So, I’m back in, albeit temporarily. I’m back inside The Matrix.
I’m alone in a hotel in Dusseldorf, a few minutes walk from the Rhine, although I’m closer to the huge corporate offices (impressive in a ‘did you really have to make it this oppulent’ sort of way) of the client I’m working for, so probably won’t see the mighty river, not that I care much if I’m honest. Life at the moment is pretty weird, as it would be for someone stepping back into The Matrix I guess?
A few weeks ago I was sat on a mountain side for four days waiting for the Tour de France to blast past, staring for hours at Mont Blanc in the distance, muscled upwards on the shoulders of snow-capped Alps. After the tour had passed, we stayed put another day, there was no rush. And this was all at the end of seven months of slow travel, which itself was at the end of a year or so more slow travel.
I was well and truly out of The Matrix. I could hardly remember the thing, although it was quietly drawing me in it turned out.
For me there was no PowerPoint, no Word, no scheduled meetings, no deadlines (or very few, and they were usually self-set). There was no-one to say where I Could Be, or what I Could Say, and I was physically and emotionally as distant as you could get from Performance Reviews and pension TUPEs. The people I bumped into were frequently much like me, ‘ex-professionals’, if you like, retirees who’d opted for a simpler life, and were slowly drifting about. Most of them were deeply content.
So how does it feel, four weeks into a contract, working again for a multi-national?
As the company is an off-shoot of one I worked for for a decade, I know many of the people. Good folks, long-tenured many of them, and familiar, easy to work with, they know their stuff and are comfortable in their skills. But at the same time I’m not the old me, not any more, and I will never again ‘fit’ into this world. I’m an outsider, looking inwards. I long ago sensed the trade of my time for money and in turn for stuff was a poor one, and I now find myself continually at odds with the world around me.
Today my boss told me a younger colleague had given him this advice (something along these lines): “this work environment might be a bit pants, but no need to worry, as it’s not real, it’s not the real world”. While I understand what he means (corporations can feel surreal at times), IT MADE ME SERIOUSLY CRINGE!!! We’re awake for about 100 hours a week and spend 50 (or more) of ’em at work or travelling to/from work. THIS IS YOUR LIFE, OR AT LEAST HALF OF IT, GOODDDAAAMMITTT!!!! YOU CANNOT GET IT BACK!!!! DON’T FLUSH YOUR TIME, YOUR LIFE FORCE, DOWN THE BLOODY TOILET SO EASILY!
Ahem. I’m actually in more of a guesthouse than a hotel, as even though the company pays my expenses over here, I just can’t justify the outrageous amount the ‘normal company hotel’ around the corner charges at times (the rates vary with demand). It’s double what I’m paying in here, and is a couple of hundred meters away. The last time I was here I used that hotel, as the price was more reasonable, and they charged me €3.50 for a thimble of no-brand coke. I half expected someone to burst out laughing.
I got the tram across the city from the airport, for the grand sum of €2.70, rather than the €25 everyone else is paying for a taxi. It’s not that I’m saving mine and Ju’s money, I **should** be milking it, but I JUST CAN’T BLOW MONEY like that. At the end of the day, in my wee simple mind, it’s not ‘The Company’s Money’, it’s the punter who buys the goods, and this being a huge electricity generator, that’ll be you. I totally understand why my colleagues live it up a little – they’re giving half their lives or more to the damned company so deserve to get back some bling-bling.
The office I’m sat in while I’m in the UK is again populated with nice people, good people. And to a large degree they’re only there (I strongly suspect) because they have to be. The low-level cynicism which often permeates the air crumbles away the edge of my mind. At the same time my soon-to-be erstwhile colleagues plough the traditional furrow, buying bigger, shinier, nicer, rewards for having to dedicate so much of their lives to something they don’t much like doing?
Like that ghost from Scrooge, who whisks a reuluctant tight-git off to see his own grave, I wonder which of us will look back from our deathbeds with a sudden realisation we right royally f****d it up, and spent 50% of most of our lives not enjoying what we were doing and, in a wide-eyed panic, kick the bucket in the grip of regret? The fear of this state of affairs has me a mild panic most of the time, but no-one else seems to ever ponder it?
I remind myself from time to time that I don’t have the ‘answer to life’ any more than anyone else does. How do I know what is the right thing for someone else to do with their life? Back to The Matrix analogy – would I be comfortable telling someone whether to stay in the ‘comfort’ of The Matrix, or telling them to take on the fear and wonder of running your own life out in the cold? No, not really. It’s for someone to decide for themselves what works for them.
But I do wish more folks would do more serious, slow, deep and thoughtful life examination, to not so willingly hand over 50% of their heartbeats to something which doesn’t fire them up with joy. Ignorance is the enemy, I think, alongside fear. If you’re able to face these two head on, a continual challenge for all of us, then I hope you stand a good chance of lying there at the end in the full knowledge you’re taking your final breaths, and smile.
P.S. I realise my own inherent stupidity in this piece. I’m not exactly overjoyed to be sat here alone in this hotel room, with two days of workshops ahead of me, and a get-home time of about 12:30am on Wed night. I really don’t need the money, and we have no plans for what to do with what I’m being paid for these heartbeats, so why on Earth am I here? Watch this space: all may be revealed, if I ever work it out myself…