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.