Coping with Post-Travel Stillness Disorder

I have a job. A corporate job. I work there just six months months a year, then travel from spring into fall. The job pays well, but for the six months I’m there the company owns me. Literally. I work long hours not under the sun as I did with the carnival, but under fluorescent lights, at a desk, inside a cubicle. It’s dark when I leave for work, and dark when I return. My commute each way is roughly 90 minutes, from the time I leave one place until I arrive at the other. Soon, everyone will look ghoulishly pale, except for the Africans, Asians and Indians. They just look exhausted.

The windows behind my cubicle are big enough to tease you all day long with a bland panoramic view of the outside. You can almost feel the sunshine and taste the fresh air. All day, everyday, it’s nothing but keystrokes and neatly stapled documents wooshing from the printer. On Fridays, we get free soft pretzels from the Philadelphia Pretzel Factory. Once in a while someone freaks out from stress. The most exciting part is when the vending guy comes and restocks the Pop-Tarts.

The job, which I’m not allowed to write about in any specific detail, lest I be fired, is the same tedious monkey work it’s always been. It’s what I came back to after five months of travel, during which time I, among other things, pretended to be a Tea Partier at a gun rally, got chased out of Butler County, OH, lived with a recovering meth addict in Kentucky, ate a Fat Bitch in West Virginia, consumed copious amounts of drugs with hippies in Indianapolis, joined a carnival for eight weeks in Wisconsin and then made a harrowing journey back to Philly in a hobbled van the day before I was scheduled to return to work.

Plucked from the highways where anything can happen, I now sit at a desk where nothing happens. I’m a desk jockey stuck in Nietzscheanistic nightmare of endless repetition. That’s right, folks. I’m suffering from a serious case of post-travel stillness disorder, an ailment characterized by unshakeable monotony, general uneventfulness and bromidic discourse.

Every day is the same. The only thing that changes are my clothes.

I came to Philly at the insistence of my then girlfriend, a Coastie, who wanted to leave Madison because she couldn’t stand running into ex-girlfriends of mine. I agreed because I thought there’d be more journalistic opportunities here. But we arrived as the economy was melting down and newspapers were going belly-up. After four months of interviews and let downs, I landed this job, and was grateful.

Then when the relationship went to hell, I was even more grateful for the long hours that kept me away from home. But now, in year three, I, as a man liberated from soul-sucking grip of sour women, I want to spend as little time there as possible. I want to roam and explore, activities that aren’t penciled in until April, when the busy season ends and I’m cut loose for yet another summer.

This time I will not return.

I say that now, of course, but conditions are always subject to change.

Tedium aside, my place of employment is a decent enough place to work. We’re provided free juices, sodas, coffees and beers (yes, we have a fridge full of beer, restocked each evening by the cleaning crew). There’s a lot of latitude in how I manage my day. No one really breathes down my neck and I like most of my co-workers. But what seals the deal is the unlimited overtime between December and April, which nearly doubles an already generous weekly take.

How many firms offer that?

Yet there is just something fundamentally irreconcilable with who I am and the demands of corporate servitude. Frustration with the corporate job is a fairly common backstory among travel bloggers. They work and work and work until one day they can take it no longer. So they quit, pack some things and, seemingly overnight, morph into digital nomads who write their way around the world.

“After years of working 70 hours a week at jobs I detested, I felt like the proverbial ‘hole in the donut’ – solid on the outside, but empty on the inside,” writes travel blogger Barbara Weibel.  “Searching for meaning in my life, I abandoned my successful but unsatisfying career and set out on a six-month solo backpacking trip around the world to pursue my true passions of travel, writing, and photography.”

Her website, HoleInTheDonut.com, chronicles her excursions around the globe, with an archive of essays and photographs going back to December 2006.

She’s still at it nearly four years later.

On some level it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone with these feelings, that it’s not all that unnormal to pack up a life in order to pursue passions like traveling and writing. Granted, there may come a day when I’m older when I regret not having worked and worked and saved and saved to enjoy a comfortable retirement. Sometimes at places I see elderly people working and I think how awful it must be to be old, poor and stuck. But with my lifestyle, habits and genetics, it would surprise me greatly if make it that long. So I’ll just enjoy life while I have it.

When my mind wanders too far from the reason I’m still working here – to bank Benjamins for my next big adventure – I always seem to hear Steve Miller in my head singing, Go on take the money and run. And for a little while the tedium becomes at least palatable and the symptoms of my post-travel stillness disorder are supplanted with a giddy anticipation of everything to come.

Then again, there may not be time for another adventure. According to a group called Family Radio, the world is going to end on May 21, 2011, which will be here before we know it.

I learned this last weekend when I found in Center City a pamphlet exclaiming in big screaming boldface: THE END OF THE WORLD IS ALMOST HERE!

The authors proclaim:

In 2 Peter 3:8… Holy God reminds us that one day is as 1,000 years. Therefore, with the correct understanding that the seven days referred to in Genesis 7:4 can be understood as 7,000 years, we learn that when God told Noah there were seven days to escape worldwide destruction, He was also telling the world there would be exactly 7,000 years (one day is as 1,000 years) to escape the wrath of God that would come when He destroys the world on Judgement Day. Because Holy Infinite God is all-knowing, He knows the end from the beginning. He knew how sinful the world would become.

Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. (the year of the Flood) is the year 2011 A.D. (our calendar).

The authors then provide us with a mathematical proof:

4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000

In case you’re wondering where that  -1 comes from, the authors postscript their apocolyptic summary:

One year must be subtracted in going from an Old Testament B.C. calendar date to a New Testament A.D. calendar date because the calendar does not have a year zero.

I really hope they’re wrong.

5 Comments

  1. I love the topic of your article. I am with you that returning after travelling can be a challenge, especially a long RTW trip. I am just finishing up a 9 month RTW trip. Have you heard of Travel PTSD – That’s what I like to call it.I wouldn’t worry too much about the end of the world. The scripture you quote 2 Peter 3:8 is talking about spending time with God who is not constrained by time like we are. So it has no reference to creation taking 7,000 years, somebody just came up with that wrong notion.

  2. I love this–very funny. I can relate. Great play on words/use of the acronym. I hope that you’ll be able to keep going and not return to that prison next time!!

  3. Nathan says:

    Thanks for the comments you two! It is a drag being back at work, but it’s worth it in the end. Where in the world are y’all? 

  4. Hi, Nathan. I’m in NJ. A while back, after working in the corporate world for 6 years, I took a trip to South America to the Amazon and Andes and through a cool turn of events, ended up moving there. Stayed for 1.5 years, then returned home, went back to school and pursued ESL teaching as a career. Then, I went to Barcelona for close to a year (ok, but preferred Ecuador). Then, came back here–to NJ–where I’ve been living and teaching ever since. I have almost a lot of time off, so I get to take really cool trips (usually 5 weeks or so) every summer. My last one was to the Middle East–a truly amazing one.  Will be blogging re: Syria soon, in fact. Anyway, I totally identified with what you wrote here because the company I worked for was a big one. I also loved the way you wrote it; it’s not the typical blog post, you know?Look forward to reading more!

  5. Hi Nathan,I’m in DC and going to New York City tomorrow and back home to London in a few days time. Where are you?

  6. […] Back at work after five months of living on the road, I’m afflicted with Post Traumatic Stillness Disorder. […]

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