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SARA J. LONDON

  • Writer's pictureLondon

Entry 13: I Worked Hard to Get Here!




I've loved Garfield since long before I'd discovered that I was allergic to cats. His abject hedonism, his hatred of Mondays - "oh, another Monday!" I thought to myself as I would bump along in the second row, lefthand side of the school bus after a long weekend of reading Garfield comics - his adoration for lasagna. I now have a mousepad with Garfield dressed as a little devil, standing in hellish flames, with a thought bubble above his impish grin - "I worked hard to get here!" he's thinking. I take it with me, everywhere my portable home office goes it comes along as well (which I suppose isn't necessarily a home office when I haven't used it at home in two and a half months). My chunky keyboard with potato chip crumbs all in the works, my spine-saving laptop holder that props up the screen to a tolerable height, my second wireless mouse (God rest the first one, who died four weeks ago bravely enduring a bout of home surgery with my mother at the operating table, letter opener in hand, prying a leaked battery from its frozen mechanical shell). And my Garfield mousepad - "I worked hard to get here!"


But where am I?


I have a Word document open in the background, right behind where I'm typing right now. Inside of that Word document, there is an outline for an article edifying audiences about protein, a necessary part of any fat-burning, muscle-building breakfast. I often try not to adhere strictly to any diet that claims to be universally beneficial, even if there's a study or two to back up the claims, but this certainly makes me want a spoonful of peanut butter. As far as I know (and just wrote) there's plenty of protein in that.


But where am I?


Physically, I'm fairly confident that I know where I am, unless I'm one of those people in a coma living the life of some very tan 26-year-old girl. I'm on the lanai of my parents house, sitting in the Florida room with my computer and keyboard and mouse and mousepad typing away as I have been all summer, as I have been for the past six months of my life. As I've decided to become a writer, for whatever reason. It seemed relatively intuitive, as writing is one of the top 150 things I do with a modicum of pride and confidence. It doesn't feel so intuitive anymore. I don't think anything feels intuitive anymore.


"I worked hard to get here!"


I do believe that I've worked hard, whatever hard work means in this day and age. It's funny, when you write about working most of the time, it doesn't leave you much time to think about what work does mean to you. I know what it means to the hyper-productive, fast-paced world of business news, I know what it means to my father, whose retirement lasted the 12 minutes it took him to sweep the kitchen floor after his supposed "last day" of work, and I know what it means to the man I hope to one day call my husband, whose idea of working is everything from sitting in front of a computer screen barraged by the asinine drivel of various nincompoops to washing all the dishes I don't do, or agonizing over a PPP loan. But I'm not entirely sure what work means to me, what qualifies as work, how I feel about working, or how I feel about what my work means. Assuming that I'm including my novel and my dissertation into the category of "work," which I do for the sake of this argument, despite my various neurotic, self-effacing excuses at to why it may not feel like "work" in the traditional sense.


A lizard, statuesque on the gutter, bobs his head at me and sticks out whatever that goiter-looking orange flap is on his neck. One of my many twitchy co-workers in this hot, damp Florida room. Is he on his union break? Did he also work hard to get here?


I suppose it doesn't help that I'm surrounded by the meta-existential armchair-philosopher's notions of what work means to the many segments of the business world I'm writing about. I have this thing about when people blame their own melodramas on society, and consequently find themselves exempt from looking deeper into their own behavior, so I'm not trying to fall into that trap (but I am trying to throw together an article on that for PopSugar). But one large portion of the population believes that productivity means working yourself into the ground for 80-hours per week, and another portion believing that we must eschew the capitalist machine to truly be free, and that both of these notions are mutually exclusive. That you should be productive at all times, but also that productivity culture is toxic. Oh, a word I would outlaw in an instant! Productivity - the bane of my fucking existence. Ten tips to be more productive! How is your productivity impacting your productivity? This expert tells you that if you don't have productivity in your productivity, you should just take yourself out back with a loaded .22 and use your wretched unproductive corpse as a compostable Amazon delivery box. Karl Marx, where are you now? Are you ashamed of us all, looking on in utter disbelief? Could you say hi to Tupac while you're up there? My boyfriend is a huge fan.


What I find almost as reprehensible is the reaction to this grating phenomenon - just be you, girl, don't care what the haters say. Utilize your self-care, and smash down your immense guilt around being unproductive by leaning in, and being self-indulgent. Don't clean your room, don't answer that work email! It's "healthy boundaries," you see, and you deserve to get Chinese take-out, drink a box of Trader Joe's pinot grigio (the best of all Trader Joe's boxed wines, I say) and refuse to examine why exactly you feel the need to masochistically stare at your various inboxes and spreadsheets and PowerPoints until the crushing weight of your meaningless ventures begin to sink in. Distract yourself from the burning need to feel productive and claim that you're addressing it by doing so, and counter-identify with the Productivity Police by chanting, "Lazy Lives Matter!". The people who so desperately want to sublimate their anger about their own internal conflicts into this performative rage at society for making them work - work! Work! the biggest burden of all! - and their time becomes about managing repression through TikTok-scrolling and social-media-mental-health-advocating and work-hating, work-hating, work-hating, like work is just a stand-in for mommy and daddy, telling you that no, you can't go to Jeffrey's house, you haven't done your math homework yet and the test is next week and you don't have to agree, it's my house, my rules!


My world of work, my rules.


My rules?


"I worked hard to get here."


I have a hard time qualifying things that I'm passionate about as work because there isn't a financial payoff (yet). I suppose when it comes down to it, that's how I value work - am I getting paid for it? Is it making me a profit? Is it costing me any money? When I worked (worked! ahhh!) for Mensa, I used to call it a job, though I don't necessarily remember those around me doing the same, as I didn't get paid. Mensa calls us volunteers, my parents and friends called it impressive (which made things worse, as it was much more mind-numbing than impressive to me), and I called it a job. But there are words for work that isn't work, you know, "unpaid internships" and "indentured servitude" and all that. Ultimately, I wasn't getting paid. And getting paid means working. So those 15-hours a week I was putting in to grow the now conservative-leaning nerd club were an unpaid waste of time. Paid in experience, and all that. Paid in nothing.


And then I spent 11 years on-and-off writing a novel. A novel that was extremely gratifying, artistic, expressive and downright incredible (so says I, anyway). But I wasn't paid a cent to do it. And my dissertation, for God's sakes! I paid almost $300 for that thing to be open-access and for a few print copies. The lovely librarian at Bobst gave me a "kudos" for the open-access thing, so I guess in some ways that's payment. But it was money out of my pocket, not in. So is that still "work"? Is it still "work" when it's unpaid, rejection after rejection from literary agents, hour after hour typing my big big moods into sublimated blog posts on my crusty keyboard with no fucking end in sight to the hamster wheel of applying applying applying, while my 600-word briefs on breakfast-time protein pays my bills, and they make me feel more unfulfilled than... than a stomach with no protein at breakfast-time?


What it all come down to is that I know I need to rethink how I feel about my work. What qualifies as work to me, how passionate I feel about it, where it's going to get me. I haven't been doing this for that long, but I am an extraordinarily thoughtful and emotional person (as far as I can self-report, anyway) so it's no wonder that my frustration tolerance is low. Me and every other millennial asking for a raise one year into a job, I suppose. But as much as the raise I want appears to be about being paid money for the things I've put my heart into, it's not at all. It's about living in a world in which I'm heard (what can I say? my dad traveled a lot for work), in which the bounty of ideas and thoughts and viewpoints that I have can create a better world for everyone to live in, a world in which the passion and verve I have can be transmuted into something that can make people think a little differently about what they thought they once knew. Me and every other aspirational idiot on the planet - I want to work out my own issues so that I can help society work on theirs. I want to support myself using only the existentialist hamster frantically running on the wheel to nowhere clattering around my sensitive, mushy skull, and the throbbing muscles on my humidity-inflated, tattooed fingers, slamming against my potato chip keyboard. I want to make Garfield as proud as I want to make my parents, my boyfriend, my analyst, myself - I want to work hard to get here. And I think that I am - I really do. It's the thinking that I don't that gets to me.


The lizard has left his union break. I suppose now it's time to leave mine.


Though I am always on the clock, aren't I.


"I worked hard to get here!"


You know what... you're damn right, I did!


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