The only thing worse than working is not working. The only thing worse than being away from your family is not being able to escape them. Much of my inner life is a drift from what I have to what I don’t. Scenes from dc have been flashing in my memory. I see U street and the busy stores. The barber shops and cafes, the museums and monuments. And for a moment I miss it. My memory screens the suffocating isolation and loneliness, the alienation and the discomfort and I remember only the thrill of living in an unfamiliar place. It was an adventure and I didn’t take advantage of it.
When you look back you distort the past. The mood of the present influences how you see those old scenes; dissatisfaction with where you are drives you to fantasize about where you were. When I was still in dc I knew I’d end up missing it. I tried to prepare myself for my own psychological wiles but there’s only so much you can do to outwit yourself. There are psychic forces behind the surface of your awareness and they resist executive commands.
Unconscious investments in patterns of thought and feeling are unyielding. The light of consciousness often lacks power to change what it illuminates. So I knew there’d be times when I couldn’t stop myself from missing a place I hated. And now it’s happening and I’m trying to fight it.
Most alternatives to bad things are much worse. I’ve cursed work numerous times, but the exhaustion and stupefaction of thankless toil is nothing compared to wandering the spiritual and emotional wasteland of idleness. It’s true that people fail to live up to their potential when they have to spend most of their day working. We naturally resist burdens and obligations, we squirm and writhe under the yoke of laboring for subsistence.
When we’re working, repeating dull tasks that wear us down and watching irrecoverable hours slip away, we imagine an alternative world of freedom and leisure. In this fantastical mode of existence everyone becomes a better version of themselves. The arts and sciences flourish; everyone discovers and cultivates their true talents.
You might recall Marx’s flight of fancy that inspired a century of revolutionary wood chipper activity: in the coming communist utopia, everyone would be free to do whatever they wanted. You could hunt and farm and fish during the day and then read Kant at night. Men would organically become hunting, farming and fishing philosophers but the cruel and exploitative capitalist system holds them down and prevents them from uncovering their real passions and interests.
There are many oppressive powers, systems and governments and structures, colorless, odorless orders of coercion and control. But even if you were to lighten the weight of the world, man would still be a burden to himself. Without structure, external resistance, stress and conflict we sink into a deep malaise and become prey to perversion and depression. We’re contradictory, inconsistent, lustful and violent in essence, as well as tender, generous, creative and heroic. The societies we build are outgrowths of who we are, they express the turbulent tendencies of our easily corruptible hearts. Our affairs are a mixed bag of good and evil, necessity and accident, crystalline clairvoyance and blundering idiocy.
I gush lost time when I don’t have a job or a set schedule. Whatever I want to do can always be done just a little later so I never get around to it. The sense of urgency I need for creative and fulfilling pursuits disintegrates. Disorientation in time is the condition; I’m tempted to call it distemporalization. Days and weeks mean nothing, minutes lose their value and seconds slip away. Unlimited free time saps motivation and engagement. Boredom and satiety fill the vacuum left by absent duty and obligation.
You think you’re finally going to become that obsessive, prolific artist when you don’t have to work. You’re going to be in your studio or library all day reading, writing, painting or playing the piano. Works of genius will pour forth from your uninhibited mind. But then you get the time and you fill your days with distracted message board reading and masturbation. It becomes clear that work wasn’t holding you back, it was covering up a deeper emptiness.
The internet is the perfect place, pervasive and ever accessible, to forget that you have no real aims in life, no discipline and no attachments. A life of whack-a-mole consumption and electronic morphine drip entertainment has hollowed out your emotional center and fried your synapses. You thought you wanted to be productive, on your own terms in your own way, free from the unrelenting imperatives of an efficiency and profit obsessed capitalist economy.
It’s not the free time that’s an escape from your job, it’s your job that’s an escape from the pressures of consumption and enjoyment. Self organization of time at the precipice of ever beckoning distraction and dissipation is an imposing task. It takes more spiritual strength and resolve to resist wasting an entire day than a few hours in the evening. And nothing about the way we grow up prepares us for focused engagement and unwavering self management.
More important than accomplishments are excuses for why we’ve accomplished nothing. If you don’t have something standing in your way you’ll wander and get lost. We depend on hurdles to teach us how high we’re capable of leaping.
After decades of work, after years of grousing about having to wake up at the same time every morning and do the same thing every day, retirement is a challenge, a new threat to sanity and security. I’ve watched my parents flounder in the wake of their retirement. Suddenly deprived of the routines that anchored their identity, they’ve struggled to fill in the wide open expanse of time and fend off the demons of despair, especially now that their children are all adults. And now I’m here, thirty years apart from them but fighting the exact same enemy: lack of purpose, lack of direction, lack of structure and opposition.
At least we have each other. I’m lucky to have both my parents in my life and I’ll never forget it, but we all need things to do outside the house and away from each other as well.
So recently I rented a crack house in Indianapolis. It was an accident. I have a job at a cafe up there now but I’m still living at home with my parents. My main mission the last two or three weeks has been finding a new place to live. Because I have little money and my credit score is at russian criminal levels, I don’t have many options. Most rental companies do rental checks and I’ve already been denied several times.
I met a woman who was desperate to rent her place, which was dilapidated. She’d dealt with crackheads and delinquents and was happy to find someone with all their teeth. It was a perfect match. The place was in dire need of work but I’m unobservant in practical matters so I didn’t notice the extent of the disrepair.
I payed for the apartment on her promise that it would be ready in a week. She didn’t put a date on the lease so we could fill it in once I was ready to move in. I went up there over the weekend and nothing had been done; it looked even worse than before. There was no refrigerator or a stove. Part of the back wall was missing and it opened up into a shabby storage area with a couch and clothes strewn about. The doors were unlocked and no one was around fixing anything. I felt a combination of dread for my future and embarrassment over the foolishness of my actions.
Why had I rushed into this bad deal and how would I get out of it? The woman had entrusted the repairs to her ex husband, an ex con who had instead used the house as a shelter for his cracked out hobo buddies. The destitution and abjection was palpable. It was an atmosphere of decay and dysfunction and I was going to live in it.
When I called her she apologized and accidentally sent me a text meant for her ex in which she revealed many personal details about their relationship that I didn’t need to know. But I was convinced of her sincerity to fix everything and still desperate myself so I didn’t demand a refund. Now I’m waiting on this daffy woman and her sleazy conman ex to somehow perform a miracle and make this place inhabitable. If they pull it off it will end up being a great deal, as cheap as can be and I can work from there to restore my credit and one day live like a civilized human being in a home not formerly occupied by destructive wastrels.
Living in dc I lamented being 800 miles away from my family and working all the time. I went from seclusion and overwork to living in my parents basement without a job for two months. The change was drastic and now I’m trying to find a balance between familial cohesion and independence, between free time and leisure. I think I’ll manage.