Singularity

Singularity

A Story by Philip Muls
"

Snowflakes and people

"

I've been stuck at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for the past four hours now. The flight board shows only cancelations due to a blinding blizzard raging over the Mid-West. With hundreds of other weary travelers, I am gazing down on to the snow-covered tarmac through the floor-to-ceiling airport windows. It is only 2 pm, but the ambiance feels like late afternoon. This perception may be psychological because we all feel gloomy. The huge Christmas tree in the center of the terminal does nothing to cheer us up, everyone just wants to go home.


Outside, the fallen snow is blowing around in all directions causing a complete whiteout. The angry wind slams snowflakes into the windows. I have plenty of time to watch the ice crystals frost the glass with dendrites branching out in asymmetry as if to impress me with their singularity. I watch the window glass turn translucent under a thin film of ice. A familiar mix of happiness and grief engulfs me. 


It is said that melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness. This sliver of joy I feel in otherwise cheerless circumstances is triggered by the untouched, pristine snow which has always been a symbol of bliss to me. Waking up to unexpected snowfall was my ultimate childhood delight. It meant no school and a total breaking away from the ordinary. Snow turned a grim world into a perfect one, a layer of white magic to cover reality. 


As a grown-up, though, there seems to be only downside to snow. I look at the tired faces around me and it makes me sad. It's all within the confines of our heads, I realize. I bet we all have a latent desire to go outside and start a mad snowball fight, but there is just no catalyst here to make that happen.  


My mind drifts to the past week. On my way back to Europe, I have flown here from sunny Las Vegas where I  spent seven days locked up at the unavoidable Caesar's Palace as a participant in our annual Sales Conference. Two thousand four hundred sales execs, all working for the same global software company, have assembled for this big production on The Strip. Tribute is paid to the illusion that once again this year we've beaten the competition. No doubt, somewhere in a similar convention center in Paris or Boston, our adversaries are doing the exact same thing. And so the world turns.


No efforts have been spared to make us feel part of a global powerhouse. Our turnover equals the GDP of a small European country, our CEO shakes hands in Davos with Obama and Merkel and the value of our global brand is right up there with Coca Cola's. And I must admit that the keynote speakers on stage at the Gala Dinner have triggered a definite exaltation in me to belong to this company. When the Sales Achievement Award is granted to Team India for persevering and reaching target despite several natural disasters this year, the crowd goes wild while Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars blasts from the powerful sound system. I feel the adrenaline pumping and my hair is standing on end. I, together with all my peers, am in awe. Tick in the box.


Indeed, I feel as if I've not been alone for one minute the whole week, playing my part in a sophisticated corporate choreography. No need to question the why, we are in Vegas to celebrate the what. All of us essential yet interchangeable cogs in a global sales machine. No room for identity. Safety in conformity. A large corporation is like an army, the platoon matters, not the individual.


Funny when you come to think of it, our overriding commercial objectives seem to be of a higher order than any local disputes we might have. My colleagues flew in from twenty-nine different countries to this desolate place in the Nevada desert as if participating in a Global Peace Summit held in a demilitarized zone. Our Russian sales reps had breakfast with their American peers not discussing the annexation of Crimea. Arabs drank tea with Israelites not touching upon Gaza. Greeks and Germans played the slot machines side by side, unconcerned with the next tier of Triumvirate debt relief. All of the real-world conflicts which are a burning platform outside this hotel are suspended for the duration of this grandiose ego fest. Nothing unites people like money does, at least for one week in this Palace of Kitsch, with not one single window to the world. Narrowing our perspectives down to our trading targets has us properly fixated and acting as brothers-in-arms.


Indeed, the plot in Vegas is to make us feel like corporate warriors. This is cleverly crafted because once we are in that frame of mind, you can ask us anything. Sales heroism is to the alpha male what cocaine is to an addict, injected straight into the vein. The global software market is depicted as a war zone and acts of bravery on this commercial battlefield are rewarded in a very public way. Doses of praise are doled out in the form of sales awards and entry tickets to a select line-up. The group is split in two. Those who ‘made Club' and those who did not. The quota-achieving  elite gets an admission ticket to the prestigious President's Club. This All-Star team will go with their spouses on a lavish company-paid vacation to Aruba. The others will do what it takes to make it next year or will die trying. In any case, ‘The 100% Club' puts a strain on quite a few marriages. 


All of this is pretty addictive stuff, taking place in a Casino of all places. It has us hooked in an eerie, primeval way. The art of selling is framed in terms of campaigns, tactics, and strategies. Recognition is structured as a system of ceremonies, rites, and rituals, appealing directly to the brainstem, the oldest part of our intellect where primitive instincts and primal emotions overrule more sophisticated reasoning. 


Our reptilian brain took millions of years to develop and its agenda is to assure we survive and thrive. It can make us reach beyond our boundaries, fueled by its potent will to power. Think of the ritual behavior of two lions establishing territories and competing for dominance.  Not unlike two sales execs going after the same deal. Winner takes it all. Brilliant set-up and a proven concept borrowed from the world of predators.


Amongst the many hundreds of sales colleagues, only very few are female and the ladies really stand out. Obviously, they are aware of the 100:1 sex ratio here at the event and bask in the extraordinary attention. Dressed for success in Giorgio Armani business suits and spectacular Bulgari evening dresses, they work their double magic of beauty and brains. There is Sarah from Detroit, Ana from Sao Paulo, and, of course, Viktoriya from St-Petersburg who wins over the crowd while presenting a customer case in plenary session in broken English with an irresistible Russian accent. I suspect she masters the English language far better than this but uses the accent for maximum effect on the sea of male onlookers. She is flawless, both in style and essence. Her particular Russian blend of girlish charm and business savvy is a winning combination with this hard-to-please wolf pack. I can only imagine what she can accomplish with a customer. Respect.


I am thinking: ‘She radiates personality’. I've been observing my male colleagues during the week. They all seem cast in the same mold. Look at them and you see ardent crusaders, equipped with adequate body armor - business casual, no tie. They are cool and composed in their personas and robust in their convictions. Life seems straightforward, no room for doubts or regrets. Or any other feelings for that matter.


But I know from experience that fear is a powerful emotion in sales people. Internal competition makes us far more nervous than the customer does. We are anxious not to get behind our peers on the leader board, we are afraid to miss quota, and ultimately to get fired. And these worries overlay a dread buried even deeper, the trepidation to get rejected from a top-selling sales culture that provides not only our livelihood but also our self-esteem. To be in sales is in effect  an elaborate immortality project, feeding off our basic survival instinct. We can achieve greatness amongst our peers and feel part of a symbolic system that provides us with a sense of accomplishment, not to mention cash in our pockets. No need for command-and-control. We so much want to be part of this that we act under our own steam.


I wonder what the others see when they look at me. I am sure my polished exterior cannot hide the fact that my inner weather is more unstable than theirs. Or could it be that they are in the same constant state of flux as I am? How else could I have stood my ground for so long in this competitive crowd and even managed to climb up the food chain.


For the first time ever it strikes me that there is absolutely no way that I'd be somehow special. That I'd be unique, with my shifting emotions and constant mind chatter. I concede that all of us have this same inner dialogue going on. I almost laugh out loud at the thought of speech bubbles floating above all the heads of the conference audience, many hundreds of personal narratives going on at the same time. I feel instant relief just by visualizing this. The seemingly superhuman equanimity of my peers could very well be only skin-deep and does no longer intimidate me. The singularity may be hidden, like a tattoo beneath our Hugo Boss shirts, but it is there.


I come back to the here and now at O'Hare in Chicago when from the corner of my eye I notice the flight board jump from reds to greens. My fellow travelers are picking up their bags and start moving to the gates with restored spirits. I must have been standing here for quite a while lost in thought because the sky has cleared outside. The ice crystals on the window glass reflect the rays of a pale winter sun. Crews outside are de-icing the wings of the planes. We are on the move.


I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Sales is a game and I am a seasoned player. But it is no more than a game. It is not who I am.


My mood gets a further lift when I hear Bruce Springsteen’s  Dancing in the Dark playing in the background. The video wall projects the classic 1984 clip in which The Boss invites a young and stunning Courteney Cox to join him to dance on stage, her first shot at fame. 


I look at the 'Now boarding' sign next to my flight. I walk up to the gate and feel lighthearted while I show my boarding pass to the cute blond attendant. Her name tag spells Vicky which instantly reminds me of my charming St-Petersburg colleague. This Vicky right here smiles back at me in a professional yet personal way. I am sure she is genuinely happy to see me and this is not pretending.



© 2016 Philip Muls



Author's Note

Philip Muls
Version v5 has been uploaded, thank you all for the very relevant feedback.

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Featured Review

breathtaking! I usually shy away from long writes but, damned if I could tear myself away from this brilliant piece. everything in it is just perfect. I'd be very much surprised if this turned out to be fiction. everything in rings true, coming from a methodical, organized mind. reeally super.

Posted 1 Year Ago


3 of 3 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Thank you for kind feedback. Augmented non-fiction, does that exist. Enhanced reality ? I am wonderi.. read more
Woody

1 Year Ago

enhanced reality. that's good. you know how to narrate real events with an elegant pen, if I'm makin.. read more



Reviews

Perfection is the word to describe how amazingly well thought and put this story is. It feels so real.

Superb writing! I absolutely enjoy it reading it! Congrats ;-)
All best,
Sil

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

this is fantastic writing. while reading it, i believe the narrator is a real person, or maybe just fictionalized autobiography. it works really well. i feel that a side of me - me the reader and a real human being - lives in the world that the narrator reveals, and i love/hate that world too, and i can feel the narrators' ambivalence to it too. you capture this world very well. fantastic writing.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I enjoyed this piece. It allowed me to actually live for a moment as your character. Bravo!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

They say "write what you know" and you must have. You painted a vivid picture of corporate tribe. I was fascinated.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Corporate tribe, I like that. Kind regards Philip
This vignette is very tightly wrapped from beginning to end . . . your mostly cerebral writing & perfectionism reflecting the message within. I've spent enuf decades in corporate America to recognize all of this & you've painted the picture with vivid originality, despite the lack of singularity in the corporate culture. Your title, the snowflake observations, & the underlying message of uniformity are well woven to provide contrast & food for thought. I also found your distinctions between men & women in the culture to be interesting . . . even sounding a bit envious for the female singularity . . . and I wanted this part to be drawn out with a few more of your brilliant observations & also more of your spot-on analysis. I'm afraid there are many readers who wouldn't relate to what you're presenting here, as much as someone who's been in the corporate culture for years, even tho you've painted the scenario with precision & imagery. I can feel your silent chafing, here & there, despite your respectful presentation of the facts.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Thank you for open feedback, I agree that this cerebral and also very insider to corporate warrior t.. read more
barleygirl

1 Year Ago

I was just thinking about how a writer might write about an unfamiliar culture in a different countr.. read more
Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Thank you for these very encouraging words!
The most salient points are at the end of the piece. Over all, good word and tense usage, and strong images throughout. I am not sure what you want with regard to feedback. Sometimes I get bogged down in editing line by line and unintentionally offend. That said, this piece looks on the surface to need very little editing in terms of grammar, more a paring down of some of the meandering thoughts.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Thank you for the feedback
Excellent writing, Philip--you spice up your tale with very descriptive phrases. I just wanted to say thank you for becoming a fan of mine, and to say that I'm sorry if I miss a post of yours. Reading a long time is difficult for me due to a car accident/coma suffered a while back, so I tend to avoid it because my eyes each do their own thing!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Take care Michael
Truly enjoyed this write, it was as though I was on the trip too - excellent write!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is very sharp and clear and offers insights into a world that I don't know the first thing about, maybe apart from movies with Michael Douglas or maybe Kevin Spacey :). It's almost journalistic in its approach and even though I prefer fiction I very much enjoyed reading it!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I'm with the pack on this one. I cannot possibly 'review' or 'critique'. But I will say a huge thank you for taking me away from the large group of tradespeople building next door, and depositing me unblinking into another, far more fascinating world. You provided a temporary escape, a reprieve from the mundane, and that - for me at least - is what a good story ought to do.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on December 13, 2015
Last Updated on February 14, 2016
Tags: singularity, uniqueness, sales conference, immortality project, heroic, president's club, poise

Author

Philip Muls
Philip Muls

Grimbergen, Belgium



About
Living in Europe, but travelling frequently in US and Asia. I love to combine what I experience during travel with observations and thoughts about the human condition. more..

Writing

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