Thoughts on Work
It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to write anything creative. I don’t mean that academic kind of creative. That’s different, right?
Well, I want to share a few anecdotes. The first is about prescription drugs. The second is about Red Bull and my landlord. And the third is about loving my job. They’re all related to the same theme, more or less. (I’m taking a stab at a theme here because, to be honest, most of my writing goes discursive faster than Gordon Ramsay can say “fuck off”.) The theme is work, particularly the affective part of it. I’ll define affect later.
There Aren’t Pills For That
At a time when B. Preciado’s work couldn’t be anymore important, I’ve found myself criticizing the very institutions that have provided the most structural sense of security. Psychiatry. Pharmaceuticals. Therapy. They’re all interrelated and it would be boring and repetitious to rehearse why. So…anecdote time. I’m prescribed five medications, all of which are psychotropic. Two antidepressants, one of which comes in differing milligrams. One anti-panic medication taken three times daily. The other is a small-dose derivative of speed used to counteract the sleepy-effects of the others. Yes, I’m taking a drug to counteract the side effects of other drugs. Oh, the irony.
So I finished graduate school. I got my PhD. And I found out that my insurance ended quite abruptly. So all those visits with my psych over this past summer were not covered. But she’s great. (This is critical since it’s so easy for any number of critics to go “she’s a cog in the machine” blah blah blah) She’s a worker, a highly paid worker, but a worker who can understand that my means have been and will continue to be limited. So she’s waived a few office visits.
The drug companies are different. (In those instances, yeah, anyone you speak to on the phone is a “cog in the machine” and it’s not all blah blah blah.) Short story: I’ve been paying out of pocket for my meds. But the real fun starts, for folks like myself, when one drug meant to counteract the effects of the other drugs is on a delay. You see, medications aren’t always available. And for those of us who need certain drugs that counteract the effects of others, when there’s a shortage of that drug, we feel it. Let me emphasize: we literally feel it. I’m on some heavy medications that make me feel tired almost all of the time. No self-help book will not lift me out of bed and make the sun sing to me as I make my way to class. (I can see Preciado reading this and saying, “I told you so.”)
Anyway, I’ve been struggling to get back on insurance. My employer can cover me, and hopefully “grandfather” me in. But the snag is that it comes out of my already meager paycheck as an adjunct. I need this particular insurance because it’s the same as my previous company–an insurance my psych takes. So we shall see.
(Oh…for those who might be wondering. It isn’t easy to find another psych. Imagine being forced out of a 7 year relationship with an intimate partner. Imagine being told you need to get a new partner within a month. Then imagine that your entire way of life will come undone if you don’t. That’s what would be roughly equivalent for those who are not plugged into this psycho-therapeutic culture.)
Red Bulls and Lawsuits
Did I mention that I was a part of a lawsuit? It was tarted by my Tenant Association (yay), that took my landlord to court for lack of adequate repairs. We went several months with no heat in our entire building last winter. All this in spite of frequent complaints. We went together, made a collective effort alongside a pretty impressive legal team, and sued. We got a settlement. It was probably more of a chunk out of the landlord’s pride than his wallet. But we got something nevertheless. This was all during my trouble with insurance. My sense of the ordinary was very much in disarray.
So how do Red Bulls fit in? I was looking at my recycling bin. I noticed that it was nearly filled with those silvery-blue cylinders. I had been drinking about four over the course of six hours for nearly a week. Maybe we could think of Red Bulls less as a commodity and more as a metaphor. It doesn’t have to be the actual drink, the one that gives you energy and wings and stuff. And so we are left with this kind of circuit board. Workers get tired after the work-cycle because the work-cycle is taking more and more energy in ways that could be put to the creative reproduction of ordinary life. (Like taking a landlord to court, living on poverty wages, grading papers, preparing and executing lectures, and paying for commuting fares that end up being almost a third your gross bi-weekly income.) Workers need more energy that isn’t being reserved in their bodies “naturally.” So markets arise offering fixes to that energy drain. These fixes fill those workers with enough synthesized forms of what are essentially meth. so these same workers can get their jobs get done. That’s what it comes to, after all. Getting the job done quickly and effectively. I don’t want to get into the pornographic side of this argument. Suffice it to say that this system makes exploited bodies of us all. (Side note: I love my job.)
Being and Tired
I suppose what I am aiming at here is that making a life requires a lot more than time and what is possible in 8 hours. These are the conditions of late capitalism. The difficulty associated with making a life, however, is not equally distributed. In other words, feeling that difficulty is not felt equally. That’s affect. Feeling that something is difficult, the strain on the body and the emotions, is the state of being affected by work.
For adjuncts this has become commonplace. You care for your students. You care for your creative research efforts. But you’re tired from commuting and grading and not having enough money to reproduce the bare minimum for ordinary life. You miss payments on your phone, rent, or utilities. You apply for food stamps. You feel the sting of having spent so many years honing your skills as a researcher and thinker and teacher that all you can feel and think is, well, dissipation. Sure, there are photos of happy post-defense grad students. But I always consider that a kind of qualified happiness.
Affect is tricky. It gets circulated in variously strange ways under economic systems in late capitalism. At the end of the day, or the week, or the month, you still have to love your job. And to compensate for this drain, this excessive burden on the body and the mind, new sources of energy-promising commodities saturate the markets. And we buy them, mostly out of necessity, and consume them. But we do so thinking that we have to fix ourselves so we can get to that spot in our lives where, having the energy to do so, we feel validated. But why do we need to fix ourselves? Why is it expected that our bodies can commit?
Affect is tricky. I can still love my job and hate the culture of work that has contaminated it.