The human experience

I walked to work, leaving early enough to enjoy the walk while listening to some jazz tunes on my minidisk player. Whenever I get to “Duke’s Place” with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, I’ve got to sing along in my Louis voice and replay the song two or three times.

Work was work. The guy I work with was in a foul mood and he took it out on the edgebander. Result? I had a constant stream of parts coming at me that I had to stack. I got angry several times but whenever I felt my blood boil I’d try to remember the Zen teaching about running into a blind man. Didn’t help much. I do not like the job at all. I must confess a secret that I consider the work beneath me. Am I to stand away the long hours of the night, bustling pieces of material from line to cart to line to cart? While a man five years my younger and with less than a third of my intellect walk around shouting orders as though they were the colored feathers of a bird? The guy that I work with was born in 81. There aren’t a lot of experiences that we share. He told me a black joke and I looked at him and told him it was in poor taste. Later he came up to me and asked “you’re not into racial jokes are you”. I said no. I couldn’t explain to him my deeper appreciation for humor, irony, and wit, that even racial jokes have a service. However, he would never understand. I was in a foul mood and it was growing worse. I resorted to a tactic of thinking of dreams. I imagined myself driving through the Oregon mountains in a mustang with the top down. I imagined driving the car to a gathering psychologists in Portland. I imagined going to the opera with her (whomever “her” might be) and our sitting in a coffee house afterward, laughing and discussing the opera, news, life, philosophy and perhaps some cartoons. I imagined getting a phone call on the cell late at night while I was in the library, adding to a meta-analysis on a particular topic of interest from her to meet me in the parking lot. And when I drag myself down to the parking lot where my car is at, she’s there with some Chinese take out and coffee and we eat in the car with the top down, gazing at the stars and trees. I imagined standing up in front of a large auditorium of people and delivering a presentation at a conference of psychologists (what the topic is I am leaving open). I imagined all manner of little tidbits and it did well to lessen the ferocity of my mood. I was no longer apathetic.

However, I couldn’t help but look around me at the other workers. We had recently ended a 10 minute break and at 11 minutes we were still in the break room. I was just about to leave but I was getting some of the free popcorn. The night supervisor came in and said that the break was over, he knew everyone’s face and if they did this again tomorrow they’d be written up. I took my popcorn and left. I didn’t care what the guy thought really. It is my opinion that the management culture is based on fear. Things were already bad for me. Sweating about an insecure supervisor who takes reaffirmation of his role (and use) by the actions of such are nothing to waste a single thought about. Back at my station, I watched the people around me and tried to get into their minds and into the dynamics of the interactions around me. I am a temp and make $7.75 an hour, the regular staff make hardly much more than I do. I find it a great leap of faith to think that anyone there is able to afford house payments, car payments, supporting children, and such without his wife having a hell of a good job. It seemed to me that the atmosphere of the workers is do what is necessary, keep a steady pace, and don’t do more than what is expected. But driving this is the feeling that this is a dead end, if this is lost there is nothing left. A sense of hopelessness is hiding in every corner. Thanksgiving time came around and instead of joy at having a four day weekend the conversation ran to how could they make up the hours by working even more overtime. Watching guys come in with poor meals, borrow money from each other in the break room, ride their bikes home at three in the morning when it is cold, only affirms my suspicions to me.

I went back into my mind to the lessons from Organizational Psychology concerning worker performance and job satisfaction. I also tried to remember back to lessons on life psychology and overall satisfaction. The two are inextricably interlaced. And what were some factors of job satisfaction? I went over the usual list, pay, autonomy, challenge, status, etc… but I considered roles as well. By roles I mean that a person holds various roles in his mind as to what things are. They make up the characters in the play in one’s mind that is their personal philosphy. This is why writing novels are beginning to appeal to me, because I can play around with these supposed inner-plays and really tear the guts out of the philosophy. Think back to Robert Redford’s film “Ordinary People”. It had the usual characters and familiar theme, but it showed behind the scenes of the playbill. This reminds me. I saw a preview for a movie, I cannot remember if it just came out, was a cable movie, an art movie… or what… but I really want to see it. All that I can remember is it seemed to have a Norman Rockwell appearance to the film and a white woman needed someone (I think her husband or family or something was going all wrong) and in a bar she came across a black man and the two made what appeared in the short preview to be a very strong relationship. Oh yes… CHALLENGE RACIAL STEREOTYPES and TABOOS! Back to my point though. The person has a philosophy in his mind and that philosophy has its play. Some plays are better written than others. I believe that imagination is very much a factor in creating one’s future. If you can’t visualize it… chances are slim of it happening. The person has his self to be the main character in the play and that character is generally given a title. Whether this title is one that is known (doctor) or not (typical god fearing conservative white southern male) isn’t so important. It is a social phenomenon, these roles, and the man assumes them. I wondered if whether or not job satisfaction, and life satisfaction, might not have something to do with which role the hero took in his own play. I must confess that when I first started working, aside from having a job in the first place, I was happy to do some manual type of labor. It felt good to me to move my limbs and objects around. The pay felt more honest to me. Of course I may be judging this according to the criteria of my last job where the number of honest paychecks I felt I recieved were very little. Perhaps that is another, or truer reason why I left Divas. Perhaps it is another aspect of the same theme?

While I continued to do my work I could not use too much of my brain for analytical functions. I had to keep some of my mind focused on the job at hand. So I thought of the story that I am writing. It is sketchy now and editing is not my strong point. I’ve never loved doing it. Yet looking at my story I saw where I could go back and make changes, add some things, move some things around, and turn what is a simple story with potential, into a crafted novel. I thought of the scene where I find myself at currently, the battle. I’ve added to the battle off and on and it feels like the largest scene thus far. It certainly is a battle for me to write for I am trying to incorporate the views, histories, and motives of different characters all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to do and I can readily tell some adjustments in timing that I must make note of. I ran the scene through my head a few times as though it were a movie, imagining the feel and mood of it, trying to explore some different twists. A few times I would stop and say “wow… that would be different than your typical fantasy novel”.

The end of the night and I was home. I was going to try to go to sleep earlier than 4. I wanted to make some rounds at some bars during the day and try to get a job. I have no intention of staying at the cabinet maker. But I made a mistake. I had the channel on Oregon Public Broadcasting and I caught most of an episode of “Great Composures” on Mozart. Oh my, I had to watch. I grabbed a banana and listened intently to the show. I enjoyed it immensely and was just about to shut off the t.v. and go to bed when they began the next episode. It was all over… no hope of going to bed… for the episode was on Beethoven.

Oh, the pain and joy of Beethoven’s music. Watching the show as it traced from his youth to his death, moving from piece to piece, they came at last to his 9th Symphony. In just the short hint of the 4th movement “Ode to Joy” I again, as I often do whenever I listen to Beethoven’s 9th, found myself crying in deep and utter gratitude. Back in 96 I was in college and had suffered a heartbreak. As luck would have it I had Beethoven’s 7th Symphony on at the time and the despair in the music matched my mood as I tore my room apart, ripping the bunk bed apart, tossing the bookshelf against the far wall, emptying everything from its location in a fury. By the end of the piece I was a shell in a corner of a room which was not crossable. At that moment I had made Beethoven’s music the music of my heart. Forward a couple years later and I was still undergoing a series of heartbreaks where I never fully recovered from one, only to have another. It seemed that the first three years in Houston were more like brief periods of small joy superimposed over a very bleak and dark background. It was one of Mozart’s chorale’s, played along with the Requiem which showed me that beauty still existed in the world, but it was Beethoven’s 9th that gave me hope. Listening to Beethoven I would turn off the lights and close my eyes, and immerse myself in the music. Beethoven is not music for the background. It is music to be attentive to and to let enter one’s heart for there it will add to your own heartbeat and sustain you when your own heart falters. In the dark, listening to Beethoven, I once again travelled down all the roads of despair, roads that I were still on with my life, and there was no end in sight. But just as my life had few tiny fragments of happiness in them, the 9th Symphony too had small fragments of the melody here and there. Was there a chance for happiness? Could it be reached? Could one survive long enough to feel such joy? But where did it come from? What were the keys to getting it? There was no hope. But listening to the symphony, hearing the melodies build upon themselves, going from emotion to emotion through life… one comes to the fourth movement. It starts out quietly, like an orchestra tuning itself for the performance… and then BAM! It hits you in the face. It is a style of aggression, of opposition, and you remember that you have to get up out of bed and face the day. But wait… a melody appears and then it is shared with other voices. It is the same faint melodies you heard earlier… and it grows. It grows so large, so completely, so overwhelming… it is as though it were the only true voice of the longing heart in its most pure desire… crying out for that which is the reason it lives with all the joy and rapture that it feels. It is all the longing turned loving, all the pain turned joy, all the blackness turned light… and when I hear that piece my heart too cries out in such. I cannot help myself from crying, often times uncontrollably so. And I make no apologies or attempts to stifle it. LOVE… LOVE LOVE and JOY! Feeling them in all their intensity in no way asks to be diminished for sake of image. Tears and shouting voices, the choir singing the ode, are part of this total rapture.

I remember Beethoven’s life, the darkness, lonliness and difficultires he faced. Would have have written so supremely human and universal music had he not lived such a life as he did? Was the anguish necessary? In all of his music there is sadness, but in that sadness there is always… always that glimmer of hope and sheer gratitude of living… that living is worth it all, and in the passages of joy there is the reminder that there is pain alongside such joy.

Time for me to go to work.


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