“Clouds in my heart” — another memoir chapter excerpt

man wearing gray blazer

Hey! You might remember exactly a month ago today, I posted about attending my first synchronous online memoir writing course, lasting eight weekly sessions.

No? Well, please do check out that post. Then, what I’m sharing below will be more meaningful, when you return here to read it.

You see, for this course that I’m on (which is coming to an end in three weeks), participants have to submit a personal essay weekly for review by the writing coach. In that post last month, I shared an excerpt from one of my draft memoir chapters which I submitted to my coach for review.

Today, I’m going to share another excerpt which was reviewed this morning by my coach. It’s closely linked to that earlier one. This time, one of the key features our coach instructed us to do was to try and put in more similes and metaphors, and to dive more into a scene.

I chose “clouds” as my imagery for this essay. Pretty apt, since this essay is all about the clouds that descended into my heart four years ago today!

Hope you enjoy it.

Clouds in the sky…and in my heart

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Early this morning, after a leisurely breakfast of bacon and toast, I checked my social media feeds. Scrolling through Instagram, my breath caught as I stumbled upon a post I uploaded exactly four years ago today.

My picture showed a stadium in the north of Singapore. The photo highlighted the inside of the stadium, with an empty football field and track.

It had been noon on a Tuesday. The picture showed a sky overcast, made more so by the Nashville Instagram filter I had used. Seated in the vacant spectator stands with not another soul in sight, I was feeling lonely in the vastness of that place; numbed, as tears trickled down my face.

Exit papers

person holding silver pen signing photographers signature
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An hour before uploading that photo, I had signed the exit papers for my last full-time job. The second my pen left the signature line, I was a fish out of water. Without a goodbye to or from anyone, and with mind and heart seemingly filled with the same clouds as those in the skies above, I flopped out of the office aimlessly and somehow ended up at that stadium.

That job I left was a job I had coveted. It was to be my triumphal return to the corporate world after 15 years in various teaching positions. Before teaching, I had slaved for seven hectic years in real estate work, and later, the travel and tourism industry.

In taking on that job, I had high hopes it would be my “crowning glory.” It had been offered to me two years before I turned the Big 5-0. Would have been a great “comeback story.” For who in the corporate world would hire someone close to 50, and whose last job was as a teacher for over a decade?

And the best part? The job was an executive position in digital and social media business strategy and training. A 21st-century job offered to someone born in the 20th century!

An exciting journey to the clouds…

group of person walking in mountain
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Exactly 15 months before that cloudy day, I had embarked on this exciting journey like a retired mountaineer, eager to scale Mount Everest one more time. To prove, despite my age, I could return to the corporate world in a role most assumed was meant for millennials and Gen Z’s. In fact, I was (in this job) surrounded daily by millennials and Gen Z’s!

There was no turning back. If this job bombed, it would be hard for someone my age to find another. Not when the job market was tight then (even before the COVID pandemic), and “cheaper,” younger graduates — local and foreign — were as numerous as the stars. Even returning to academia full-time would be out of the question, especially when cutbacks were the norm in Singapore’s educational institutions at that time.

When I started this digital job in 2018, the workload was manageable. A sleigh ride even! The thrill of meeting and advising senior executive clients on corporate social media strategies. Planning digital and social media training workshops. Bringing in new business deals. Once, the bosses even brought me to Hangzhou, China to attend a three-day conference on Alibaba’s business model for global digital marketing.

It was a heady joyride, those initial months on the job. I was pumped. I relished the work, and how no two days were the same. Unlike in academia, which can feel like one rinse-dry-repeat wash cycle after another, as I taught the same content to different classes daily.

…that spiraled out of control

aerial photo of black spiral staircase
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But after my first whirlwind year on the job, things spiraled out of control. Signs of “wear and tear” in my work started to show. Juggling client demands. Handling deadlines that changed every other day. Accumulating budgeting errors, and overlooking to follow-up on deals fast enough. Bosses swooping in more than a couple of times a week to ‘rescue’ my various faux pas. The pace of work kept accelerating, and I felt increasingly breathless and overwhelmed.

At home, I was spending less time with my family. Though I had initially taken on the job — on its promise of me doing mostly remote work — in order to spend more time with my children, the reality was a far cry from it. On weekends, I was working and responding to texts from bosses almost as much as I was on weekdays. My superiors clearly had their work-life “integration” down pat, and assumed I did too.

And if I wasn’t texting back on weekends, I was agonizing over the deadlines and follow-ups with clients that almost always seemed to happen first thing Monday mornings.

Needless to say, my children saw what was really but a “mannequin” at home everyday, rather than a fully-involved and responsive dad!

I knew eventually, something had to give. Either I quit or went berserk.

And so I quit.

Sitting mournfully in that stadium beneath those dark clouds, I had to admit, in between sobs, that it was my bad. I had thought to “have my cake and eat it too”. To have the glamorous trappings of a corporate job, yet manage my household and family like a concert maestro.

What was I thinking?!


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