Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Sky is Falling

I moved to Sao Paulo, Brasil in August of last year for a temporary assignment. It was a great promotion for me, making me the youngest director in my company at 29. I work as a business unit director responsible for marketing and sales for a global pharmaceutical company, and the company was launching a new subsididiary in Latin America's largest city.

Seven years ago at the age of 23, I had my first experience in Brasil when I won an internship with another large pharmaceutical company. I lived, worked, and played in the world's 3rd largest city for 16 life changing months where among other things I became fluent in Portuguese and met the woman who ould become my wife four years later.

I don't believe in coincidences.

In around April of 2005, my bosses boss strode into my office buried inside the corporate headquarters in New Jersey, and asked me if I would be interested in taking a challenging assignment in Brasil. Now, when I joined the company in 2002, I joined with the understanding that I would never have a chance to return to Brasil, at least not with this company, because we did not have a subsidiary in this market. I asked my bosses boss, why me, and he replied that they were looking for someone in the company that had US launch experience in the cardiovascular market, was fluent in Portuguese, and had a working knowledge of the Brasilian market. And I was the only person in the whole company who fit the bill. Where do I sign up, I remarked.

My return to Brasil has been exceptionally chaotic. Moving 3000 miles, finding an apartment, launching a company, while struggling to find some kind of balance in my life. Coming back here represents the closing of a cipher of some kind for me. Seven years ago, this was where I began my first novel, (working title: One Blood). Seven years and five cities later I have finished the novel but now my dilemma is, how to get published in America from another continent. But this will be a recurring topic in my blogs, just not for today.

So last week, I'm sitting in my office at work when suddenly I hear the screams of sirens in unison. I look out my 15th floor window and in addition to the rain, I see all of this smoke coming from the local airport, Congonhas, which handles all domestic flights. People on my floor are panicked and no one really knows what's going on. My wife calls me to tell me that a plane that was trying to land there, skidded off the runway, crossed a busy highway, and crashed into a warehouse owned by the same airline. As I watched on with bated breath, the totals began coming in, 191 dead. This marked Brasil's deadliest air disaster and the third major calamity within the past 12 months.

Last November, a passenger airline crashed into a private jet and crashed in the Amazon forest killing 154. Then in January, a subway station collapsed killing 45. And here I am, worried more about my daily sales numbers than these trajedies, numb to anything that does not affect me directly. Ignorant of the fact that these mass tragedies are slowly reshaping our world. For those of us left, we need to heed these warnings, but instead we ignore them, until we are the next one's who have to die for someone else to wake up.

Like the story of the man who desperately needed to get back to Sao Paulo last week for the birth of his daughter. He was booked on a later flight, but switched with a physician (who works very closely with me), also on the plane. The physician told me that his stomach had been hurting all day and he took advantage of getting off the plane to get some medicine for his belly. 45 minutes later, his plane had been reduced to flames. He expressed to me that it was like he got to experience everything in his life for the first time again. Holding and kissing his wife and children. Eating his dinner. Taking a shower. Everything had gained meaning to him. He had gotten a second chance at life and he was not about to waste it.

I admire him. He is certainly one of the lucky ones. But why do we have to avoid death to start living and appreciating life?

I think I've finally gotten the point. I hope that you do too.

Until we speak again..

"Life is not the opposite of death; birth is, because life has no opposite."


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

American Psycho

Now that I've got your attention. Welcome to the ramblings and ruminations of Qwantu Amaru (kwan-too - a-mar-oo).

This blog begins like a good novel is supposed to, in the middle of the action. I won't bore you with my back story or anything like that, we'll get to know each other over time.

I'm currently reading American Psycho, an excellent novel by Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero, The Laws of Attraction) which marks the second week in a row that I'm reading something related to a homicidal psychopath (last weekend was Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris). I didn't do this on purpose mind you, I was just looking on my bookshelves for books I hadn't read yet and these two books happened to leap out at me in sequence.

But one shouldn't confuse Ellis's psycho, Patrick Bateman, a successful WallStreet executive, with Hannibal Lecter. They couldn't be more different on the outside. Bateman is a yuppie living the high-life during the Reagan era, Lecter is a World War II survivor. But there are similarities. Each has given up their respective humanity for what they call the hunger or blood lust that overtakes them. And both are products of their respective environments, on the nurture side of the vs. nature debate.

But hold on Qwantu. Products of their environments? What sort of upbringing or environment would make a successful, good-looking, powerful Wall Street executive, start randomly torturing and killing first women (colleagues and prostitutes), then homeless people, then animals, then anyone who crosses his path?

I'm glad you asked.

The concept is that the elite of society live by different rules then you and I do. They basically "get away with murder" everyday, meaning that they can do whatever, whenever, and however they wish. This leads to a numb, bland existence where life no longer holds any meaning. Bateman's homicidal rampage is actually a cry for help, but the world is oblivious to him. Either no one in his upper crust circle believes that he could be capable of such atrocities, or they all have demons on the same scale.

Now make the migration to a young black kid, well bred, time spent abroad and here in the states, tremendous basketball talent. This kid is raised to believe that the rules that apply to the rest of the world do not apply to him. How? because the first time he gets involved in a criminal altercation, nothing happens. Maybe he date rapes a girl while in high school and everybody is in on the cover up. And this kid makes it to the NBA and one year during the off season, sodomizes some poor receptionist at the hotel where he's rehabbing for a knee injury. And two years later still has the most popular jersey in the NBA store. But I digress.

Are we creating a class of American Psycho's. Are there a bunch of Patrick Bateman's, walking among us? Scary thought.

Much scarier to me than Hannibal Lecter, a character who, up until this point, was one of the most terrifying characters I'd ever read. But Thomas Harris has humanized his monster to the point that he is no longer scary. Like when Freddy Krueger started telling jokes. I never wanted to, or needed to, feel sorry for Hannibal the Cannibal. But I think Harris's relationship to Lecter is not unlike Truman Capote's relationship to Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith.

And not unlike American society's relationship and fascination with homicidal maniacs.

Like a mirror from hell, they show us the true depths of depravity and madness that exist within us all. And we can't look away.

"The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change"

Carl Rogers