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How Ishmael Got Me This Job

by Carlo Alcos Oct 22, 2011
A book ultimately led me to where I am today. Can you identify a turning point in your life and travels?

I THINK I was around 26 or 27 when a friend of mine lent me Ishmael, a novel by Daniel Quinn. The entire book is basically telepathic dialogue between a man and a gorilla, in which the gorilla (Ishmael) teaches this guy the realities of what our civilization is doing to nature, and where we went wrong. It took me quite a few pages to get past that gorilla-teacher thing, but it turned out to be the most influential book I’ve ever read and it may have changed the course of my life.

I was fairly narrow-minded during most of my 20s. It was ignorance — I had the “traditional” vision of career/marriage/kids/house. This is nothing against that lifestyle, but I was never critical about it. I didn’t have the capacity to question it. It was so ingrained into me that I couldn’t see any other way. This was the way things were done and that was that. It was a lifestyle, but it was never a lifestyle choice, because I didn’t know there were options.

It was a lifestyle, but it was never a lifestyle choice, because I didn’t know there were options.

Options. This is what Ishmael taught me. Whether one stands behind what Mr. Quinn puts forth in the book or not, there is no question for me that he at least opens the world up for possibilities. Our civilization, the current way we live right now, didn’t have to turn out like this. It was not a foregone conclusion. The idea that we took a fork in the path and forged our way to where we are today never occurred to me. That we could have taken a different turn and ended up with something completely different was a foreign concept.

Imagining what that “something completely different” might look like is not the point. It’s the very idea that there are endless possibilities. This is how it applied to my personal life. What the book did for me was remove my blinders. I was navigating life without the ability to see what was going on all around me. A couple of years later I had the opportunity to quit a very cushy and secure corporate job to go travel and live abroad. I took it in a heartbeat. I can’t say for certain whether or not I would have without reading that book. But I do know that Ishmael’s words echoed in my head leading up to that point, and I saw things in a very different light.

As life happens, the effects from the decision to quit and leave Canada worked their way down a chain of events — feedback from emails home about my travels that encouraged me to take writing more seriously, my first article published at Matador in 2008, and eventually joining the editorial team in 2009. By extension, it also led me to splitting up with my wife, which was a catalyst to exponential growth as a human being, and what inspires me to continue doing what I do here at Brave New Traveler.

Submissions call: Crossroads

We want to hear stories from you. What crossroads have you encountered in your life? Submissions should be 300-400 words long and will be published as “Quick Reads” at BNT. This means that they will be unpaid, but you will have your byline published along with your story.

Please send your submissions to carlo [at] matadornetwork [dot] com with the word “Crossroads” in the subject line.

As per usual, Matador is always on the lookout for contributors. See our contributors’ guidelines for instructions on regular submissions and our pay rate.

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