“I wonder sometimes who we have lost to employment in the finance industry—how many great, world-changing climatologists and astrophysicists and doctors and molecular biologists and teachers and composers and househusbands and architects and urban planners. We’ll never know . . . ” ~ Kristin Dombek
When I read the following, I could not help but think of my son Brett, and all of the things he has said so similar to what Dombek is saying. It’s probably one of the best essays on life that I have read in a very long time, so much so that I really really really wish that I had written it, but I didn’t. The words are cutting and blistering, and infused with equal parts truth and grace, and every point Dombek makes is completely, unmistakably valid.
It is a rare thing to come upon someone who writes in this way, someone who loves words and appreciates all that they can do to illuminate the mind, and how they can fill up all of the holes in the soul, an individual for whom writing is akin to aspirating and expirating—effortless and filled with precision and thought and care. I think that I’m going to have to make her column mandatory reading for myself.
Do yourself a favor, read the whole thing. It’s too long to repost completely, but I’ve provided a link. Enjoy . . .
Reposted from nplusonemag.com
The Help Desk is a monthly advice column from Kristin Dombek. Advice-seekers may submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi Miss Dombek,
I have a question that pretty much sums up the core theme of my adult life. In my youth, as I began to take jobs and find my way, my confusion at the meaninglessness of most employment took the form of amusement; dull, exploitative labor was an odd feature of American life I noticed and playfully railed against, almost imitating the kind of things you’d hear real, working adults say. Now, as I approach my forties, this confusion has become a white-hot festering rage that runs at all times in the background of my day to day.
Miss Dombek, is there something wrong with me that I find regular employment to be the most soul-oppressing thing I can imagine? How can someone undergo the spectrum of emotion and concentration necessary to create something beautiful—a real and full life, even—while holding down work enough to survive? Aren’t we really all being exploited to one extent or another, with largely menial, unimportant posts (except for maybe those on the tippy-top), just to keep this whole thing going? How can I choose not to be a part of this construct and still eat?
Bank-robbin’ in Brooklyn
Bank-robbin’ in Brooklyn:
First of all, Marx didn’t call it alienated labor for nothing, dear. It’s not called “nose to the grindstone” because it feels good. It’s not called “keep your head down” because it’s wise to look around. You have been trained from childhood to think that labor, in and of itself, is both a right and one of the most important goals of your life; you have been told that your “career” is the same thing as “who you are in the world.” Yet like most employed people in the United States, you work jobs that you consider to be banal, brutal, or both.1 For this labor you are supposed to be grateful, since work is increasingly hard to get: if you lose your shitty job, you’ve got only a one-in-five chance of finding a new one, and if you’ve been unemployed for six months or longer your chances are one in ten.2 While you look, there is hardly a safety net; Boehner’s shredded it. Follow the logic of this drive to profit on the back of shitty labor (the difficult labor that is either necessary or not, but purchased by employers for less than the value it creates) and bullshit labor (often in industries invented to distract, placate, and endlessly “connect” us and imprison us in debt while we work shitty or bullshit jobs) and you will find the same drive to create wealth for those on the “tippy-top” that has us hell bent on fracking until California burns and New Orleans and New York and Miami drown. This is no longer some unimaginable possible future, it is happening now: the West Antarctic ice sheet has begun to split apart.
Is there something wrong with you? If you are unusual, it is because you are refusing to keep your head down. Why do you keep looking around? There’s so much to distract and comfort you, if you could just keep your head down, that is, in your computer. Keep your head down; Solange Knowles has kicked Jay Z in an elevator. Keep your head down; James Franco has 2 million followers and he has taken off his shirt and seems to be pulling down his underwear. Keep your head down; Ryan Gosling is still wearing his T-shirt but it has a picture of Macaulay Culkin on it wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Ryan Gosling on it, a three-ton great white shark has been eaten either by an even bigger great white shark or possibly by the Leviathan, and Bill Murray has crashed another wedding. Are you not entertained?
Should you learn to do a better job hiding your soul from the oligarchs and make what is beautiful on nights and weekends, if you can get them, when you are not too tired, and have not drunk yourself into numb oblivion? Or should you sacrifice years of your life to educate yourself, incur massive debt,7 and “put in your time” to qualify for a job that might feel more like “creating something beautiful,” only to risk turning that very beauty into “the most soul-oppressing thing [you] can imagine,” too?
You don’t seem to be entertained, Bank-robbin’; your white-hot rage festers. It probably doesn’t help that you live in Brooklyn—this place where in the last ten years rent has spiked 77 percent while real median income has dropped,3 where the rich (the top 10 percent of earners who, as is well known, control 80 percent of the wealth) and their children live right on top of some of the worst poverty known to this country, while 20 percent of Brooklynites survive somehow below the poverty level,4 such that the widening income and wealth gap5 becomes achingly visible here. I could advise you to leave Brooklyn. But I don’t want you to leave Brooklyn.
Everything is upside down. Your life is sold to serve an economy that does not serve your life. So should you turn to crime, if you haven’t already? Do whatever it takes to avoid participating in this “construct,” risking hunger, imprisonment, or dependence on people with real jobs, who’ve learned to keep their heads down?6 Should you learn to do a better job hiding your soul from the oligarchs and make what is beautiful on nights and weekends, if you can get them, when you are not too tired, and have not drunk yourself into numb oblivion? Or should you sacrifice years of your life to educate yourself, incur massive debt,7 and “put in your time” to qualify for a job that might feel more like “creating something beautiful,” only to risk turning that very beauty into “the most soul-oppressing thing [you] can imagine,” too? Should you try to work harder, save more, get your hands on some capital, even though the game seems impossibly rigged, so that if you do work out how to make a profit, it will be incredibly difficult to do so without replicating the system of exploitation that enrages you?
article continued at link . . .
Music by Staind, “Outside”