Before I go much further I need to get some preliminaries out of the way.
People usually turn to books about failure, despair, and poverty hoping to find at least some section involving substance abuse. If that’s what you’re looking for you should stop right here. I never had the time or the money to get really into drugs or alcohol.
For most of my adult life I’ve had to wear a pair of blinders that prevented me from looking to the right or the left. I had to concentrate on looking straight ahead, at the one reality that was always there—paying that month’s bills. That has been my chief worry for decades—would there be enough for this month, to keep my apartment and not lose all my belongings, to keep me from becoming homeless and going crazy, getting mugged, raped, becoming dirty? Would there be enough to keep the utilities turned on? Would there be enough to eat?
I developed obsessing counting rituals where I’d try to calculate, among all the food items in the pantry and refrigerator and freezer, if there’d be enough to get me through x-number of days.
And if I was about to lose everything, if all hope was indeed lost, could I come up with a way to kill myself that would be relatively painless, but that would also do the job? I didn’t want to wind up a jibbering vegetable in some state nut ward somewhere.
Now this obsession with financial matters did not turn me into a miser—far from it. Almost as important to me as survival money was money to fuck around—money for movies, books, magazines, music, photocopies of articles and pictures at libraries, occasional meals in restaurants. Indeed, this was the money I worked for. Money for bills never really seemed to be mine, though I often dipped into the bill money to pay for temporary good times.
Being wasteful with money was for me an affirmation of life, a fuck you at all the forces that seemed determined to bring me down, an avowal that they’d not quite gotten me yet.
So yes, maybe I could’ve afforded to become an alcoholic or a small-time drug addict, but it never occurred to me to do so. Like many people who have been victimized by authority, who’ve had their self-esteem hacked away, I am a huge control freak. And I just never have felt I’ve had the extra time to spare to get fucked up regularly. There’s always something more pressing to do.
Nowadays, even when I’m out with friends, having a supposedly good time, I’m trying to sneak a look at the clock, wondering when this fun event will be over and I can get back home to the luxury of my solitude, to read, watch movies, or write. Even my leisure feels scheduled. I don’t tend to leave my time open-ended and up to chance.
So, to sum up my first point—there’s no substance abuse to speak of in this book.
My second point is that you’ll not find any romance here. I had no time for it, no self-esteem for it, no money for it, and I felt there were better things to do.
Human intimacy has always struck me as a strange thing, and I’ve never really understood it, especially since it necessarily involves weakening yourself, making yourself vulnerable, for another. I can’t fathom why you’d give up a section of battleground you’ve already fought and spilled your blood for.
Any simp can have a love interest, and most do. But a hate interest—now that takes real commitment. That takes the true giving of self, true devotion to a cause. Hating is something you have to do all the way or not at all.
I have hated my enemies, and then they’ve passed out of my daily life, I’ve largely forgotten about them, and then maybe even caught myself wondering at some point, “Why did I hate that son of a bitch so much?” But the ember is still there, however faintly, patiently waiting for the little puff of wind that will bring it back to life.
Jerry Lewis once said, after severing relations with a son who sold family secrets to a tabloid, “Love hard, hate hard.” That I understand. If I love you, you’re my God. Nothing comes above you. If I hate you, then there’s not enough hours in the day for me to get back at you, not enough bags of shit that I can dump on top of your head.
But why hate so hard? Why not embrace love and forgiveness and peace the way all the great spiritual masters suggest? It’s easy. It all comes down to survival. I hate what hurts me, what threatens my well-being, my existence.
I have done what I consider to be terrible, repulsive things in order to ensure my survival. And I hate those that have forced me to do those things.
Maybe that’s an indication—the force with which I’ve fought for my life is an indication that I think there’s something worth fighting for. That at the bottom of the person wracked with serious depression, who spends so much of his time fantasizing about suicide and death, is a desire for life, a pure, beautiful life free of pain, where every second is not a fucking struggle and every sound is not a jarring noise, where the Other comes to me with love, not a desire to crush me and hurt me.
And so we come to my next and final point—my concept of work.
Work for me is the greatest of my battlefields. It is both microcosm and macrocosm of my life. Everything, ultimately, gets fought out there.
Now in most cases I see work in the following manner:
I hunt, putting myself through great physical and mental strain, for jobs that I usually don’t want. Then I must go before a complete stranger, grovel and humiliate myself, and beg to him, trying to justify my existence, to convince him that I deserve to be alive, to have food, clothing, shelter, health care, and leisure. If the stranger hears my supplications, then I am condemned, for a period, to his particular form of punishment, in which he may grant a few of my requests and provide for a few of my needs.
I am to awaken at a time unpleasant to me, and go, exhausted, to an unpleasant place the stranger determines, and then for a period of hours, also determined by him, I must do tasks that humiliate me and tax my physical and mental limits. He treats me like a slave and a child, telling me when I can come and go, where I can come and go, when I can eat, how long I have to eat, when I can go to the bathroom, and when this daily period of punishment will finally end.
During the day, the stranger may further punish me by criticizing and belittling me before others, or simply wasting my time by confining me in another space while he holds a meeting, telling me things that don’t interest me, and then expecting me to praise his wisdom and his great authority as if he were a Bronze Age tribal deity.
My only release from this pain is when I quit or get fired, which puts me into a different state of pain where even fewer of my needs are met, and then the cycle begins all over again.
Now an employer feels that if he condescends to giving some poor unfortunate a job, regularly paying him a certain amount of his precious money, then that favor is of such great importance that there’s nothing he can’t by right demand of his employee. The employee owes him respect, unquestioning obedience, work done quickly and flawlessly, unwavering loyalty. He has no right to complain or hope for anything better, because that outlay of money cancels out everything else.
I see it differently. If you hire me and start out by giving me a wage that is less than I need to live a decent, pleasant life, you have already made me your enemy before I’ve even started working. And this is because you have proven that you don’t value me. You don’t think my life has worth and meaning. You want my heart and sweat and life blood, and you hold all that so cheaply you won’t give me a fair price for it. How could I not regard you as an enemy?
I may not actively sabotage your operations, but I am not on your side. I will work, but I may do only just enough not to get fired. Or if I’m in a particularly kamikaze mood, I may indeed try to get fired, just for the sheer adrenalin rush of bringing you down with me.
Love me, protect me, value me, and there’s nothing I will deny you.
Now some might object that if a boss is paying you and you don’t like how you’re being treated, then you should just move on to another job. Well, that’s okay in theory. But low-wage, dead-end jobs are a trap. They don’t teach you the sort of career skills that allow you to lift yourself up out of that rut. And they don’t pay you enough to where you could afford to take classes to learn the skills you need to escape. And finally, they destroy your soul to such a degree that they kill all hope, self-worth, and self-esteem. You stop believing that anything good can happen to you, that life could ever possibly get better, that there will ever be an end to this pain and humiliation and misery.
And so, if you have a few extra bucks, or even if you have a few bucks you can’t really spare, money that, if accumulated over a long enough time might be one ticket out of your misery, you blow it all on a temporary pleasure, just to briefly get your mind off that long-term pain.
And then you might say it serves the lazy son of a bitch right. All it takes is saving your money and you can fix your life. That’s what America is about! Anybody who works hard in this country can be a success if they stop whining and really try hard! Hard work, gumption, guts, and stick-to-itiveness is all you really need!
I’ve been hearing all those empty, jingoistic corn pone bromides all my life. And so many people genuinely believe that bullshit that entire political parties have been built on those premises. Currently the United States is being twisted into a fascist state of selfish bastards where no one cares about anyone except himself. And it is all built on a foundation of catch-phrases, faulty logic, and mistaken premises. It’s government with a fortune cookie and Magic 8 Ball as your guide.
It’s very easy to judge the people on the bottom if you’ve never been there or were there once and forgot what it’s like. Despair, fear, uncertainty about the next day or week or month, erosion of self-esteem, depression, misery, hopelessness—all these things cripple. They prevent people from thinking logically. They bring the ability to make good, smart, rational decisions to a complete stop. And once you’ve no longer got the ability to make good decisions about your life, nothing good can happen. No catch-phrases or words of encouragement or “tough love” or punishment or any other force can save you once you’ve lost the ability to think for yourself.
And nothing will chip away at your ability to think for yourself the way a bad job will….