Hamburg harbour, August 2023
I think of my old boss and the stress he puts herself under running a company. He stays up late and works on weekends, he manages people, payroll and investors. He has a good heart and boundless energy but it definitely isn’t easy. I think sometimes how he could get a cushy job deep in the bowels of Google or another tech goliath and make 300k USD a year and be done with it. Go on the zoom calls, fake the smiles, write the little reports and push some text around. People can do that and probably retire after ten years of work if they set their minds to it. He definitely could.
I also think of uber drivers. The calculations are done and posted online. It simply isn’t that profitable to be an uber driver when you take into account the damage it does to a car. But every uber driver I’ve spoken to replies that they can choose when they want to work and for how long. Even if this choice is heavily influenced by surge pricing and other tricks uber uses, this hard nudge but not absolute rule is Good Enough™ or let’s say Freedom Enough™ for people to drive strangers around all day.
I think of my friend who lives in London. He had a great job as a CTO of a company in Oslo earning pretty serious money with enough freedom to decide his own day and work. Even then he quit, lives on a student salary with small part-time gigs in London. He spends a lot of time in the park reading very thick books and in bars with his cute twinky boyfriend. He doesn’t need much and his life is blossoming.
There’s something very sticky about freedom. Once you’ve tasted it you can’t really go back. I get why people are quitting in droves when they are forced back into the office. The jig is up. We know what it’s like, what it can be. This social experiment has gone on for long enough and it’s going to be hard to unsee and unfeel what we’ve felt.
I think of my own life. It’s changed so incredibly much since I quit. I could completely loosen my shoulders and see life for what it was. The only times I’ve set an alarm clock in the last year has been for flights. Otherwise, I’ve slept in as long as I’ve wanted to and gone with the rhythm of the days and nights. I’ve crawled to the end of a Wednesday open mic session that scraped against the fourth hour of the morning and I’ve also risen at six to go to the gym for the hell of it. None of this cost that much, it just took time and a lot of it.
I literally can’t put a price on what meeting my girlfriend has done to me (for me?). I have felt things I didn’t think I would ever feel and I fall asleep every day a different person than I was the day before. I feel changes like waves that roll into the bottom of my soul. I am being shaken like a etch-a-sketch and my ego is being reconfigured. I am being challenged and I am being held. I have become excited about the future and I have never felt more precious about the present.
In a different universe I could have taken a decent paying job and kept the numbers rolling in. I could have dug into my foxhole and lived that life. But I couldn’t. I literally was not able to, especially when given the choice. I feel like that’s the way many people are. When given the choice, a windfall of a lottery, inheritance, pure luck from being fired with some money coming in from unemployment benefits, they choose freedom. People even choose freedom when there’s an insanely high cost and risk. They will shoot for freedom through a keyhole.
I went for a walk last night down the Hamburg harbour. I saw these giant cranes stand like jurrasic skeletons on the horizon. The rain came down in bursts and in between was the setting sun. Everything was quiet since it was late and Hamburg is a very German touristy town and German tourists sleep early so that they can eat their brötchen very early the next day.
I walked and walked. I listened to ‘Chip War’ which was a book about semi conductors and how the entire world runs on these objects that are produced by only three companies and the machines that used to produce them are run by a single company in the Netherlands. One single company determines the fate of the entire world. I found that mindboggling. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
I walked up the stairs back to the city and someone asked me for a cigarette. I looked up and saw a mane of curly white hair and a face in the middle of it. He said his name was Leo and he played guitar. One look at his right hand with their perfectly grown and filed nails made me trust him. We talked about cigarettes for a few minutes about how they were some of the best things I knew but also the worst. We talked about Bach (whom he plays) and the history of the lute and its relation to the guitar. We decided to get a beer.
Sitting outside, what I found out later was to be a particularly iconic Kleine Pause, Leo talked about how he felt most comfortable playing on the street. There was no fixed audience expecting something from him like in a concert hall. He could surprise people and he did with his virtuosity. He said he didn’t want to do things that made him uncomfortable, that were not fun because if you choose art you do it for fun. I immediately understood that. There is so much beauty in not making compromises and seeking the truth that makes sense to you, the purest truth.
We walked through the ‘Dom’, Hamburg’s carnival, and I asked him about whether he had reached the pinnacle of what he could achieve as an artists since he talked about ‘developing’ his songs. He thought for a moment and asked me what ‘pinnacle’ meant and we spoke of the peaks of mountains and he smiled. Yes, he said. He has been able to reach a level where he sounds exactly what he wants to sound like. He had found his voice. He said he played a lot of shit music on the way to get there which he doesn’t relate to anymore (there’s a glaring metaphor here for relationships but that’s for another time) but he is content and found what he searched for. I know of almost no other artist or craftsperson that can say that with that much confidence. He paid the price for the freedom. He said that his art is complete he needs money to expand it with recordings and streams as well as a little something for a holiday. We parted ways late that night and I have his card in my wallet still.
I take the train to Berlin tonight then a plane back to Oslo tomorrow. I think of the freedom I have been afforded and savour it thoroughly.