My uncle who was unhappy used to say that he was working too hard. He wouldn’t say it that way. His method involved a figurative use of certain unmentionable body parts and the assertion that owing to the strain of his working life these indescribable anatomical pieces were falling off what one would imagine was his larger body. He would say all of this when bursting in the door after a long day out in the world. IN short: he understood that the true wages of work are the earned leisure that follows the working day and the right to drink beer and forget capitalism.
This is the American equation: Work equals Leisure equals Forgetting the Work…
But what do you do if your work follows you home? And what happens if you have a capacious memory?
Yesterday a woman interviewed me for Radio Free Europe. She asked me (with a thick Eastern European accent) "What do you do for these disabled people?"
It was a well meaning question.
I try not to forget that I’m one of the marginal 30 per cent of the blind who has a job.
I try to never take for granted the extraordinary opportunity I’ve been given both to write and teach.
I worry about the sub-rosa voice that tells me I should slow down and devote more of my time strictly to my own pursuits. This you see is the voice of my uncle—though the narrative is less salty.
"Please," I think. "Save me from imagining the random preconditioned vanity that work is merely a ticket to forgetfulness."
Why "Random" and "Preconditioned"? Because the poisonous American voice that will argue your work is just the ticket to well deserved leisure is beamed at each citizen a million times a day—all advertising is based on this idea—even ads for night repair cream and hair growth tonics are built from the world of my uncle’s imaginings. If you just had a good head of hair or firmer breast, well by God you’d have better leisure time.
So the idea that one is working too hard comes at random in America. And this idea is the precondition for the further permission to forget what you’re doing for a living.
I have forgotten my job. I live the American Dream. It’s time to go home and forget what I did today.
Of course millions of Americans don’t think this way. I know this. But there are more people like my uncle than people of discernment.
The TV flickers. It’s Friday. This is a good day for selling forgetfulness.
Tomorrow I will be 53 years old. I’ve been discouraged by employment or human resources types; teachers; even people who work in the vocational rehabilitation business. I’ve been counseled to give up on the dream of ever having a full time job. I remember each day the despair of being unemployed and hearing from the experts that staying home was the most likely outcome for me.
I’ve been discouraged by professionals.
I try to remind myself that leisure is important for a healthy life, but you better not forget where you came from. If forgetfulness is what you think leisure is all about, well, chances are good you’re a shmuck.