The fifteenth post in The Education of a Writer (TEW) series.
The other shoe finally dropped.
The one behind the culminating self-absorption. The building of mistakes. The growing sense of superiority as a writer. Who I am. I am Robert Collier. Full of self. Full of pleasure in the destruction of everything but my own writing. The sadism of self. Of courting attention from the wrong people.
At this point in my journey I had returned back to the televangelist. We are in July 2007. The real estate market was tanking, and my current employer (one that relied heavily on the industry), was collapsing.
I saw the handwriting on the wall. I may still have a job a year from now, I thought to myself, but I may not have any work. Turns out I would not have had work or a job given the market contracted so severally that a once thriving small business of 48 people shrunk to three.
Fortunately a woman who I knew professionally called me that summer. She was working for the televangelist, and said she was building a new stable of writers. Said I could come on in a senior role. Manage the web content. I was game, baby, because I just needed a job. A job I could pay bills and continue the pursuit of my writing career.
They gave me an office on the second floor with a window facing south-east. I could see the giant asphalt parking lot, the groomed bright green lawn, and the band of mature oaks and maples beyond the man-high black iron fence. I was once again inside the compound.
But regulations had relaxed in the five years since I’d been there, so I could close my door, not have to wear a tie. What forced these changes? The televangelist had brought in her son, ZX81, to lead the company. He was twenty-five years old. But he wore jeans, snow boarded, and had a nose for what the Millennials wanted. The televangelist ditched the prom dress for blue jeans.
I worked in a department with designers, developers, project managers, project coordinators, assistants, proofreaders, a social media community coordinator, and five other writers. I spent my days cranking out disaster relief emails to donors, writing up articles to defend certain financial practices, putting together proposals for improvements to the web content strategy. That last part was tough sledding. The approval process — the arduous, Byzantine one I encountered ages ago — still existed. Just different faces and temperaments.
The department operated like an ad agency. An ad agency you might find in Manhattan. The art on the wall had changed throughout the building. The period furniture was gone, replaced by glass and steel and minimal lines. Faint colors, pastel odors. Less was more. Unless you were in the executive conference room, the one with the twenty-foot black slab of a conference table, the twenty or so leather chairs, and black wainscoting wrapping around the wall. I found myself in that conference room once or twice a year giving a briefing to the CEO. The one ten years my junior. The one with a nose for what Millennials wanted.
ZX81 usually lumbered in to the conference room late, drinking from a bottle of water, saying hi to everyone before dropping into a chair. This was a gig of bracketing … of figuring out what he liked. He didn’t know what he liked, but he would know it when he saw it. So you offered two entirely different concepts knowing neither would be chosen. But you hoped each concept would help you locate where his feelings were. Give you some indication of his tastes. Then you’d go back to the drawing board, create two more concepts, and pitch those, hoping each time you got closer to his desire. This happened over several weeks, sometimes months. The process was slow.
And in the midst of all this my world collapsed (the first of many collapses). I cracked under the weight of who I was trying to be at the expense of everything and everyone around me. I paid a heavy toll for my arrogance, and in November of 2007 I nearly lost it all. It actually happened a week before I was supposed to leave on a business trip to Las Vegas. I would be travelling nowhere.
In our sunlit breeze way I kneeled on our mottled Berber carpet as my wife unravelled the consequences of one of my stupidest mistakes, and in the heat of the moment I thought my wife threatened divorce. My heart stopped, the floor disappeared, and I sobbed from the bottom of my bones.
To this day she denies she said the “d” word. But I heard it.
My dad had divorced. His dad had divorced. I did not want to divorce. I hated growing up that way. So I swore — on the condition I would give up everything — to save my marriage. And that meant setting aside my writing ambitions.
That was tough sledding. And it would be a gross understatement to say I did not know who I was in the aftermath.
Next up: “Still Life.”