Employee of the Month


It is only too true that a lot of artists are mentally ill - it is a life which, to put it mildly, makes one an outsider. I'm alright when I completely immerse myself in work, but I'll always remain half crazy." - Vincent Van Gogh


Across the street from this apartment in Omaha is what appears at first glance to be a public park or the campus of a small liberal arts college. Manicured, verdant lawns, abundant trees, charming brick buildings punctuated by the occasional fountain, all of it tastefully lit from below at dusk. Tucked within is a huge man-made lake encircled by a brick walkway, and at the center of this lake are plumes of water spraying majestically into the air, maybe as high as 50 feet or more.

All of this is home to industrial foods giant Con Agra, maker and distributor of Marie Callendar© frozen dinners, Rosarita© refried beans, Hunt's© ketchup and an exhaustive list of brands that dot the shelves of nearly every major supermarket. In the late 1980s, the corporation razed several aging, historic warehouses to build their headquarters here - to quell the ensuing controversy, they agreed to transform it into something that was both beautiful and inviting to the public.

I reluctantly admit that it actually *is* both of these things, and I love walking around here for the same reason I liked riding my bike around the campus at the University of Arizona at night. Basking in the golden light and strange quiet of an otherwise bustling place, I'm aware that beneath the placid calm there's a kind of lingering, thrumming energy. Maybe it's the residual hum of so much activity, of people frantically typing, revising, sending, checking watches, are we late, do we have time, the pressure of deadlines, schedules, expectations. There's something about being adjacent to that but not a part of it, a gliding observer, that feels almost ghost-like.

Through lit windows I see the outlines of offices, cubicles, common spaces, meeting rooms, and in my mind's eye I place myself in the diorama, I am a Part of the Team. The job I imagine has a description or a title, and it is clear what is expected of me -  a series of vague yet fulfilling tasks, collating papers, stapling, sorting into piles, filing, creating some sort of order out of disarray. I imagine being in meetings and occasionally offering a pithy insight into a problem and being commended for it. I imagine quarterly reviews which are mostly glowing but do point out a few areas where improvement is needed. I imagine inside jokes, birthdays, the annual employee Christmas party where I have a little too much to drink - just enough to be sillier than usual, to surprise people by cutting loose. In this dream I am efficient, dependable and eager to please, probably not cut out for upper management but content to do what I do, to be counted on. The dream becomes surprisingly elaborate and begins to include touches like pictures pinned to a corkboard, or in a frame on my desk - it is not clear if I am married, if these are my children, nieces, nephews, in-laws, friends, but in the dream they are important to me, they are my Loved Ones.

Conveniently absent in the dream is the sense that I'm squandering my talents, ignoring my calling, living someone else's life, wasting precious time, trapped in a series of days that start to feel like the same day photocopied over and over. Conveniently absent is the small, insistent voice that tells me when I'm headed in the wrong direction, the voice that gets louder by degrees when I ignore it to pursue some tangent for the sake of security, when I think about going back to college, teaching, dream of a regular paycheck, personal days, benefits, a tax refund in April.

There is a theme that has been cropping up in my life the past few years - comfortable with uncertainty. Embracing the fact that whether it's gender or spirituality or something else, that you can actually hold in your mind two ideas that ought to cancel each other out, but in fact don't. They just sit there staring like feral cats. It makes me feel like maybe life is not about arriving at some place of certainty and safety, that life is a lot more like the cluster of notes that sounds on a piano when you step on the sustain pedal and hit all the white keys with your forearm. Dissonant, complex, strangely beautiful, hard to describe, hard to pin down, ringing with major, minor, seventh, ninth, with barely audible overtones that hint at other remote but ever present possibilities, grandiose as Whitman or simple as William Carlos Williams' plums.

We are vast dreamers, movers and shakers, thinkers, travelers, wanderers, gypsies, adventurers, yes, and we are also the simplest, the kindest, the best, the Employee of the Month.

4 comments

  • Laura Watson
    Laura Watson St Petersburg, FL
    I love this.

    I love this.

  • John I. Blair
    John I. Blair Arlington, Texas
    Curiously (to me) when I actually led that office life you describe so accurately, it was also by far the most artistically productive period of my life. I'm a poet; and in that environment my mind was almost feverishly creative, maybe in self-defense against the often stultifying work. I wrote an average of a poem a day for a number of years under those conditions (helped by the fact that I had a private office and a lot of leeway in my work schedule). Now that I'm retired and have a much freer schedule, I'm down to just a couple of poems a month. Perhaps there are other reasons -- burnout, aging brain, whatever -- but the difference is striking. I'm thinking that part of the explanation is that when I was working in an office job, I had an environment where my hours were structured and disciplined -- for my work or for poetry or whatever. Now often I'm just drifting and disorganized.

    Curiously (to me) when I actually led that office life you describe so accurately, it was also by far the most artistically productive period of my life. I'm a poet; and in that environment my mind was almost feverishly creative, maybe in self-defense against the often stultifying work. I wrote an average of a poem a day for a number of years under those conditions (helped by the fact that I had a private office and a lot of leeway in my work schedule). Now that I'm retired and have a much freer schedule, I'm down to just a couple of poems a month. Perhaps there are other reasons -- burnout, aging brain, whatever -- but the difference is striking. I'm thinking that part of the explanation is that when I was working in an office job, I had an environment where my hours were structured and disciplined -- for my work or for poetry or whatever. Now often I'm just drifting and disorganized.

  • Chris VonTanner
    Chris VonTanner Gladstone, OR
    You have described a life known and lived by so many artists...one of which I am. Beautiful Namoli, beautiful!

    You have described a life known and lived by so many artists...one of which I am. Beautiful Namoli, beautiful!

  • Sonya
    Sonya
    Thank you Namoli...I have been struggling, doing battle. Did me good to read such well penned thoughts. Words I was too tired to write myself.

    Thank you Namoli...I have been struggling, doing battle. Did me good to read such well penned thoughts. Words I was too tired to write myself.

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