by Mike Vuono
March 26th, 2019
I recently spent some time off work in South Africa, and although by any context or measurement, a vacation in S. Africa is definitely outside the norm of my day to day life, I felt immediately taken by the country and it changed something in me. I now get to watch that new thing die as work and normal life presses against my throat and just leans its weight on me until I go dark.
Starting my day by watching the sun crest over the African horizon enjoying a freshly pressed cup of coffee with the faint sounds of birds, impalas and zebras echoing across the natural landscape has now transformed back to the normal routine: driving on a quiet and ill-lit highway to work, drinking something resembling coffee derived from a self-serve machine monstrosity, in full view of nothing but an Outlook inbox and a sea of endless spreadsheets that I have some attachment to because I created them, but no attachment to in any meaningful way. There is no awe to be inspired by an inventory report, even if he is my son.
It took all of 3 days for my employer to break me again, forcing me to bifurcate myself into "real me" and "work me" and in that process to have both parts lose a total of the sum; I am lesser for the effort. The part of me that exists outside of work is a husk of the version that I let expand during my time off; there was only one "me" and it was more full than ever before. No one would mistake me for being particularly "outgoing and happy," but within my muted personality I was the happiest and most excited I have ever been. Staring at an elephant that is eight feet away from you is something so surreal that it forces you to immediately and radically reshape the way you think about the world, your place in it, and what really matters.
But work has a great way of pounding that brain of yours back into the nice uniform shape they want it to be; shaped back to think about what matters to the company. And by whatever means they need to, they constantly and firmly remind you that if you don't agree with what they think is something of consequence, you're wrong.
"What we do here is the most important thing you could be doing on Earth at this moment. If you don't immediately see how that's possible, there must be processes you support that you cannot immediately view or understand. This work matters, nothing else does. If you disagree, go do the honorable thing and hang yourself with your tie in the bathroom stall you fucking traitor."
The beauty of the gradient sunset on the horizon with the blues reds oranges pinks and purples blended together has been replaced by a thousand shades of grey in this corporate borezone that dominates everything from here on out. This ugly grey and beige building, unnaturally square-shapen, taking the space once inhabited by a forest of elder trees now is the only destination I find myself driving to on a day to day basis. I will not find anything breathtaking here; no family of zebras avoiding predators, no birds entangled together as they plummet towards the Earth below, no lizards crawling and hopping their way around hoping to remain unseen. There is only me, my keycard, and my backpack. Trodding forward into a known unhappiness, silently plotting my escape.