“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
It’s 4pm on a Tuesday. I’m at work. I’ve spent the last 5 hours perusing online magazines, eating protein bars I swiped from the Rite Aid around the corner and occasionally reopening the excel spreadsheets that were supposed to have taken me this full day to complete but alas, I am not a moron… so, here I am.
It is now 4:05.
I look around me. Everyone’s eyes are locked to their computer screens; they are deeply immersed in their respective tasks. I glance at the scissors sitting in my desk organizer and consider taking them to some of my split ends. “Nah,” I think, “I’ll save that for 5 o’clock.”
Two pigeons land at my window – a welcome distraction. They’re cooing loudly and chasing each other back and forth along the ledge. I admire their purple plumage reflecting the afternoon sunlight and think, “Pigeons would be so beautiful if they weren’t so disgusting.” Perhaps intuiting my shallow judgement they fly away, leaving me to go back to staring at my screen.
My printer hums next to me. The fluorescent lights flicker above me.
Believe it or not I work in an open office among a rather large staff of coworkers but as none of our jobs require any communication with one another and socializing is frowned upon as counterproductive, it’s easy to forget that anyone else works here at all.
It is 4:08.
Maybe I’ll just trim those ends now.
Hiding in the bathroom. They’ll never find me here!
My role is Head of Operations and Logistics; I fulfill orders from various retailers, I send them to our warehouses and factories, I track the orders, invoice the buyers – it’s every bit as exciting as you’d imagine.
But as every detail for every order must be filed with perfect accuracy and across multiple platforms via our woefully dated software, the work is quite tedious. My coworkers informed me that not only did this job take my predecessor all day to complete, but they had to hire her an assistant to come in part time and help her keep up.
My predecessor was either an idiot or a genius.
Having an assistant could make my days feel less like solitary confinement. It could spare my eyes the strain of doing all this shit alone; the sheer volume of data that I’m tasked with entering is so daunting that I fear I’m going a little bit cross eyed. But it would also mean delegating busywork because I won’t trust an assistant not to make mistakes which will negate the point of having an assistant to begin with… quite the conundrum.
I liken my day-to-day activity to that of sitting on a very long flight. I periodically shift my weight from one leg to the other lest I die from deep vein thrombosis and I get up as frequently as I possibly can without alerting my boss to my activity. You see, the only thing separating his desk and mine is a wall… a glass wall. Just last week I was reprimanded for leaving the office without clocking out. We clock in and out using a device that scans our fingerprints and for extra measure, security cameras are mounted on every ceiling corner.
With such precautions you’d think I work for the pentagon but the reality of what we do is so, so much more absurd.
We manufacture and sell novelty products. We are responsible for the ridiculous items you find in the gift section at Urban Outfitters, Marshalls, Target, Walmart – fuck it, we’re everywhere. I expound in detail on the specific products we make in a separate essay, “The Plague of Plastic Flamingos… and the Most Darling Landfill You Ever Did See.” Perhaps I’ll post it one day, but for now I hope the title gives you an idea.
So here I am on my daily nine-hour flight. Unfortunately, unlike an actual flight whereupon unboarding one is met with a sense of relief, I leave this office with a feeling of dread. I am still exactly where I started. I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m just tired and sad and now I have to cram onto a train with thousands of other tired people to get back home and use the few hours of freedom I have to prepare myself to do this all over again tomorrow.
I know, I know. Woe is me, right? I should be grateful for my job. I’m grateful that I am able bodied enough to be able to get up, go to work and earn an income so that I can continue to have a roof over my head. But I find myself wondering… why exactly should I be grateful? How can we claim to value human life when we don’t value quality of life? I find such logic to be deeply troubling.
For instance, I think what we truly care about is revealed when upon finding out that a lifesaving procedure will cost thousands of dollars, your insurance provider casually tells you they won’t cover it. Enjoy death. Because we care! But we don’t care that much.
A life is only valuable as long as it remains a commodity. At the point when it becomes a cost burden, then it is worthless.
We espouse that the greatest sin one can commit is to take another human life. We assert that the greatest virtue is to preserve it. For instance:
- When denying a woman the right to choice over her own womb, it is the pretense of this virtue that disguises the true impetus: misogyny. Sanctioned by religion of course! How convenient.
- According to some religions, even taking one’s own life is considered a sin. (Yikes.)
- In the event of a natural disaster that claims human lives, folks from around the world (first world countries), come swooping in with our telethons and fundraisers to provide aid. We feel terrible for the people who’ve suffered. Who’ve lost their loved ones, their homes, their communities.
Because after all, there is no greater tragedy than the loss of a human life. But what about all of the smaller trials that push us to the edge of life?
I mean, where the fuck are we before the storm hits? Were it not for situations meeting the requisite of ‘dire,’ we aren’t compelled to improve things.
Our government has become so corrupt that it now boldly says, “We won’t pay for you to expand your minds with higher education, we won’t pay for you to receive basic healthcare, to afford nutritious foods – fuck, you’re lucky if you live somewhere where the water doesn’t give you cancer. Also don’t complain about it. If you’re sensitive to the weight of it all, if this all makes you feel unwell – be careful how you express it, because it can be used to silence you. To be depressed is to be mentally ill and therefore to be treated as such.”
Of course, mental illness is real! And it is exhausting. But strangely it feels more sane to be unwell than to be okay in today’s world. A canary in a coal mine. Having a pulse is not being alive it’s the bare minimum and it’s not enough. I hate to admit that my own mental illness often makes all this shit feel pointless.
But then there is art.
I understand more and more as I get older, just how much art is necessary as part of the human experience. Good writing, good music, good theatre, good films – both to create it and to consume it. I am so wired to undermine my proclivities for creating that I forget – art is as natural a part of being alive as breathing.
“I know that my life is stronger than the terror of my existence.”
This is the opening line of a short film called, Black Kites. Written and directed by the late Jo Andres, it is based on the 1992 journals and drawings of visual artist Alma Hajric, who was forced into a basement shelter in order to survive the lengthy siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. The film is dark and dream like, grim but hopeful. As described in Andres’s NY Times obituary, it’s a testament to “the absurdity of our capacity to dream in the most unimaginable of situations.”
It was put in such a way that helps me make sense of it all. About why we do the things we do. Art is not superfluous to survival it is integral to survival. I write because I must. I sing and I dance and I imagine because I have to. Art is the means by which so much of the pain and suffering that makes things feel meaningless are redeemed. It is holy. It is worth living for.
“I have been working everyday during this time of blockade. Doing a lot of drawings, photographs, paintings, but no idea what for. No reason. To save my mind. Find sense in this chaos. To have proof of my presence in Hell. To say, ‘Yes, I was there.’”Black Kites, 1992