good laugh at the end of the game? I don't know a damned thing about it though, who does?
The machine shop was in Berkeley. My boyfriend was in Phoenix. It wasn't meant to be, but you already knew that. I was nearing my wits end, but didn't know it yet. I was still paying my bills, and Berkeley is just freakin' paradise. I had a little apartment with hardwood floors about a mile from the San Francisco Bay. I kept the windows open and slept under a down comforter at night, wore my heavy wool socks all day. Almost any morning, I could walk outside into 69-degree sunny weather that hits Texas maybe two or three days a year. At most. The point is, I did not want to leave Berkeley. I struggled to find programming jobs, but eventually the Great Resuppression-or-whatever-it-is set in in earnest and I got further and further behind. Eventually, totally exhausted and in the red, I called up my ex, and he took me in.
Took me into a blazing 115 degree Phoenix desert and his own brand of stony cold silence -- this is how he communicates. Told me my thinking was "invalid" and that if I really wanted a job I could find one (even as he got laid off from his new programming job at DHL. The irony.) Well, I shouldn't compain, I set myself up for this. My heart always knew that I wasn't happy to sacrifice my quest for understanding (math?), and what he thought was true; I didn't want another "job."
To keep from going crazy, I spent that summer building a solar oven. Had to do something. And eventually, I just gave in.
I gave in to my heart. Despite my love of comfort (and comforters) and the SciFi channel, I'm a spiritual misfit. Probably an intellectual extremist of some sort or other, but I was grateful, am grateful, that my lukewarm attitude toward money had finally got me spewed out of the mouth of the Whore of Babylon. (Wow, that's some interesting language isn't it? Just who IS the whore of Babylon these days? Let me think.)
I just said it like that because of the whole Christian background thing -- supposedly it's Jesus who spits people out because they are lukewarm, but in this case it's the whore of capitalism -- it'll do anything just to turn another trick.
I became a volunteer farm hand -- a WWOOFer (http://www.wwoof.org), and ironically found a place called Desert Monastery to go to work at. It was a nice transition point; I cried a lot of tears at this point, mostly joyful ones at the relief of giving up any thought of growing up to be an American With A Job.
After a few months, I moved on to another place, which is actually more of a farm. They don't consider me a WWOOFer anymore, but what I am is kind of a mystery. I can operate machine tools, build stuff, have a very healthy body and mind, I can design a web site and write software applications, I can do bookkeeping and production management and prepare the garden beds for planting, and I've learned to cultivate love through work. You open up your heart chakra and channel love while you are working, and what you are working on ends up kind of glowing with some weirdly unexplainable beauty. At first I thought it was just me, and that was fine; but other people seem to notice it too. So loving work gives me a sense of joy and well-being that having a job never could. What is the word for a person who does this?
Just think about it, it's perfect for me. Forget the profit motive; no one would ever accuse a small farmer of being in it for the money. A friend here told me a joke a few days ago: Did you hear about the farmer who won a million dollars in the lottery? A reporter asked him what he was going to do now that he was rich, and the farmer answered, "Well, I'm just gonna keep on farmin' until it's all gone."
For myself, I'm through fighting capitalism, because I've been all through it from one end to the other, big and small, and I might as well decide to lead a dog to take Jesus Christ as his Personal Lord and Savior for all the good that would do.