by isaac black

I’ve worked eleven days in the last two weeks, and I feel like I can’t sleep or snack enough. I drove filmmakers to their screenings for the Sundance film festival, waking up at 5:30 too days in a row and getting home at 1:30 am on a few nights. Despite the schedule, which often included killing time for hours in the middle of the day, it was actually fun. I made new friends and got to see several very good films. And I made enough money, including tips, for more than a month’s budget.

Yesterday I went back into my old office for a few hours to do some contract work. My old coworkers clapped when I walked back in, but despite the warm welcome I held plenty of ambivalence toward that old social context. I worked at a “cool” company, the scare quotes indicating the startup mentality which invites employees to dress up corporate professionalism with their own superficial flair. Our CEO asked us to write the goals we had outside of work for the year on a magnetic rectangle to hang at our desks. The intended effect was, I guess, for us to bring some of the passion we had for things outside of work into the labor we sold to the company. In the era of “campuses” instead of workplaces, where unemployment is tenacious despite an average work week of 47 hours, where email on phones makes everyone effectively on-call, companies increasingly want to monopolize what meager shreds of identity are left after clocking out. At my “cool” job, I was encouraged to banter and get drinks with employees, but I still felt sheepish about being anti-capitalist or posting about UBI on my facebook page as more and more coworkers discovered it and added me, and when my coworker with anger management issues called me a pussy I didn’t take it to HR. It was a little uncomfortable inhabiting that old persona, but at the same time it was somewhat cathartic knowing that I’m a freelancer and that if they don’t like who I am for whatever reason I don’t need them. Still, I used to spend forty hours a week in that social context, which is more time than I spent with my friends or family, and that persona was inauthentic.

I had a headache within a few hours, which made me remember the headaches I would get about once a week in the afternoons. It was possibly from the bright natural light in the office, which is a good thing! I also made $60 an hour, so I’m sorry to anyone for whom my bitching is disrespectful. My point is to push our collective imaginations forward to a world where workers have autonomy, where livelihoods don’t require prioritizing jobs over relationships.

After I quit, it felt a little like I was enjoying the last few months of my life. I was dealing (barely) with a breakup, so that contributed to the feeling, but I also think it shows how deeply I had internalized what I “do” as who I am. Not only is an income required to keep myself alive, it serves as a public avatar of self. And with resigning from the faith I was raised in, I had erased myself from two very important societal institutions.

In that light, maybe it wasn’t so deliberate that I shifted my emphasis to my relationships. Maybe I needed to do that to compensate for the social ties I had severed, ties which helped define who I am. At any rate, focusing on those relationships while being more authentic has predictably been much more fulfilling, even though it can also be draining and require downtime.

On the converse, I have two friends who seem to seek out extra work, only partially for the money. This is a very surface level interpretation on my part, but they are both women who are social to the point of spreading themselves thin. Maybe getting more jobs is a way of anchoring themselves to a fixed identity.

It’s been about four and a half months without steady employment, and it’s been the best thing I could do for myself. But even with enough savings for at least eight more months, working has jarred me out of my complacency. I’ve been thinking more about what I need to do to start a hot sauce company, which of course assumes that my forays into writing don’t pan out, or don’t pan out soon enough. But I have managed in a few months to knock loose my assumption that I need a steady nine-to-five in order to get by. Progress, I guess.

For today–resting up while also trying to kick the writing part of my brain in the ass enough to finish the chapter I’m working on.