I had a really difficult time dragging myself out of bed today.
It’s been like this for weeks now. It’s not that I wake up late, because I don’t. I’m awake at 6 am every day, before my second alarm goes off at 6:15. I stare into the dark and listen to the muffled sound of my television. I sleep with it on because I am afraid of the dark; I am not ashamed to admit this. The noise of it disturbs my sleep, however, so I lower the volume to just a hair above a whisper. Then in the morning, I strain to hear the news from underneath my comforter. I do some pranayama. If I fall asleep with the phone next to me, I check my e-mail. I think about what I’ll wear. I stay in bed until 6:30, when I have to leave at 7, and it takes me at least 45 minutes to shower and get dressed. Then I rush to get out of the house by 7:05 so I won’t be late to work. Some days, I don’t care if I’m late, and I take my time. Other days, I don’t even want to imagine staying in that building a minute past the end of my shift, so I haul ass to get ready in 25 minutes. Those are the days like today, when I walk out of my house with my sweater on inside out, or an earring missing, with no snacks and no water.
A little while ago, I came across this letter that author Charles Bukowksi wrote to his publisher, John Martin, in which he discusses the idea of a “9 to 5”:
You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.
You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”
And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.
He goes on:
I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”
One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.
I recently shared this letter with a co-worker (who has become a good friend). She believes that she is trapped. She has a 3-year-old daughter to support on her own after the untimely death of her partner. She has a small business selling homemade baked goods with her two best friends, but it doesn’t net her enough money to leave this job. And she’s been here forever; she has a fully vested pension and a 401k. “Where am I going?” she asked. The answer was clear: nowhere.
I said: “When you were 11 and you came here for the first time, is this what you imagined your life as an adult would be? Because I can tell you for sure, this was a life I never wanted.”
We went to dinner and discussed the possibilities. Her business will take off and she’ll open a bakery. I’ll move somewhere warm, finally get my MFA and my book will be published. I’ll travel around writing and teaching writing and yoga and I’ll be able to speak Spanish instead of just understand it sometimes and I’ll be able to do a perfect Scorpion handstand.
Sounds good, right?
I just know that something has to change. This can’t be life. I don’t want to be ugly. I want to be free.
P.S. Since today is Jay-Z’s 43rd birthday, I find it wholly appropriate that the title of this post bears the same name as a song from his fifth album, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, released in 2000. You can listen to a snippet of it here.