state of my big fat face, 2015
I was looking for a job, and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m drinking this cup of black tea with rosehip and hibiscus that is supposed to be “comforting,” according to the package, but it feels like a burr in the back of my throat, under fluorescent lights in a semi-open workspace. Security and stability are falsehoods.
In December of 2013, about a week before Christmas, I was sitting in my office at the labor union I’d been at for nearly 8 years when I got called in by the president and was told I was being laid off. It wasn’t too much of a surprise — this was the third round of layoffs, and I wasn’t the only one, and much had happened there that made me suspect my position was being eliminated, but that made it no less difficult. I’m in my mid-30s, and I thought I had a “career” with one of the last entities in the world that still cares about the quality of workers’ lives. I worked in its bowels, so I realized this particular entity is and was full of shit, but I kept working there because I need money to live, like anyone, and I thought I could effect slow but positive change from within.
I tried. I failed. I got pink-slipped. Story of a lot of lives.
For the next 10 months, I worked at a record store and a pizza shop, both for minimum wage, with a lot of my friends (something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager). Being around those friends every day was incredible. Not being able to scrape together enough money to pay basic bills and keep myself from starving was not. I finally accepted an assignment in an Average Office in the suburbs, doing legal writing, where I am drinking this tea and looking out through slatted blinds at a grey-white sky and Canada geese chasing one another around the parking lot. I feel like a lost alien here. I make enough money, just barely, to keep my bank account out of the red. My body aches a little less now that I’m not hefting boxes around and dealing with irate customers regularly.
In 2001, right before I was about to enter a combined PhD-masters program, a friend I’d met through the college radio station at UMBC, which barely broadcast outside the bounds of the campus and where I had been music director, asked me whether I’d be interested in writing for “that Pitchfork blog thing”; if I wanted to, he’d refer me. I considered it and realized that between booking shows, being in active bands and grad school I wouldn’t have time.
In 2011, I started finding my way back to music writing after quitting my grad program due to lack of funding and realizing that I was deeply unsatisfied by my “career.” A thing you learn in your thirties is that you start looping back to the things that your young self cared about and that you discarded in your twenties as being childish dreams.
This year, I wrote a lot of pieces for “that Pitchfork blog thing,” which is, as of the end of the year, now owned by Conde Nast (surprise, 2001 Jes)! I put an immense amount of care into everything I wrote and reminded myself that art is between the creator and the consumer and that readers can take my work and tear it apart if they wish and that that is ok, as long as they don’t threaten me with rape or death.
Security and stability are falsehoods.
Here are some other things I did this year:
- Made a record that almost nobody heard, which I am still very proud of
- Got diagnosed with ADD, partially thanks to my brilliant brain twin, with whom I ate many burgers and talked much shit. (“Maybe you should ask your therapist about that?”) It was the missing piece that allowed me to see the full picture of the comorbid mess of organic major depression, anxiety and PTSD that is my brain and I am enormously thankful.
- Successfully did not use opiates for another 365 days (once you hit over a decade these anniversaries start losing meaning, but they really should be celebrated, no?)
- Comically fell down a bunch of times, often in public
- Got an offer to write a book proposal, which I am working on at present
- Celebrated ten years of being repulsively smitten with the person who sings in this band, and vice versa
- Felt recognized in many ways as a Real Writer, whatever the fuck that is, but am still unable to feel internally like I deserve to call myself such. Imposter syndrome is a motherfucker
- I see you’d only used one swear word in this entire piece (albeit twice), Jes, there we go
- Hated a lot of things most people liked
- Liked a bunch of things most people didn’t care about
- Reflected a good deal on whether resistance to capitalism is possible
- Got so angry about that train of thought I had to go do something else for a while
- Started to itch about moving somewhere other than Chicago, especially given how frustrating our search for a space to open a stable DIY space has been (give me a minute to bend your ear if you’d like to hear all the awful details)
- Felt enormously grateful for the other wonderful, complicated contrarian grouches who are close to me
- Made friends out of enemies
- Let go of one-sided friendships
- Looked real cute, for someone who isn’t conventionally cute in any way (I will continue to fight for poor fat ugly weirdos to wear whatever we want always and forever)
- Found inspiration to keep chipping away at the structures that are killing all of us, some more directly than others, in Chicago’s young activists
- Loved into the void where echoes are swallowed immediately
- Wrote this solipsistic piece
- Continued to disconnect my worth from my appearance, tough slog as that is
- Hugged a couple real dumb cats
May 2016 bring greater acceptance of the vacancy beneath our feet for all of us.