The question is very simple and clear. Most of the times, we’ve been asked this question. Sometimes, especially in times of confusion, we ask this question to ourselves. A few years ago, we used to live a typical conventional life in the suburbs of a very nice town in the Netherlands. We had steady jobs, a nice and spacious house with a little garden at the back, a luxurious family car, the school for the kid was a good one, our health was secured by a premium insurance scheme and we could leave for holidays abroad at least twice a year. So the question is understandable: “Why did you leave?” Well, I’ll try to explain it in simple words, because the process itself of leaving was not simple at all.
A typical day in the suburbs
The alarm clock goes off. You open your eyes. The alarm plays something on the radio. “Do they play the same songs every day?”, you think to yourself, half‑awake, half‑asleep. The rush starts to happen in your body. You’ve got to get prepared for work. “Oh, darn, today it’s my turn to take the kid to school. OK, I have to hurry up a bit.” Prepare some breakfast. “Thank God, everything is pre‑processed”. Just put the damn thing in the microwave oven and in a couple of minutes you’ve got yourself a nice breakfast. Oh, wait. We are out of hagelslag, I’ve got to put it in the shopping‑list. The mind starts a mini‑race thinking a hundred other things you have to do in this day and you must not forget. But now, you have to prepare lunch for the kid to take it to school. Isn’t it great, with all this food technology we have? For example, we get ourselves a juice that looks like caramelized water in a small little box and a colorful thingy, that could be a flyer about an attraction in an amusement park, inside a packet that says “biscuits”. Perfect, lunch is ready and you gained yourself a couple of minutes time. You try to get rid of a creeping feeling of guilt about what you feed your child, ’cause you know “I have no time for this now”. Visit the bathroom, try not to forget anything, which you shouldn’t forget: the office bag, the keys, the mobile, the superb school lunch, the garbage to be thrown, money, oh my god the kid and off you go out of the house and into the car. The frenzy has just began.
The first wave of traffic, comes from the first turns you take in order to get to a main road. You start counting the minutes. 3 minutes on the main traffic light, plus 4 minutes to get to school, plus getting in and out of the parking of the school, saying goodbye to the kid, a good 8 minutes for all this, then main road to get to another even more main road that takes you to another small town where your job is, depending on traffic… Beep! Beep! Honk! “What the hell? I am already in a traffic light. It went green fast. Maybe I gain a couple of minutes out of it. I will need a coffee as soon as I get to the office”. The kid asks you something about how and if the color of her shoes matches her skirt. It seems like your mind does a triple axle acrobatics, while trying to solve this riddle and the solution is a fast one, formulated in the standard phrase: “Sure honey. It’s a good match”. You leave the kid to school, wishes and kisses, you observe her for a couple of minutes to be sure that she feels nice and safe, then reluctantly you get back in the car. Why feeling reluctant to let her go? After all, she is at school. It is supposed to be safe and good for her. There is something there for sure. Some troubling thought. “Well, no time for this. I’ve got to get to work”.
A few turns again to get to the main road. The main road gets crammed with other workers of the numerous companies around the town. Everything moves so slowly. Other calculations run into your mind. “Well it takes me 40 minutes to get to work, because—you check the calculators on the dashboard of your car—you run with a mean speed of 29 km/h. Jesus! All this technology and my mean speed is 29 km/h for years now. If I had a horse, it would be faster. And definitely no traffic jam would get into my nerves”. More calculations: “…if the roads were empty and I managed to go with 60 km/h then my time to work would be…”. Wait, the road seems fairly empty now, you can speed up till the next traffic light. You will finally have the opportunity to use your 2 liter engine. You rev up the engine and just when you are about to have fun with the acceleration, your already scattered mind fetches a tiny-tidbit annoying information: they have put speed cameras in this immense 3‑lane road, which could easily be a main motorway in some countries, in order to inhibit some devious fellows, wanna‑be outlaws actually, who would like to run with more than the atrocious and dangerous 50 km/h speed. “Ah, the hell with it. Let’s turn the radio on, it is going to be a long ride”.
You reach the parking lot of your company. You are late. Even if you are a couple of minutes late, you feel really LATE. Bag, phone, keys, rushing from the parking to the main building, good mornings, doors, stairs, corridors, more doors, more good mornings, office door, chair, ah. Touchdown. Turn on the computer(s), say something trivial with your office mate and start preparing the coffee ritual. While conducting the ritual, your mind already recapitulates the state of the projects you are responsible, fetches the never‑ending to‑do list, tries to make a quick time‑schedule, which quickly transforms itself into a spaghetti‑doodle and thank god, the voice of a coworker comes as a rescue plank to get you out of the illusory, fussy and notorious world of what can only be described in general as “future management”. You try to have some normal conversation with the fellow worker and in a way you succeed, but the rush of the things to do is so compulsive that you almost storm out towards your office in order to “get the job, done”. “I hope he didn’t think that I was not fond of him or I was trying to avoid him”, a quick thought follows your trail while heading back to the office. A reassuring counter thought comes in handy: “I am sure he understands. We are all in big stress lately. Deadlines are deadlines. Everybody knows.”
Finally, you get down to business. You dig into documents, forgotten e‑mails, a casual conversation you had with your supervisor some weeks ago, a sketch that you drew on a paper months ago, which back then seemed like a nice idea and everything else that can help you build a case in order to solve the ISSUE. Because there are always issues. Actually you are privileged with a bunch of them, in a form of a to‑do list, that extends itself in the far‑far future. Because issues never end and no matter how many issues you solve, there are always more issues and if you are a good problem-solver, even better, we have for you this other list of to‑do issues that some less fortunate colleague failed to reduce. So the issues never end. That’s the purpose of the whole thing. You have to be busy constantly for a minimum of 8 hours a day, 5 days per week, 47 weeks a year, with rain or with snow, day‑in, day‑out, the machine should never stop. Regardless of this fact though, you happen to take some pleasure of solving an issue, especially if it has been bugging you for some time, now. “At least, one less thing in my list”, you think. Well, time flies. Time for lunch.
Hundreds of hungry and equally head banged fellow workers storm into the company’s canteen. You try to have a simple conversation with coworkers of the same team. It inevitably revolves around business matters and the projects. Some gossip, maybe, if you are lucky. You queue to get your card filled at the ATM, you queue at the long displays of self‑service, ready‑for‑you prepared meals. A wide variety indeed. A lot of colors. Some dubious smell, but who cares. You are hungry. Equipped with your tray, you have to decide and you have to decide fast. Other inmates—inmates? sorry I meant coworkers—want to be served as well. So you make your decisions the fastest way you know. If you like the looks of it, you just take it. You end up with a full tray of what can be described as both branch, lunch, dinner and the casual hors d’oeuvres. At least you can eat well around here. All the members of the team are gathered in one big table and the folly of socializing begins, as whatever you’ve learnt about meaningful communication and conversation till now, is brought to its knees. Diverse subjects, even diverse languages sometimes, a struggle to even catch the subject of a specialized conversation of a subgroup, cross‑fired individual conversations flying in the air, a lot of greetings around from the surroundings which are bustling, buzzing and roaring with hundreds of other similarly typical conversations. At the end of it all, you feel stuffed with food, stuffed with almost any irrelevant information you can think of, stuffed with mixed social feelings and a head that is a step before a good migraine. Back to work. More issues to solve, till the end of the working day, hopefully only 8 hours after you arrived at work.
The day is almost behind you, the migraine has already established base camp in your head, your stomach fills like a knot even the most skillful sailor can not untie and your to‑do list in your brain has been mashed into an interconnecting web of dots-arrows-actions-comments-accepted-rejected-done-delayed soup put in a blender and left on for an hour. It’s time to go. You rush again, even though you are exhausted, to the parking lot and the car, because the supermarkets will close in a while and you have yet another list with groceries and little things you need for home. You go into this magnificent place, flabbergasted with colors and shapes fueled by the latest advances of graphics design art, in order for you to be able to buy half a kilo of rice, without thinking about it a lot. You go through your list, enhancing it with last‑minute decisions like a six‑pack of beers and these delicious Doritos that will go along with them and once again slowed down by obeying the overall trend of patiently waiting in even more queues at the supermarket cashier. Back to the car. Not to forget to fill up some gas on the way home. A good another half an hour in the traffic, that even the “radio on” could not make it lighter, you reach finally the nice little turns that lead to a quiet and secluded environment that will utterly make you relax… and of course all the parking places are taken. You park a good half kilometer away from home, you carry all the supermarket bags and the rest clutter with you, you arrive at your doorstep, open the door and try to mumble: “Honey, I am home”.
Some typical chit‑chat about how the day went, some preparations for a fast meal—who has time for a well prepared meal, anyway—typically some pasta with a sauce or a pre‑cooked meal from the supermarket and a minuscule salad for three. “Let’s eat something guys and we’ll talk later. I am starving”. A thought crosses your mind: “How is it possible, me stuffing myself with these technologically advanced prepared foods, pumped with vitamins, minerals and the likes, and I am constantly feeling hungry? One of these days, I have to search it in the internet. What is going on? Is it a malady, is it an illness, is it heredity? I’ll write it down to my ‘miscellaneous’ to‑do list, otherwise it is going to slip my mind again”. In the meantime, you feast on your superb meal, eating faster than wolves in Yellowstone in winter over a dead moose, you wash it down with some light sweet with only 99% “natural” sugar in the ingredients, some small talk with your family, not remembering a thing after five minutes, because the only thing your brain longs for, is the magical click‑pfssst of the beer can, a faithful remote control near you and a good 2 hours of relentless TV‑zapping, in order to lure your mind away from the job’s to‑do list and let it settle in more calm abodes, like where it would be a good place to go for summer holidays. Your wife reminds you of the social event that you have to attend in a month, but you need to buy certain things, so it is better to think ahead and prepare. The future extravaganza strikes again. Time passes, you feel sleepy and exhausted, you didn’t have enough time to really talk with your wife and child. “Never mind, that’s why holidays were invented. There, we’ll catch up with each other’s news, developments and other stuff about our parallel lives”. Everything has been wisely thought of for you. How do all the other millions of people do it? Final visits to the bathroom, the beer has already taken over the main faculties of the brain, so most of them are not aching. “I will finally rest my body and mind. So…”
You cuddle with your wife or blankets, depending on the situation, in the warm bed in your kind of quiet room and look at the clock:
“…there was a little change in the to‑do list of the day, I have to remind myself to update it…this guy at work, really got into my nerves today…what my daughter said about school, about that festivity…”
“…if I was following a different course of action for this particular issue, maybe it would give a more efficient solution and…this beer is wearing off a bit although this is a happy tune I hear in my head…
—A BIG BLACK VOID—
“…but this thing in the to‑do list. I forgot about the colleague who said he would do something about it, so I’ll have to wait, before I put some energy into this…maybe July is not a good date to fly to Greece, the flights are a bit expensive and…when is the next service of the car? I have to check the booklet…Oh, the birthday of the kid is nearing, I have to make arrangements to entertain her entire class, and I saw an advertisement of an entertainment group, maybe…”
And so on and so on, the train of thoughts is on a Möbius strip, circulating around your head, tensing your muscles and depriving the energy of your mind and body more and more as time passes, till you reach the inevitable point described in one of the first lines of this post: Morning—The alarm clock goes off… And there we go again!
Stay tuned for the second part of “The urge to move–Moving south” chronicles, where I will describe where the accumulation of these typical days finally led us…