Dogs & Dolphins
It’s a joy to present the Second Place Winner in our Soul Shelter First-Person Essay Award. Writer Yuvi Zalkow receives $500 for “Dogs & Dolphins,” which we present below. Says Mr. Zalkow:
I never had the courage, or whatever you want to call it, to drop everything to find a better life, but it’s been brewing in me to describe my take on how one might meander their way to that better life (even through slow, awkward, less-decisive steps). I was excited to see that Soul Shelter had some very compelling and diverse and non-dogmatic ways to talk about this subject. And so this contest got me started writing about the dolphins. …
• Dogs & Dolphins by Yuvi Zalkow •
I feel like this should be an essay about how I quit my terrible job to do the thing I’d always dreamed of doing and how it turned out that I became even more successful (financially, emotionally, spiritually, sensually) than before. I want to tell you that I left a horrible corporate environment and started my own non-profit helping people in need. I want to tell you about the lives I’ve saved. I want to tell you a story full of courage and heroism and salvation. I want to tell you that I rescue dogs and help the dolphins.
But I don’t have any of those stories. It’s not that I don’t like dogs and dolphins. In fact I’m a fan of both species. But my story is less dramatic and less amazing. It won’t make you cry. It’s not shocking or life altering. It goes in small steps, if it steps at all.
My story does start off the way a typical inspirational story is supposed to start: I hated my job. I was working too hard. I was annoyed and exhausted. I was angry that I wasn’t doing the things I most wanted to do in my life. …
My terrible job goes like this: I was working as a software developer at an oversized multinational corporation. There was a lot of pressure at this job and I was tired of the hours. I came home every night with worries about what needed to be done the next day—or what needed to be done later that night before the China or India team picked up where my team left off.
What I really wanted to do was write stories. I wanted to tell fictional stories of people stuck at big companies—I didn’t actually want to be one of those people. And I was too tired to tell these stories after I was done with work.
I didn’t quit right away even though that seems like the thing to do if you plan to be the narrator of an inspirational story. I liked having enough money to eat an overpriced meal and drink an overpriced cocktail. I didn’t really want to lose that pleasure.
So I took a small step, maybe even a cowardly step. I told my boss that I wanted to help our group write better documentation. I volunteered to do all the documentation for my group of seven software developers. I figured that writing about computers was a little closer to my passion of telling stories than programming a computer. This request was fine by my boss because we were behind on our documentation. We were behind on our documentation because all engineering groups are behind on their documentation. You should know that any self-respecting engineer refuses to document what they are doing. And either because I lacked self-respect or because I wasn’t an engineer at heart, this task appealed to me. My boss wasn’t sure he heard me clearly when I made this request: “You want to do what now?”
Once I got confident enough in my ability to do this kind of work, I began looking for a job elsewhere as a technical writer. I felt that this big company was a bit too dreary a place to work and that it might be more lively elsewhere, a smaller company, or perhaps just doing some independent consulting. It turned out that there was a need for writers with my kind of technical background. So I found another job and quit the corporate gig.
Pretty soon, I became good enough in my technical writing skills to negotiate working slightly fewer hours. When I say slightly fewer hours, I mean that I trimmed about five hours off my work week. Not a big difference, but it afforded me some useful hours to keep at the writing practice.
I began writing more stories. I found a way to get a master’s in creative writing without quitting my day job—by getting into one of the many low-residency master’s programs around the country. I expected to write stories about the silly work environments where I had worked, but it didn’t go that way. I wrote about outcasts and drinkers and fathers and sons and the dead and the desperate and ex-husbands and ex-wives and lonely people saying hello at the coffee shop. That’s where the energy took me and I went with it.
And so here I am today. Five years later. My job isn’t amazing, but it is reasonably more fun than before. I don’t have a ton of time to write, but I have more time to write than before. My student loan payments are not ideal, but they’re not too bad. I can’t afford to drink as many cocktails as before, but I still enjoy a Manhattan when I’m craving one. I’ve made time to teach writing on a volunteer basis. I haven’t written the great American novel, but my stories are better than before. I hope.
I can’t say that the characters in my stories have saved any dogs or dolphins, but on their better days, they make a trip to the beach and they look out at the vast horizon. They take a good, long moment to see what they can see. And then they check the time and realize they should probably get back to work.
• the end •
Yuvi Zalkow lives writes works eats breathes bikes walks sleeps and brushes his teeth in Portland, OR, in a house that his wife says is Robin Egg Blue. He is currently working on a novel and in the MFA program at Antioch University.
(editor’s note: the guy in the picture above is not Yuvi Zalkow. We do not know the guy, and neither does Yuvi.)