Recently, in my personal life, I’ve been faced with the modernist conundrum that so many people go through in this hyper-capitalistic world of ours. Do you choose money over being happy? Do you choose material wealth over emotional? Do you save up money for a television instead of staying home with your sons to nurture them?
Last week, I was temporarily laid off from my job. My position was claimed to be eliminated, but they actually gave it someone else who they thought was more focused. They essentially filled my spot without telling me. I can’t deny that I have been very unfocused where I work. With having newborn twin boys, a myriad of writing projects, and an array of health problems in my family, sometimes its not easy to focus on customer service inside a bookstore. A day later, I was brought back through a temp agency that works with the college. I was happy to be employed again, since it would cause my family less anxiety, especially my wife. I’d do anything for her. She’s been a great wife and mother.
Something profoundly odd happened to me for that one day of potential unemployment.
In that simple second within the colliding atoms of rent, gasoline, and utility bills, which govern the laws of our existences like some dark lord buried in the earth like a Morlock. Between all those commitments, obligations, debts, bills, payments, and subscriptions. Between it all.
I was happy.
It wasn’t the type of joy I get when around my family, children, friends, or wife. There is no unit of measure or description for this feeling. It wasn’t the euphoric and sweaty aftermath of sex. It wasn’t the excitement you get from opening a new video game and peeling apart its cellophane skin. It wasn’t the relief when your football team finally wins a game that matters.
I was happy because I was in control of my fate.
I was finally getting out of the mundane customer service environment where you’re delicately balancing the boredom of low business levels, and the impatience of an unhappy human population, who regrettably takes their misery out on people who simply operate a cash register for a living. My destiny was once again mine. It was not fixed to eight hours a day, 40 hours a week. I’d be off the grid. I would be selling my books and writing instead of letting a profile picture on LinkedIn sign my paychecks.
There are so many financial arrows firing at you from the quiver of life trying to pin you down. By the time you’re 30, you’re a pincushion. You can barely walk. Student loans. Credit cards. Mortgage. Utility bills. More student loans. Auto loans. They bleed you out until you’re slowly frozen over like a dead deer in winter.
Out of all the metaphors, similes, and analogies I could use to represent what our modern existence does to you, few things work better than a piece of sewing equipment. I could pull light and dark from heaven and hell. I could resurrect the colors of a cosmic wave forging a new star. I could talk about the tranquil bends of an emerald bay being turned over in a grey tempest. A raven preening beneath a teal lightning bolt a minute after midnight. A tin robot with jeweled eyes guarding some quaking wasteland. I could pull from all those pretty things I was taught in all those writing classes, but a pincushion would still be the best image.
Pincushions start off round. They’re typically a red tomato design. They’re able to roll in any direction they want if given a little bit of force. However, the more pins you put in the pincushion, the harder it is to move. Eventually, the amount of pins will render the tomato immobile. This is life. We’re the plush tomato. The more pins we have stabbing into us, the harder it is to move in any direction, much less the ones we want.
There are of course other types of pincushions out there, which really don’t fit this metaphor I’m referencing. You can Google a whole host of pincushions to own for your collection. You can even buy penguin pincushions, which disturbingly enough looks like some sort of insidious Antarctic voodoo was being practiced next to your sewing machine.
Some penguin somewhere is in a tremendous amount of pain.
It seems like popular media is echoing my discontent. Ironically, recently, I watched a show on Netflix called Happyish. The show is considered a dark comedy about an advertising executive from New York. The show debuted on Showtime for one season, and then was cancelled. I have a feeling Netflix will rescue it at some point. The main character played by Steve Coogan struggles with the very same conflict I’ve been orbiting in this essay. Money over happiness? Material over motivation? I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but if you want to watch a show that really epitomizes this issue you must explore Happyish.
I can feel myself growing arms.
Not the limbs I already have attached to my body. Fabric arms, probably red ones if I’m from a tomato. They’d wide and round appendages, like I was a drawing out of comic book. Slowly, these arms are beginning to pick the needles out of my back. A thousand different forces propelled them into my plush flesh. Negative people, failure, missed opportunities, bad memories, false chances, there was a whole salvo of metallic pins crunching me, like Magneto was hunting me inside an X-Men story arc.
I’m tired of being an immovable object. I’m tired of knowing my back account balance better than I know my dreams. This one glimmer of control. This one shake of sunlight cutting through the dark drapes that decorate the mansion of my soul. It was like I was coming up for air in some dank pond of inky water. It tasted so good to breathe.
I’ve become addicted to that moment.