Thoughts: On Stairwells and Other Obstacles

The cable has been down now for some 14 hours. Both internet and television. They’re constructing a new transit line, a light-rapid rail line, over the water, and the workers in this area executed brilliant competence last night as they swung their heavy machinery and managed to sever the cable lines that feed probably 300,000 of us with pictures and words from the outside world. Whatever shall we do, home without distraction? Whatever can we put our lazy little minds to?

You, you get me with a many-hour delay. Fed to you through disrupted service, put on hold, stuffed away in some insignificant computer file until such a time comes as I can unleash my glaring insignificance upon you.

I’m thinking about stairways today. Steps that ascend, descend, or are even completely meaningless, leading to doors that stay locked and never, ever open.

There’s a poem by some dead poet – Langston Hughes, he of the jazz-rhythm behind words – about life being no crystal stair. There’s no clarity of where our adversities come from, no ability to see ahead of us miles on end. No, our stairs are warn and warped, wobbly and overworked. They creak and groan, there’s soft spots in the center, and hard metal-cased edges to save the joints. They’re dark and cramped and have no visibility beyond the next 12 or 14 steps. Stairs, I surmise, are a bitch, but they take us where we need to go.

I remember high school. Sometimes with a smile, but mostly with a groan. This is year fifteen since I graduated, and I’m sure there’s a reunion, but I’ve heard nothing. Would I go? I very well might. But not being afforded an invitation, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

High school was a mix of craziness and dying to fit in. Most of my friends were outside of school, since I was raised in a white-bre(a)d town filled of wealth and pretension. The native reservation in town might’ve been a world away, because we sure as fuck never saw them. There were two high schools: One on the east side, where the poor and fucked-up would attend, the other on the west. Naturally, the west reeked of money and patronage. There were the whores (oh, were there) and the jocks and the geeks and the brainiacs. I was a geek with social promise. I had friends, I was a mystery, but I didn’t opt to hang out with my peers, other than a few of the cooler outsiders.

In the midst of it all, I had my stairs. I’d choose to slip away and find a stairway that didn’t have a lot of traffic, and I’d read to get my head out of the world that I knew was reality. Sometimes Paul Theroux, sometimes my biographies of dead great artists, sometimes Vonnegut. Whatever, but it was my time, my world, my secrecy. For those few stolen minutes, the world around me would cease to be.

And then a bell would ring. I’d be sucked back into that mind-numbingly uninspired life with an unchallenging curriculum and bored-shitless teachers. I’d be forced back into monotony, where I’d be compelled to stuff my individualism back inside me, rendered just another pawn on the board of life.

It’s fifteen years later, and I can’t say that much has changed.

I have my own little world, this fancy little apartment of mine, all decorated like an eccentric professor unafraid of colour, and here I hide from the world at large. Me, my books, my media, my cooking, my comforts. Me.

And then, time changes. The hands pass 12, appointments loom on the horizon, the world makes its demands, the internet surfs me through to my bank account, and I realize I’m not alone, I have obligations, and for whatever it’s worth, I have a role to play. One that is no choice of mine. No matter who or what I wish to be, somewhere inside of me sits a cog that fits ever so perfectly into the droning gears of the machine of life. I wish I didn’t fit, I wish I didn’t have to, but I do, and it’s my lot in life.

Just like it’s yours.

We forget those little desires and dreams of greatness that we all nurse deep within us. Who’s kidding who? Each of us at one point wished to be a ballerina, an astronaut, a rock star, a famous writer, an actor; each of us dreamed of greatness, of a life of envy and regard. Yet here we are, doing what it takes to pay the bills, because someone somewhere pointed out just how fucking tired we must be, struggling to climb those stairs. We forget our dreams because to remember them is to be conscious of how much it is that we want but do not have, that we may never have. We become accustomed to the simplicity of life: eat, sleep, work, play, pay.

We acquiesce.

So precious few of us ever achieve what we really desire. We learn to settle, to stop wishing for more. We learn to make peace with all that we’ve come to acquire, regardless of how short we’ve fallen from the heights we once dreamed we’d reach.

I’m at a point in my life where I need to struggle daily to ensure my bills get paid. Sometimes I begin living on the depths of my freezer, embracing the canned goods that fill my cupboards in wealthier times. Sometimes I crack open my jar of change in the hopes that the $18.49 in loose change is going to get me through for three more days. And that’s the way my life is, because that’s the price I pay for this: The chance to live my dream, if even just the tiniest bit, of being a writer for a living. Through it all, I mostly struggle to keep my pride and my integrity, if not my unending fear of what might never be.

Ultimately, the time will come when this isn’t getting me through anymore. That time’s nigh, my friends, and it saddens me. Soon, I’ll have to give up this dream and return to the mundane existence of the 9-5 world. Soon, I’ll have to work under another’s directive, because, soon, I just won’t have the steam remaining to live with this kind of uncertainty. And this is why dreams break and fall away from us, because the demands of life, from a system that truly serves few besides the wealthiest, are far too overpowering to avoid.

And what does it really do to us, these realizations of loss and failure and reality that come in dark places, like deserted staircases and empty halls? The realizations of just how much we’ve given up for that greatly sought-after myth of security?

Well, fucked if I know. I’ve never had the privilege of being on the other side of that myth of security, and maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I should’ve given up long ago, let myself be sucked into the beliefs of laying down a retirement package, buying the house, getting married, and becoming stable. Maybe that’s what it’s all about. Maybe I’m just a romantic, content now to live on dreams and love and all that comes with. Maybe I missed the memo, that life is for living and dreams are for dreaming. But as hard as all this is, the mental struggle to keep the faith against the odds, to realize that the negative balance in my bank account shouldn’t reflect my actual worth… I can’t help but to believe I’d make the same choice all over again.

I just hope it’s all worth it.