Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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What the (Expletive) Was I Thinking?

Posted on 6/12/03


It’s done. I’ve quit my cushy job, sold my house and all of my belongings, crammed everything I think I’ll need into a suitcase and my sporty laptop backpack and I’m on a flight to Norway. There’s no turning back. Well, of course there’s turning back, but it would mean living with my parents, being unemployed and begging everyone to sell my stuff back to me. I’m going to call that “Plan Z.” “Plan A” is to travel Europe for the next five or six months, write constantly and submit my material to travel web sites, magazines and newspapers in the hopes that they print my missives and maybe even pay me once in a while. Eventually, I’ll settle down in a temperate, coastal, friendly, relaxing town on the coast of Spain, where the food is good, the rent is cheap, the women are open-minded and beautiful and get paid handsomely for my babbling essays, hilarious books and the occasional inspired piece of erotica.

It’ll come as no surprise that even without the erotica “Plan A,” has made me the envy of all of my friends. The torturously desirable benefits include, no job, no mortgage, no car payments, no rising insurance premiums, no schedule, no getting up at 6:30am and plowing my way to work in the dark when it’s 12 below zero on icy roads with eight inches of unplowed snow, no economy worries, no frat boys, no George Bush, no Mall of America, no panic over increasingly lighter gun control laws, no reality TV, no People Magazine, no Anna Nicole Smith, no brainless cops, drunk on power, no road rage, no Norm Coleman, no morbidly obese people suing Mc Donald’s for making them fat, no SUVs, no listening to dumb ass SUV owners who are outraged that it costs them $40 to fill up the gas tanks for their unnecessarily large vehicles that the auto industry convinced them that they couldn’t live without, despite the fact that they will never be in an off-road situation (until they roll the sucker into a ditch), they are not even remotely safer and they will never haul more cargo than would comfortably fit into a Ford Festiva.

Of course, the reason why my envious friends don’t all drop everything and do something similar to “Plan A” is that they would have to cope with no weekly paycheck, no health insurance, no retirement plan, no home equity doubling every year, no lazy dinners grilled out on the patio all summer, no Kevin Garnett, no Cartoon Network, no fantastically comfortable bed, no seven day getaways to Cancun for less than $400, no Jennifer Garner, no sinful runs to Old Chicago for ½ lb. bacon cheese burgers, fries and one liter mugs of cider and no paid sick days to sleep off hangovers and play Nintendo for six hours straight.

OK, I know that most if not all of the above mentioned things will still be present and/or affecting me in Europe (there’s no escape from Anna Nicole Smith), but it won’t be with the same intensity and whatever stress it may induce will be largely diffused by the effectively mandated, daily siestas and having very good wine with two meals a day. Ultimately, my goal is something that my father assures me is totally impossible. A happy life, in a great place, with a job that I love. Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention on the “pros” list, no more spirit crushing “advice” from dad. How could I forget that?

Admittedly, this balls out, all-or-nothing approach to achieving my goal is a little risky for someone in their early thirties. As my grandmother so sweetly informed me at our last meeting, “You should know better at your age.” What I did know better was not to get into it with her, but I was dying to ask her, “Know better than what?” Know that I should just suck it up and deal with the stress and awkwardness of being an artistic, creative nut working at the stifling Federal Reserve Bank? Know that a couple weeks of happiness and freedom each year should be all that I want or expect out of life? Know that pounding down my passions, urges and dreams is what mature adults are expected to do?

I know full well what grandma thinks I should do. I should work hard, not complain, save as much as possible and then I will be rewarded with the kudos of having a distinguished career and a comfortable retirement. Well I also know this: Sure, the odds are that if I stick to this model, I will probably more or less live out the aforementioned life plan. However, as we have all repeatedly and tragically witnessed recently, there is no guarantee that our health or our money will make it to retirement. It just takes one mistake, one bad split-second decision, one lawsuit, one corrupt executive, one bad day on Wall Street, one drunken black out, one horrible bout of late night depression, one cancer cell, one blood clot, one inattentive driver, one mis-prescribed medication, one aircraft maintenance oversight, one concealed weapon, one religious fanatic, one lunatic in power or one war and the life that grandma is trying to hard-sell on me changes permanently, forever.

Admittedly this sudden and rash lifestyle change stinks of a guy who is arguably still reeling from his recent, ugly divorce, which may in turn be interfering with his ability to think things through completely and all the poor guy needs is an increase in his medication to put the chill on these schemes. Well, let me tell you, even without the divorce and the Happy Pills, there are three things that I have always been known for in my circle of friends and acquaintances. One, I am very, very impatient. Two, I believe that failure to use your turn signal when you turn left in front of me should be punishable by an immediately executed, running kick to the ass by me and everyone else that gets caught behind you. Three, occasionally I will formulate and carry out, drastic and irreparable decisions that no one with the common sense of a wild, drone bee would entertain for more than the time that it takes to fantasize about it. The latter is why I am writing this now.

What is not common knowledge to most people is that I know that I’m paranoid and weird and funny and insatiable and fickle (did I mention that I worked six different jobs in my eight years at the Fed?) and a moron and brilliant and tortured and in search of a serenity that may not exist. The difference between me and most people with similar characteristics is that I am acutely self-aware of these quirks and I simply chose not to adjust them. In a nut, I am a high functioning cookie with just enough brains, ability and determination to not only get by, but to thrive in whatever environment that I am forced to deal with. I have negotiated many extremes in the past 15 years. I have worked my way up the ranks of the Federal Reserve System and finessed the art of Third World bartering. I’ve lived comfortably in the wilderness and in the armpit of the in the inner-city. I’ve functioned in places where I could communicate effortlessly and places where basic spoken language was not an option. I’ve survived minus 20 degrees in northern Minnesota and plus 145 degrees in the Sahara Desert. I’ve plunged through extreme elation and the depths of anxiety and depression. With this broad spectrum of experience in mind, I have taken a long, probing measure of myself and I am confident that I have the guile and strength to tap dance through one last, extreme lifestyle change. I’ll be switching from working in a well paying, secure, idiot-proof career while living in a comfortable, equity cash-cow of a home to an uncertain, homeless, freelance writing gig with no serious prospects and only marginal odds of earning a living much less outright success.

This may well be my last, blindly optimistic attempt at a life and career that will sustain me and keep me happy. I am prepared for utter failure, but I intend to work like a rented mule in my attempt to achieve my goal of being a writer while living comfortably and happily in whatever place I choose to settle. It’s a lot to ask, but so is working diligently for 30 years in a job unsuited for me, until I reach an uncertain retirement that is not likely to be as comfortable or as fulfilling as grandma would lead me to believe.

Here I go…

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