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The Secret of My Success

New Musings from an Old Backpacker


First, as is the protocol with my new blog theme, let me establish my age, hence inherent wisdom, by making note that I remember when the Michael J. Fox film, The Secret of My Success, was in theaters, after which it was released on both BETA and VHS video systems, after which it was a regular feature on USA cable network as a Saturday afternoon cinema feature. To have survived this long, to have survived what would seem to be several viewings of The Secret of My Success, I must have some insight into this world, into the very fabric of life, and, indeed, into success itself.

Of late, there has been a lot of talk around our dinner table about Ming’s next step in life. Ming is the 21 year-old volunteer with whom we’ve spent the last few weeks. She is set to graduate in the coming year, possibly with a minor in communications if her scheduling qualms can be smoothed out. Either way, she is caught in a huge internal (and, it would seem, external) debate as to whether she should take a job at a company she really likes in her hometown or pack off to live in Nashville for a while (she has a friend there and is an immense country pop fan).

I have weighed in heavily on the side of Nashville, encouraging her to spread her wings before nestling into a career type position somewhere, the idea being that once you start a career in California it’s difficult to take off for Nashville for a few months to a year and a half. I’m in a privileged enough position that Ming actually respects my thoughts on her future, though I’ve known her for only a few weeks and, until I began housesitting a couple weeks ago, I was living in a pretty filthy open-air loft above a communal kitchen, where she stays now.

We All Have Our Burdens to Carry. Sometimes It's Just a Bigass Jackfruit.

We All Have Our Burdens to Carry. Sometimes It's Just a Bigass Jackfruit.

So, that got me to thinking about success, as I would assume that’s what Ming is chasing and what I meant to be steering her towards. Just what is it…success? It’s a question most of us have been pondering since we were first accosted by guidance counselors in high school. It’s a question that eludes crisp answers, an answer that defies uniformity, and a ponderance that only reinvents itself throughout a lifetime. Still, it’s something we all must consider because...well, why else would those guidance counselors have jobs?

Oddly enough, I consider myself successful, and somehow Ming must, too. I say odd because I’ve currently got no income, no job, and no prospects of acquiring either any time soon. I’m wearing a pair of shorts so old I’ve had to give up sewing them back together, yet I’m still wearing them and in public at that. I’ve never made more money than the year I spent serving tables full-time in Memphis when I was 22. I’m typing on computer that was hand-me-down from my mom, which she paid to ship to me. I have a beard that hasn’t been trimmed in months. Yesterday, one of my household duties was emptying a bucket full of my own (and Emma’s) feces. I have about 10 tattoos of lizards because, at 16, I wanted to be Jim Morison (“The Lizard King”) and, at some point when I was over that, I couldn’t decide on a different tattoo theme. Point being, on paper (or via blog), I can come off looking pretty low on the totem pole of success.

So, then, what’s with all the cockiness? Here’s my secret: My one great success is that I’ve avoided all the trappings of “success”. I’ve managed to live out the idealistic fantasies of college sophomores in which life is never reduced to a cubicle, choices are not based on money or mortgages, and I don’t have to wear a “monkey suit” (Just ask Bryant, my last boss, who has hired me multiple times despite my belief that new Crocs classify as dress shoes.) Most of my possessions are in a couple of backpacks that can be flung anywhere to set up home, and they can be repacked just as quickly. I have a wife who, not only tolerates such an existence, but also she actually encourages it and wears clothes in much worse condition than mine (and in horrendous combinations). In effect, we never grew up, not in the traditional sense of successful adults.

Despite a lifetime of adolescent hijinks, and even though I do on occasion stop to work so that I can afford not to work for a while longer, and although I haven’t had an air conditioner or reliable hot shower or my own mode of transportation for years (I did have a bike back in 2008), and in spite of a fashion sense on par with a bum with a bag full of used clothes or the fact that maintaining a blog is one of my most serious undertakings, and though I’ve given up meat and factory-farmed dairy products (basically all of it!) because I still maintain the political scrappiness of a university student, I thoroughly enjoy my life, feel intensely fulfilled and when it bottoms out, don’t even have to stretch the truth to mean it when I say that, for me, it’s better than any alternative I’ve ever seen. And, believe me, I’ve seen a lot.

21st Birthday Dinner in the Nicaraguan Jungle--Not Bad.

21st Birthday Dinner in the Nicaraguan Jungle--Not Bad.

Unfortunately, at times, I’ve caught myself being too heavy-handed in our lunch and dinner discussions of Ming’s next step, and no doubt, it is deeply rooted in my sense of success. Hell, at different points in my life, I was a couple of years away from being an engineer at Exxon in Baton Rouge, a freshman comp teacher at a junior college in Mississippi, and even—impressed with prolific income back in 2002—a professional server in Memphis. I suppose when I look at her considering a job based in her hometown, I can’t help but imagine myself along one of those other routes in life, routes that aren’t so obliging to strapping on the backpacking and walking into something new.

However, as we say, success is different for everyone. In The Secret of My Success, our hero learns that climbing the corporate ladder, even when skipping a few rungs, isn’t all its cracked up to be, and I suppose, when looking at my current state of affairs, I took that lesson to heart. I guess, with Ming being a little too young for the great life guidance of 80s cinema, I’ve found myself in the precarious place of having to relay those messages, only without funky soundtracks and feathered bangs. This poor generation, where are they going to learn to be homeless, jobless nomadic penny-pinchers with poor grooming habits and the ability to cook from scratch? This world has gone to shit (quite literally here at Totoco Farm), and poor Ming, she’s the one holding the shovel.

On that note, stayed tuned for next week's installment: Composting Complexities.

Posted by jonathonengels 08:33 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged people travel expat

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