I’m thinking — no, I know it is time to move forward, to take that leap I have been preparing for, knowing I am not ready for all of it, knowing it is not risk-free, knowing I would be safer if I didn’t. And trust me, I don’t want to be out there, exposing my weakness to the world, defenceless as I put myself out there to be criticised freely.
But things have already gotten so far, life is already losing its flavour to the everyday hassle, the torturing boredom of accomplishing the same repetitive tasks. Life is worth more than that. A slow extinguishing of dreams, the death, drawn-out, of magic, fantasy, curiosity. Life is worth being hurt, being vulnerable for. Everything, everything to unsettle the deep aching, the profound unhappiness rooted in ourselves. We need to treat the roots, even if it hurts more that way. Even if we are left with emptiness, not knowing how to fill the hole that is left behind.
I need to grow, to push against the dirt and emerge, leaves tender, afraid of being burnt by the sun, blown away by the winds. I could stay safe, but I would never know the beauty of the sky, the sight of rain, the lightness of the wind.
So in that way, I must rise. I must rise and emerge and use what I have to shape the future. Or else I must choose to fall back into a safe darkness, forever wondering.
“Out of the frying pan into the fire” is an expression we use a lot where I’m from. Not without reason: there are times when you truly believe you have it bad until the situation gets significantly worse and you realise a bit late that there were nastier turns for life to take.
So from the all-too quiet, forgotten village, I have been moved (very much like a chess-piece) to a more strategic location: a city that is not a city but a machine in disguise. Its skyscrapers spit out fumes like a steam engine, in constant demand for more fuel. And the people like me break their backs shovelling in their time and youth and energy — the very marrow of their bones — into the inferno, keeping it burning and churning for everyone else.
This is the fire into which I’ve been tossed. This is the real world. A term I only see people use, by the way, when describing the unfairness of the world, the harshness of working conditions, the disheartening realities of the world at large. And the people who use this term uphold the very laws of the world they are imprisoned in. They accept the world as it is, their conditions as they are. It’s almost as if they do not wish to admit that this is the world they live in, that this is their life. Attempts to dismantle or discredit the system will be regarded as laziness, not-having-what-it-takes, weakness. And the weak are crushed into fine powder.
But alright, I might be exaggerating a tad here. Not everyone there is profoundly unhappy, not everyone is desperate for another world…But however you look at it, this monster-city is a labyrinth, a complex network of channels wherein circulate colonies upon colonies of ants, each knowing precisely where it needs to be at every hour of the day. All follow a schedule, a meticulous routine. And the machine is, in this way, well-oiled, its cogs turning day and night.
I once said I did not want to be a damsel in distress in some glass tower. Well, here I am. At least, for the first few days that’s what I was: knocked off track, disoriented, living over again the same experience of being in a new place. I run into walls and people, not yet possessing the grace to juggle the many intricacies of this overwhelming (yet in so many crucial ways, underwhelming) city.
But at the same time, I am what I’ve been cultivating myself to be: efficient, productive. Though I cannot say I like it. See, that’s been me all my life. Very much able to fit in the system. I’ve been a straight A student, somehow managed to snag a first class and now I’m handling projects and clients very much on my own. Yet, just because I can cope with longer hours, a heavier workload, working at night and a doubled up commute time does not mean I want to. I sometimes get looks when I explain I do not want to be there, looks that say:
“What are you complaining for?”
Because I’m one of theirs, even if I’m too quiet at times, even if I don’t partake in all their rituals (formal clothes, chronic coffee-ingestion, water-cooler chats…). They cannot seem to comprehend why, if you were able to fit in, you would ever want to be somewhere else.
But I dream, I remember.
I am so far away from the anonymous village I was in before. Far away from its orchards and quietness, its one empty main road always sighing into the heat of the afternoon. And it seems it was in another life still that I was out on a balcony, gazing at the coastal village underneath. It feels like light-years ago, I was strolling by the beach during my lunch break, getting momentarily lost in its concrete roads interspersed with sand. And was it even in this life that I was sighing at The Place with the Flowers? That was someone else, in some other world.
I am currently thinking about how I will evolve and where. It’s become obvious to me I need to move on (both for my own growth and because I cannot stand the routine, have gone way above my limit of round-trips to this business park I both hate and love.)
It’s frustrating that I know no details of this impending change: no how, where or when — and the only answer I have as to “why” sounds feeble even to the kindest ears:
“I am tired.”
“But why, you’ve got everything over where you are. You’ve got bosses who always say please and thank you, who give you books and buy you croissants and respond in kind to all the jokes you make. Besides, you don’t even hate your job. You wanted to be a writer.”
I know. I know. I know that I have it good, that it could be much worse. I know I could be job-hunting for months, like my friend is, or hating my crappy job like my sister does. And in the grand scheme of things, I have very little to complain about and so much to be grateful for, starting with the fact that I have a home, food and even a job.
Yet I cannot silence this qualm I have, this feeling; a far-reaching boredom, an exasperation with the smallness of it all, the lack of zing and pizzazz and excitement.
Everyday is predictable, following the same script from the day before, like an endless rerun of the same old sitcom. I feel like a goldfish sometimes, circling a bowl, forgetting every 5 seconds —in my case every weekend— what the week was like so that I can endure the upcoming week better.
And the worst part is I shouldn’t even be posting this here. I want to be a writer, but I don’t even know what to write and for whom. All I know is some part of me insists on being a writer and I am helpless to it. It insists even after all the criticism I put my writing through, staying alive as nothing else ever has.
And I want to listen to this persistence more than I need to. I have to see where it takes me. I have to try even though I do not know the littlest thing about it: what it wants to write, how it wants to write or even why.
All I have to go on is one stubborn sentence from this unhinged desire. You see, this desire/persistence/annoyance/passion throws tantrums like a petulant child, one who will not see rhyme or reason and who answers every legitimate question with:
“I want to be a writer!”
and a huff and a pout and an attitude that says “We do not negotiate with people who do not want to write.”
As exasperated as I am with this, I also know that it is a sign. If I cannot be ‘happy’ in a work environment that gives me everything I need, then maybe it’s not meant for me. Or maybe it was but now I’ve outgrown it and I have overstayed, simply.
I want to be a writer.
It doesn’t mean that I am ungrateful for what I have. I am, endlessly. But this shouldn’t stop me from reaching for other things. Other riskier ventures, where people will not be as kind and life not as easy.
I want to be a writer.
Six words and here I am: ready against all reason to be pulled apart by this feeling, to follow this utterly ridiculous demand to the ends of the earth.
Note: Yes, my boss buys us all croissants from this lovely French bakery whenever he drops by. And gave me books he no longer had space for. And is generally a really cool human being along with my other boss.
I woke up to this question today, a remnant of an already-forgotten dream, and it really rattled me.
The idea that there are hours that are valued less or more than others. Does this mean that there is Time that you can afford to waste? To lose like a spare cent or two that you drop on the street, shrugging it off as it is trampled, as it rolls away into the gutter?
Don’t get me wrong, this is something I’ve done countless times: I’ve scrolled my Time away on social media, fed it to algorithms and data structures, and Time has slipped from my fingers, uncaring.
But also, here’s the thing: I’ve loved wasting some of the time I’ve wasted. I have valued “spare” time more than I have other, valuable (working) time. But these are the kinds of societies we are heading towards or live in, already: ones where work is the single most important aspect of our lives, and all our Time is structured around it. Our lives are divided into “Work” and “Non-work” time, where we view everything else in relation to our jobs and take decisions accordingly: meeting up with old friends, dates, romantic relationships, going to an event, dying our hair, getting a piercing.
I don’t think human beings were made for this. For work that takes this big a chunk out of life, that overpowers all its other facets. I don’t think I am cut out for this (and yet, who really is? We are all thrown into it and we cope the best we can. Who really chooses this kind of lifestyle? No, most people just fall into it and never get back up).
Do we truly have “spare” time? Or is it instead that the value of our Time is being decided using criteria we had no choice over — instead imposed by “society”, itself a grey, hulking mass nobody knows the real identity of. There is no such thing to me as spare time. All Time matters. I could not “spare” even one bit of it. I will not let the world define which parts of my life matter. I will choose that for myself, thank you very much.
All Time is valuable, regardless of how you spend it, so long as it enriches your experience of existence.
But at the same time, do not fret (as I did, as I do) once you realise all moments will not be perfect, that you aren’t always able to make every moment worth it. It matters only that you try. That you seize what you can of Time and make it your own.
The rumble of the air conditioner is the backdrop to all my office days, in the very same way the rustling leaves are.
But today, the absence of clicking sounds, of fingers tapping furiously at keyboards is the guiltiest noise. The coffee machine does not guzzle, is silent, the water in the dispenser has not changed levels since half the day. Not a ring of the phone, not a knock on the door. Stillness grows like moss in our office.
We all sit complicit in the lie of productivity, hiding behind computer screens that shield our ennui. We’re scouring the ocean floor of social media for depth, on the lookout for fresh news, like a young colourful fish darting in a bareland, an over-exploited area. We drown in shallow waters, racking up skeletal remains of news of interest. Like sand scooped in our palm that is washed away by the currents, and grabbed again, washed away again and again and again.
All of us, bosses and employees alike, forced into unspoken norms, bound by contracts we owe ourselves and each other. If only I could just walk out that door. But I have to be doing nothing much in this specific 25 squared meters of space.
I wonder why any one of us stays. Because we “have” to. Do we, though? Will the world really miss us for a day? Will it not keep on spinning if we are not in that office, not occupying that exact point on the world map?
Years back, I found a video in some forgotten corner of the internet. In it, a man driving a taxi (sponsored by some company) drove around a city packed with commuters, winding between the routines and everyday lives of millions of people. When the taxi was hailed, the driver would ask the people one question, something along the lines of :
“Do you want to get out of here? If you want, we could go on an adventure or I can take you to work.”
At this point, with all the cameras rolling, it had become clear it was no joke, no threat. Yet so many people said no. Perfectly sensible reasons, excuses spilled from their lips (“But I have to go to work”, “Not today, sorry”), regret shone in some of their eyes, and the man drove them to work. And then there were the few who said yes, who, throwing caution to the wind, jumped in. There were no have-to’s, all expectations had been deemed irrelevant.
And the man drove them to the ocean, to the deserts. Arms flailed in joy from the open roof of the taxi, people squealed at the scenery, quietly texting away that they were sick and could not come in to work.
I am not trying to turn this into an absolute. I do not think that the people who turned out the offer were wrong. Not all of them, I’m sure. Some must really have had important projects to deliver, people counting on them to do their work. But some people were just sticking to their routines. To the idea that they have to do any one thing. That they are bound, imprisoned by contracts.
All these years, I silently promised myself that I should not become that kind of a person. I always have a choice. I do not have to stay. I do not have to live a life of convenience and have-to’s. I do not have to give in. I am free to leave, though the price may be high. But in no way will I allow myself to think that I have sold my freedom. I do not have to, I do not have to. I choose to. I always have a choice, though the price to pay for it may be high, exorbitant for some, too much for others.
But it’s always there.
Today I choose to stay. I choose to write instead of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling on social media. I do not feel bad about it, because I chose it. With all the consequences attached to that choice, I take responsibility for the way I live my time. No one has a greater claim on it than I do.
Note : A few times out of a month or two, there will be slow days at work. Days when I have completed my work in advance and stretch the few tasks I have left over several hours. In between, I fill the gaps with some writing, discovering new music, delving into old feelings. It’s a world of its own.
“I disappear for half-hours. I disappear for walks that take me through interweaving roads that always, always, lead to the sea.”
I can’t complain.
I could be stuck from 9 to 5 in a glass tower lost among so many others in some cyber-city, like a modern damsel in distress, not knowing how to save myself. I could be glancing longingly at the city, the world from behind a fax machine.
But everyday between 9 and 9:30 in the morning, my eyes feast upon sparkling seawater crashing gently on soft, sandy beaches. And before that, it seems that I walk through overgrown lavender fields, pushing through bushes of flowers that seem to spring through the glass of the bus window. I am able to be there to cherish the sight of grass glistening with morning dew. I can’t complain; I have nearly fallen asleep on low-lying rattan sofas, warmed by the sun on a terrace, hypnotised, lulled by the pretty displays of sunlight dancing through the geometric patterns of the wood. I have blinked into consciousness through haze and haze, past daydreams and reveries, to low chuckles and to the distant sounds of soft conversation had over steaming mugs of tea or coffee.
I can’t complain because ‘lunch breaks’ have come to mean walks by the sea, and quietness as you watch people swim, sunbathe, eat ice-cream, read a book. I can’t complain because when my mind won’t write (and my pen is still full of ink) I disappear for half-hours. I disappear for walks that take me through interweaving roads that always, always, lead to the sea.
I can’t complain because I cannot tell you of all the times I have worn that dress, the one with the ship wheels and sailboats amid wavelets of people dressed in slacks and clicky heels and it has not mattered.
And every day when I go home, slack and tired, I see a child and a fisherman, just silhouettes, side by side, throwing their lines out at sea, into the setting sun.
No, I can’t complain. Right now, this is all I need; it is contentment enough. But I don’t want to delude myself into thinking this is all I will ever need. I do not believe in this rigid idea of ‘happiness’—something you happen upon, that remains much the same over time. But I believe in fluid contentment, in inner peace, something that has an ebb and flow, a beginning, an end. Something that changes with you. Eventually, my heart will not be satisfied with what I have now and I will want something else. But not now, not right now. Right now, I have all I need. And I can’t com—and I am thankful, eternally.
Besides, I am learning that wanting more does not necessarily mean being ungrateful.
Today, before lunchtime, I had already gotten through the day’s work (because in spite of everything, I am someone who must be the best at everything I do because else, what’s the point really). But seeing, seeing as how I AM IN AN OPEN OFFICE. OPEN OFFICE.
Ahem, yes. So, seeing as how I am in an open office, I couldn’t really be caught slacking by the secretary who was watching youtube videos or by Mrs H., next to me, who was making home calls as she is wont to do. No, I was too new for that. So, I just…clicked. Click click.
Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick. (Furious clicking to signify frustration, because I am a serious person).
Cliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick. And a good long one. (I don’t know what this one signifies, it just felt like a nice addition. Like something a serious office worker would do).
I involved myself wholeheartedly into the act of clicking as a way to ignore the clock that had struck 12 (the hour of sweet, sweet relief). Because everyone was still busy working hard at their personal lives. (At this point, the secretary, Mrs Emile, was whisper-shouting at her husband about pension plans and feeding the cat). Either way, I couldn’t be the first one to move to eat.
🎵Clicking away my lunch time🎵
Until, mercifully, the purple-clad angel that was Mrs. H, in all her extroverted splendour asked if I wasn’t going to have lunch. At which point I masterfully let out an innocent: “Oh, what, it’s lunch time already? :O”
“Working too hard, that’s why you didn’t notice!”
Yeah…So hard. But let it be known that should anyone wish to bring harm to my lady Mrs Hautemante, they would have to go through me first. It’s weird, but every time I start working somewhere, I always get irrationally attached to/protective of one particular individual. It’s weird too, because essentially, for all intents and purposes, I kindof hate people. The last time, it was the proofreader: an old, thin man, named something very French, like Jean-Pierre or something. Whom I only heard swear once when the Académie Française decided to mess a bunch of things up in order to simplify the language. I remember word-to-word what he said, too. (“Mais ces messieurs de l’Académie Française, excuse-moi pour le terme, mais ce sont des cons! Des cons ces messieurs-là!”) *
So, lunch was a lonely business.
Like, lonely lonely.
When I was mostly unemployed (How is one mostly unemployed, you ask?) I cherished silent lunches alone with my thoughts. But to be honest, today was a little sad. I didn’t know where exactly people took their lunches and everyone had gone out.
So I wandered out, sat alone and ate my cold sandwich that I had made in a rush that morning. Afterwards, I had about 40 minutes of lunch break left and there seemed to be nothing to do but contemplate the silence. I didn’t like it.
Every silence is different. This one was not self-imposed. It just happened and I was a little stuck inside of it.
I again had trouble with the whole time thing when the clock neared 4 (I was almost sobbing in relief ). At 3:58:49( I COUNTED) no one was making a move to leave. Strangely, I admired their determination to work, even at something I thought was boring. I mean, really, office workers work harder than we give them cred—aaaaaaaaaand it’s 4 and everyone is gone.
Well, let it not be said that office workers are not efficient.
*”These gentlemen from the French Academy, excuse me for the language, but they are idiots/imbeciles! Imbeciles, these gentlemen!”
Note: It really wasn’t as bad or as lonely as it sounds~ I’m a grown adult lol. It’s just things that happen when you start somewhere or something new. So cheer up! (But I just had to use that photo, didn’t I 😛 )
I stapled my first document today. I feel like I have been initiated.
It felt like Mrs Q. was just going to go around all the departments, waving the printed paper around, hiking up the Big Boss’ desk like it was the Pride Rock and she was Rafiki.
And my stapled document was Simba and—Nyaaaaaaa tsigoyaaaa Mama gi ttttii babaaaaa
And okay, here’s the thing:
If I do well, it has been suggested (by all and then some more) that I could get a job.
I do not like the prospect of unemployment. Of no money in the bank. You could even say they are fairly coercive factors. But employment. As in a contract. As in: “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to mind these cuffs around your Time and Opportunities, would you?”. See, they can have the ‘now’. The now where my time and opportunities are just taking a cruise around the world. But to stake a claim on my maybes, where everything, where a lot lies…Nuuuuuhhhh.
On another note, the big boss makes dad jokes and speaks in exaggerated french, like a rushed Parisian (not uncommon in these parts). Today’s joke:
“You’re here early!” I was. “I was just sitting here to watch who would be late.” to which I replied okay. And to which he then laughed, giggled almost. “I’m joking, I’m joking.” he said.
Are you…are you looking for the joke? Because it’s right there. That was it. That was the joke. And you know what the most insane thing is? Everyone else gets it. Everyone knows he’s ‘joking’. Yeah. Apparently, it’s a bit of an honour to be joked with, too. Let’s just say, the big boss is really big. He’s pretty important in that kind of world. Some would even say the most important.
I also printed my first document today (so many firsts!). I’m a little put-off that Mrs Q. didn’t start quietly sniffling in the corner, occasionally dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief, shaking her head at how they do grow up so fast, don’t they? Just yesterday I didn’t know her, and now look! Even printing things.
But guess what I printed.
No, really, guess.
Something so quintessentially office worker you could bottle it and sell it as a perfume (Eau De Printer No. 3) and everyone would know what it smelled like.
That’s what I printed. I don’t even know why they made me print it. I never used it later. (Lies, I doodled on the paper. I doodle on paper the way a dog pees on lampposts: it’s compulsive).
So, in good news today, I may or may not have found our Earth’s killers. Like, we can just tell hard-working scientists around the world to take it easy for now. Someone just call Green Peace and Nat Geo and show them the OBSCENE AMOUNTS OF PAPER WE USE.
But do you think office workers are contractually obligated to print things? And that somewhere, there’s a trembling earth-lover, quietly rebelling, getting nervous when they haven’t printed something in a while, afraid their co-workers will get suspicious?
Here, for your enjoyment:
Also, how am I ever going to be able to write something serious again after “I doodle on paper the way a dog pees on lampposts”?
My glasses glinting with righteousness and truth like Clark Kent at the Daily Planet, knowing I’d saved the world a few times before entering the building.
JK. I walked in behind my placement coordinator who, 5 minutes previously, had to warn a girl on the lift/elevator to not crush me with her bag because I’m not very tall and not very existent. I wish I was lying.
I was introduced.
People asked what I did (Like me being an intern here wasn’t…telling enough?) They were a bit impressed when I said writer, sometimes. Like they’d not quite had that breed of human in their midst yet. I’m also into technology, I spurred on. That was not really received. It didn’t matter much. Everyone knew how to use Word and Facebook.
I was shown a desk with a desktop and those old clacky keyboards that still have massive buttons. But right beside it was a handsome, swiveling leather chair that supported your back divinely. It belonged to someone else, as it happens. Someone who was on vacation. Whose aforementioned vacay prompted the ‘need’ for an intern.
Ay, thanks for the job Mrs A. Now, will you please return and kick me out?
But let me tell you about the people I work with. All women, save for the big boss. My supervisor is a middle-aged woman. Fair-skinned, lightly dusted with freckles and with a pretty face. But people don’t seem to realise that because she’s kind and unassuming. Well, for the time being, let’s call her Mrs…Quatrd’aile. Because that just came off the top of my head.
And then Mrs H. Or Mrs Hautemante, if you will. She brings in the office chatter and liveliness. She’s constantly making home calls with the office phone. Today, she wore an all-pink dress. It was arresting. She’s the kind of person you always wonder about how they got stuck in an office. But there’s probably regulation somewhere that says you need at least one lively/extroverted person in an office. Else nobody would want to work in one.
Then there’s the secretary Mrs…Emile? Greying, curly hair. Nice but not inclined to small talk (Thank God for small favours. Well…aside maybe from the big favour of actually getting the internship. Because as much as I’m complaining, this internship is still a ‘good’ thing. It brings in e x p e r i e n c e. If you do it in a fancy enough place, well…even copy-pasting comes to count for something ).
It only occurred to me that I hated the work as the day ended at 4. Like, one moment I was all *Intense copy-pasting* and the next I genuinely remarked to myself: “Wow, I actually hate this :)”
On the way home, I realised that I was actually going to have to go tomorrow as well.
And that was the exact moment when Ilah.exe stopped working.
In the middle of a headache, as stress intertwined with the muscles on my back, a memory came unbidden to me, carried by the scent of flowering trees in the night. And suddenly— you probably know the feeling— I wasn’t old anymore. I wasn’t stretched or the mere byproduct of a lifetime of paying bills and ignoring dreams, pushing them for later, always later…
I was young again, and a little new.
Then some unknown feeling washed over me. An urge I had not felt in a long time suddenly gripped me by the heartstrings and pulled me outside, seemingly back in time.
I hadn’t seen stars in a long time.
It had slipped my mind that such things existed. And just like that, I had forgotten all about the world. In the face of this, of an ink-black sky staring back at you and millions of stars burning through the darkness like it’s nobody’s business, how can anything else feel important?
My big dreams, the ones that had accumulated after being swept under the rug over my years, they were are nothing next to those.
Stars, they are just dots in the sky, fireballs that have been dead for eons. But look at how they can make the world stop.
And maybe, maybe I want to be just a little like that. Maybe I want my light to burn long after it has gone out. Maybe I want to take all those dreams from under the rug ,blow on them like a dandelion and watch them spread out into the night and grow in between cracks in the cement, in places where dandelions shouldn’t be, in places where dreams don’t grow.