One decade ago, I was engaged to be married. I was also unemployed. I’d been part of that wave of college graduates unleashed upon the world in 2008. For us, the job market was virtually nonexistent. Some of my wealthier friends were of course ensured work due to the position of this or that family member, but for most of the rest of us it was an absolute slog. My ex-fiancee’s family was located in another major city, and trying to stay in Austin with me severed her from any connections that could lead to gainful employment. So she and I languished in a torrent of menial jobs, depending upon assistance from our parents and determined to figure something out that would allow us to stay in Austin.
This held up until about mid-2009, when my ex obtained her teaching certificate and decided to move back home. We were so serious about the move that I actually quit my job to focus on finding us an excellent apartment in the new city — we were that serious about moving. It was supposed to happen by the time our lease was up, at the end of the month. We had given our sixty days’ notice to the apartment, forty-five days before this.
And the jobs, the ones my ex had interviewed for, where her mother was connected to this or that principal in the school district, began to return her calls. They unanimously turned her down. So we decided to stay put for another year, until our wedding date, to try to have as much fun as we could.
It turns out that being unemployed and/or working menial jobs is not a good way to have fun. I sold mattresses for a couple of months, leaving immediately before Christmas. My fellow mattress salespeople were so nasty that not only did they wait until the week before Christmas to fire me, guaranteeing that I wouldn’t find another job for weeks, but they lied about my performance to one another. I’d sold plenty of beds, would have been perfectly successful, but I was hardly a conduit to the District Manager and she fired me because of what my trainers told her. It was simply untrue.
I remember leaving the meeting where I had been fired for the first time, thinking about how glad I was to not have to sell mattresses anymore. My ex had been planning to come visit me at the end of my shift, and she pulled up almost immediately after the DM had arrived. I took her on a quick tour and introduced her to my new boss, who promptly asked to speak to me alone and told me I was not going to be a fit and that she had to let me go.
I knew then, on that car ride, that my engagement was through. It was so well-known that the two of us actually agreed to work on our relationship, to try to pull things tighter. For the first time between us, communication had become truly difficult and we both knew and sensed it.
Ten years ago today, I was rolling down a hill on a sunny New Year’s Day, trying with my ex-fiancée to prove that childish flippancy was still a possibility. After the trip to visit her family, we drove home to Austin. A few days later we broke up, and she moved back permanently. We do not speak to each other, and by this point any mutual friends have disappeared. I was ready to spend the rest of my life with this person, and ten years later it is as if she never existed.
The Next Ten Years
I remember my ex, during the breakup that consumed most of the first half of 2010, seemed under the impression that I needed to grow up, figure things out. She blamed me for my economic failure and held it very deeply against me. Though I had contributed far more than she in an objective financial sense — literally, spent more money — to keeping our relationship alive, my inability to do much, much better with regard to our standard of living proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to our marriage.
There were, of course, numerous other problematic aspects of life for the two of us. I tended toward depression, she tended toward alcoholism. Her dark streaks were longer, darker, than mine were. Though my tendency was still to spend time outdoors, to go for runs and long walks with my 90-lb lab mix and to spend time in parks and meeting with people to grow my first business, a custom speaker company, her inclination was to isolate herself, drink, and ruminate.
After the split, I heard she found a good job at an office and began working her way up some corporate ladder. I believe she married someone else in the interceding years, and I hope she’s happier there. My decade has had a lot more turbulence. Since 2010, I’ve earned a Master’s Degree in Applied Philosophy and Ethics, written (somehow) five very different books (two have been published), taught college classes, started three companies, and learned vast amounts of information I didn’t know before — things like artificial intelligence and quantum computing, the principles of chemistry, mathematics, and physics which help us understand how these and biological phenomena work.
I was not the prodigy, or the genius, I was touted to be early in life. I did well on an early IQ test, decided not to skip directly from third to sixth grade during elementary school (I was afraid the older kids would bully me) and tried to enjoy life. School was absurdly easy as a result of my habitual binge-reading of fiction from various time-periods and geographical regions around the world. I played and hacked video games and speed chess. I became computer literate and read prolifically about any number of subjects.
I wouldn’t do math problems, though, which was odd — the valedictorian of my high-school class once whinged to me that “not everyone can do three digit multiplication problems in their head, Dylan!” I was honestly surprised he hadn’t learned the tricks for doing multiplication — he was the recipient of a perfect SAT score. Apparently his skillset consisted mainly of the ability to remember facts, at which I have always been terrible, as my intellectual toolbox was more closely related to the ability to remember and apply principles derived from the workings of phenomena. So I didn’t understand what on earth my precalculus teacher was attempting to explain to me, and as a result I was consigned to the only technical discipline where you aren’t expected to do math: the university immediately punted me into its philosophy department in 2004, shortly after I’d started college.
I was a stunning success at the Texas Tech University philosophy department where I got my first taste of philosophical thinking; after a spate of A+ grades I decided things were too easy. I transferred to Southwestern University, where I was challenged beyond my wildest dreams during three semesters of upper level classes. All my Texas Tech hours transferred in as lower level electives, so my time at Southwestern involved at least three of the hardest upper level liberal arts courses in the US per semester. I was overworked and my GPA was, for the first time in my life, below 3.0 when I graduated. This all but guaranteed I’d never receive a Ph.D in philosophy, but after publishing a peer reviewed text at a young age I no longer feel as though I’ll never be a philosopher.
A decade ago, the prognosis was very grim. I felt I might never be able to make a living; I wrote poems about the ubiquity of boxes — anywhere I go, I thought, I’ll just be trapped and forced into a box smaller than myself and that will be that. I was terrified of the prospect. Then, just a few weeks into last decade, I started a job that changed everything. I was selling android phones, and I was a rock star because I could operate the technology and was good enough at communicating with the consumers to ensure that they loved to buy from me. I made almost eighty thousand dollars in fifteen months at a job where my base pay was a measly $8.50 per hour.
I still had my problems — there was a total breakdown I had about a quarter of the way through 2011 in which I moved in with my mom in Temple, TX and took a job waiting tables — but I was managing my own store in the Dallas area come 2012. I was miserable in the job, having been transferred first to a predominantly Spanish-speaking mall in the summer and then to a store across town in the fall of that year, but I made decent enough money to be mildly upset with myself for leaving when I started grad school in January 2013.
I got an apartment in San Marcos and worked full-time in Dallas for the first two weeks of my full-time graduate school career in San Marcos. It took a bit of skullduggery to pull that off, which resulted in a rocky exit from Prime Communications, but I found a job at Sprint before too long and worked there until a professor took me aside and said to me “what the fuck are you doing? How can you try to work while you’re in grad school? You need to find a hole, the cheapest hole you can find, and live there. Find your philosophical voice. Work on it every day.”
I took the advice. I quit my job and lived frugally and worked every day to find my philosophical voice. I published an essay at the International Journal of Oil, Gas, and Energy Law and attended the Southern California Philosophy of Language Conference of 2014. In 2015, I graduated with my Master’s Degree and published a piece — still my most popular piece to date — about Pierre Hadot in PhilosophyNow! Magazine, where I have a good relationship with the editorial staff. I have since published a piece about Hermann von Helmholtz and facilitated the publication of a piece about Robert Pirsig and a review of my book, Formal Dialectics. I taught philosophy and ethics to two classes at Texas State University in 2015, and at Alamo Community College in 2016.
I also started ridesharing to make enough money to survive during this time. I would teach Tuesday and Thursday and drive Thursday night through Sunday evening. Eventually, I quit accepting new classes to teach because I couldn’t pay my bills as an adjunct professor — I likened it to being in a band because all the kids liked you but you couldn’t pay the rent. I made more money driving during South by Southwest than I made teaching a class for a whole semester and promptly concluded that our society values transportation more than education. This disturbing realization prompted me to more or less immediately stop educating people explicitly, and focus instead on writing full-length works designed to automate the process of teaching for me.
That way, I could still have the impact I’d had as a teacher. I loved teaching, watching the young minds seem to come online in front of me as I explained social issues of the day in terms of ancient problems and the solutions we find in philosophy books. When I took my logic class at Texas Tech in 2004, I quickly realized I had a knack for it. I didn’t miss a single problem on homework or test the entire semester, and I hosted study groups which took forty-five or so of the eighty enrolled students from C’s or F’s up into the A and B range during the four exams of the semester.
My philosophy class appears to have by all means been a similar experience for the students who did the best. Still, I left, and by Fall 2016 I found myself working in a sales role at SolarCity, which was promptly acquired by Tesla Motors. The Austin market flopped nonetheless, and I went to the publishing arm of a large local real estate company to help write books for salespeople. They had problems with my personality, so I was let go, but they provided me a severance package which ultimately ended up funding the development of Formal Dialectics. I spent a month writing essays and then won a hackathon with the help of a most remarkable developer, and decided to start my first technology company. Paradigm Automation folded in early 2018, but it was a most remarkable experience. We got very close to success!
During my second semester teaching, and driving for rideshare, I had a girl friend who had experienced a lot of trauma. I wrote a biographical memoir, entitled Losing Sophie about her experience having her daughter taken from her. This taught me that I could put books together — it took about a month to do the project. I wrote Losing Sophie in 2016, then did a lot of the essays that ultimately became Formal Dialectics in March 2017. In mid-2017, I spoke with publishers about Formal Dialectics and got the OK very late in the year. As a trial run for publishing a book, I put together a collection of short stories called Further From Home in late 2017, which I then self-published on Amazon in early 2018. In March 2018, I started working for an Austin entrepreneur with decades of experience, who had raised over $35M during a star-studded career.
I wrote my first patent during this time, and an internal-facing document detailing the principle the company was founded to explore in all its known forms. The sad truth which emerged was that the founder of the operation saw me as a flunky, not a real intellectual. He wanted to reward me only when I agreed with him, our relationship becoming more problematic after a rocky start to our animal testing operation in early 2019. It was impermissible for me to disagree with him, my research having led to only one major revision to the scientific theory the company was designed to explore when I left in October 2019. The founder jealously guarded his spotlight, and it became clear that my career took too much time to explain and was perhaps too winning. This resulted in my gradual demotion to something like executive assistant to the CEO, which rankled my nerves. I left a gold-star performance behind in 2019, having assisted deeply with intellectual property and theory development, company strategy, and R&D.
At the end of 2018, my first book was published. Formal Dialectics was released by Cambridge Scholars Publishing on November 1, 2018. After leaving my biotech startup, I wrote a manuscript entitled Imaginatus. After leaving Paradigm Automation in 2018, I wrote a failed whodunnit entitled A Murder in the Silicon Hills.
That means, folks, I wrote a total of five books in the five years from 2016 to 2020. During this time I also co-founded two relatively successful startup tech companies and managed retail stores, earned a master’s degree, and explored new scientific problems with gusto. It was an excellent, if unmoored, decade for me.
From 2020 and On
I have had a hard time for a lot of the period which followed my engagement in 2009. Losing my fiancée was a blow that took years to recover from. To this day, I wonder if my experience with my ex has something to do with the short duration of most of my relationships, even the ones I care about. Maybe I have a complex, so that everything that isn’t her — despite the fact that I cannot go back to her, and do not want to — is somehow inferior.
I have become, in the truest sense, a writer. My knowledge of the best of philosophical thought has prepared me for excellence in the biosciences and I am actively planning to take math classes at Austin Community College to prepare myself for a career as a doctor, which my mother has decided to deliberately and financially support. This will be the next in a long sequence of adventures for me, as I will need to dedicate myself fully to the pursuit of successful performance in over fifty hours of prerequisite coursework.
I have a strong family which has thus far weathered numerous challenges and remained true to each of its members. I love my sister and my nieces, as well as my mother and my father, for standing beside me and continuing to care for each other during each of the challenges we have all faced together and separately.
The next decade will, I am certain, bring another spate of spiritual growth for us all. We will become more mature and face a new series of challenges. My nieces will come of age near the end of it. Who knows where 2030 will find us all, at its dawning?