I love you. I hate you. I do not know who you are. Are you the one who oppressed me for so many years and made me feel like a turd squeezed out of a sphincter after an eight-hour shift doing work that a robot could no doubt do better than me? Or are you the one who fulfills me, the one who makes me feel more alive, who keeps me distracted from the corruptions and treachery of the world, who helps me transcend the limits of my little ego and attain triumphs in the realm of the sublime? I mean, who are you? Are you the poetry that I write, or the obstacles that keep me from writing poetry? Are you the brain-deadening, soul-killing hours spent processing mail, washing and folding hospital laundry, driving a mail route, washing dishes, bussing tables, sweeping parking lots, cleaning bathrooms, painting apartment buildings and spreading manure or are you the one who lifts me on the shoulders of giants and reveals vistas thought and speculation? The one who causes ecstasies of release? The one who brings salvation and food for a hectic mind? Who mitigates depression and lights the nerves with the breath of angels?
What do I mean when I say ‘work’? Do I mean cleaning the grime from a stove, which is vexatious but rewarding in the end, or do I mean the hours spent at a desk putting words together in ways that make me rapturous and wild with possibility? Do I mean the humiliations suffered at the caprices and stupidities of supervisors or the hugely gratifying moment of holding a published book for the first time? A book filled with my work.
Work. Yes. That’s the very word we use. Work.
But who the hell are you, work?
Writing never actually feels like work. It feels like play. But a serious kind of play. An immersive form of play that absorbs your attention so completely you forget who you are or what you’re doing.
I imagine professions in which the joys of one’s creativity and aptitudes are brought together, in which the work is stimulating and absorbing but which also provides you with a paycheck. Acting, for example, or stand-up comedy or acrobatics or magic. I don’t know. I’ve never come close to anything like that. All my jobs have been really stupid. Brutish, deadening, menial shit-jobs.
My father praised work. All forms of work. There was no form of work too low that did not bring honor or build character. He was wrong. Dead wrong. No job I ever had built character or gave me a sense of honor. They made me feel low and powerless and insignificant. The need to make money for someone involved in a creative medium that is marginalized by the public is a very hellish situation to be in. A tough row to hoe, as they say.
If you’re a spirit reading this in some waiting room in heaven, waiting to be born, choose wealthy parents.
Do you see what a louse you have made of me, work? You have both crowned me king of an infinite domain of books and ideas and you have also denied me the means to be a fully realized, dignified human, much less a king. Maybe you’re not the one I should be writing to. Maybe I should be writing a letter to the real cause of my confusion and distress: money.