Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Twin Brother

With all apologies to Andrew and the unnamed person who wrote this on his website, I am posting this in full on Jungle Jil.

Just change "major daily newspaper" to "Merrill Lynch" and change "pre-millennial" to "post-September 11" (oh, and change "girlfriend became pregnant" to "we decided to get a dog"), but other than that, me is pretty much he:
At the risk of sounding somewhat obnoxious, I am finding this economic crisis rather soothing.

Back in 1999, I was earning a decent salary (about 60k a year) and had good career prospects at a major daily newspaper. Then, pre-millennial angst crept in: Is this all there is to life? So, I cashed in my savings and dropped out. I moved to Paris, I worked with an art project, I wrote a couple of books, I spent time living in Beijing and on the Greek Islands.

My philosophy was that the one thing a person can’t afford in life is regret and this mantra carried me off on adventures I couldn’t have even imagined back when I was slogging away at the newspaper. The doubts and panic started last year. I am worth nothing: no assets and a bank balance that rises into four digits on only the rarest of occasions. I find myself approaching 40, a less romantic age to live hand-to-mouth. And then my girlfriend became pregnant. All of a sudden, I was sneaking longing glances at those who had stayed in the game and had pensions, homes, and the wherewithal to give their children a decent start in life. I became very very nervous.

Now, thanks to the plummeting economy, I realize that I would probably be just as anxious if I had never gone off on my odyssey. If I had stayed at the newspaper, I might be jobless with a rotted-out pension and a house that wasn’t worth its mortgage. Though I am still worried about providing for my child in this dismal economy, I am more confident than ever that I made the right decision when I abandoned my safe career to taste the broader glories of life. Because, as is now so overwhelmingly clear, nothing is ever truly safe.

If this recession serves as anything, hopefully it will be a reminder that you should never compromise your ambitions in favor of the chimera of financial security. If you are inevitably going to end up in the poorhouse, you might as well get there by chasing the wildest of your dreams.

The fact is, I'm totally prepared to — expecting to — spend my twilight years sitting on the porch of a bamboo hut in a sleepy little Filipino village watching the sun set over the ocean with my wife, family, and fantastic memories of a life spent in much better places than some cramped Manhattan office striving for monetary success and security that is hardly guaranteed. If I wind up financially better off than my expectations, that of course is fantastic; but I've concluded that I have everything I need to enjoy my dotage now: Love, friends, family, and the memories of a life that has been more interesting and well-lived than most other people ever hope for.


ding said...

fantastic outlook Jil - wish I could be more like that - but I'm too damn practical - that's my loss, not a dig on those who lead fun and interesting lives.

Jungle Jil said...

Nor is mine a dig on those who opt for the American Dream.

The fact is that I live very very well in a hand-to-mouth manner, using every penny I have to enjoy life to the max. The vicissitudes of life mean the amount of enjoyment I get waxes and wanes, but it is always the goal every time I open my wallet.

In exchange for this life I have now, I'll have the retirement I described... and it's the retirement I've always known would be coming. I don't think of it as a punishment for a life without forethought, but a long period of contemplation without regret.

(Besides, as the point of this post illustrates: Who now can guarantee that conforming to the American norms of career/family/community will get you anything for your efforts?)

My father is getting old and is running around the world at the age of 70, frantically gathering adventures and memories before he can't do it anymore. He has already spent 30 years in a sleepy little American village with his wife and family, and now he is attempting to gather up the memories. (How fucked would Dad feel if his retirement went "poof" and he couldn't ever gather those memories? That's the reality for millions of people now.) I'd rather stick those 30 uneventful years of life where they'll have the most value to me: At the end... along with the memories I gathered up early in the season.

Issarat said...

Nice post Jil; I like your last paragraph about love, friends and family.