Friday, September 10, 2010

Dollars In General

My fingers are red and swollen.  My eyes sting.  I can’t feel my feet.  Needless to say, it is cold.  I am walking to my job in the swirling abyss of angry consumerism--retail.  It is December, and under any normal circumstances I would not be on foot, but my van has broken down for the 500th time this year, and I can’t miss any more work.  They will fire me, I have been assured, and as I am an easily replaceable wage slave, I believe them.

I took this job nearly a year ago, back when I had high hopes of achieving some sort of financial stability for my family.  My case worker at the public aid office was hounding me constantly: “Why don’t you have any income yet?  You have all these children and you expect the state to pay for them, but it isn’t going to last forever.”  She was right.  I couldn’t rely on the state to raise my babies.  Anyway, I had my pride.

Pride.  Ha.  I think I left that a few miles back when I slipped on the ice and gracefully busted my ass on the pavement. 
I hate my job.  I hate the people I work for.  I hate the people I serve.  Rude, mean, selfish, condescending…I used to be something special.  Back when my whole life was ahead of me, people said I was gifted, meant for something bigger than my tiny hometown could ever offer.  I had a chance to get out.  But I didn’t.

I thought that my talents would carry me through life, that I would be somehow discovered and whisked away to a life of ease and fabulousness.  I quit college, even though I had a full scholarship, because I thought it was a waste of my time.  I already knew all of the tricks and I was better than all of it.  The best even.  Man, confidence is something I never thought I would have to miss.

I wish I had some of that ol’ confidence now.  But I don’t.  I work for a living, if you can call it that.  I’m not really sure what I’m working for anymore.  The state didn’t want to raise my kids.  Fair enough.  So I got the job like they wanted.  They repaid me by cutting my food stamps, so every dollar I bring in is now spent on the food I used to get for free.  Yeah, I’m contributing to society, I guess.  I don’t really get it.  I just know that I miss my kids, I miss writing…I miss being myself.  When I got hired, they told me to leave my problems and issues at the door.  That work was no place for drama, and the customers should be my only concern.  Greet everyone with a smile, no matter how you are feeling.  Great advice from the corporate office, who haven’t dealt with actual human beings since…well…hmmm.    If they had any idea how terrible some of the people I have to smile at were, they probably still wouldn’t care.  Those are the profits; the sale is what matters.

Not that I see any of that money.  I stock their shelves, I answer questions, I run the register and bag the purchases, I tell everyone to have a swell day.  But no raise for me.  That comes semi-annually, whether I earn it or not, and it’s the same amount for everyone that works there: $0.50 more an hour.  Soon I might make 8 whole bucks.  I am giddy with delight.

I’m almost there now.  I have trudged 5 miles from my little house in the country into town.  I think I may die.  But I can see the store.  I’m ready.  I can do this.  

“You’re late,” is the greeting I get.  I am, almost ten minutes.  How did they run the place for ten whole minutes without me?  I can’t even imagine.  Thank goodness I arrived when I did, or the entire thing may have fallen apart.  

“We are gonna have to write you up for this, you know.  Company policy.”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” I puff. 
“This is your third time, Shanon.  Corporate is going to want a meeting.  I can’t promise it will go well.”

“Do you think they’ll fire me over ten minutes?  I mean, I walked here.  The van isn’t running again.”

“You should have called then.”

“I tried.  You don’t answer before the store opens.  Company policy.”

“I know what the company policy is, Shanon.  But you could have given us some notice.”

“Notice?  That my car wasn’t going to work this morning?  I wish I would have gotten some notice, too.  I can’t really control these things.”

“Well, you should have tried.”

“I did try.  We just covered that.”

“Try harder next time.  You’re close to being fired.”

“Did you hear the part where I said I walked here?  In the ice?  That’s dedication, I think.”

“Don’t push your luck.  You are new and I don’t want to see you lose this job over something silly.”

“Like being ten minutes late because I had to walk here?”

“No, like being insubordinate when you have been offered another chance.”

“Insubordinate?  Really?  I thought I was explaining myself.”

“You’ll get a chance to do that at your meeting.”

“Ah yes, the meeting.  How about we just forego that little venture?”

“Can’t do that.  It’s policy.”

“I know a loophole.”

“What’s that?”

“I quit.”

And for the first time in a year, I really, truly smile.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Martin the Monkey

Martin the monkey boy lives in a tree
And swings in its branches all happy and free.
He eats ripe bananas
And bugs from his fur,
Then languidly listens while hummingbirds whirr.
Yes, life in the jungle is peaceful and good
For Martin the monkey, at home in the wood.

Then one day while Martin was peacefully napping,
From waaaaay down below came the strange sound of snapping.
It crackled and grumbled, it creaked and it grew
‘Til the jungle was filled with this hullabaloo.
Then Martin, our monkey boy, woke with a start
As the tree right next door fell down, ripped apart.

Martin looked down with his heart crazy-pounding
And saw several monsters (machines) there surrounding
His tree, his tree!  Oh his beautiful tree!
“I must still be dreaming,” he thought.
“I’ll count three.”
But when Martin the monkey had finished his counting
He looked down again to find THEM still surrounding.

“Okay,” Martin thought, “perhaps they don’t know
That I live way up here since they’re so far below.
So I’ll climb down and tell them this tree is quite taken
And they’ll simply move on once they know they’re mistaken.”

Quite pleased with his plan, he crept down with great care
Pausing only to notice the stench of the air.
As he finally drew near to the monsters, it seemed
That their growls grew much fiercer.
Inside Martin screamed.
But he bravely went on, thinking only of stopping
The monsters from making his tree-home start dropping.

He reached them at last, but before he could speak
He looked at them hard and he let out a shriek,
For inside the monsters (oh boy! Was he lucky)
Were a hairless and tailless, brand-new kind of MONKEY!
“Now I certainly know there has been some mistake.
We monkeys don’t burn and we monkeys don’t break.
So stop this new game.  I live here, you see.”
But at that very moment
They knocked down his tree.

Martin scrambled aside, barely keeping from dying.
He looked at the monkeys, and then started crying.
“Why have you done this?  Why can’t you see
That this was my home, this was my tree?
I used to dance here.  I used to sing.
And this tree was alive.  It was not just a thing.”

The monkeys in monsters (people, you’ve guessed)
Just looked at him blankly.  They weren’t impressed.
“People get paper,” they said, “from  the trees.
It has many uses and gives our lives ease.
This one will be paper that cleans up our poo,
And you, little friend, we will sell to a zoo.”

They trapped him, they caged him, they locked him up tight
And put him on an airplane to fly out that night.
Martin lay sadly, defeated, alone,
A monkey with nothing.  Not even a home.

This story is sad but it’s very much true.
Just ask Martin Monkey, who lives at the zoo.
He eats ripe bananas
And bugs from his fur,
Then languidly listens while car engines whirr.
He’s not very happy, being no longer free
Like he was when he lived in his very own tree.
But to more monkeys like him
This won’t happen, assuming
We care for the Earth, and stop just consuming.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Business of Words

The arts should not be big business.  I hate the fact that someone with nothing more to offer the world than another trashy book about a voluptuous farm widow finding love in an unexpected place can make millions and millions of dollars while people with legitimate talent get nothing but rejection after rejection.

My husband got another one of those emails today, which I maybe shouldn’t discuss out in public.  But it hurts him every time, and when he hurts I hurt as well.  He is amazingly talented, as anyone familiar with his work knows.  But no one pays attention, no one gets it, and no one cares.  Twenty more vampire romances will have come out by the time you reach the end of this paragraph, but he has been published exactly once.  It is unfair.  It is ridiculous.  More than anything it is sad, because the world loses something every time a writer or an artist gives up for the last time.

Jesse will persevere like he always does.  He has far too much passion to quit.  But how many voices will go silent today because some greasy-haired, suit-wearing ass who probably doesn’t even read told them they should never put pen to paper again?  The idea sickens me.

This is why I blog.  I am given free reign to post anything I want whenever the mood strikes me, and I don’t have to wait on some douchebag in a Benz to get back to me six months later just to tell me ‘thanks, but no thanks’ anyway.  I am here.  My words are in print and no one can take that away from me.
Sure, there is no money in this, but who cares about the money anyway?  If you are writing just to make money, you are in it for the wrong reasons to begin with.  This is a calling, a mission.   And to make it into anything else is just gross.

Maybe I’m just ranty and full of bile today, but  I’m sick of everything being an ‘industry’.  It’s at best counterintuitive and at worst insane to push real talent aside for mediocrity and pomp.  Do we, as a society, really want to go down in history as vapid and culturally bankrupt?  I don’t know.  I guess maybe we do.  ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ is still on, after all.

It doesn’t matter, really.  Maybe I’m the only person on earth who feels the way I do.  It’s probably just another manifestation of my insanity.  But whatever the case, I’m moving on.  No more worries about agents or cover letters or queries or any of the bullshit that gets in the way of my saying whatever the hell it is I need to say.  I will say it regardless of pay or fans or any of it.  You can read if you wish, and to those of you that do, thank you.  You are my reward.