Slump, Munch, Die

I love that I always feel I need to justify my blogging absence over the past months, as if I’m not just writing into the void, to fill a void, to void what real life cannot. As if this is anything other than literary narcissism. And yet, to the two people (I am forever the perpetual optimist) who will have noticed my silence allow me to proffer the following apology and justification:

I started an internship. Starched shirt, clean skirt, I’m-doing-life-stuff-now kind of internship. Or at least that’s how it was for the first week. Now it’s three day old shirts and smudged mascara. But yes, the eventual slip into the 9-5, the tepid paddle into the tributaries of the functioning; my first foray into what I imagine conformity to be. And I have decided it is an all-consuming big deal, the mother of all existential crises, the harbinger of doom, disillusionment, disappointment, despair. What I’m really saying is, it’s an average Tuesday night for me and my melodrama. But you’re here now so stay with me for the ride?

The internship.

I thought it would bring life, opportunity, hope and, as it turns out, it is a ringing heralding of death. Figuratively, metaphorically, emotionally, spiritually, physically, symbolically…basically every way except literally. Although, now I think of it, who even knows…yet. Most importantly – for me and my tendencies towards the canon of literary drama –  it is death in a poetic sense.

I sit at a desk. There is silence, complete but for the thud of keyboards being pounded in listlessness, in stress, in melancholia (I assume). I am facing the door, that wood and steel collusion of illusionary freedom, watching through the glass as heavy feet hea upwards to the daily slog then fall down heavier with 5pm darkness. I am the height of a precocious child at best and yet I’m still somehow slumped over my laptop, bashing innocent letters as I hurl out vague variations of tasks I think I should be doing.

They come back to me, reviewed, ripped to pieces and edited into unrecognisable contortions of something once mine and I thank the destroyer of my integrity in an email of ‘Best”s and ‘Kind Regards’ and upload the updates perfunctorily.

The silence is all-pervasive, broken only by the doldrum drudgery of radio. A procession of white, balding, middle-aged men talking to me about rape cases, abortion, internet perverts, the logistics of periods, blockchain, last night’s First Dates. Incessant news bulletins stagnant and stalwart in the same preoccupations, the same concerns, the same morose fascination with bad news. Sameness in every nuance – one viewpoint refracted through the airwaves into a brain hardening and shrinking into marrowed apathy.

Turns out I’m quite the fan of talking. You know, that strange, outdated means of personal interaction? Apparently, offices don’t like it so much. At least, this one doesn’t. Queries, responsibilities, small talk are emailed to you by the person sitting barely 3 feet away. News is shared via an online chat forum as opposed to the seemingly antiquated means of verbal speech. Interaction reduced to emojis; laughter condemned to a stray, quickly stifled snigger as you type ‘haha’. Office life for me is one endless purgatory of never knowing the stratum of meaning behind a stray full stop – am I in trouble? Was my response inadequate, too late, too vague? Did I push my luck with the second exclamation mark and I’m now being subtly admonished into grammatical conformity? Why am I here what does it mean where am I going what do I want who even am…Am I potentially overthinking this? And so you google the definition of neurotic. Again.

However, after much in-depth research and a stern self-talking-to on the dangers of Catholic guilt and humility, I’ve decided to lay the blame for this lack of amicable chit chat on the ostentatious absence of a watercooler. In a very real way, how can I expect watercooler talk without a watercooler?

Down there for dancing, hai.

I now spend a significant part of my afternoon researching watercooler costs on the earnest assumption that if I could just find a large body of mineral-enriched, purified water to lounge by, I might be able to strike up the easy, jovial banter every sitcom ever has told me to expect from 9-5 oblivion. Why else would anybody do this to themselves?

You see, this internship was supposed to be some sort of salvation. A temporary safe haven in which I could nestle, free from the crippling uncertainties of wondering what exactly I’m making of this privileged life I have been granted. A calm harbour, if you will, to which I have been sailing for more time than I’m comfortable with. Elusive, unknowable, this postgraduate training for “the real world” has been the obscure but sure thing I’ve been working, striving, saving towards for eighteen months now –  agonising over, justifying decisions by, banking on the sole validation of its being, of its sheer existence as an inevitable, unavoidable thing to rationalise my contribution of lumpy flesh and addled brains to this already too-addled world. And isn’t that what death is? Something we rely on happening just to justify our actions, our present, our existence? Ironic or moronic as it may seem, isn’t death the life buoy that we cling to, the lighthouse that guides us through the darkness of our complicated realities? Or have I completely misunderstood the basis of most world religions?

Except that I didn’t see the poetic symmetry between “real life” internship and death until I found myself sitting silently over Excel sheets and media coverage reports, lashing out tweets and content creation calendars to beat the band. Up until I found myself irrationally scared of asking a question, embarrassed by the ostentatious clip-clop echo of my once-favourite-now-crucifying pair of Clarks (#Clarks4lyf).

I thought the internship symbolised quite the opposite: life.

It came to me as a vision in a sweepscape of white. Here it is, I thought, finally!

Direction, purpose, a clear, unambiguous path towards a coherent idea of what ‘work’ can mean for me when I stop thinking in ‘just for nows’. 

Some sort of antidote to the listlessness, the lack of direction, fear of drifting, the incessant questions about what exactly it is I’m doing with my life. Some bright, shiny sticker to hang on my apron and say here, look everyone! I’m going somewhere, I’m achieving something; I have not wasted four years of studying and striving (read: procrastinating and panicking) for polishing glasses and leery customers.

Classic misdirection, essentially, so everyone (including me) would be so busy looking towards my exciting future to notice my floundering present.

And now I know this is such crap. Three months through and out the gap, the other side, the wooden door glass ceiling faster than a tiny, multi-coloured plump of a bullet, I can safely say there is no salvation. There is no horizon line for happiness, no identifiable point at which we can stop, look around, dust off our hands and say yep, I’m done, I am at the summit of all my hopes, dreams and desires.

That is real death, people. If you reach the point where you are no longer marginally dissatisfied, annoyingly curious, perpetually restless, endlessly questioning then you are DEAD. Life isn’t the rainbow. It’s the chase for the rainbow.

We’re always so busy chasing these illusions we miss the bigger illusion – the farce of life itself. That there’s a point to any of this. We’re mapping out our routes, plotting our linear paths and then comparing them to those of the people around us as we all race towards something that doesn’t exist.

I say we, I really mean me. Because as I am hunched, shrivelled, wilting, shrinking in this stale office I am consumed by an onslaught of questions that destroy every notion I had about the trajectory my life needed to take. Examples include:

Why am I so hell bent obsessed with ‘proving myself’ or proving something? Unresolved childhood issues?

Google: Impact of sibling rivalry on self-esteem in millennial generation?

Where did I pick up this notion that I ever need to justify how I choose to live my life to anyone other than myself?

Google: Where do notions come from? *Disclaimer: this brings up a whole host of other pertinent but contextually irrelevant results featuring many references to kale, avocado and the incorrigible flat white.

When will just breathing be enough for me?

Google: How to live as a Buddhist monk.

Is this what being a grown up looks like? Settling?

Google: Images of certified grown ups.

Why must we settle, accept things we shouldn’t, smile and simper for so much less than we’re worth?

Google: What am I worth?

Why commit the best of your day to work you don’t believe in, that doesn’t sustain or fulfill or inspire you?

Google: How to tell if you’re scared of commitment.

Slump. Munch. Die.

I know I need to stop writing now, and I am acutely aware it’s just me and my tangents left at this stage. I wish I knew what the point of this post was because the internship is over now and I am hanging in the balance of its aftermath. No idea of the path I am going to take next, knowing only the ones I can and must and have refused.

I think I just want to commemorate an experience that has taught me the value of every precious second you spend doing something you truly love. If it’s being in pyjamas by 6pm, if it’s going to a comedy gig, or dinner, or hanging with your knitting krew or a walk in real, beautiful, fresh air – whatever your thing is, do it with intention, do it with joy. My evenings have never been so pleasure-filled as the evenings I’ve spent over the past few months. Because they’ve never felt so truly mine.

Running out from that oppressive environment into the big, glaring world was exhilarating – a thud back into my skin and a desperation to win back as many of my wasted working hours as possible.

So I knit and swing danced and drew and drank and kettlebelled and ate and laughed my way into realising I still have absolutely no idea what exactly it is I’m going to do with myself. And that is FINE. In fact, that is better.

So, so long, internship. See you, certain death. Gonna have to raincheck on you financial security, professional stability, pensions. Thank you for letting me embrace casual office chic (AKA wearing my Granny’s leisurewear). Thank you for giving me media coverage reports and therefore the excuse to listen to countless episodes of The Guilty Feminist. Thank you for showing me a million things I don’t want, and just a glimmer of things I might. Thank you for letting me be unhappy so I know what I need to be happy again. Mainly, thanks for letting me eat porridge at my desk.

Time to stop living my life with an addendum. Time to just breathe.

And finally get myself a watercooler to hang out by.

*Disclaimer: I am very fond of the place and people I worked with. They are just lovely, I just like to exaggerate because I’m one of five kids and that’s the only way to get attention. Also, it wasn’t them, it was me – except for real.

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