Back from the Dead

I’ve been waiting to smile, hey, been holding it in for a while, hey…

Music having been such a huge part of my life for so long, it’s not surprising that my resurrection came with a soundtrack, some lyrics provided above. It was at a Rotary event, where we saw a family movie that used this lovely and exuberant Imagine Dragons song as backing track. For some reason I, who search actively for uplifting and joyous music, had never heard the song before. Moments later, the magic of Steve Jobs and Spotify combined to give me a song I could play at truly inappropriate volume as I cruised down I-15 with the top down on my aging-but-still-ridiculously-fun convertible, the very first morning of the year one could realistically do such a thing without risking pneumonia.

I’ve been dead. I’m back.

I’ll try to explain, without a lot of confidence that I can do so to anyone, least of all myself.

Several years ago, my father read a short story I wrote. I think it was Miss Mabel Regrets, which you can read on this very site, but it might have been something else, and that doesn’t matter. My father is sparing with his compliments (with me), and often thrifty with words, and he sent me a one-line review: “Why are you wasting your life as a mortgage agent?”

Like much of my father’s commentary, it required some parsing to figure out what he was actually saying. Once I did, though, I filed it with the most wonderful compliments I’d ever been given. He was not saying I was a bad loan officer – though I’ve been that, at times, over my career – he was saying that if I could write like that it was a tragedy that I didn’t do more of it.

Apropos of this, I recall a line from the original Superman movie:

Perry White: Lois, Clark Kent may seem like just a mild-mannered reporter, but listen, not only does he know how to treat his editor-in-chief with the proper respect, not only does he have a snappy, punchy prose style, but he is, in my forty years in this business, the fastest typist I’ve ever seen.

In other words, he wasn’t a bad reporter. He probably could work at the Planet for a long time, and get some decent notoriety, make a cozy living (until the Internet destroyed his paper), all things that everyone with sense would tell him to do, and that would be terrific life choices if he weren’t also, you know, Superman.

Except for Batman, whose super power is unimaginable wealth, superheroes have jobs. Maybe that’s a clue I should have got a very long time ago, but I didn’t get it until a month or so back, when God essentially used a combination of the aftershocks of the real estate crisis, draconian bureaucratic overreach, and an illness that robbed me of my voice to clock me upside the head and communicate to me that if I wanted to have a job, that was okay, but He was going to be very upset and increasingly intrusive into my comfort if I didn’t at least start sneaking out periodically to check the police scanner to see if it might be time for some thrilling heroics.

I have a job I don’t like much. Don’t get me wrong, all you clients of mine, I love you, and I’m happy that in most cases I’ve been able to do you a service. I like getting paid, though the pay isn’t all that wonderful at the level of success I’m at. But it’s become increasingly hard to do this work with any pretense that it’s fun. Once upon a time, the pie chart of Mortgage Work looked like this:


The split was close enough to 50-50 that I could hire people to do a lot of the red stuff and keep myself sane. Then 2007 happened. Now, people like me have been blamed for Ushering in the Apocalypse, and we’ve created whole new branches of bureaucracy to “make sure it doesn’t happen again”, so the chart looks like this:

chart(1)And that is into the realm of the soul-crushing, well beyond my ability to hire defenders against. I found myself hating that I had to do things like direct plays and sing opera, and several people, not least my wife, conducted what can only be termed an intervention one weekend not very long ago, and told me to shape up.

For a man who’s spent the better part of his life trying to find ways to evade doing real work, it was vaguely surreal to have so many hardworking, intelligent people tell me to spend a lot more time writing and singing, no matter what the financial consequences turned out to be. It was a struggle to process that. I believe strongly in honest work, even work that truly sucks, the ranks of which mortgage work has absolutely joined. My religious and social culture is ant, not grasshopper, and I grew up being told to apply myself and focus and stop daydreaming, so to have the ants come to me and tell me to stop trying to gather grain and go back to fiddling seemed…impossible.

I haven’t entirely come to terms with it yet. But I have started moving that way, though there is no “responsible” way to do it, no way to write more and read the FNMA Seller Guide less that doesn’t feel like cheating, like staying out on the playground when recess is over and everyone else has to go take a math quiz. Still, I’m doing it: More writing. Letting my schools know that I want to teach more next year. Re-upping with the opera troupe for yet another season. Saying yes to storytelling festivals, instead of “I regret that my schedule doesn’t permit.” And writing all manner of things, from short stories to novels to essays.

What ultimately comes of this, I have no idea. I’m still doing mortgage loans, in about the same volume as before. I think it likely I’ll continue doing that until the government reaches out and snuffs the candle, which it surely will, but working with the people I work with at City 1st, that’s no bad fate. I love my clients as much as ever.

No, that’s not true. What’s true is that when I’m writing short stories about two assassins that work for Death, finishing a novel about what really happened at the burning of the Library of Alexandria, teaching kids about economic theory, telling a story about Alastair McQuackers and the Cannibal Crackers, and directing a farcical melodrama, I love my clients more. I can love them, because there is love in me that isn’t there when I don’t do those things.

Which leads to me flying down the freeway belting out a song I just learned to sing. Or rather, just learned to sing this way, because the song itself, that song has been in my heart for an age.

I’m on top of the world, hey, waiting on this for a while now…

Been dreaming of this since a child…

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2 Responses to Back from the Dead

  1. Lana Wilkinson says:

    ” I found myself hating that I had to do things like direct plays and sing opera,”

    WellI, for one, and GLAD that you have HAD to sing opera. I count myself very blessed to perform with you and will miss not having our school assemblies while we are on summer break! Hang in there!

  2. Ed May says:

    Love it Chris.

    I fell in love with this song while Rachel and I were in Africa. We listened to it pretty regularly, and my favorite time to listen to it was while riding on top of the Land Cruiser looking for wildlife.

    I’m glad it could help breathe some new life into you, my friend!


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