I’ve been unemployed for two months now and as a result I feel that I have matured in unexpected ways. Now I understand two crux experiences of life so much better – guilt and boredom.
When I was young, ‘unemployment’ was one of those alien aspects of adulthood – the “outside” or “real” world. In those days there is a disconnect between the implied grave nature of unemployment rates warned about amidst prophetic broadcasts, and the actualized reality of unemployment which – during childhood at least – simply means ‘not working.’
But there is that moment – those moments – in which innocence dilutes into the cloudy tincture of morality we all procure with our individual accumulative actions. There is the moment where we learn ‘not working’ means more than that phrase alone. When do we actualize the importance of work? Paid skill, production, contribution? During my, your, our teens; unemployment does not have the same weight that it bears in your twenties.
Somewhere along that brief passage of time unemployment stops being benign and becomes volatile. Feelings of guilt simmer all the same in your teens but only somewhere deep and permissible. Rarely does it rise to the surface.
But then when you are older – mentally or physically, ideally both – these feelings go beyond a simmer, the boredom included, and they start to boil, hiss and spit at you like hot oil. That’s definitely what they did to me.
This hot oil I feel is responsible for instigating the process of change that I’m identifying as the development of my maturity. Although to be fair, for all I know I am developing a tumour. Whatever the case, for the first time I have actually been feeling ashamed by my lack of contribution. My perception of work has turned to that of moral obligation opposed to some draconian societal contract. As time goes on, my guilt only gets worse. The hot oil more vehement.
And then there is the boredom.
The boredom comes seeping through in many ways. As frustration. As a semi-legitimate tendency towards sudden manic episodes of unprecedented energy. As rigorous introspection followed by intense periods of irritation at one’s own tendency to be so. The boredom gives impetus to seek out intoxication, distraction, vice – some occasionally adopt a routine with positive and productive outcomes, like the elusive and mythical ‘healthy person’, but us ordinary sinners, we fight with boredom and we do not negotiate with it or domesticate it. Us the sinners go forward with our schemes and goals. In unemployment, this extract of boredom connects with the hot oil of guilt to pave the way to a truly scrumptious omelette of disaffection.
But I have never liked omelette, so what then? How many unanswered e-mails, how many absent callbacks can you go through? Strong types of all natures will tell you to just keep going, to keep persevering, to ‘suck it up’ and remind yourself that it could be harder, and maybe they’ve got a point but they probably don’t, because if they did have a good point everybody would have fucking killed themselves by now, like they already have. They are living suicides, drowning in their own malcontent. But perhaps it takes one to know one, which is why I hate them all the more. When we eat these omelettes, is it true just like it is for them that we forever turn to stone?
You come to hate it so much.
No matter how many ways you find to occupy yourself, this proverbial pot of oil (I’ve moved past the omelette) always boils over and you’re left with burns on your hands, hopping up and down from foot to foot hoping that your little dance will help the pain to stop, those deep ebbing throbs of pain that come from burns. Incredibly similar are the waves of boredom that ebb, roll in, rise, crash, roll out briefly and then start to ebb back in. These little dances we perform to distract ourselves consume us, in one bite they take us underneath the surface, plunging us down below like alligators drowning antelopes.
Eventually you can’t sit still. No matter how accustoming your environment, you start to hate it. Eventually, one day, the seed will be planted. Once that seed germinates, it grows with a shocking propensity. You cannot control the vines.
You start to hate your shitty cramped room, even if it is not that shitty nor that cramped. Your car becomes your only key to freedom but simultaneously an antagonist, it’s obsolescence rapidly approaches up behind you in the rear view mirror, and you realise that nothing can be stopped. These things are always there. They always exist, lingering, we can only keep them at bay. Constantly pushing them back in a perpetual sumo wrestle of the spirit, these dark feelings. All of us, people, we are in the shade of a disembodied and forever looming malcontent.
This is probably depression.
If you need an example of what I mean – you probably do, I would – look no further than dust. In the quest to find time-consuming tasks, you inevitably at some stage pick up a routine of tidying and cleaning unless you are a truly hopeless independent. Perhaps it is daily, perhaps it is not. It does not matter, because dust is your enemy either way. For some time, this routine may sate you. Some kind of foundation. But it can only be temporary. In the face of this omnipotent and carnivorous boredom, all is temporary.
Dust, you should realise, is the world’s oldest terrorist.
There is a specific moment the narrator can recall where he could no longer maintain a daily war with the dust.
Dust can break a person.
Anyone worth their domestic salt knows that the essence of decay resides in dust. Stick with me. The essence of decay, of inescapable death is represented as dust. Dust invades our homes, our lives, our minds. It makes it’s presence known. In this sense, dust is a natural extremist. Dust is collective small particles falling away, descending, shedding. A large portion is made of up our own dead skill cells. Dust is the dual representative or time and mortality. You can never win against dust, you can only keep it at bay, holding shut a wooden door with all your strength as on the other side it bashes with ever increasing strength.
You may hold it at bay your entire life, but it will come. If you slip – the moment you miss one week, one day – the dust only builds. It congregates. Falls and settles. Amasses. Colonises. This endless war against dust, you can only take so much of it. You can only sweep out underneath your bed, behind your drawers, along the skirting boards so much before you find yourself driving around aimlessly at nights, staying away from home and that which is sickly familiar for as long as possible. I drive around, living my own weird re-enactments of Taxi Driver. Because of dust. This whole thing, this oppressive boredom and depression, this limbo of frustration to which I am, you are exiled, it resonates all of the hallmarks of a bad trip.
This freedom, you want it to all be over the way you want a bad trip to be over but like any trip or any taste of freedom, the moment you are no longer experiencing it, you will want to be thrown again back into it.
So I am stuck between the guilt and shame of wanting to work but enjoying the freedom, while suffering from the intense boredom that ensures you hate your freedom for the very fact of it’s own circumstantial being. This dual downward spiral drills into you, only deeper as time goes on. What is one able to do but drift amongst the grabs at hope, the optimistic waits for callback, the possible avenues of nepotism? What else is there to do but fill nights with driving, days with writing, to waste the hours drinking and to waste the hours smoking, smoking cigarettes, smoking weed and sometimes smoking different things? Trying to distract yourself more and more like this, only further intensifying the problem. A Chinese-finger trap. A Catch-22.
And then you start seeing them. Only when it’s you at night. Have you always seen them, but never noticed?
It doesn’t matter.
There are foxes in this town. They live amongst collections of bushes, anywhere big enough to make a series of burrows. Nocturnal and masters of stealth, they are everywhere and nowhere. Nobody believes me. Common sense tells us that foxes don’t live in heavily urbanised areas.
I feel like a trope. The old drunkard, blind in one eye, sees the legendary monster fish in the lake one night. He would have no outright reason to lie, but who could trust him? Of course I would be the only one to see it. It all just fits together so well.
The foxes play with us like this. Do with the claim what you will, but they’re there.
This is true. Sometimes driving past you can see the glints of flashing eyes in the bushes, floating in the under-shadows of low hanging trees. They blink and go black, disappearing into thin air. Sometimes I think I’ll see a snout or a tail poking out from underneath a shrub, but who could ever be sure?
One night, out there driving around with nothing to do, I looked to the road and I swear to god right there along that patch of road that runs by the river past the yacht club and the barracks, a fox the size of a farm dog stood there on the bitumen. Staring right at my car, at my windshield. I tend to be sceptical about such things, but I have never been able to shake the notion that it was staring right at me.
Nobody has ever believed this, of course. And who can blame them? That a fox the size of a small Labrador lives down on the outskirts of town by the river is a hard notion to accept. And why accept it? It defies common sense.
But that fox is there. More than one of them, I can promise you that. And while this moment came as no reconciliation to my struggle, amidst all this darkened thought and disappointment, this guilt and boredom, for one moment – just briefly – it was as if that fox appeared for me.
What this means, if it means anything at all, I don’t know.
I don’t really know why foxes came into this.
I need a job.