Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Snake King Sells Out—Rahul Kanakia

Perhaps I'm betraying my youth and class origins here, but the working world still feels very strange to me. In school, your primary business is the formulation of a personal identity.

the-snake-king-sells-outThe whole basis of the enterprise is that you don't really matter: you're a vessel that needs to be filled up with knowledge and then lobbed at some target. School is all about becoming something.

A school is like a home. It is forced to take you in, and it uses pretty heavy-handed measures to ensure compliance on your part. In school, the focus is on getting away with things and with testing limits and ducking the system.

But the working world is completely different. You're no longer presumed to be valueless. In fact, you're being paid for your time. And there's no longer that element of compulsion. If you don't want to be at your workplace, then they're happy to toss you out. Thus, a workplace contains less need for rebellion and differentiation. In the working world, your primary business is to learn how to generate as little friction as possible. In some ways, work destroys much of the personal development that occurred in school.

When I was in school, all my dreams for the future were subtly tinged by the flavors of school. My dreams were social dreams: I dreamed of myself as the colorful king of ever-larger playgrounds. I thought that success meant having the largest, most faithful, and best-connected clique. I took it for granted that life was played out at the level of the community. But, since graduating, my dreams have become more personal. I've started to see the transience of community. And my dreams have started to work on the level of environment. I've started to dream about inhabiting places (both interior and exterior) that are beautiful and free and full of interesting things.

I wrote this story when I was in the midst of this shift. I'd just left Washington, D.C. and was transitioning towards work as an independent consultant. I was no longer putting on a tie and going to work every day. In some ways, I was trying to go back to school. I'd moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area (where I went to school). I was wearing sandals and sleeping until noon every day. I was associating with many of my old college friends—people who'd never left the area.

At times I thought that maybe I was missing out. I felt like I'd left mythe-snake-king-sells-out community behind, and that it had continued to grow in my absence. I'd enjoyed my time in the jacket-and-tie world, but I was sad that it seemed to have stunted my growth: I felt like I was never going to be the off-beat, self-actualized person that I'd once dreamed of being.

I wrote the first draft of this story in January 2011. The story was originally much longer and ended in a very glum fashion: Perry realized that he could never regain the things that he'd lost.

After several rounds of revision resulted in the removal of about 1000 words from the story, I proceeded to include it in my writing sample for a number of applications to Master of the Fine Arts programs in creative writing.

Nine months later (at about the time that many [though not all] of those programs were rejecting me), I got an email from editor Edmund Schubert saying that he had a positive abhorrence for my chosen ending. However, if I wanted to rewrite the ending, then he'd consider publishing the story.

After several rewrites, I came upon the current ending. During the course of my revisions on this story, I was finally able to move the story past my personal experience and start using it to explore the various changes in the gay community over the past few decades and, more generally, in the evolution of various subaltern groups over time.

The final ending hit a note of hope and progress that I could not have achieved a year and a half ago, when this story was newly-formulated. I'm grateful to Edmund for seeing something
worthwhile in the story and offering me a chance to revise it. Since writing this story, I've had an exhilarating time. I've made friends, found new communities, and done some tremendous self-actualization. But I also feel like I've started to move beyond those school-boy dreams.

I no longer feel like I'm in the process of becoming something.

--Rahul Kanakia

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