August 11 – Volume 12, #8
“You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party”
“Let’s go to sleep in Paris,
And wake up in Tokyo.
Have a dream in New Orleans,
Fall in love in Chicago” –Lupe Fiasco, “Tokyo to Paris”-
Think back to the best times of your life. Think hard.
The games of hide and seek. That slip and slide in your front yard. That slip and slide in your back seat. The first kisses. The first time you rode that bike by yourself. The parties. The great games you’ve watched. The graduations, the weddings, the milestone birthdays. The dope first dates. The rites of passage.
If you’re anything like me, most of them have one common denominator: you shared those experiences with other people.
America is dealing with numerous problems today. High unemployment, decreased wages, inadequate education, food safety concerns. To get through these tough times we need to lean on one another. But as I scan the American landscape it seems that increasingly we can no longer even afford to enjoy one another’s company.
Communist philosopher Karl Marx made many bold predictions about capitalist society when he first began waxing poetic on the subject nearly 150 years ago. His most notable prognostication, his vision of the worldwide revolution of the proletariat, has been slow in coming, as more and more countries work hard to be just like America. But one thing that he seems to have been dead-on with was his concept of alienation. This theory contends that capitalism causes us to lose control of our lives in four distinct ways. First we cease to conceive of ourselves as masters of our own individual universes. Instead, it seems like we are just drifting along and some invisible hand determines what happens to us. Before long we become accustomed to this and don’t try and work proactively in any aspect of our lives. Many falsely believe that their life is totally out of their hands and is at the whim of mysterious, unseen forces. But the reality is that these forces aren’t nearly as mysterious or invisible as we’ve been lead to believe. They’re right in your face for those who want to take a look.
For the decreasing number of Americans still working to contribute to the capitalist cash cow, we wake up each day with less and less power in determining just how we go about contributing to this system. Capitalism differed from communism in that it took advantage of where people’s talents could best be utilized. And yet the American worker is regarded as being so disposable that many of their jobs are now going to 12-year-old girls overseas somewhere. The cost-cutting measure of outsourcing has also made it where the American worker is alienated from their labor. In the 1950s a worker at GM could see the product of his livelihood in the streets. He could visibly see how his work made someone else’s life better. In today’s service economy, where people sell information instead of tangible products, we lose some of the fulfillment that past laborers enjoyed in being able to literally touch and feel the product of their labor.
With such a setup as we have presently, it is not surprising that most people have little to no passion for what they do, because they feel forced by economic reality to do what they have to do instead of what they want to do. In this way, the capitalist labor force has developed quite as Marx predicted in that we go to work everyday far more to fulfill the goals of our employers than we do our own. I mean, what are you making the money for? Is this what you had in mind when you got into the workforce? When you got your first after-school job as a shorty, was it strictly to pay bills? Or were you saving up for a car? For the latest pair of Jordans? To make sure nothing came between you and senior prom.
And for all the money you make today, compared to back then, how much do you get to enjoy it? Most of it goes to Com Ed, Sprint, Jewell or Bank of America. How much do you have left over to take your wife to dinner? Take your children on vacation? How often does your labor afford you an opportunity to get with the fellas and 80,000 of your closest friends and actually go to Soldier Field every once and a while to catch a ball game, rather than watching it by yourself on TV.
The worst thing that capitalism has done has made it where we don’t have time for one another. How could we after all? Most of us don’t have time for ourselves.
It’s funny how we were all in such a hurry as children to get to this point. Not having to live under our parents fascist-like rules. And most importantly –for me anyway- I’d have my own money. But what I didn’t appreciate as a child, that I grasp fully now, is that money is not the most prized commodity. Time is. And it is a sad life that most of us have created for ourselves in that most of our time is spent on things that suck the joy and passion from us. Such a state is not even good for capitalism, as miserable workers aren’t the most productive.
Well, being miserable is just part of adulthood, right? Wrong. It’s what we have made it to be. This is the life that we’ve allowed our capitalist masters to carve out for is. But by no means is this what life is supposed to be, or how it has to be. For many of us, it may be too late to reverse this cycle. But if you have children, please for the love of God, don’t set them onto this path of adulthood. The worst part of the pathetic and miserable lives that most of us survive (cause most of us aren’t living) is that we have accepted this as an irreversible reality like gravity and the sun rising in the east.
The beautiful thing about a child is their imagination. Their mind is still being molded and is full of infinite possibilities. This allows them to create any world they want to in their head. It has been said, that when you become an adult it is time to put child’s things away. And the first thing that we put away are our dreams as we accept the dreams and aspirations of our employers. Even I was feeling more and more compelled to tuck my dreams away in favor of a “practical” life. People mocked Michael Jackson for his Peter-Pan complex in wanting to hang on to his childhood. And no doubt, Mike took it a bit too far at times. We still live in a society. And in this society, a grown-ass man having slumber parties with little kids isn’t a good look. Still, the one thing that the King of Pop had to the very end was the boundless imagination of a child. And the one thing that I find so depressing about adults is how limited we are in our thinking. How much we are willing to accept the world as it is. We accept that work is supposed to be functional and not something that we bring joy and passion to. We have accepted that Americans can no longer produce anything tangible. We have accepted that adulthood means only experiencing joy through the lives of our children, and not through our own new experiences. If this is adult life then I’m not sure how much I want a part of this.
Over the past year I found myself falling into this mouse trap that capitalism sets for us. I am very blessed in that for a very long time I’ve known exactly what I wanted to do with my life. And I was fortunate that there was a market for this talent. But I quickly found that the mindless demands of my employers, (that I sincerely feel are designed more to keep me busy, rather than productive) trumped my own motivations in entering this particular labor force. And with the day-to-day drudgery, I didn’t have time to engage in my passion of writing because I needed to reserve my energy to be able to take the minutes for a committee meeting the following morning. The thing is, I didn’t go to school for umpteen years to take notes at committee meetings. The very thing that I paid all my dues to do –and this in both time and money- I was finding that I no longer had time to do. And before long, this was becoming habitual. I too, was convincing myself that it was impractical to expect happiness and professional fulfillment at a place that dominated at least 60 percent of my time between my time at the office, work taken home with me and hours preparing for work. Most of the rest of my time was spent sleeping so that I could be fully refreshed to absorb more misery still. Where once I had loved coming to work, I now saw it as something to be endured rather than celebrated. Not surprisingly, this came across in my work, which isn’t good when your job is to motivate young people.
Fortunately, just before I became fully alienated from the man that I had worked hard to become, I was able to escape. Or I was pushed to be more accurate. The folly of capitalism on full display as I could have gone on doing soulless work for another 25 years for my employer without sanction, but breaching bureaucratic protocol was a deal breaker. But I was one of the lucky ones when my employer felt the need to liberate me from this labor of burden. There were some moments of trepidation. This isn’t the greatest time to be looking for a job in America. Could I manage my Hyde Park apartment and the BUPPIE lifestyle that came with it? Would I be able to afford to keep all the movie channels in my Comcast package? How could I possibly be expected to go on without eight different Showtime networks? And my vices weren’t going to be abused by themselves, that shit cost money.
But I found that in losing a job, I found me again. I lost a little bit of money. But I gained control of my time, and for someone like me, that’s positively invaluable. We raise our children to think that money is the most valuable commodity, but this is a flawed vision of life. Our most valuable commodity is time. When you’re on your death bed, hopefully many years from now, do you think you’re going to wish you had 1 million more dollars or a million more minutes? Yet we devote most of our time to what have increasingly become joyless and soulless pursuits of industry. Only to find that the money still isn’t enough to truly justify all the time expended. In being the owner of all my time, I saw just how much time I was wasting chasing paper.
While many around me felt panic, being laid off from that bullshit job was the best thing that had happened to me in a long time. I wasn’t happy with work. The money was decent, but I was grossly underpaid for the many different hats I was forced to wear, so the dough felt like way less than it really was. And this economic discrepancy would have been a little bit easier to stomach if I felt valued in other ways. But the only time my employers commented on the work that I did for them was when they felt the need to nitpick. I found myself no longer feeling good about the work I was doing, and had developed an irreparable level of resentment for the people that I worked for. And worse of all, I began to let my work problems seep into other areas of my life, causing greater alienation yet. This was not what I went to school for 200 years for. I could have continued washing dishes at Wendy’s for this shit. I was actually happier then.
I was lucky in that I had accumulated sufficient savings to weather the small storm that my lack of employment created. And no doubt, my employer played a role in me being positioned as such. And make no mistake, had an extended tsunami swept through, I certainly would have joined the chorus in panic. This is still a capitalist system after all. Fortunately such a scenario was averted and I’ll be sucked back into the rat race soon enough.
But I’ll re-enter with a renewed perspective, and a renewed commitment. A renewed commitment to me. A renewed committment to my loved ones. A renewed commitment to life, and all the many things that are good in it.
Goodness like the feeling I have when I’m able to write, allowing me to both experience my own personal catharsis while hopefully also crafting my words where they can help someone else. There is nothing in this world that parallels how alive I feel when I’m able to lose myself in the words. And for the past two years, my occupation was not allowing me this escapism. Never again!
In having the proper time and space to step outside of myself, I saw that I can’t be nearly as effective of a professor if I’m not writing regularly And since my employer liberated me four months ago, I’ve been writing like I was Tupac. Having exclusive control over how my day was chopped up, I was reminded how much I missed the feeling of being able to sit down and write for six straight hours without worrying about whether or not I’m behind on my employers list of chores. I no longer had to give my creativity a deadline. Many times over the past couple of years, I would shut my computer off at midnight in order to get sufficient rest for work, irregardless of whether or not my creativity had burned out or not. Many good ideas are lost forever because my very reason for living couldn’t be squeezed around tallying my final grades so that my slave master could have all their records finalized. Now no longer consumed with the whims of my alarm clock, I could now write until four or five in the morning without a concern about how this might affect my work performance. I was able to clear my head. I was able to clear my apartment. I was able to clear my life. I was able to sit and talk with friends like I was 16, without having to look at the clock to make sure I was home by the time the streetlight came on as my benefactor had demanded in the contract that I signed in blood. And perhaps most significantly, I had the requisite time and energy to get reacquainted with my best friend of all: Chicago,Illinois.
As I write here, these are my last days in The City of Broad Shoulders for a while. There aren’t enough words in 20 languages to express just how much that breaks my heart. I love this fucking place, as tough as that is to do at times.
But what would have broken my heart far more is if I would have spent my final days in the world’s greatest city trapped inside my office, working towards someone else’s agenda that not only was not my own. But was wholly opposed to the personal mission that I feel has been handed to me from The Creator. Fuck that!
I understand fully the need to make a living. And I want to work. But more than working, I want to contribute. And in doing work that I’m not passionate about, I found myself taking a salary but giving back less and less. And honestly I got into education a lot more to give than to take.
But it’s hard to give back when you don’t feel that you’re experiencing any sense of fulfillment in the process. When you feel like you’re being pimped. In the last few months I took to rectifying that as I no longer found my day dominated by things that were slowly destroying my spirit. Destroying my very essence.
I walked along the lake and inhaled the world’s best skyline. I danced until even my socks were sweaty. I went to the Green Mill and digested more Guinnesses than I had planned on when I entered the Uptown establishment. I hung out with friends where I laughed so hard that my jaws hurt.
Next week I’m going to the top of the Sears Tower (I’m never going to call it anything but the Sears Tower, sorry). I’m going to ride the el and just look around. Absorb the energy deep into my pores. The bad smells. The people trying to sell me safety pins and raspberry Chews. I’ll actually probably take some of the Chews. I’m going to get me a Philly Cheese steak in Greek Town. I’m going to go check out an MC battle at Sub-T. Although the Cubs are god-awful this season, I may find my way up to Clark & Addison before my days in Chi-Town run out. I’m gone hit up Harold’s one last time.
Soon I’ll be in a locale where I may not be able to hear house music for 500 miles in any direction. I won’t hear the symphony of dialects that can be overheard on the Red Line, a credit to this city’s amazing diversity. I may have much more trouble being able to find authentic cuisine from Ethiopia, Mexico, India or Sri Lanka like I can easily do in the Windy City. There are sure to be many chicken shacks, but nothing like Harold’s or Leon’s. It is unlikely that a 500-person electric slide will break out in The Dirty similar to the one I joined in at Grant Park when Stevie Wonder performed As. There ain’t no Chinatown where I’m going, and it will be a shock to find any of the murals that light up Pilsen and Little Village. I’ll be able to cock my baseball cap to either side without consequence. The cab drivers may actually patiently wait on me to cross the street, as opposed to trying to run me over and give me the finger as they drive by as is the custom here in Chi City. Damn, I’ll miss that. It will be a long time before I’m able to watch baseball as it was intended in Wrigley Field.
And while the south is chopped-full of history, I won’t be able to stand in the spot where the police assassinated Fred Hampton or where Al Capone gave his rivals a final Valentine’s kiss. And I defy a city to match the generation-defining moments that Grant Park hosted 40 years apart on August 28, 1968 and November 4, 2008. My new home can certainly make strong claims on the greatest athlete ever, but they didn’t get the up-close look of vintage MJ that Chicagoans had. There will be no African Fest where I’m going. And I won’t wake up to find the river dyed green in the middle of March. These realities inspire extended bouts of sadness when I allow myself to be consumed by them too long. But as I leave I am forever grateful that I had an opportunity to leave this city -which made me so much of who I am- with sufficient closure. That wouldn’t have happened had I been locked up behind a dusty cubicle for eight hours a day.
Comrades, escape from behind your cubicle, from behind your apron or whatever it is that keeps you from becoming one with the environment around you. There are few places that make for a better escape than Chicago. I have yet to find any.
I’ve been to Tokyo and that was as dynamic of a city as you’d ever want to see. Everyone should have an opportunity to feel its pulse. I’ve been awed by the amazing historical monuments that litter Rome. I’ve walked on trails where revolutionary blood was shed in Johannesburg, and stood in the exact spot where Nelson Mandela was shackled for 27 years just outside Cape Town. I’ve seen sketches of Spanish influence from both sides of the Atlantic, in Barcelona and San Juan. I felt irie –but just a little- in Montego Bay. Paris had so much to offer that it kept me up all night long. That city there is everything it’s advertised to be and much more. But no city has touched my heart quite like Chicago, Illinois. And if it’s touched yours at all, get the fuck out and take it in. If you don’t have time, make time. Don’t take it for granted that the many wonderments of our city will always be at your fingertips.
For those who have access to this great city, or if you’re reading these words from some metropolitan knock-off like New York, L.A. or Atlanta, I encourage you to breathe in life’s small joys while you can. We aren’t given much time in these bodies. And one thing that I know for sure is that the time we do have goes all too quickly. When we become adults, no doubt, there are many children’s things that we must put away. But having a little sugar in your bowl every now and then doesn’t have to be one of them.
Peace and God bless, Chi Town.