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.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts: On Stairwells and Other Obstacles

  1. Haaaaaaa

    From the other side of the security fence, let me tell you it’s worth it. At least it’s worth it to me. I would trade regrets for security, any day.

    Security isn’t real, you know. It’s an illusionary feeling that some people have, but nevetheless, it isn’t real. Someone can come in here right now and take this all away from me. I would have to scramble and grovel my way back up. I’ve been up and down the stairs a few times to know.

    I don’t know how it happened, but what you wrote is, well, the very exact thing I needed to read after the very exact day that I had. I would miss reading very much. However this turns out for you, I wish you the best.

  2. L

    I also took the leap into my own writing dream – and it’s worked brilliantly for me. I want to shout from the rooftops that everyone needs to forget about security and start thinking about TRUST. I sincerely trusted that the universe would provide and it has (in ways that I could never have imagined).

    Without sounding like an informercial, I just want to tell you if writing is your ‘thing’ (and it sure looks to be from my reading of your blog), then you need to spend all of your energy in trying to become your dream.

    I might not be an expert, but I do know that there are staircases in our lives that lead to dark places, but at the top, there’s usually a light switch.


  3. Anonymous

    I disagree. I think one of the most important lessons you learn in life is to be happy with who you are. You can be happy with who you are and still be working 9-5, you don’t need to be a rock star.

    If you want to be a starving artist and that’s what makes you happy, great. But that doesn’t make you any more noble that someone who made a fortune in business, or even someone who “settled down” and got married and led a “stable” life, it just means you have different values.

    I just don’t like it when people act as though people who work 9-5 are not “fulfilled” or something.

  4. scribe called steff

    Anon — I don’t think you can look at my writing and say I’ve ever said anything other than be happy with who you are. There’s a difference with being content with who you are and being satisfied with where you are. There’s a world of difference.

    I see nothing wrong with ambition, and I see nothing wrong with saying I am unequivacolly unhappy with where I’m at in my life. And I am NOT alone in that.

    I’m not claiming I’m noble. The opposite, really. I’m unsatisfied with what I’ve achieved, I’ve had to take a big risk to go after it, and I’m about to tuck tail, call it in, and go back to the grind. That’s a lack of pride, if anything. I’d do it again, yeah, but I’m not happy about it. I’m resigned to reality over dreams, really, and I’m unhappy with feeling that resignation. I believe most people who feel it know exactly what I mean.

    You’re kidding yourself if you think MOST people are happy with the 9-5. Maybe they’re happy with what they do, but I bet most people would be thrilled to cut their hours by a third, at least. Own more of their lives. Where’s the nobility in having to work for someone else all the time? There are people who love what they do. Good for them. Most people are working for someone else who takes too big a share of the pie, and they’re suitably not rewarded well enough. That’s just reality. Just because it’s the way things go does not make it the right thing. It’s unfair how much we have to work for others in order to put food on the table and pay for a roof. When did you consent to your time having the dollar figure on it that it does? Why is HIS time worth more than mine? I’m not some disgruntled anarchist; I’m just an average girl wondering why. That’s all. There’s nothing wrong with these questions, and they ought to be asked more.

    I ain’t painting myself as some happy-to-be-hungry suffering-for-kicks artist, ‘cos I tell you one thing: I’d soon as hell be making $75K a year or more. I have no qualms with money or success, and don’t believe I need to look hungry in order to have integrity. You got the wrong girl there.

    I — I’m trying. I have a plan, but plans don’t always work out, and pigs don’t fly, but I’m trying. 🙂

    Haa — I wouldn’t stop the blog, I just know productivity would go down, that’s all. But thank you. 🙂

  5. Anonymous

    Steff whatever you do in life,Please don’t leave us. Continue to write when possible, tell us what you are doing, how you are doing, if your getting aa some wonderful sex now and again, you can tell us about that tooooooooo. I would hope that all your fans would be kind enought to go to that navel button and push, give you a few bucks, after all we have enjoyed you for so long, so I guessI’m asking anyone who reads your words, now is the time to help you out a bit. I found Lazy Geisha thru you and I will always forever be grateful for that. I seem to see your website listed everywhere, so I hope that many of your friends jump up, HEY Steff needs a hand. Love Richard in Maine

  6. scribe called steff

    Richard — thanks for the support.

    I will keep writing as long as I’m able. The trouble with writing is, when life gets hard, it’s really complicated getting the inspiration to write anything worthwhile.

    As for my antics re sex and such, I’ve sort of opted to stop revealing much of my private life. I’m still with the Guy, things are still complicated, we’re working on ’em, but I really fucked up and overstepped my bounds by airing our dirty laundry, and I’ve decided that the best way to prevent that happening again is to simply not write much about the relationship at all. 😛 Sometimes you’ll get little nuggets, just not as many as before.

    As far as writing as a whole goes, with the threat of possibly being completely unemployed and no safety net (governmental or otherwise) under me, writing’s the least of my concerns until I know where I stand. My old job may come through with a guaranteed minimum of hours, which I’ll hear more of later today, but this morning, I’m nerve-filled and working on my resume.

  7. scribe called steff

    (Well, not working on my resume; conjuring cover letters. My resume’s a true original and needs no work… it just needs appropriate jobs to be sent to.)

  8. Mary

    Hey Steff,
    You know, I hear what you are saying, completely. However, I want to remind you that many of the individuals our society has adopted as our cultural voice– Stienbeck, Robert Frost, Emily Dickenson, Kafka– had a really hard time of it materially, emotionally, or physically, often for their entire lives. Very few artists, recognized or not, enjoy the privileges that we as admirers would grant them if we were able. Did you know Kafka was never able to live off of his writing? He worked most of his life in an insurance agency that ate him up spiritually, and died at 41 with a trunk full of manuscripts and instructions that they be burned. The fellow who found them, Max Brod, published them instead, and because of that Kafka lives on as one of the greatest writers of all time. His highest aspiration was to open a restaurant in Tel Aviv, but he died in a year after meeting the woman he wanted to marry.
    So even if you go back to he nine to five grind, (which it seems like you have) just remember that this sometimes nightmare that is living IS the same life that the most of the lasting rock-stars and their literary equivalents led. You seem to be discussing two dreams in your post, though the are masquerading as one—there is the dream of writing something lasting, that moves people and gives a little bit more meaning to this often harsh, ugly existence, and then there’s the dream of living a comfortable life while doing so. Grieve the latter if for sure—it’s a worthy thing to grieve, especially since you seem like you’ve decided, on some level at least, that you’re going to pursue the former, even if you do have to work a shitty job. Because you’re not moving to Alberta to write income summaries for oil companies, right? So basically, just please don’t correlate the immediate fruits of your art with it’s long-term value, because that is a fast way to lose faith in everything you are doing. If you kick the bucket with no lover, 10 years at a job you hate and a pantry full of rice and cheap noodles, that doesn’t change the fact that if you leave a hard drive full of your most sincere efforts, you could still contribute to the next chapter of literary culture. If you get bummed, just read some biographies. If Kafka could do what he did while writing full time and having tuberculosis, you can too.
    P.S. This is not meant to sound trite or patronizing, I was just trying to provide some possibly helpful ideas cause I think you’re awesome, and you shouldn’t have to think you’re giving up your chance at contributing something great because you’re getting a job

  9. Mary

    P.P.S. I just realized your post is from 6 years ago. Whoops! BUT, who knows, maybe the job bug came back to bite you, and some of this still applies

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