I don’t feel very strong these days and I’m having a hard time convincing myself that I actually know who I am and what I’m doing. A few months ago, I wrote:
Every day I’m getting better and better at being what I’m not.
And so I am. The current corporate gig, like every one before it, forces me to abandon the best parts of who I am on a daily basis, to substitute someone else’s agenda for my own. Over time, I become what I must become in order to function in an environment that is hostile to my soul and my psyche. I repress what I know, what I feel, and who I am. Anyone who does that over a long enough period of time becomes someone else. It’s inevitable. People often tell me “you are not your job” but we are what we spend most of our time doing. It forms us like a mold and fires us like a kiln.
I’ve barely written anything for months now. I still get ideas, but I don’t have blocks of open time and space that are sufficient to develop anything to completion. Two weeks ago, three new poems suddenly popped out, my first since this one written in January at the end of my first week on the current job. The new poems came on the heels of an epic meltdown during which I shouted obscenities into the sky until my voice was almost gone. I was hoarse for close to a week afterward. I nearly lost one voice but regained another, at least for a few days.
That’s what it took for the best and most essential part of me to focus and express itself in my current circumstances. It didn’t last long. Now that part of me has gone underground again, or I suppose it’s more accurate to say that I’ve forced it back down so I can “make a living” (as the expression goes) as one more anonymous drone in the omnipresent corporate culture that increasingly and systemically defines and dominates the life of the typical American worker.
There is no ebb and flow in corporate culture; there is only surge and consume. Corporate culture is inherently ruthless and mechanical. The only integrity that is recognized and valued is the integrity of the machine. Patience, compassion, generosity, and truthfulness are anathema to the corporate model, not virtues to be cultivated but liabilities to be eliminated. Those who ascend the corporate hierarchy must be willing to exploit and sacrifice anyone and everyone on the altar of ambition and self-interest. The entire corporate model is deeply flawed at its core. It’s a rotten system that requires the people who run it to act rotten.
Most employees in corporate culture (the ones who aren’t part of the elite circle at or near the top of the pyramid) are required to surrender their personal autonomy, individual authority, and inner knowing on a daily basis to keep their jobs. It’s no wonder that so many Americans spend their days feeling dazed, dumb, hungry, confused, passive, powerless, depressed, and desperate for escapism. People who’ve been forced to forego and forget their own power are going to feel that way.
I hate myself after work nearly every day. I hate myself for wasting yet another day of my precious life sitting in a cubicle grinding through one meaningless task after another. I hate myself for being too stupid, after more than twenty years of trying, to find another way. And then I spend the evening trying to recover so I can do it again the next day.
People are often mystified that I’m mostly unable to write under these conditions and they’re quick to offer advice. Get up an hour earlier. Write in the evening. Write on the weekends. Maybe some of those tactics work for others. They don’t work for me. My writing doesn’t come to me on command. It comes when it comes, and if I’m not available to it when it comes, it’s gone. I’ve written about this before (here, here, and here).
This idea that I can’t coerce what is an inherently organic, self-directed process with its own life and its own energy into a mechanical schedule by sheer force of will seems to be hard for a lot of folks to understand. Lately I’ve been likening my writing process to a wild animal or plant species that requires a minimum amount of territory to survive. It can only adapt to and tolerate a reduction in that territory up to a certain point, after which survival becomes impossible, not because it isn’t trying hard enough or isn’t sufficiently creative or committed or resilient, but because its very nature is incompatible with the constraints and impingements on its environment.
There’s still stuff I’m burning to write, but I know myself and I know my process. If I don’t have the time and the space to follow the direction I get from within to its natural conclusion, I needn’t bother. Some things take hours and some things take days. Whatever the time required, I have to give myself to what’s moving through me and immerse myself in it until it’s done with me. Anything less than that is pointless, and the results will be without integrity, quality, or value.
I’m only writing now because I woke up at 3:00 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. I certainly wouldn’t say this is my best work. I’m not even sure it’s worth reading. But I guess I needed to write it, and maybe now I can get an hour or two of sweet, blissful sleep before the next forgettable day begins.
The Being what I’m not by Rick Belden, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.