Career, Goals, Personal, Writing, Yoga

This Can’t Be Life

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.

I’m tired.

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.

Goals, Personal


For the second time in my blog’s short history, I will quote Jay-Z.

“No matter where you go, you are what you are player/
And you can try to change but that’s just the top layer/
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here.”

This excerpt comes from Public Service Announcement,  which appeared on  what Jay alleged was to be his final studio album, 2003’s  The Black Album.

I’ve been thinking about this quote lately, not only because I am an unabashed Jay-Z fan who still bumps a cd that came out when I was senior in college, but also because, strangely enough, something I read in Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder 2.0  brought it to mind.

The whole premise of Strengths Finder is that people are unhappy and unproductive in their jobs because we do not do work which plays to our strengths. The book and its online assessment tool are designed to help you ascertain what your strengths are, and to help you create an action plan to find a job that utilizes those strengths.  Rath indicates that our personalities–and thus, our passions, interests, and again, our strengths– are established early on in life, and remain relatively the same. He points to a 2003 study entitled, “Children’s behavioral styles at age 3 are linked to their adult personality traits at age 26.”  In this study, scientists in New Zealand observed 1,000 3-year-olds. Twenty-three years later, they re-observed those 3-year-olds, now adults, and found that the behaviors exhibited as children were remarkably similar to those behaviors exhibited at age 26.  In another study, researchers compared teacher personality ratings of 2,400 ethnically diverse Hawaiian schoolchildren with videotaped interviews of 144 of the same students, conducted 40 years later.  Those researchers found pretty much the same thing… as Jay-Z so eloquently put it: you are what you are.

I asked Marvs what I was like as a kid. At first she said, “Oh God, Keisha, I don’t even remember what I wore yesterday.” But I pressed her, and finally, she said, “You were very quiet. Pensive, almost, which was strange for such a small child.  You were affectionate with us, but distrustful of strangers.  You were not very friendly with people you first met.  Like Cas.  He tried to hold you, you said, “No!” and crossed your arms. You were like that as a baby. No one could hold you except me, your father, or Norma.  But once Cas came over a few times, you played with him, showed him your books.  And you loved for me to read to you.  Sometimes I’d catch you going through our books, turning the pages like you were actually reading.”

She went on to tell me that I never liked cold weather, but I loved going to the beach and playing in the water. I loved dresses and had very strong opinions about what I wanted to wear.  I asked her what I liked to do as a child and she said quickly, “Read. You always had a book in your hand. I couldn’t get you to leave the house without one.  And once you learned to write, you always had a notebook to scribble in.  You liked to ride your bike, you liked to dance, you liked to swim. You liked to spend time with your grandmother, you liked talking to her a lot.  You wanted to know about her childhood.  You were very sensitive.  Cried about everything. Sometimes I wanted to slap you to give you something to really cry about.  You loved going to Trinidad, you liked traveling anywhere, really. You had fun packing.  You never cried on planes.  Never complained about walking around strange cities. You were always curious. You wanted to know everything.  You never stopped asking questions. ”

So if I am now, at almost-30, who I always was, that means:

I am a bibliophile writer, sensitive and curious, who likes to travel,  likes to be physically active, who enjoys spending time with my family, and prefers balmy weather.

It’s also interesting that my Strengths Finder assessment was pretty accurate, based on what Marvs had to say.  My top 5 themes are deliberative, input, restorative, intellection, and context.  That means I am:  careful, vigilant, private.  An inquisitive collector of words, facts, books, quotations, who loves to solve problems, loves mental activity, and looks back to understand the present.

You’d think I would know who I was by now.  I think it’s more likely that I’ve always known, but somehow managed to forget.

As I approach 30 (it’s coming so quickly!), I hope I’ll spend the next decade actually being who I am. I’ve wasted quite enough time just figuring it out.

But now that I know…you better watch out!