Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Real Work

I just got off a plane where a baby was literally howling for three hours straight. The connector from Denver to Lincoln should have only taken an hour and forty, but some troublesome air, and we doubled our flight time.

It gave me more time to think.

I always need more time to think.

I probably need less time to think.

Today, work was the main topic chasing itself around inside my brains. Not my work per se, not my employment, but the big, theoretical WORK work. I’m sitting there watching all of the screens in the plane. I suddenly get totally creeped out by how many screens there are. It felt very sci-borg grossy to me: this is the matrix, and we are all plugged into it. 

Every seat-back has a screen embedded, and they are a one foot distance away from the face of every human being in the plane’s womb. One is given a crumb of control in the armrest that seemingly allows volume change. What a pitiful modicum of dominion, paltry pretension of stewardship. The screens are all playing the same thing, in-synch with one another. Mine is graciously malfunctioning, and so is the only blank screen in the place (what luck).

The scene is an extended five-minute commercial for a line of luxury vehicles. Because that’s obviously what we need. 

I am struck by the juxtaposition of the wailing child and the monotony of the hyper- tan man on the screens.
There is a girl across the aisle from me that has her headphones plugged into the armrest: she is listening politely to everything they are trying to tell her, but her eyes look tired and she might not understand everything. The good news is that the exact same thing will reload in five minutes. She doesn’t need to listen. 

I incur Wendell Berry (because that is always who I incur).

Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   
 -from How To Be A Poet, 2001

And then, probably because I have been reading a book that makes me think about things like work and the world and the gospel, I begin, and I cannot stop. Why are they trying to sell a luxury sedan to this girl? What is she thinking? How insidious and totally brilliant. They win! We loose.

What are we all working for?

And then I get into meaning.

I flex my legs.

I was afraid last week that I was atrophying in my mind and my body for lack of use. I realize that my body is in the shape it is because my actions have carved it so. I'm reminded of how the story of 2010 exhibited itself on my legs after I chased my professor across Europe. The story is the same for my mind. With a holiday break, my body goes lesser-used and aches from the falling down and scrapes it encountered. Blegh. My leg is feeling weak, and not as chiseled as I remembered it. I flex, and it isn’t difficult. I need it to be difficult in order to improve. I need things to be difficult in order to improve generally. Thus, opposition in all things? Sure. 

I think they are telling her that there is meaning in having things. In buying the luxury sedan and loading your dogs into it and going to the beach alone. It’s really all about the sedan- lifestyle that accompanies such a purchase. I want to take her headphones out and ask her what she loves, her favorite color, whether she prefers early mornings or late nights, have her tell me about the boys she admires in secret. I want to tell her to love the glittery pink shirt she is wearing because she is almost too old for it. I want to tell her that it will be hard to grow up because that’s what growing is: hard. And that it will hurt. It always hurts. I want to tell her that they are lying to her. They are enslaving her into a life that is filled with working for dinero that will enable her to buy, buy, buy.

This is not where life has meaning. Life has meaning in working to overcome difficulty. Life exists in opposition to death, and while we may not face it on a daily basis in our cush first-world of-luxury-sedan-advertisements on airplane-rides-in-the-middle-of-the-country, it is the actual basis of existence. And we a re being lied to if we can really divorce ourselves from the actuality of death's encroachment. Death is stagnation. I want to rail at myself for forgetting this; for forgetting the beauty that comes in growth and the power that is hidden in opposition. I need to remember that it isn’t all about the benjamins. It’s about the people; always the people. 

And here we are.

Meaning in life is found in opposition and in its absence. Meaning is found in work and overcoming. Meaning is found in change. Not luxury sedans, but howling babies whose ears hurt because of the altitude's sharpness. The baby who doesn't know that his pain will end.


Miss K$ said...

nicely written. you must have a beautiful brain. keep thinkng.

marge said...

I think that crying baby is thinking the same thing as you.