Note: Forgive me, if you are one of those to whom I have told this story before. It identifies one of the most important crossroads in my long life.
I shifted out of mainstream culture when I was 17 years old. Not because I knew what I was doing. But because I realized, intuitively, that I could never “work for a living.” I knew that any kind of wage-slavery would be the death of me, that it would dry up my soul. In short I told myself that, “if this is what adults do, I will never become an adult.”
This singular recognition of the primacy of my own well-being over even what the culture would term “character-building,” i.e., work, came about through the exigency of a full-time “job” the summer after my senior year in high school. In the local hospital, I was given the task of retyping and reformating a nurses’ manual on a big old manual typewriter. Alone in a room with a big round clock on the wall, I set about my task, taking the allowed ten-minute “breaks” mid-morning and mid-afternoon, with one hour off for lunch. During these short time-offs, I would descend to the cafeteria, and sit there eating and listening to other workers complain about work, or speak about what they would do after work, or on the weekend, or on vacation. And of course, once each week, T.G.I.F.!
I grew so despondent over that summer that I started walking the two miles home rather than agreeing to the ride my mother offered me. Walking helped drain the fury and frustration that would build up every day during those eight hours. And in the morning, before going upstairs to the typewriter in the solitary room, I would buy gum in the hospital dispensary, rationing it out one stick per hour as rewards. And I didn’t even like gum! Anything to get through the endless boring days.
Over the decades since, I do once in a while stop my endlessly creative and fulfilling life (during which I became a professional astrologer, working as a consultant on my own time, with my own prices, doing something that I felt passionate about — and still do!) to remember that I am almost alone in not thinking I had to become some kind of a wage slave. That my early decision, to prioritize life to focus on my individual freedom first, to live simply and profoundly — to not get caught up in the materialism that drives consumerism and requires, then, piles of money — was preternaturally wise.
I had no idea, back then, that I was wise. But I can thank my young self profusely now for that early inchoately held but extremely stubborn notion that I simply could not perform any function eight hours each day that had nothing to do with what I cared about, ever, PERIOD.
And I never did.
Over the past few decades, whenever I’m standing around in a cocktail party full of strangers, and one of them inevitably asks me, “What do you do?” I respond: “What level do you want to talk on?” That either shuts them up or we dive right in.
I thank Julia for the tip to this essay: