Work.

A shitbeat concerning my value as a human.

I’m coming now to the slow, frustrating realization that as an adult, my life will ever be dominated by performing paid labor. This will and must be the primary consideration in any decision, no matter how big or how small, I make as an adult human living where and when I do. It’s an awful thing to wake up to out of a late, heady adolescence. The first green buds of freedom are blooming into translucent flowers tattooed with “WORK WORK WORK,” that awful reminder that my worth as a human is measured solely by how much money I can sell my time for.

I don’t see any escape, either. I could settle into that pattern, a drink or a toke at the end of a day to forget for a few hours; weekends crammed full of friends and parties, crammed even more full of dread at the thought of the coming Monday. What a sad, constrained prospect that seems. To be sure, I am grateful for my ability to earn a living. Compared with most other humans, I’m absolutely swimming in the cream of life, separated and buoyant. And as far as jobs go, I do like mine. I did choose my own path and I’m content on a daily basis. But this concept, the idea of life as the slow prostitution of giving life-hours for monies which I in turn trade back for more life-hours, is starting to make me feel like a numb dead end. The world is a company store in a company town. There is no individuality. There is no end game.

A few days here and there for a backpacking trip or a music festival, this is not the freedom I dreamt of as a child living with my parents. And of course I don’t want to be a child again. I like that I can have boys over and swear and smoke as much weed as my little lungs can take, but then I must face the overarching twin themes of adulthood: death and taxes. I must pay rent, I must perform my self, the social niceties that are required to maintain interpersonal relationships. Even as a woke individual, which I consider myself to be, I must live within the constraints of the spacetime I occupy. I can’t take three months to wander the Andes. I can’t live spontaneously. I would get fired, then need to get hired again, and the stress of that is deterrent enough to throw cold water on my daydreams. At least I can have daydreams.

I would love to revamp the system. I don’t think everyone—or truly anyone—needs to work 40 hours/week in order for us to continue living in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed. There are so many jobs that could be done more easily and efficiently by machines and this is something that scares us. We should celebrate that fact! It seems to me, too, that there are whole sectors of the economy that exist for the express purpose of creating more work. There are so many goods and services—take for example the whole production of femininity—that need not exist at all. Time and energy spent waxing body hair, selling juice cleanses, creating “fashion,” are wasted in my eyes. Creating a need, thus creating a market, thus creating cash flow, this process is repulsive to me. Surely the New Deal was a net positive, and I understand that the creation of a need for labor under the economic paradigm of the day is desirable. Surely, within this paradigm, high rates of full-time employment are great. But a New New Deal that maybe restructures our concept of work/life balance, tipping the scales away from work and towards living, would be even greater.

We could easily accomplish this. Even in the world now, even in the consumption-driven global economy and with this universal, pathological lust for growth, growth, ever more growth, there is room for improvement. Among developed countries, the US has pretty abysmal stats reflecting paid time off. Most workers in OECD states get about one month of guaranteed, even legally required paid vacation/holidays per year. We in the US have nothing like that, there is no paid time off requirement to speak of in this country, not even paid parental leave (source: centers for policy and economic research, f*ck proper citations).

What I wouldn’t give for the chance to take a sabbatical every few years. What I wouldn’t give to live in a world where the labor theory of value didn’t apply directly to living human beings. Our economy is wasteful; it wastes resources, it wastes human lives. It hurts to be a cog in this machine, right down to the soul. And of course, as the Buddha said, desire is the root of all pain. Good for those who are able to overcome and achieve Nirvana. But maybe life shouldn’t be just about denying the self in order to be a good cog.

Advertisements

Weight.

Some thoughts on what is a disappointingly large part of my internal life.

It’s almost a rite of passage. An awakening from the ignorant bliss of childhood to the anxieties, the self-doubt, and the performance of femininity—at least, the white, cis-, hetero- femininity that I’ve experienced.

I remember first feeling disgusted with my body around the age of ten. My ‘awakening’ came all at once while I sat on the school bus going home. I remember distinctly the tragic moment. I looked at my thighs, pulling up the plaid uniform skirt that covered them, and saw not normal legs but two squashed, white, wide, jiggling pillars. The sight made me nauseous.

Where I got the idea that a thigh should be firm and narrow, I don’t know. My parents were good about limiting media exposure, I never had a Barbie or encountered those awful women’s magazines. My mother wasn’t the type to watch her figure or her daughters’ figures. And I wasn’t overweight, I never had been. I was a gangly little nerd with stringy hair, round glasses, a soft voice, and straight As. I read voraciously and used words like ‘truculent’ and ‘accoutrement.’ My life revolved school, my multitude of siblings, and my best (only) friend.

I remember lying in bed at that tender age, not crying but wanting to so badly. Tears never came easily to me. I would pinch the little bit of fat around my hip and wish I was strong enough to tear it from my body. I had a fantasy that somehow all the fat in my body would melt down, down to one single toe. I would cut that fat toe off with a kitchen cleaver and feel reborn.

I started skipping breakfast, going to fifth grade hungry in the mornings. I would sit in class while the teacher droned on about state capitals, unable to think about anything but food. I would play this game with myself, imagining different things to eat and feeling the saliva pool around my tongue. I would start with something delicious, maybe French toast or a grilled cheese, and move to less and less appetizing comestibles like lentil soup and my mother’s dry-as-a-bone meatloaf. I felt like I had really accomplished something when I was hungry enough to make myself drool from thinking about cold lima beans. At school I ate a salad for lunch, then rode home on the bus, hating my thighs. I would work on my homework and take a well-timed nap to avoid dinner.

I became familiar with the cycle of hunger. First was the empty feeling, a little bit painful but I liked that. If I’m honest, I still like that feeling. After that came nausea. Then fatigue, cold, irritability. And I was a moody little thing even without the stress of starvation. I remember how climbing the stairs at my parents’ house made my legs burn with lactic acid. Those eighteen steps required more energy than my body could happily part with.

Often, at the end of the day, my willpower was spent and though I never felt fully awake, I couldn’t sleep completely empty. So I would sneak downstairs to the kitchen for a bite to quiet my hated stomach. One night I was downstairs, tearing handfuls of cold chicken from the carcass, filling my mouth with a frenzy that would doubtless result in painful hiccoughs. I heard footsteps and saw my mother in the doorway. She never seemed to sleep much.

My heart skipped a beat. My face I’m sure was shining with chicken fat and shame. My eyes burned. I mumbled through the mouthful of flesh something that, in retrospect, probably only made sense to me and my twisted thoughts. I half wanted to break down and admit defeat but I couldn’t do it under her cold blue gaze. My mother, my role model for womanhood, was always quick to dismiss tears, especially her own, on ‘stupid girl hormones.’

From that elementary school bus ride on, I’ve scarcely been able to swallow a bite without first at least breaking down the nutritional content and adding the calories to my mental running tally. I’m an expert at it by now, I have the caloric value of many foods catalogued in this brain of mine. I’ve had healthier years and less healthy years but this is what I return to in times of stress and anxiety. Food is something that I feel I can take control of and exercise my will over. Which is ironic, really, because it’s not me taking control but me being controlled. It makes me feel strong and weak at the same time to deny my body.

But truly I don’t understand it. My next-younger sister, a brilliant and darling young woman, fell into a similar pattern. We’ve talked about it abstractly and concretely over the years, it’s at once something we can connect deeply over and something very sensitive and dangerous even to discuss. It’s not always good to be that vulnerable. Triggers abound. I feel a deep shame and embarrassment as a feminist and as a role model for her and our other even younger sister that so many hours, days, years of my life have been spent worrying about my waist-to-hip ratio. It’s disgusting but in complete honesty, I’ve never worked as hard at anything in my life as I have at being thin. What a shame. It’s easy to blame photoshop and waiflike runway models; it’s harder to acknowledge that this process is alive in my brain. She’s made her nest in my synapses. Mine and so many others’.

This epidemic of femininity (I realize that of course men and boys can suffer in this way but I’m speaking of my own experience, which does not include any examples of that) sadly seems to affect our best and brightest with an alarming frequency. The girls who want to achieve any perfection they can, who have sharp and calculating minds, who have so much to offer the world, turn those precious qualities against themselves and wage internal war. We who have the drive, focus, and commitment to work towards a goal through pain, through isolation and fluttering tachycardia, choose to accomplish frailty. I don’t understand this obsession/compulsion I’ve lived with/against for now more than half of my life. We really are our own worst enemies.

Rose Part I.

I’m trying to write at least a short story…

She was always told that she could do anything. She was clever and lovely, fortunate to be born at a point in spacetime where her type of loveliness was the mode. Equally fortunate to be born at a point in spacetime where clever women were neither burned at the stake as witches nor injected with handicap.

Rose was a perfect rose. In the morning dew and in the dusky twilight, the perfume of her being enraptured. She took advantage of her advantage and arranged life to her satisfaction. She was surrounded by admirers. She was engulfed in beauty, in people and things that pleased her senses. She slept in silk, the heels of her shoes click-clacked on the most sonorous of flooring. She started each morning with black coffee and white cream, drinking a little and adding more black or more white to achieve the most pleasing shades of soft brown. She ended each day in the warm, solid embrace of the husband who was—after herself, of course—her favorite person.

The aesthetics of her life lacked nothing. She was fulfilled intellectually by her work tinkering in the genomes of various plants and animals. She basked in her power. She hummed concertos to herself, sometimes twirling from lab station to lab station with a loaded pipette in hand. In the name of Science, she had been god to generations of lab rats, guinea pigs, rice plants and even a few howler monkeys. She surveyed her little kingdom, tallying up the little improvements and immunities she had given to her denizens. Each day she left her work feeling just a little bit better about herself than the day before. Rose was proud and had never experienced a fall.

The only thing she’d ever had to fear was the dizziness of freedom. The only thing she’d ever had to fear was that she might someday throw herself off of a cliff. Nothing but she herself could touch her.

Her warm, solid husband wanted a baby. Rose thought about it often, about the glow of pride she might feel, about the swollen distortion her perfect little body would become. She thought about the hormonal changes, the morning sickness, the havoc of pregnancy and nursing. She thought about the child itself and about how if the thing turned out to be any less perfect than she was, her life would be taken over by something worse and made worse.

At night, her spouse lay facing her and traced his fingers from her shoulder to her hip and back, whispering, “He would be so beautiful.”

The moon shone across Søren’s face and he looked at Rose with a deep longing she knew she would never feel. She had never wanted for anything as much as he wanted a child. That wanting part of her brain was surely atrophied and electrically disconnected.

Everything was in place. They had more than enough resources to provide an ideal childhood. Their friends mostly had toddlers by now, dense and permanently sticky little globs of curiosity. But she was so happy, so very content. And happiness was all she had ever known. Change could only mean something worse, and she knew that she wouldn’t be strong facing it. She knew it, she never wanted anyone else to know it.

She said, “What if there’s something wrong with him?”

Søren said, “How could there be? Look at us. We will do everything right, we’ll do every possible test and if he’s not perfect…well, we can start over.”

Her uterus seized up at the mental image of probes and stabbing needles.

He sighed and rolled to his back. With his eyes closed, he said, “I wish I could do this for us. I wish it didn’t have to be you. I’m sorry. Look, we’re happy now. Let’s just enjoy what we have.”

Søren turned back to face his lovely, clever wife, “I love you so much. I don’t think you can understand how I feel. I want this, what we have between us, to be a life. How could that be anything less than perfect? Our love, alive and growing in someone else entirely.”

The moonlight on his face was one thin sliver running diagonally from his blue left eye to the right corner of his jaw. It looked like his face was embellished by a mother-of-pearl inlay. It was a beautiful face always, but especially in this dim, shadowy light that made the pupils of his eyes were large and full of emotion. Rose loved him too, but not as much as she loved Rose. She wished for a compromise. She wished he would be satisfied with a puppy or a nice vacation.

“We are happy now, Søren. I just don’t feel like I need anything else. This is enough for me. I understand, my darling, I get how you feel. And you’re in the majority, almost everyone has babies. I just don’t know. Let me think, please don’t bring it up for a while. I need to think.”

Neither of them slept for hours but they pretended to. Søren turned away from Rose and she curled herself around his body, breathing in the sweetness of his neck. The moon gave a silvery tint to his blond head which made her think of the inevitability of death.

Rose dreamt of her ordered laboratory, of the labels that marked everything and kept everything the same. She dreamt of herself but with red, turgid skin and no belly button. She dreamt of an answer.

Two weeks went by more or less the same way they had been going by. Søren and Rose attended a soiree full of respected authors, scientists, professors and a musician or two. Rose flirted with a cellist and smiled inwardly when she saw red ears and uncomfortable posture.

She looked to her husband and nodded him over. In their secret language of glances and eyebrows she was saying, Let’s invite him to bed.

And they did with a skill that only comes from years of practice.

The next morning, with the cellist in the shower, Rose said, “Okay my dear, I think we can do this. I’ll get my IUD taken out soon and we’ll try to get pregnant. But promise me that it won’t change us too much. We can still do all the things we like to do…” she looked towards the bathroom door, through which the low, husky singing voice of the lithe musician.

Søren scooped her up in his arms, happier than she’d ever seen him.

“Oh, Rosie, just wait, this will be such an incredible journey! And I’ll do anything I can to help you, I know it might be hard on you. But you know, I think you’ll be more beautiful than ever. You’ll glow, I can see it now. And of course nothing will change but what has to. We’re still Søren and Rose, kings of the world.” His face lit up like it must have when he was a little boy on Christmas morning.

Rose brushed her long, dark hair and thought of her plan. She was ready.

She was in excellent spirits at the lab that day, the bounce in her step seemed to beg commentary from her labmates.

“Who did you guys fuck last night?” asked Marcy as she stabbed a helpless rat with a phosphorescent syringe.

“Oh! Well, yes we did fuck this lovely musician. I just adore their fingers, don’t you? And he had these smoldering eyes… I would kill for those lashes. But I have news besides that! Søren and I are going to try for a baby!”

Marcy narrowed her beady, non-smoldering eyes, “You are both too perfect, it makes me want to puke.”

Rose had everything Marcy didn’t: smooth skin, fine bones, thick, shining hair, and a heart-shaped face with wide eyes on top and a rosebud mouth above her delicate chin. Rose had admirers all over the world, she had published papers going back to undergrad when she thought she might pursue a career in nanotech. She had more than one thousand Instagram followers. She ate trendy foods before they were trendy.

Marcy stuck to sandwiches and her skin had pores like the moon has craters. Her eyebrows were light and patchy, her teeth crooked, and her ears were way too small for her head. The word flimsy came to mind when one saw her greasy, mouse-brown hair. She looked like she lived alone, inside, in front of a flashing screen, consuming energy drinks. Which was true, for the most part. Marcy was alone in the world, for the most part.

Rose knew of Marcy’s dislike of her but jealousy was nothing new. She learned to address this with aplomb around high school. It was easy. She wasn’t threatened at all.

Marcy’s thin, vermiform lips puckered with a sour tension. The expression made her look old, older than her 26 years. Already wrinkles were starting to mar her imperfect face. Marcy felt old. She had felt old for a long time, and tired.

Marcy had been raised by a single mother who had resented her.

“If I didn’t live in this stupid state I could have gotten rid of you.” She used to say thickly with her drunken Southern drawl.

Marcy was as unwanted and unloved as Rose was desired and cherished. Marcy felt like a black hole from which no light could escape. In high school, her math teacher had sensed her vulnerability and taken advantage of the plain little girl with the stringy hair. He said she was special, that he loved her. Marcy couldn’t recall ever hearing those words, so even from a fat, middle-aged man who wasn’t very good at his job they were steeped in a better feeling than she had ever known. And at least he had led her to a college scholarship.

Rose shrugged off the comment, her own head too full of schemes to be bothered with petty jealousy. She would do it tonight, after everyone else went home. She was very often the last to leave the lab, it wasn’t anything unusual for someone so passionate about their work to stay late. Rose had four human ova, stolen from an adjacent lab. She had her own DNA in abundance. All she needed was a little time and someone to help with the implantation. Rose’s scheme was to birth a clone of herself.

It was the only surefire way to avoid disappointment. A brand-new Rose, blooming all over again would be a guaranteed success. She could love that baby, she knew it. That baby would be a sweet hope for her, it would be like looking in a mirror. And Rose just adored to look in the mirror. Rose just adored to hear her own voice.