We have a friend who has, as they say, dropped out. He also works. He worked before he dropped out. He works now.
Friend: Well, it’s a workaday world, you know.
Ed: How do you mean?
Friend: You have to work to eat, keep a roof over your head, right?
Ed: I suppose so. But it’s different for you now, isn’t it?
Friend: I love to work. I always have.
Ed: But what’s different now that you’ve dropped out?
Friend: You’ve got to understand something about me first. My father had a lot to do with how I thought about the world. He was always afraid of starving. He was graduated from college during the Depression and it affected a lot of his attitudes. You had to work hard to survive and it wasn’t any fun. You had to go to college so you could do better. Competition was the game here and you needed a good education to come out on top.
Ed: The Puritan ethic in full flower, huh?
Friend: Yes, I suppose. Anyway, it freaked me out pretty good, and I was hooked to looking outside myself for clues, cues, signals and directions for my life.
Ed: You were ready for society. . . .
Friend: Society’s child, that’s what I was, and still am, to some extent.
Ed: So you went to college.
Friend: To become a full citizen. So I’d be able to compete better in the real world when I got out. My purpose was just to get through.
Ed: And when you got out?
Friend: I got a really good job, in advertising, with a New York publisher. I was very excited. I tried very hard to impress these New York people. I learned how to shake hands in the right way. My stomach would get upset sometimes and my heart would beat fast. The New York stimulation made me nervous and I hated the dirt. But it was worth it.
Friend: My career. I was getting ahead, I thought. I had gotten raises in salary, promotions, and was looking forward to the next step up the ladder. I dreamed of being president of the company someday.
Ed: You were a company man?
Friend: Oh yes. Expense accounts, secretaries, the right kind of clothes, rep ties, cordovan shoes, the works. I learned how to drink martinis. I worked my way up from one to three before lunch. Of course I’d be pretty wiped out the rest of the afternoon, but so were most of the people I was working with. The company paid for those lunches anyway, so it must have been OK.
Ed: What was your personal life like?
Friend: I was uptight, drank to relax. I’d relax a little too much, I guess. My marriage was falling apart. Our sex life was awful. She finally left me. Took the kids with her. I couldn’t understand why for a long time.
Ed: Then what?
Friend: I guess that’s when I started to change. I started to see the craziness. I started to smell the shit. And there was the war.
Friend: Uhhuh. I started seeing things which had been there all the time but I was too caught up in my game to notice. Things about my world, about my life. I came to the conclusion that something was very wrong with me.
Ed: How did that feel?
Friend: I was totally uptight now. I was scared, and I went to a shrink. He helped some. And I got into an encounter group, and that helped, too. I started meditating. And I tried some LSD. My life was chaos at this point. Everything was turning over and inside out. I had some friends who held my hand through it. One of them said that the transitions are screaming motherfuckers. He was right.
Ed: How long did the transition last?
Friend: Hmm. I’m not sure it’s over. But I started feeling really calm inside about three years after the chaos first started happening.
Ed: And what do you know now?
Ed: What can you say about work?
Friend: Work on yourself first, before you work on something else. That’s kind of the basic idea. The Zen people say wash your bowl. The Sufis say clean your mirror. It’s all the same thing. Work on yourself first, then those other questions answer themselves.
Ed: The I Ching says, “What has been spoiled by man’s fault can be made good again through man’s work.”
Friend: That’s very hopeful. I like it. It seems to apply to each of us personally and to our whole country. If people fucked it up then people can fix it. Yes, I like that.