1999 was a year of discovery, trial and error, and good times.
After I had been with the company for a year, I felt like I was finally beginning to get somewhere with my life.
I had a good job, a decent income, and a solid base of friends like Dave, Gill, and Joe that I could rely on for inspiration and creative feedback as I worked hard on my painting, with the intention of developing a career in the art world.
Every day before I went to work, I passionately painted in my studio for four hours, creating the best paintings I’d ever done since I had dedicated myself to my art.
I had nothing holding me back; I didn’t have to adhere to any standards or regulations, or listen to people who told me how or what to paint.
I just painted every day because I was in love with my art and couldn’t wait to get back to my studio to see how my art would develop next.
Creating s painting is like a romance in the making, and I was in love for that brief time every time every day, that I could work in peace before I had to go to work.
Also during that time, I really learned what it was like to get into, “the zone”.
“The zone,” is a state of passion where creativity, imagination and spirit beautifully and freely flow, together while the problems of the rest of the world are tuned out.
When I enter “the zone,” physical needs like eating, drinking and sleeping don’t matter because my spirit is connected with my creative passion and I get all the food that I need from that passion while I work away.
Picasso once said, “The reason why artists live so long is because they leave their body, outside the door.” That’s why artists are able to withstand so many sleepless nights and long hours of sitting and standing in weird positions while working on the art they are creating.
What I found really interesting about this time in my life was that I didn’t stop envisioning and creating when I went to work. Instead of going to work every night feeling like I had been ripped away from someone I loved, I started to carry my creativity with me to the factory.
There were always “hot projects,” at the factory each night because management in Japan always put pressure on our company to produce more, more, and more every week.
As I worked next to Gill one night I was feeling introspective and decided to write a simple poem about how I was feeling
It was just a few lines that rhymed, and after I finished it, I showed it to Gill. He looked it over like the professor he once was and said, “This is great, but if you’re going to write a poem, try to avoid rhyming because, those types of poems sound sissy and you need to learn how to make your poem sound real.”
“Poetry today doesn’t rhyme; it doesn’t have thee’s and thou’s in it. Poetry today is life, it’s gritty, and it’s real. For instance poetry is about a girl writing about her experiences, like loosing her virginity, and it’s about a homeless man scratching hopeless words on a box as he slowly starves from lack of food and loneliness.”
“Remember, Jeremy, poetry, is about life,” Gill said.
And for the rest of the evening, Gill told me all about his favorite writers from the 1960’s who wrote with fire for their cause. And he also told me about other poets he knew who died too young and with them, died a voice of their generation.
When Gill and I talked, it was like a new education for me. I absorbed every minute of it, without looking at the clock; because I knew that once I did, the clock would tell me that it was time to go home.
“Write about what’s in your heart,” Gill said seriously.
The next evening, he brought me books written by writers from his generation like Richard Brautigan and told me to take them home to see if anything would rub off on me.
During the next few nights, I absorbed Richard Brautigan’s book, In Watermelon Sugar, and loved every minute of it.
And sure enough, a few days later, after I was put with Gill again for the evening, we started talking and writing poetry, and we couldn’t stop.
It was like a jam session when we wrote, even though we had to keep an eye out for our boss, Mike, who was always walking by and pay attention to our parts production so we didn’t get fired.
We were like two crazed monsters of creativity exploring our creative passion, anyway we could, while we were stuck in that factory for eight hours or more at a time.
During these restrictive times I could almost comprehend what it would be like if anyone or anything took away my creativity from me, forcing me to find ways to be creative in restrictive environments.
For example, in the movie “The Pianist,” Wladyslaw Szpilman, the famous concert pianist, was forced to hide in an abandoned apartment during World War Two to avoid capture by the Nazi’s, and in the abandoned apartment was a piano that he knew he couldn’t play because if the Nazi’s heard the music they would find him, arrest him, and ship him off to the death camps.
So instead of playing, he glides his fingers over the keys while the memory of the sound as his guide, satisfying him as if he were playing.
Any artist, such as a painter, writer or musician hungers for a creative outlet, and if they have been away from it for long and will always find a way to create.
Once I started writing poetry I was instantly hooked and realized that writing poetry is painting with words and another way for me to express myself in that constrictive environment, making me feel somewhat normal and fulfilled until my night at work was over.
Some nights I wrote one poem, other nights, five poems and after each night ended, the environment was like a beat-nick bar as I stood up on my chair in front of my friends and recited the poetry I had written, over the previous eight hours, receiving applause and encouragement after I finished.
Finding writing was like finding a release.
My friends and family knew what I had done since I graduated from high school, but they had no idea of what was going on in my heart or soul until I was able to write about it.
I think that this was the most satisfying and fulfilling time of my life, because I was finally doing what I had wanted to do for years and I was finally moving ahead with my life while possessing and holding onto hope and optimism for my future.
Here are a few poems that I wrote during this important time in my life:
Some people are blessed with the answered questions while I’m always lost searching for the answers in the dark.
Blessed with freedom, cursed with freedom I’m on the road with my own worst enemy, myself.
Sometimes I fall off the road while searching for the answer and then friends and family are always there to bring pull me back to the road with the answers I’m searching for.
I always question the simplest answers and start stumbling again and in the end I’m brought back to the first place by wise old soldiers that are also friends.
I wasn’t direct when I was eighteen; my mind took me in one million directions while I wanted to be one million different things.
The air, the sun, the sky, and the stars I fell in love with all of them passionately as I walked the path searching for my calling.
But as I journeyed farther I kept being pulled back to the beginning, to the roots I tried to cut in the beginning.
These next poems are about how it feels to be an artist:
Flashes of anger!
Joy out of the dark,
Near insanity at three in the morning,
I fight with the demon that holds my ideas.
Confused at the time for a single line I fight with frustration to get it out!
At the point of silence my hands come to life.
Passion and joy, they came back!
They give themselves over to me as I beg for more.
Furiously I work as my body cries for rest.
Revelations! Revelations! They engulf me as I laugh with pleasure.
Then neither finished nor on the run I sit back and stare at my pleasure, my painting, my creation.
It means the most to me my creativity.
Endless hours, with brush in hand for me is like being in the promised-land.
My work brings me closer to who I want to be.
When I’m painting I feel absolutely free.
This poem is how I feel at work every day:
Upfront sadness my feelings assault me as my mind runs away wishing I were free.
Dying to get away and do something creative I’m confined for eight hours!
Like the tired ox I labor through my work because it’s Monday again.
Time drags by like a turtle going home before the lunch bell finally rings.
I race with temporary freedom searching for food like a hungry wolf.
In no time at all smiling time pulls me back to my sleepy tasks as I patiently wait for freedom once again.
As time drags on inspiration begins once again as the bell rings freeing me from my temporary prison.
It’s time to go home and be free!
Discovering my poetry, this new way to express my self is what helped me furnish my desire to keep working at the factory and survive those long nights of tedious labor.
I had my art and now I had writing to keep me busy every day and night. But even though I enjoyed these things, I began to see that there was something lacking in the work that I was doing.
The work that I did every night at the factory was very repetitive, and boring. And when I wasn’t inspired to write, or talk with Dave, Gill or my other friends, the work got on my nerves and I became irritated.
Even though I was a simple production worker, working on an assembly line every night, I was also someone who had been a leader in my other jobs in the past and I saw the need for better management in the company.
I had gained management skills from my years working on my gardening route when I hired my friends to work with me on big jobs where I needed the help.
I had also gained management skills on a summer job that I had worked on as a “job coach,” for people with developmental disabilities. In this position I was in charge of a crew of five developmentally disabled men and women whom I supervised as they performed gardening tasks on properties countywide.
At PEC, the employees around me everyday needed a voice, and I decided to be the voice.
Rather than letting management treat us like cattle, I stepped up and met with the general manager of the company to voice our concerns, about things that were happening in the factory. I also made recommendations on how management could better handle every day, task and projects. But my ideas were always met with the same results.
Our general manager was a little guy named Gary, who wore a bad toupee that looked like a dead rat on his head.
This guy also always wore three piece suits, drove fancy cars, and never walked past someone without letting them know how wealthy he was. Either by talking about his latest big purchase or just by the pompous, conceited way he walked, which really annoyed the crew who were always working harder than Gary ever worked for the company.
We all knew that the company paid him a six-figure salary, but every time I tried to recommend a way to improve safety or production, he would say, “Jeremy you know I can’t do that. Our budget is always stretched thinner than the toilet paper in the men’s bathroom,” he said.
“You’ve got to trust me Jeremy, I’m in this office because I work for you guys, not the Japanese guys in the office next door. I guarantee that you’re going to see ‘big changes’ in this company within the next few months.”
When Gary would say “big changes“, it always meant that he bought us doughnuts to show us that “he cared”.
“We’re a growing company, Jeremy. Please be patient,” Gary said in his usual sarcastic manner, while looking out the window at his new BMW, wishing he were on the road driving away from the factory instead of talking with me.
“I like you, Kid. I was just like you when I was your age. I was idealistic and was always looking for ways to change things and help people. You can keep coming back to let me know how our employees are doing and I will try to get the owners to make some changes around here, ok?” After my first meeting with Gary I knew that he only intended to keep me satisfied until our next meeting a week later.
He didn’t care about my concerns any more than the owners did, and like them, he was only concerned about the bottom line. Getting him to add to the production and safety budget was like trying to catch a slippery eel.
Management never ceased to amaze me with the many ways they could avoid buying the supplies that we needed to make our jobs go easier, or the many ways things they did to increase production like telling the machine operators on the production lines to remove their safety guards, just to get a few extra parts per night.
Each week, after I finished my latest talk with Gary, My buddy Victor would be the first to greet me to share in any small victories I had gained for the employees or share in my defeat with me.
Victor was an older-looking Mexican guy who looked just like Anthony Quinn, and even lived a life similar to the famous actor.
On nights that I worked with Victor he always kept me entertained with the stories of his romantic “conquests” during his younger days.
“Well, what did the toupee one say today my friend?” Victor always asked.
Everybody loved making fun of Gary because he was the epitome of the “mean boss”.
Victor especially hated Gary because Gary had not given him a raise in pay in over two years. And Gary’s BMW, nice suits and affluent lifestyle continued to add insult to injury for Victor.
Victor once had a good paying job working in the aircraft industry like my dad, also like my dad he was laid off with thousands of other people in the early 1990’s due to the recession. Since he was in his early 60’s, he took the only work available to him, like my dad did, which was working for Pacific Engineering Company.
Victor had the same dedicated company mentality that I saw in Lazaro when I worked at the golf course.
He didn’t like the work that he did, but he realized that it was the hand dealt him, and he had to accept it until something, if anything better, came along.
Victor was the hardest-working man in our company because he knew that the closer he got to retiring he’d have even fewer job choices available to him. And he had to provide for his family.
Everyone on our shift knew the work that Victor did and how much he produced every night, except Gary, who seemed to take pleasure in holding good people back from the benefits they deserved.
Every time I told Victor about my meeting with Gary, I received his typical response.
“Fuck him! The only reason why he doesn’t respect you, Junior, is because you don’t have a degree or an MBA next to your name like him! I always tell you it’s a waste of time, to meet with him, don’t I?” Victor responded.
“I know, I know, I just wish that management would listen to me and not look at me just like another worker in the factory. I could do a lot more here if they would just give me the chance!” I replied..
“Jeremy, I’ll tell you what I tell my sons. You’re never going to get anywhere working for someone else!”
“Look at me! I’m 60 years old and still working for peanuts!
I should be fucking retired by now, but instead of sipping a cold one at my house in Mexico, I have to work twice as hard because I didn’t use my head when I was your age.”
“You got a lot of talent Kid! I’ve seen your art and it’s good; you don’t belong in this place!”
Victor loved my art. I had given him a couple of my newest oil pastel pictures the week before and he loved them.
“You did these?” Victor asked me as if he was seeing me in new light.
“Yeah, I did. I made these last week after you told me that your granddaughter was studying art for the first time. I thought she might like to have them,” I replied.
“Thank you, Jeremy. I don’t know what to say; the only art that my wife and I have is a painting that is hanging in our living room. We bought it while on vacation in Mexico 30 years ago. Nobody has ever given me anything this nice before. Thank you, Jeremy. My family and I will treasure these pictures,” Victor said as he wrapped the pictures in plastic and carefully put them away in his car to show his wife later that night.
“If you spend another year in this place, with these old men I am going to kill you!” Victor said.
“Get serious about your life and your art, Jeremy! Because if you’re not careful, you’ll end up like my stupid son who got a girl pregnant at age 18, now the rest of his life is ruined because he has to take care of that responsibility instead of experiencing and living a full life!”
“Damn him! I hate seeing kids screw up, and having to spend the rest of their lives wishing that things were different,” he said.
“Think about it!” Victor exclaimed, right before he thumped me on the shoulder as he angrily walked away.
I learned fast that Victor wasn’t a guy to mess with. You had to give him his space, respect him, and leave him alone, or he would get in your face about anything he felt strongly about.
Victor used to be an amateur boxer when he was a young man, and he wasn’t afraid to go a few rounds with someone less than half his age if his ego was suddenly offended.
He especially wouldn’t think twice about knocking Orion to the ground if Orion was ever shooting his mouth off.
On any given night, Orion, being the arrogant Southerner he was, and Victor, being the proud Mexican could easily set each other off and get into a fight. Mike always made sure every night that they didn’t work with each other because he knew what would happen if they did.
If, by chance, Orion and Victor had to work together for the night, any job that they had to do turned into a competition, where they’d try to out-produce each other while swearing at each other and threatening to kick each other’s ass the entire night.
After I had the chance to get to know Victor, and saw through his rough exterior, I grew to respect and admire him.
He was the type of guy that could easily run circles around anyone younger than he was.
He had a bad heart from years of boxing related abuse but that never stopped him from laboriously working with the guys, or drinking a few beers with us, even though his doctor told him not to. I had a feeling that Victor would rather die from a heart attack from working too hard than die from a heart attack doing something boring like sitting in a rocking chair.
His comments made me think hard about my future; and he was always right: I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working for a company like PEC, slowly becoming institutionalized like everyone else.
I dreaded looking for another job. I didn’t want to start the whole process of job searching and interviews again when I had only been working for PEC for just over a year. Even though the work that I was doing for PEC was boring and mindless it brought in a steady paycheck, medical insurance and the ability to build a better life but I knew that the mundane, day to day grind was getting to me and I had to find something more fulfilling to do for work.
As I was getting used to the idea of job searching again, I felt like a failure as I contemplated my failed career choices and I wondered if I would ever be able to find the one perfect job, that I could settle down with and use as a stepping stone to accomplish my artistic goals and dreams.
One night as I was thinking about the choices I had to make I realized something that would give me the strength emotionally to move forward with my life and work harder than ever to accomplish my goals and dreams.
I realized that even though I had made many, good and bad, choices since graduating high school, and had worked in many jobs, this was my life path, this was how my life was supposed to be, there were no, “good and bad” decisions, only, “life experience,” that led me on the road to accomplishing my goals.
I knew that I had faced many ups and downs in the jobs I worked but one day I would find the right job, settle down, be happy and accomplish my goals in life.
Happiness was around the corner for me and I had to keep searching for it my own way until I found it.
Part of me wanted to continue working for PEC because it was a good, safe and secure job while the other part of me was ready to go and start searching for another job once again.
Security, insecurity, fear, safety, try, fail, survive, prosper, I realized that all of these words were part of life, like the Chinese “Yen and Yang,” and you can’t have one side without the other.
Some people spend a lifetime relying on other people to make their decisions for them and tell them what to do because facing the problems and anxiety associated with change is to great for them, and then one day they wake up, look in the mirror and realize that they are older and haven’t learned any of life’s hard lesions because they didn’t want to face them, and find out what life is really all about.
I wasn’t going to settle for second best in my life and I prepared myself emotionally to start job searching again, and see what life offered next.