Saturday, June 08, 2013

in related news...

...or maybe not, but it struck me as somehow connected to the previous post - anyway, here's William Vollmann in the latest Bookforum, in a piece about the American ache to escape the grid:

"Were there such an animal as national character, then I might define an American as follows: longing for and half-expecting perfect freedom and happiness; disappointed by the authoritarian constraints of present necessity (which we'll call 'the grid'); unnerved by the conflict between aspiration and reality; uncertain whether to blame oneself or others for imperfection; ready to 'reinvent' oneself to achieve self-sufficiency, profit, or peace." 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

where i've been

I haven't had a haircut since I got my current day job, back in June a year ago. My hair doesn't grow very fast, so this is not the Crystal Gayle nightmare one might think. But I do need a haircut: it's looking a little unkempt and shaggy. What's holding me back (besides laziness and a general failure to accurately measure the passage of time) is this vague idea that submitting to a haircut would mean accepting my current circumstances. Not in a hippie, CSNY sense exactly -- it's more that a haircut would mark my current life, the Office Life, as normal. Routine. It would represent settling in.

Which is absurd: I've been at this job for almost a year, I should be settled in by now. But I haven't bothered accumulating an office wardrobe, for example, or getting a proper lunchbox or shoes that meet the dress code. (There's a dress code!) I figure, if I keep my presentation haphazard, barely passing, it's easier to convince myself that this is all just pretend, a costume I'm wearing, a role, nothing real or god forbid permanent. I am working in an office but I don't really work in an office - that isn't my life.

Before this, the longest I'd held an office job in the past 10 years was for about eight months, and most of it was part-time. In retrospect, that's pretty dreamy. But at the time it felt like I was chained to a rock in a cave with poison being slowly dripped upon me from above. Gray carpet walls. Fluorescent lights! The horror.

I mean obviously I'm just spoiled. I've been able for years to get away with doing work that was (a) on a pretty flexible, self-determined schedule and (b) essentially the same stuff I do for fun. My dad pointed this out the other day: up until recently, my life pretty much was my work. They were integrated. Now the two pursuits are entirely separate: I have to carve out time and energy for my real life from whatever's left over after my job. (Which, usually, isn't much. Ten hours of sitting on one's ass repairing legal documents might sound relaxing, but for whatever reason, it wears me out.)

The day-to-day schedule is as big a factor as the nature of the work, I think. My jobs have typically been project-driven: various tiny emergencies you work on intensely until the deadline, followed by a reprieve before the next tiny emergency, which is different from the last one. The scary part is never knowing how many emergencies might come your way; each one could be the last. This job, though, feels like an emergency all the time, with no hint of change ahead. There's not, like, a point at which I'm finished with the work and can relax for a while. Next week looks about the same as this week. It's like driving across Kansas, very slowly. This is tiring at an existential level, and I don't know how you guys all manage it so well. If I were a regular person I'd have about 25 years of this ahead of me.

Here's a thought I like, from a magazine interview with the poet Frank Bidart; in this section he's talking about the word "making":

"It's one of the principles of the world. We live in this awkward culture that tells people that they have to have a job, have money to buy things, but that the job does not have to be connected to one's soul, one's inner life or spirit or sense of self-worth. On the contrary, the aim of work seems to be retirement where you can fish all day or go to Florida or someplace -- which seems to me grotesque, an absolute impoverishing of the idea of human life. Human beings are makers. It's the only thing that gives human beings something approaching satisfaction. It's completely central to what a human being is, to living in a complicated process where one must constantly accept givens that one can't control." 

...and later:

"Making is a way of knowing and trying to embody what you feel you do know."

Anyway, I realize I'm being a complete pansy about the job. It's a perfectly good job, and I'm lucky to have one at the moment. But so often it leaves me too worn out to make things, and that doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon, and I'm not sure what to do.

So then. Maybe just a trim?