Escarpment – Overhang

I was dangling over 60 feet above the ground, my fingers and toes white from chalk and from gripping tightly just to hang on; trying to negotiate the overhang on my route up the Seattle REI Pinnacle – then one of the tallest indoor climbing structures. I do not remember how exactly I got myself into this precarious position; I had gone to REI in Seattle to pick up something late afternoon on a weekday and somehow a casual chat with some staff members resulted in my climbing the Pinnacle alone  – something that had never crossed my mind, even though I saw it from Interstate 5 whenever Erik and I drove to and from Vancouver and Seattle. It was my first time rock climbing and I was stuck up there with no one nearby to offer advice how I could overcome the obstacle. Mustering my mental and physical strength just to hang on, I struggled to try something which failed, I struggled to hang on, I struggled to try something else which also failed, I struggled to hang on – it felt like eternity. When it seemed I had no choice but to fall, I found sufficient purchase and hauled myself over the overhang to the top. Thankfully I did not have to climb down the way I came, but rappelled down (something I still remembered how to do from my army days). The staff member congratulated me, “That was the most difficult route, but I thought you could do it.”

I do not remember the view of the Cascades range from the top of the Pinnacle. The staff member shouted out once I got to the top that it was the best part of the climb; I looked out of courtesy and let out a perfunctory “Awesome”. What I do remember is the desperation of hanging on, the exhaustion of hanging on. But in life there is no safety rope attached, no backup, no family nor friends to rely upon; I have always been and always will be profoundly alone. There is no miracle or benefactor coming unlike the plots in movies and soap operas. Falling is not an option.

Quitters Office

My isolation and detachment protected my self from others to some extent, their conformist standards of normalcy, their so-called “truths”. I did not think of what I had as mental illness, because it automatically demeans and robs my agency and leads to a downward confidence and worthlessness spiral. I preferred to think of it as a double-edged blessing/curse, a conflicted destiny or superpower akin to Marvel heros. My isolation and detachment enabled me to shield my schizoid and bipolar symptoms from others and preserve the façade, especially at work. I did not want my accomplishments and my opinions to be colored by the others’ perception and dismissal of me as a crazy gay. I had to work harder and prove that I was better than them, just like I did at the school of rich kids in Singapore.

Inspired by Bella, I decided to try again for a full time job for the income stability despite the odds so I can better provide for the bunnies and their medical needs, and keep a roof over their heads. It was frustrating, numerous dead end interviews because my resume did not conform to their “normal” expectations and my limited “Canadian experience”, same as when I tried to look for work after graduate school. After another interview at a recruitment agency, the recruiter informed me that I lacked the correct “qualifications” for the job, but he would like me to speak with his colleague; he called his colleague into the interviewing room and I sat through another session. At the end of it, they both agreed I should speak with one of their clients who was interested in meeting candidates with “intelligence and personality”, although they had no open roles at that time.

About a week later I received the appointment details and went to meet their client, a CEO of a research agency. I did not expect much from the meeting so I was surprised when in the middle of our allotted time slot, the CEO declared “I love you. I want you to come work for me, I want you to change my company.” I was hesitant in part because I was unsure what to make of his declaration; I had obtained some of my freelance jobs after courtesaning with the boss, and I was not sure if that was what he intended. I was also hesitant because I had interviewed with two VPs prior to the CEO and there were red flags. Ultimately I took the job because the CEO was able to look past the superficial and glimpsed at what I could accomplish, and it was a once in a lifetime chance to be given carte blanche to reshape a company. A year later, the CEO told me during my performance review I was the best hiring decision he had ever made, and I had accomplished in 1 year what the company had tried to do for 10 years.

It is unsurprising that I would incur the jealousy of the VPs who had been with the company since its inception; I was also the only Senior hire that was not White. Their intentions were clear on the first day with the office I was given. The company occupied an entire floor and there were vacant offices on the South, East, and West wings where everyone was located. My office was in the middle of the North wing which faced the glass façade of a neighboring building, unlike offices in the other wings which had some view of downtown and direct sunlight. It was so removed from others that the only time someone would pass by is if they had to take a roundabout route to the toilet, and that was how the CEO found out where my office was. From a slip of a tongue from a junior who came by to say hello, I found out I had been given the “Quitters Office” – everyone they had put in this office quit before 3 months. I decided I would show them all; I would last 3 years and surpass all of the VPs results and revenues.

Like the artists that Jamison profiled in “Touched with Fire”, I tried to moderate my work based on my bipolar states and deploy them for different tasks. The obsessive energies of mania was key to rapid mastery of new domains; in graduate school I had used the flight of ideas and bursts of inspiration to see new associations and connections between texts for my dissertation, now I deployed it to solve methodological problems and develop new techniques. When mania turned into depression, I worked on plodding, dispiriting tasks like data cleansing and documentation. Despite not adhering to “best practice” structured project management approaches, I produced results faster than anyone else. I was an army of one.

The financial crisis and recession hit about a year in, and the company had to downsize as clients cut their research budgets. None of the Whites got laid off, even those who could not grasp basic statistics. Those who got laid off were immigrant POC, I was able to save two of them and they became part of my team. One of the VPs tried to persuade me against it by justifying she was doing one of them a favor by letting him go, I was so incensed by this egregious White bourgeois contortion I told her to leave my office and it is poor form to give some the pink slip when they are on vacation. After laying off staff and forcing others to take pay cuts, they organized a lavish Christmas party that year (largely for their own benefit) that cost a quarter of a million. I refused to attend.

It was during this time I single-handedly won the largest project in the company’s history in a competitive bid, valued at over a million (compared to the VPs whose projects ran in the tens of thousands). Each junior member personally came to thank me for saving the company (the company was running low on funds) but not the senior staff, they were too busy congratulating each other on how smart they were to land the project even though they had nothing to do with the win.

In fact, none of the VPs ever had to pitch a project or faced off in a competitive bid, they had relied on ongoing work from previous clients for the past 10 years and had repeated the same basic techniques. When the CEO circulated my proposal for feedback, they replaced my advanced methodology and bespoke analytical platform devised to meet the unique needs of the client and differentiate us from the competition with their bland boilerplate content and what they knew how to execute (which was the basics). I asked the CEO if he trusted my abilities, he did so I rejected all their “feedback” and went with my original proposal.  This galled the VPs because someone with less seniority (a non-White no less) had the temerity to state what they did was not good enough. It got their heckles up that my pitch deck did not even use the corporate template they spent so much money on; instead of looking “cool” with multiple flying elements in bright company colors, I devised a muted minimalist deck template that focused attention on analyses of the client’s data and problem. One could tell they were secretly hoping I would fail because I rejected their “advice”, hence I received radio silence when CEO informed the company I had landed the project; and their animosity and jealousy grew as I continued to win more million dollar projects.

Instead of providing me additional resources to execute multiple million dollar projects that I won (which ran the gamut from managing data collection to developing methodologies and analytical platforms new to the company), the VPs wheedled their way into becoming the client stakeholder for the project to lend their “executive” presence and title. They took credit even though they did no work whatsoever other than in order to demonstrate their “value-added contribution”, they insisted on reviewing the results even though it was beyond their statistical abilities, and I would get decks sent back with flagrant annotations where a sentence was missing a comma that I should be more “detail-oriented”.

I did not fit the mold of a quiet and compliant asian in Asia and in America as well; perhaps it was because of the societal detachment from Antisocial and Schizoid disorders, and perhaps it was due to my developing an outspoken persona in Singapore to deflect from my bipolar symptoms. I had noticed during meetings whenever a White person spoke, they were lauded for being smart no matter how asinine and rehashed it was, but my carefully considered comments and concerns were only met with silence and ignored (even though I was the brains of the operation). I guess the gay pornography trope of an Asian male who always ended up being fucked by Whites (who not only liked it but begged for more) reflects a racial power relation in the bedroom as well as the boardroom. I refused to let slide the VPs ego to look good in front of the clients and only wanted to present “good news” back to them, even going as far as asking me to manipulate the results and data. I fought back adamantly (I did not flee an oppressive regime and suffered in poverty for years just to be silenced), not just for ethical reasons and my professional integrity, but I also believed the reason why clients entrusted me with such important large-scale projects was they wanted the truth to make better decisions instead of pacifying them into a false sense of security. In consequence, I found myself being squeezed out of client interactions to the point until I had to find out from a junior’s casual remark that there was a client meeting happening.

It was an untenable working situation for anyone, let alone slaving and not having the time nor energy to take care of oneself. This mistreatment triggered and amplified bipolar episodes and debilitating migraines. I tried to hang on as best as I could, escaping the toxic environment by taking walks or isolating myself in a toilet cubicle until I could keep my face and my emotions in check. It became a daily struggle to suppress those wretched feelings and resist the impulse to throw myself in front of an incoming train at the end of the day.

I suppose I could
slit my wrists tomorrow
but the rabbits might miss me

Considered (from Terrible Sanities)