Thursday, October 28, 2010

Off the Road

Panic regularly attacks my senses driving along the back-country open roads of my new territory. Only two essays in weeks is a significant drop in the number of words scribbled over the last three years. My guitar has not come out of the case since my show in Connecticut last weekend when my three cousins were the only ones in the audience.

The computer, the road and the massive piles of papers spread over bed, couch and floor devour my time instead. The shift from creative soul to insurance salesman seems to suck the vital blood out of me so that in just a few short weeks my skin feels paler from lack of sunshine (could be the rain) and my belly swollen from lack of exercise (could be the donuts).

Coffee dehydrates me from the inside out, but is the natural thirst quencher over the miles. Plastic sandwich containers and ripped candy wrappers are tossed to the floor of the car and the seat is covered with crumbs. Pizza tastes best late at night when there is finally time to set still.

If I think I have accomplished little beyond used-up time over these past weeks, I have to remind myself of the completely new vocabulary that has been learned. The license that sits on the first page of my new presentation book barely suggests the amount of studying. My conversation at the kitchen table does not reflect the endless sales videos endured. The re-adjustment of technique I have learned over thirty years takes focus and concentration, especially since this requires a script instead of the marvelous improvisation of sketches and brainstorms of design which I have practiced before.

Against the conventional wisdom of the corporate office that commands leaving the prospect behind if the sale fails to close by the end of the presentation, I am comfortable to consider myself successful if these skeptical Vermonters agree to a follow-up phone call after a week or three of cogitation. Things happen slowly up here and they are proud of that. I am even thinking I am too much a salesman, over-dressed in casual slacks and an open-collar button-down shirt.

In fact, counter to my predictions at the initial interview, the one hour sessions in the heart of these homes are actually the best part about this job. The glimpse into lives is constant fodder for the imagination and feeds our most human need for connection. It would be so easy to swallow the numbers game put forth in the literature and quickly size up the prospect and secure the check, but I am so far fascinated by the good conversations and embrace the side-tracks into the hardship of the independent logger in competition with big machines or the young man with two kids just home long after dark and rising again before dawn to weld steel-frames one hundred miles away.

In between, along those many miles I have begun to drive myself, there are trees so staggeringly beautiful at this time of year, I am compelled to turn around for a picture. The silence of the radio in my broken Redster allows thoughts to swim luxuriously. My schedule is largely my own and productivity is in my control. Over time, I will learn to pull over to scribble the phrases that can lead to an essay. In the meantime, back to the work of earning my own keep not only thrills my father, but ignites a satisfaction within my own spirit that has long been dormant, frustrated by the failed business topped by an injury that required so much healing.

The time can also be spent counting the relationship between appointments and an increasing bank account. The motivational videos professing “activity” as the most important ingredient for success are supported by evidence that one more refusal is just an inevitable and necessary step towards a sale.

More importantly, I have come to see the value in the product so that I can honestly sit at that table and underline the need, the urgency and the satisfaction of filling the void of protections with what I have to offer. Like chasing a fire-truck to sell my skills for rebuilding a home, understanding the repairs that can be made to lives just devastated by fire, the skeleton of this package is taking care of our own funeral costs so that our relatives will not be left to find the money. The service has value and the need is uncomfortable but real.

As I get used to this new way of life and the onslaught of adjustments settles into a rhythm, I know I will play more music and have time for friends. Having collapsed into sleep at a more reasonable hour last night, I can listen to the creative beat of my heart in this dark hour before dawn and scribble these few words, relaxed that I can sleep again into the morning before it all starts again and I hit the road at noon.

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