26 December 2010

Born with a weak heart / I guess I must be having fun

Another laundry-day dispatch, as I sit tucking my legs out of the way of a tiny woman dressed like a teenager (purple velour pants, pink plaid hooded jacket) whose voice reveals her to be fifty or so. My head is fuzzy from a weekend of sitting – in the cars between Chicago and Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids and the nameless woods north of White Cloud where my grandparents live, at tables and on sofas, at the cramped bedside of my grandfather in the hospital where he has been since damaging his 82-year-old hip. Hours of waiting. Sleepy though I have done so little to tire me, enervated by the cloying air of such close quarters. I'll be glad to ride through the wet chill of the evening to Heather's tonight.

My dad and stepmother offered to drive me back to the city to spend more time with me; we spent almost the entire time in silence. There is just nothing to say. I am snappish at the questions that emerge cringing from the quiet spells, which start from such incorrect assumptions that I grow exhausted at the whole world of information I must attempt to convey in order to provide an accurate answer. (Such as: “Do they have Panera in Chicago?” and “Are you still playing with your band? At least you can make some money that way.” Yes, and yes, but no, and this is all quite beside the point.) They are suspicious and na├»ve, in terror of and incurious about the big, strange city where, to their bafflement, I insist on living. “There are so many buildings,” my father says with disapproval over and over as we go up Lakeshore Drive. “Starbucks,” my stepmother reads out, and then, “The Uptown Lounge.” And it makes me so mean, so mean.

I got a birthday card from my father this past year and it occurred to me for the first time – in at least a decade, if not in my entire life – that he must actually love me. I saw him standing before the rows of Hallmark cards (“Birthday – Daughter”) and selecting this particular card after reading several others, because he thought it was the nicest, and this vision seemed produced not by imagination but by sudden knowledge. The thought made me terribly sad.

I'm very bad at all that sort of thing, filling out the social forms dictated by the flat fact that one has fallen into some relation to some other person. It is not this way for everyone – I know that this is true but it is not a state I can feel my way into very well. Some people are able, with conviction and without further explanation or qualification, to say that “family is important” to them – not that they like, or love, their relatives (as I do truly like and love many of mine) but that their being family is enough to make them matter, not just socially but personally, spiritually.

Perhaps it's a feeling of kinship, a happy recognition of oneself in one's family. But the traits I observe in both my family and myself are not the good ones; they mostly make me despise the both of us a little. So I hear in my voice my mother's nice-lady drawl (without having her commitment to being an actual nice lady); I see in my grandfather's unshakeable routines my own curmudgeonly rigidity; and in my father's greenish eyes, looking away, I see my unwillingness to risk confronting any truths between us. (The greatest unreasonable hatreds are produced, I think, by just such unwilling acts of identification. I have dropped friends because they made the faux pas I would make, told the bad jokes I had to force back from between my teeth. I felt complicit in their every infelicity because I had felt so deeply the impulse to commit it.)

And the qualities I don't mind observing in myself rarely receive their fullest expression in family situations. I am glad to have inherited my grandmother's entirely non-ideological atheism – a sort of natural irreligion -- for instance, and my grandfather's unfussy competence in handling practical affairs. But these are not the basis of a normal conversation. Most of the time, we speak of what we know and have experienced, not what we are – and appropriately so. My new and awful coworker is constantly making such asides as “Well, I'm a very social person” or “But then, I am extremely perceptive.” One doesn't do that. But the shared knowledge base between me and my relatives is tiny; it will support hardly a dozen sentences or so before collapsing into silence.

This makes it tough to buy presents for each other. We ask others for suggestions and after much struggle come up with things like gloves and socks and lotion. It seems that I am nearly alone in really liking to buy gifts for people, so my inability to think of something perfect and unexpected bothers me more than it does my relatives. I like the bright paper and the surprise; it matters to me that I try.

Sometimes I do okay. “Hey, you're good at this,” my grandma said after my gifts had been opened this year, and it was one of the best compliments I've received in months. But I am not getting permanently better at knowing these people. I will wring my hands over all of this again next year, not being able to fill the deficit of feeling in myself that keeps me from making any lasting improvement. I'll return and stand again coldly to one side -- a snowgirl with a heavy heart. But cheered by the surrounding colored lights.

Title credit: Talking Heads -- via the excellent mix Heather made me for Christmas.

16 December 2010

You Can't Fire Me

Outside it's the right temperature for snow to achieve a certain perfection, fluffy but still crisp, around twenty-three degrees Fahrenheit. This is not the snow that on colder nights seems to be dropped in from the darkness of the outer cosmos, the flakes landing one by one, their shapes precisely outlined as on microscope slides. No, this is a convivial, Christmasy snowfall, charmingly eager to cover anything grown gray and sludgy since the last snow. (It has its work cut out for it in the landscape surrounding the laundromat where I'm writing this.) It's nice.

I feel a general giddiness in winter. Big decisions or big catastrophes (big relative to the regular small texture of my life, that is) tend to happen to me in these months. The evening mood is restlessness, a dreaming of big projects that will not let me sleep. During the days I am held down by gray skies and the half-frozen slop of the roads, but between these heavy layers there is a twitching paranoiac intelligence felt mainly in the chest, an uncomfortable sharpening and branching of the senses which seems always about to resolve into some revelation. And when, as happens once or twice a month in the midwest, sunshine breaks through, the thaw brings into me a sort of blubbering gratitude; every motion is clumsy and bizarre because it is the holding back of a skip or a leap, and even the least heartfelt smile is accompanied by a welling of the eyes. In winter even relaxation is only a temporary recovery from some exhausting minor mania or other.

Along with these familiar moods, I lately had been feeling again as I did when I was least well (OpenOffice's autocomplete feature believes that I mean “least well-loved,” and this is probably also true), in high school, so desperate to be left alone by life as to be constantly inviting crises that might provide some valid exemption from it. If one can not act out, one instead walks along and conjures violence upon oneself: so sorry I could not come to work, but on the way I was stabbed in the chest. My apologies for the lateness of this exam; it is just that I fell off a building in the middle of Question 5. Some near-fatality from which one could slowly recover into a quieter, warmer new life.

But this is just a weakness of the will. (As eventually I learned.) It is a fear of making decisions, of the damage one might do if one assumes control of one's life, of the blame one might incur. I have worked hard at being less afraid. With much nail-biting I occasionally now manage to resolve to change my life rather than dreaming of calamitous escapes. Accordingly, on Tuesday, I quit my job.

I gave a month's notice. Besides my boss and the board, I've so far tried to keep the news to friends who will be understanding, rather than the anxious majority who will cluck at me with questions about what I will do next and do I understand how awfully unwise it has been to leave a job without having another lined up. To avoid such conversations, I've tended to lie when quitting jobs. More than once I have quit over the telephone with apologetic stories of the new job I have been offered out of the blue, which requires that I start in a week or two, or right away.

This is, according to an imprecise and paranormal logic, how I got my current job. I was sick to death of my job waiting tables, and wanted to spend more time with my visiting boyfriend, so I called and explained my imaginary situation, and never went back. Two days later, walking through the tropical bird house at Lincoln Park Zoo, I received a call from the temp agency I'd worked for months ago offering me my current job.

To avoid meeting with another such winking trick of fate, I told more or less the truth when I resigned this position. To be sure, I hung the whole thing on a rather minor reason for my dissatisfaction – my salary – and crossed my fingers against a counter-offer which, thankfully, has not come. Any efforts to convince me to stay have been so small that I am sure those making them must know how ineffectual they will be. And every day my relief to be leaving has grown stronger. I could withstand a lot in the way of persuasion now, I think, and still not turn back from the door.

Did I ever say what happened? No, not really. It involved an overnight ouster of my old company and takeover by a new company, the firing of my one remaining office-mate, an interview before the Board for my old boss's position (which seemed as close to campaigning for office as I ever hope to come), and my being given an absurdly adult and responsible job. For a month and a half I have been trying to do the work of three to four people, succeeding only well enough to keep up appearances. It has been almost no fun. There were almost no reasons to keep doing it, except for the ones that other people will seize upon immediately: the money, the authority, the experience (in a field I do not plan to spend my life in), the unusual and really underserved good luck having of a job at all. 

It will be hard for a while to deal these worried ones, parents and the like, so concerned for my well-being. I instinctively bristle at such lamentations (always barely hiding accusations), as when I'm told to “be safe” on my bike. But I am feeling rich with the good fortune I have just claimed for myself and must be generous. I must remember to remain polite, and hide my rather gauche smile. 

05 December 2010

I Dream Again Now of Spectacular Failures

I dream again now of spectacular failures,
to cushion me against the rude shocks
of success. In the unfortunate case
of my bosses, for instance, I will resoundingly
announce my verdict. (Tough but fair.) I'll let
the next blind shoulder that knocks into me
just push me down, and lie there in the street.
I will not suffer anyone to help
me up who is not of pure heart. (I will
wait hours, blocking traffic.) At last
I will become completely unembarrassable,
and make flamboyantly embarrassing

                 After this they will demand
so little. Once it was thought I would
not even go to college, my sickness be
my work. In such a state it's an accomplishment
to sleep eight hours soundly. In such a state,
to waste an afternoon in fabrication
of tiny beauties is still strange, but less so.
It is, at least, forgiven.

                                      So I
weakmindedly imagine. In truth in such
a state there are still bosses, they are doctors.
The work is not the sickness but the getting
well; one is demanded to perform it
with such haste, in such bad faith.
So what to do but to stitch closed that artery,
though it should mean forgetting the actual tint
and quickness of the blood.


On the above: just a poemlet written on a train, in the blank spaces of an advertisement about airports and computers since I didn't have any paper. It doesn't rise to the status of anything much, I think, but it is a way of saying in brief how things are with me right now. There are so very many things I could say directly about what is happening in my job and my life but I no longer have any time to write them down at work because of them. People keep congratulating me, but most days I would rather have been fired. I think of quitting but probably will not be brave enough. I just got back from visiting a friend who never is afraid to quit bad jobs -- a good influence. My blue-collar sense of responsibility and my fear of angering everyone and also never finding another job again will likely keep me at it, even so. Truly I feel that the entire United States of America will castigate me as an ingrate if I deliberately leave such a very good job.

Another good influence is Laura Riding's Progress of Stories, which I have been reading lately for the first time. Some things she has to say:

"The wisest course was for the young to be grateful to the old and to show their gratitude by seeming to understand how important it was to have worries -- instead of behaving as if worries were a disease. It was this kind of delicacy that sold art." -- "The Incurable Virtue."

"And this was the difference between the world of self and the world of knowledge: that the world of knowledge was only and endless prolongation of uncertainty, while the world of self was a prolongation of fear of uncertainty." -- "Miss Banquett, or the Populating of Cosmania."

It's possible that I won't be able to update this blog in any regular way for several months, and then after that the substance of my life may be different enough that the concept of it will have to be changed entirely. To my very avid and loyal and very imaginary readers, I apologize.

22 October 2010

Living in the day

On Wednesday I called in sick to work in order to finish writing a midterm essay that was due that evening, doing that thing I do where I put myself into a sick-person mindset in order to sound convincing on the phone and consequently end up feeling like a genuine invalid all day. Which only gets worse if the thing you’re staying home to do is sitting at your computer for hours while the perfect October sunshine waves outside your windows, crisp-edged October shadows parading slowly around the room.

Finally I went out to get lunch at Nhu Lan Bakery across the street, which was a good decision. The weather was a real masterpiece. It’s exciting to be walking around in the day when you’re usually cooped up in the office. You think that maybe if you kept a different schedule you’d have a better outlook, if your workday wasn't bookended by angry Chicago rush hours. I get the same effect when I have to run a lot of errands on my lunch break, riding around on my bike. The people I see out walking during the day look disproportionately attractive, happy, interesting. It seems like they probably have cooler jobs than everyone.

The women behind the counter at Nhu Lan are invariably charming, usually beaming. They have always indulged and encouraged my forays into the weirder parts of the Vietnames dessert canon -- taro-coconut-mung-bean pudding! sesame balls filled with red bean paste! -- without condescension, providing instructions as to their proper preparation (heat the coconut milk just a little first) when needed. Catching them earlier in the day meant that they had even more good cheer to share. For instance I always order my banh mi without mayonnaise, and this time a woman drew my attention away from the bizarre Vietnamese TV program that was playing -- some “comically” dressed soldiers were mugging their way through a mournful song -- to ask if I wanted veggie pate instead. What a nice idea!  It was delicious, though I’m not totally sure what the pate is made of; the bright pink food coloring thwarts any real investigation.

Maybe it’s sad when a good lunch seems like the high point of your day. But it made me feel less like I was about to flunk out of my life. I hadn’t stayed home just because I was too incompetent to finish my school work on time. I had stayed home to taste the particular pleasures of an autumn afternoon on Lawrence Avenue, and tinily succeeded.

19 October 2010

Limping and Poorly-Dressed

As I walk back from the bathroom I watch myself in the mirror on the wall of the meeting room to gauge how well I am hiding my limp. Pretty well. It’s the kind of injury you’re a little embarrassed to explain: last night at the library I stepped onto an escalator and badly twisted my ankle, the one that’s always been weak from a fifteen-year-old rollerblading injury. (That was also a little embarrassing to explain, though I was a kid at the time -- I was doing a jump off this really “fun” (bad) section of sidewalk across the street and just landed wrong.) Okay. I might get through the day without comment.

I take a look at my outfit too -- a little bit better than usual, today. Sartorially I am not my best self at work. I’ve mentioned my use of chance operations to guide me in the otherwise-formless tasks of life; same goes for getting dressed on weekday mornings. For instance I’ll start at the left of the shirt section of my closet. If the first in line won’t work I’ll go to the far right, then back again if that one’s no good, and so on, making allowances for weather and a minimal level of matching.  

It is possibly a little obsessive-compulsive, this controlled relinquishing of control. Sure, maybe. A funny thing: I like to dress. I have many more clothes than I need; in my free time and especially on stage I give plenty of thought to how I look. Refusing to use my own taste and style to put together outfits for work is perhaps just one tactic among many for deflecting responsibility, another way in which I am always saying: this is not where my real life is happening. If anyone wants to know where the real life is, they might guess (and might even guess correctly, though I don’t think anyone generally is interested), but I am not providing any maps.

15 October 2010

Curriculum Vitae Somnium

We deal with children in such bad faith. Even when we are kind to them, we tend to treat them more or less as pets who can be expected to bask in our mere attention and the solicitousness overenunciated in our tone, without any requirement that they understand us. We are constantly using children for our own amusement, asking them questions to entertain ourselves rather than for any actual intention of conversation.

Daily, kids in the building come into our office to drink water from the magically cold cooler with the wax-paper cones, or just to explore, slipping out of the grip of their parents or older siblings on the way from the front door to the elevators. I like kids, they tend to like me, and I try to return the favor by speaking to them as persons, though I don't always succeed.

My coworker would also say that she likes children if asked, but when faced with them she is every overbearing distant aunt a child has ever had, speaking too loud, underestimating their age and level of comprehension. And she asks the questions children are doomed to answer over and over until adulthood with polite boredom, like celebs on a fifteen-year-long interview circuit. What's your favorite color? What's your favorite class in school? Do you get good grades? What's your teacher's name? What do you want to be when you grow up?

This last one is interesting, I think: from the time they can speak, we begin demanding that children justify their childhood by envisioning their place in the adult world. This isn't unnatural, of course -- adulthood is a favorite game for any child.  Overhearing such exchanges got me thinking about the shadow career that has preceded and run parallel to my actual work life, the trajectory of my responses to the question, posed or tacit, of what I would like to be.

Olympic Figure Skater, ages 5 to 11
The only athletic pursuit at which I ever truly excelled was figure skating. It relies on lower body strength and a good sense of balance, which are about the only physical powers I possess in more than trace amounts. I took group lessons at the local city rink and moved through the levels. There were skill sets you had to learn to pass each level. Much like Girl Scouts and Awana, which I also adored at the time, progress was measured and rewarded through workbooks, stickers and badges. I loved my teachers and, as I got older, wondered how they had come to be skating here at a little arena in Grand Rapids rather than on my television screen. (I liked Surya Bonaly, who never placed in the Olympics, best -- the huge strength that overpowered her grace, her smile that was fierce rather than ingratiating, her pride and temper. By contrast, Nancy Kerrigan couldn't really hold my attention, but I still wrote her a fan letter when I was about eight; they printed an address for her somewhere.) I wondered how they felt about that.

As I got older I stopped getting better as quickly; it was around the time I was working on my single axle, the hardest of the single jumps. I never quite got there. I had reached the highest level the Park District offered, and my family didn't have the money to pay for private lessons. I'd also sprained my ankle badly in the spring of fifth grade, keeping me off the ice for almost a quarter of a crucial year. So it all stopped -- the crispness of the early Saturday mornings at the rink followed by cheeseburgers at the diner on the way home, impressing friends at school skating parties, performing in the ice shows (think dance recitals on ice).

I don't skate much these days; it depresses me to feel all the skill I've lost and won't ever get back. Realistically, I know I could not have come within shouting distance of the Olympics anyway: professional figure skaters tend to come from rich families or to be so prodigiously talented that it doesn't much matter. But the ability to sail along the ice and alight into the air is a freedom I have lost and still miss dearly.

Police Officer, ages 9 to 10
Given my subsequent adolescent rebellion and general anti-authoritarian outlook, this one's funny. But at the time, the idea of being a cop played into two of my most deeply held values: being good and being tough. I liked stories about tough women. I had an inflated sense of my own moral superiority. And I thought it would be neat to carry a gun. All of these things are still true to some extent. (Please don't worry: I doubt I will ever actually own a gun.)

Stage Actor, ages 10 to 16
In fourth grade I wrote, directed and cast myself in a class play about a yellow submarine full of schoolchildren that ventured under the ocean to learn things about marine life. It was a blatant (if unconscious) ripoff of The Magic Schoolbus, and I'm not sure why my teacher let me take charge of the whole project in this way; my casting decisions and audition process especially caused some dissension among my classmates. It's a natural slide from games of pretend to the theater. My two best friends and I thought we were so good at pretending that, taking advantage of our costumes on Halloween, we advertised and staged during recess poorly-attended productions whose concepts were dictated by the need to incorporate such casts of characters as, for instance, a ninja, a vampire and a robot.

When I was ten I transferred to a performing-arts magnet school. It was in the inner city where kids knew more about being cool; I'd been on the low end of the coolness curve even in the neighborhood where I lived. I was teased more that year than in the rest of my childhood combined, but I loved going to theater class twice a week. I tried to take charge of my group's skits, but sometimes I was stuck with boys who just wanted to shoot at each other. Too scared of being called a snitch and a goody-goody, I didn't stand up for my own vision, and sat there with tears welling up behind my glasses when, inevitably, the teacher chastised us for the formless violence I'd been roped into acting out.

I didn't win a major role in the school play that year because I looked too young. This was a problem throughout my first two years of high school theater, too: still asked regularly if I would like a kiddie menu at restaurants, I couldn't even convincingly play a teenager. I kept at it, though, competing and often placing in statewide competitions.

Theater was a big part of my life in high school. I met one of my best friends -- the first kid I knew who was as queer and as radical as me -- at a competition, though socially I didn't totally fit in with most of the theater kids. I was too quiet, too internal, not positive enough, and I think that's why eventually I turned out to be not completely cut out for the stage.

I'm good at pretending to feel things, at imagining myself into other situations. I can Method it up any day of the week. But I have always been accused of emotional illegibility; ultimately I couldn't project myself far enough for an audience to see clearly. For a while I had thought I'd try to go to college and major in theater, but I'd decided against it by my senior year. I think I was a pretty good actor. I wouldn't have been great, though. It wasn't worth pursuing. There are plenty of other ways to play pretend.

Eco-Terrorist, ages 15-17
I've never been more idealistic and more disenchanted than I was then. I didn't think I was going to go to college at all. I thought I was going to go live in the Pacific Northwest and spike trees and live from dumpsters. I was reading a lot of CrimethInc lit and Edward Abbey.

Astronaut, age 17
In my senior year, my teacher for statistics and homeroom decided for his own obscure reasons that I ought to become an astronaut. I was pretty good at statistics, despite my previously lackluster career in mathematics, and I think I had really liked a Nova documentary that we had watched in class. His advocacy of this path for me was confusing, flattering and deeply weird.

Librarian, age 18 to the present (intermittently)
I first thought I might go to library school when I began working at the college library my freshman year. My friend Kevin laughed at me when I mentioned it -- he said it sounded like the most boring, uninspiring civil service job he could think of. And it didn't hit me as a divine calling, true. Between then and now I variously considered publishing, linguistics and typeface design. But librarianship seemed, and seems again now, like work for which I am very well suited. My vocation always be art-stuff. But this feels like less of a compromise than any other avenue I could pursue.

(I've left out lots of things, of course. And if anyone will please correct my Latin in the above, I would be delighted.)

The show where we say "Hey, we're back!"

Naturally, the world demands that if you begin a blog premised on your suddenly copious free time at work, said free time will immediately begin to evaporate until your to-file bin is stacked half as high as your computer monitor and you begin to speak as tersely and quietly as possible as if to save time and energy for all the other tasks ahead of you.

I took a vacation. Then I came back and my coworker, who had been suffering through the days of my absence with a terrible cold, immediately went home and stayed there for a couple of days. But now I am back and although I haven’t done all the things I need to do, there are few enough that I can hold them all in my head at once.

But I’m back! Eventually I abandon all diaries, but not this one, not yet. I can’t abandon my approx. 1.5 readers, after all. So: new posts are a goal. Maybe even another one later today.

(Title credit: Jonathan Katz.)

23 September 2010

I heard something scary

I've mentioned that the building where I work houses people from all over the world. Language barriers are present, but usually we can work around them -- I have some Spanish and a large vocabulary of hand gestures to fall back on. Many of them have lived in the U.S. a long time and don't have much trouble with English, but there are some words that really just have too many syllables or are otherwise too weird to handle. So, for example, every couple weeks, when our pest-control guy is scheduled, someone says something to me like this:

"So, I know the Terminator is coming to our floor today . . ."

and I picture Schwarzenegger stalking down the halls.

22 September 2010

On Naming, Part 2

The UPS man just left. My office receives packages for the entire building, and it’s one of my favorite parts of this job. A child could do it, but it’s satisfying -- the smell of the Sharpie, writing out the names in my good cursive in the log book and then on the notification slips. (Really I like just about any task where I get to use my good handwriting.) And I like the names themselves. Here, they’re deliciously diverse. Spanish, Fillipino, Nigerian, Ghanaian, Ethiopian, Romanian, etc. I like that I know how to pronounce them and know off the top of my head whom they belong to, most of the time.

I keep a draft e-mail to no one in my Gmail account full of all the funny or resonant names of the fake people who send me spam, purveyors of Vi@gra and Genuine Ro1ex Watches. The fabulous Fabius Akins. Poor Jean P. Conklin and Quincy G. Law, stuffy souls who mean well. Those mysterious and vaguely foreign ladies Wilhelmina Salvemini and Liliana Blondell.

As a child I was a little god, drawing casts of characters out of thin air, then drawing maps of cities for them to live in, the floor plans of their homes, writing out their relationships to one another. It was all like the front matter for a series of unwritten Russian novels. True, the dramatis personae might have made for an oddly lopsided narrative: my creatures were almost always girls, mostly my age or a little older. Boys were boring to draw, and it was hard to differentiate between them. (I also had trouble keeping the male characters straight watching old black-and-white movies --all those suits and fedoras. I’m still not great with faces -- recently I took one of those online tests to determine whether you might have prosopagnosia and scored on the very lowest edge of normal. It’s not as if there’s any cure, anyway.) One of the best gifts I received was the Babysitter’s Club board game, not because the game was any fun -- it was so boring I don’t think we made it through a single round-- but because the game board was a map of Stoneybrook, the town where they all lived. (A name still apparently in the ready reference section of my memory, with its nice proximity to “Storybook.” Way to go, Ann M. Martin.) I could imagine my own characters running through the backyards, visualize the routes they’d take to get to school.

Today, I’m drawn to maps as other people are, helplessly, to any nearby television screen. At night while I wait for sleep, I sometimes pass the time by naming the streets of Chicago in order, Howard to Roosevelt, Michigan out into the alphabet. The rational comprehensibility of Chicago appealed to me when I was considering a move to somewhere I’d never even stayed the night.

I realize that this all may sound profoundly dull -- other kids probably invented worlds full of dragons and duchesses and space aliens. I did some of that too, I guess, but mostly I conjured up the world in which I already lived. It struck me early that we would not have all this forever, so I snuggled up in the texture of the actual and the mundane. How bland, to have been born a writer of realistic fictions.

People who believe in an afterlife may find fantasy more readily at hand, I don’t know. For me, this life is all I’ve got, and I’m constantly bumping up against the limits of my own narrow experience. Even this, here, now, is so frustratingly vast, far beyond one person’s power to know firsthand. You have to get into it in other ways. So I make lists and maps and songs and stories, keeping tabs on the real and the possible until it slips away.

"Not all of us were sent here to work." -- Eileen Myles.

I had about five ideas for the name of this blog, and forgot them all when it really came time to choose one. (I'm constantly thinking of band names too, even though my band is, I think, adequately named. Last night at practice we came up with Quad Attack and The Lord Fuck, among a couple other good ones I can't remember. Just things that arose out of conversation. I want to save every funny phrase and give it a home somewhere; I'm like Adam naming the animals in reverse, inventing new creatures just to have something to call out to. Wallace Stevens filled notebooks with possible titles for poems, which you can tell by the names he chose for the ones that actually got written.)

It's a spur-of-the-moment title. But as I am approaching, with dread, another job-seeking phase of my life, when I will have to spend hours writing cover letters and tinkering with my resume and "marketing" myself, the idea of having a space where I can let all my latent unemployability hang out appeals to me. In these days when establishing an online presence means throwing up giant billboards for yourself in every possible venue, I am making an anti-advertisement. Not for sale. Just for sharing.

It's not that I'm a terrible worker. When I have a job I like, I'm great at it. I learn fast and work fast, though, so I often end up having extra time in my day. And if I get bored with a job, I'll start looking for ways to spread that extra time around rather than ending up with a big chunk of it at the end of the afternoon. Slacking off creeps into my daily routine and begins to take over. Eventually I can't remember what it was like to just straightforwardly accomplish one task after another.

I'm lazy in other areas of my life, too. The floor goes unswept, the dishes pile up. Homework gets put off until the evening before it's due. Meanwhile I'm sitting around reading, playing guitar, avoiding leaving my girlfriend's house even though we both should get on with our lives. When you're in love it feels like you're really getting things done. You're spending your time on something so patently worthwhile -- everyone accepts love as a major life goal, right? Then it's 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon and you haven't done anything all day but lounge around in bed and prepare a giant brunch and do the crossword.

But laziness grows out of fear as well. If you never act on your ambitions you can never be rejected. The discovery of all your talent is left up to the rest of the world, and if they don't find you, well, it's their tough luck. This is a genuinely terrible and insidious attitude to take, and I feel that way all the time. So this blog is both an acknowledgment of my unfitness for serious work and an attempt to counteract it. Maybe I can use my tendency to slack off at work as a model for better things: if I can introduce enough writing into my routine, it will come to seem natural, like it's all I was ever supposed to be doing.

21 September 2010

I heard something

Really I am not a miserablist. (That's just how my face is.) I like lots of things! Even when they happen at my job. People say great things all the time. Like:

"What is this? Oh, some book I ordered I ain't know nothin' about." -- Woman picking up a package.

"Don't just come in and stand there like a Frankenstein." -- Coworker, about another coworker.

Chance Operations

It’s strange times at my job these days. My boss was fired, but the rest of us are still here. (And she was fired for terrible non-reasons. She wasn’t a good boss, but she was good at many other important parts of her job, and really her job itself is an important one.) So sometimes that means I have to work harder and do more things, but mostly it means I arrive every day a little after nine and check into a space with very little gravity, where there can be no real consequences for slacking off because there is no real future to speak of. And I so sit and read the Internet, mainly.

My coworkers and I are here until maybe the end of October, maybe the end of the year. The people at the main office don’t bother to fill us in anymore. Maybe they think we already know more than they do. Maybe they’re just trying to keep their heads above water and can’t be bothered sending any signals.

This job has always been strange, though it shares many elements with other jobs that aren’t impossible to explain to people in a few words, setting off a race between boredom and confusion in the mind of anyone unfortunate enough to ask. There are normal office things however. Computers. Phones. People to please and displease. Even before my boss left, I had checked out, become Bartleby’s dishonest cousin -- not doing any work that wasn’t urgent until either it became urgent or somebody came by who might observe me. Then, in order to look as though I was working, I would do my work. Now there is hardly anybody around to inspire me to preserve appearances. I still get things done. Just enough. I’ll structure my day in nontraditional ways: each time my coworker stands up, or the phone rings, I’ll accomplish one small task, for instance. File the first half-inch of papers in my bin.

(It’s like how when I’m walking I’ll let chance determine my route. Red light? Car coming? Change direction. A person approaching? Cross to the other side of the street. I used to think this was just the result of a fatal weakness of will, a pathological reluctance to decide. Lately though I’ve been rereading Chinese philosophy and now I think I am just letting myself by guided by the Dao.)

But what a way to spend a third of my waking hours, to feel the days moving around me as fungible and weightless as soap bubbles. Why not write, now that I have the time? I don’t think the diary is an especially noble form. But it is a possible form for now, one that won’t be too disturbed by a telephone call or blat of the two-way radio. Maybe it will come to be of use.