I have no idea. Time has become irrelevant except when my time crashes into someone else’s. The tardiness is my fault. One day they’ll revoke my timepiece.
Me? I deplore competition. I have hated competition since I was very young because, I assert, I was a fat child (that was before it was sassy, vogue and fattering – my modern form of flattering, as in “are these jeans fattering?”) and competition was synonymous with failure and embarrassment and yet another reminder that I was one of the periphery boys.
Although I joined seasonal teams through high school, I was never competitive, i.e. an athletic threat, to any opponent. I weathered all those losses because it was smarter to belong to and be a loser, than to be a loner and a loser. Loner losers were to high school what a duck that clangs is to a shooting gallery: irresistable to insecure men that accumulate trophies as proof of their asserted dominion.
Haven’t we witnessed too many examples of the tragic consequences when potent, tightly-wound, explosive or obstinate pack leaders torment the dissimilar, solitary and contradictory by exhaustive humiliation, unyielding fear, and physical harassment to an exasperated degree of hatred and revenge expressed externally as murder or the lowest depths of hopelessness that the victim’s acrimony and contempt is so great and that their thirst for retribution will never be quenched, so they turn inward to find their self-inflicted exoneration and release from misery. When did we, as a nation, agree that in order to succeed we’ve got to hit the disenfranchised with such a degree of “shock and awe” that they’ll eventually submit to extinction? When did we, as a nation, adopt bullying as our de facto reaction to threats and danger? It’s the exact moment that the practice of instilling fear into the minds of the voting public by egregious negative attack campaigning accusing the opposing party or candidate of misfortunes, errors in judgement, or personal infractions so dubious or diabolical, that if the opponent won the election America would resemble the wasteland once known as Cherynobl.
When bullying is permitted, incited, or rewarded as a rite of passage or a strategy in a competition, it reinforces a recent and troubling change in our idea of sportsmanship. Competition used to be the identification of “winner” as one that was better at <whatever> than his/her opponent(s) and was able to prove his/her superiority by way of fair, impartial, and equal sportsmanship. Competition has become the identification of “winner” as one that was better at pointing out weaknesses, instilling doubt through repetitive and escalating degrees of fear, taking advantage of the recent breakdown in civility and propriety by deliberate and calculated unearthing, followed by wanton pillaging and inference, leading up to the zenith: a quiet, little leak to cable news outlets which, within a few pre-dawn hours hits all the major wires and airs as the lead story on every morning news program and goes viral in time for most voters coffee break.
Finally, after four years, anguish (which filled the cavity of my character caused by shame) has slowly been reduced by the evaporation of time, to a degree of forgiveness and pieces of understanding of how the cataclysmic events of late June, 2008 had been roaring near the surface many times prior, and quietly patient as often. Like Pompeii, can they really claim themselves victims when they built their lives atop a volcano?
I always knew I was different and always reasoned that it was due to eccentricity and a helping of creativity.
In late June, 2008 my predictably unique life, one which resembles the repetitive lane crossover of Olympic speed skaters was defined. It wasn’t what it said that crushed me, but what it described, and how it behaved, and its odds of happiness and contributions to society and successful relationships and wealth. The hope I’d safely tucked away for this exact day became one more devastating example of my unimaginable ideas dissolving into folly. I knew that day that my pardon from a life-sentence of roller coasters wouldn’t arrive. And the cruelest understanding that I, like Pinocchio, would always be a puppet, out of my own control, and never, ever be “just a normal boy.”
During my previous career there were objects which I craved to such a degree that one might say I was obsessive about them. In hindsight I understand that it wasn’t the item or its purpose as the correct tool for the task, it was the representation I craved. By selecting this particular briefcase (never mind the cost) conjecture begins: The object goes first and followed by me. Those that scoffed were ignorant of classic style; those that recognized both the object and its “place on the style scale” applauded my devotion despite the price and subsequently elevated my degree of style from “studied” to “au courant.”
The most important opinion I sought was one I should never hear. If heard, or worse, tipped-off to that opinion by another that my coveted object became a subject, it and its notoriety, no matter my admiration or its usefulness, or despite the degree of impudence of cheeky sales people aghast by my shameless reconsideration of the transaction and eagerness to “hand it over” (“it’s Bally, not a puppy for Christ’s sake!”), the object I taught myself to covet and which, to me, represented a piece of the Big League uniform, would be returned immediately via courier in order to derail further heckling.
Sacrificing the object was a lesser price to pay than to have it become the subject of insignificant but derisive chit-chat employed by uncomfortable executives to desperately pad the awkward silence that descends among supposedly well-mannered and well-groomed executives who have an adversarial relationship with their colleagues. Better to criticize underlings than to have their own activities or choices be reduced to fodder for teasing. This is the opportunity an executive bully (or cadre of bullies) can’t resist.
A significant part of my previous career demanded that I be available at all times to any partner or partner’s client. And these partners were notorious for the outrageous stresses they placed upon their minions. When asked why they managed their staff with such contempt, they’d answer, without pause, almost by rote, “it’s how I cut my teeth. . .” and the story would trail off point like a sleepy motorist struggling to remain alert, but who predictably drifts to the unpaved shoulder rattling the chassis, quickly over-correcting. . .and the partner, finally cognizant of his detour, arrived at the same conclusion as every partner when asked, “. . .and I’m a softy; when I was coming up the atmosphere around this place was brutal, toxic, practically inhumane; but I made it and so will others, those willing to do what it takes.”
And there lies the evolution of a corporate culture whose purpose is to bully staff, in order to strengthen devotion and eliminate chaff, until those few that accepted, expected, and survived the harshest, unyielding, and indulgent bullying by the partners, understood that success wasn’t measured solely on talent, or survival, but mostly on eliminating threats from within by systematically teasing, then embarrassing, and eventually bullying them out of the firm.
Since I spent the majority of my time in close proximity to the partners, I witnessed weekly smack-downs. At first I was repulsed by the duplicity; then I wondered why I was witness; and as time went on I saw a pattern emerge: the harshest bullying happened to employees that caught the partners attention. In order to avoid bullying, it was imperative that I disappear until summoned and I must never do, say, or have anything which might draw attention or raise a question.
At the time I thought my method of survival was very creative: appear only when summoned; deliver beyond their expectations; avoid pretentiousness or the appearance of any form of treatment reserved for them; and above all, never, never, ever give them the slightest reason or smallest idea that I think I’m one of them. If my behavior ever stepped across these lines, alienation would be immediate swiftly followed by a quiet escort off the partner floor, a silent elevator ride to the lobby when at last my escort, a chief of something or other would inform me of my dismissal and remind me of my agreement of confidentiality.
My elimination would’ve been well-mannered, respectful, and final. I would experience their finest bullying, reserved for those that commit any degree of suspected corporate treason. I would be ignored, failure to exist or ever had existed, never mentioned or contacted; to them I was never there and therefore never saw or heard or read or witnessed anything.
A bully bullies people perceived as different; bullies are selective, unrelenting and unforgiving; bullies rarely forget and never forgive; but there is one caveat: almost all bullies are deathly afraid of exposure, the identification of their own perceived shortcomings (usually any degree off of normal).
Even these partners, leaders in world-class architecture, are hiding their fears (or weaknesses). To be privy to them is an immensely heavy burden, not too mention loaded gun, both of which I never wanted and both of which I continue to carry. My saving grace? I never wanted to be one of them. My job was to be there unconditionally, which I held as an honor and today is one of those things I have tried so hard to hide: the ugliness of working for professional bullies.
Recently friends brought to my attention some ballyhooed revelation that creativity and the mental illness, Bipolar are bedfellows. It’s my hope that those friends shared this breaking news with me to reason that, unlike my unwavering conviction that my creativity was silently passed along, from parents to offspring, like the gherkin relish tray at the adult table at important, big family get-togethers (however, the gherkins moved at an amazing clip, almost airborne, poked at like beach balls at raucous college sporting events). But I fear their enlightenment is more of the matchmaking variety: Madness meet Creativity. Since, it seems, that the gloves are off, I feel a certain responsibility to share with you that I am, do, have, live with, suffer from, and occasionally profit at the expense of a clinical mental illness, specifically Bipolar II and a pervasive compulsion to create.
Being bipolar, a creative thought percolator, borne on the wings of madness then expressed while crushed by despair sounds all too familiar and resembles my earlier creative periods. Creativity requires release; if not via the artist’s typical delivery, then some other way. Creativity does not hesitate at the foot of convention; Creativity demands the artist to forecast; Creativity dwells beyond reason; Creativity as action produces unexpected consequence throbbing with life. Madness, freedom unhinged is the luxury to produce or destroy anything; it’s also a tortuous paradox: mired to the present by sight and coaxed toward absurdity by vision.
But being mad, the vanilla “any mental abnormality prefixed by psy” variety doesn’t guarantee creativity. I’ve known many lunatics, and while their realities are certainly untethered and bobbing about in a sea of chaos, they are afloat and lost, utterly incapable of calibrating their degree of sanity, and just like the fair weather kite that’s caught off-guard by fast-moving fronts, their unpredictable lucid episodes prevent them from the digestion and regurgitation of discovery or hypothesis or experience as comprehensible expression be it visual art, literature, science or mathematics. Conversely, I’ve known scads of artists: the fresh who dare; the weary who retreat; the working who struggle. And while they may live with significant clinical mental illness, it’s my assertion that less than ten percent have developed the access to their demons, running madly to the lair’s entrance, seduced by the height of their mania and reduced by the depth of their depression.
I recall being quoted once, “I have the unfortunate opportunity to live life twice: First by surviving it; and second, by recalling the first, twisting it by ten percent which ensures a skewed vision of life that is palatable to even the most inert audiences.” Madness tried a hostile takeover in 2008, acquiring shares of my sanity for pennies on the dollar. And the moment it assumed control as majority it struck such a blow that even my foundation shook. What it wanted it took, leaving little, enough to make a small pile of what ninety percent of people would call rubble.
The other ten percent would call it “page one.”
I’d spent the better part of twenty-five years manufacturing a character whose aspiration was to stand with notable leaders in architecture, medicine, law, insurance, and private equity. Standing with in the parlance of my vocation meant eighteen inches on the diagonal of the left shoulder; within ear shot; close at hand; keenly aware and anticipating; a shadow whose purpose was to occupy an easement of personal space notable world leaders create, and which could not be trespassed. If one stumbled into this area their redirection was immediate; hands attached to dark sleeves brusquely appeared and the interloper was discreetly absorbed by a well-tailored thicket of broad-shouldered Loro Piana suits; I, being the breakwater, homogenized the incident, and if the charge took notice, my steadfast demeanor quickly quelled any concern. We are everywhere and paradoxically invisible: Certainly the glare of notoriety disquieted onlookers, but we’re there, eighteen inches on the diagonal, hidden by the mastery of the discipline of mirroring which is the greatest degree of self-compromise.
Adam and Eve’s fable is familiar to most of us and has been used as a biblical example of the shame and eviction caused by education; biblical authors thinly veil Adam’s ignorance as innocence and ascribe Eve’s intelligence (expressed as reasoning) as a short walk to damnation by way of mollifying hunger; and her biblical hunger was tempered by a piece of fruit introduced, hyped, and conveniently supplied by a recently recruited initiate of indulgence, the serpent, heretofore apprentice to trade.
But biblical may also mean metaphorical. Speaking in simile, Eve’s indecision was fueled by desire, the fundamental hunger for intimacy, the idea of impeaching one’s character as barter for reckless surrender, the suppression of caution and judgement, the erosion of denial.
The day following my catastrophic breakdown I awoke to loss: hunger, that fundamental need for physical intimacy had disappeared. The recognition of sexuality continued, but that deep bass rhythm which is inaudible yet present was missing, leaving me unbalanced and out-of-tune.
Who manufactured the hunger in Eden? Even temptation can’t seduce the sated. Poor Eve, someone injected her with hunger followed by intelligence in order to frame her for the loss of innocence, adopted embarrassment of the naked body and subsequent banishment from paradise. If the serpent had slithered up to Adam it would be a very different world indeed.