Working for the man

Meanwhile, the weight I was placing on Jo’s shoulders, by needing her help, was almost intolerable. She never had enough time to work WITH me: that would slow her down. She had to do the work FOR me: an extra burden, but quicker. When she is locked into her work-mode, she needs to drive through like a snow-plough, without looking up, just pulling the next pile of data towards her. She’d say, “I’ll type for you”, and then, instead of letting me dictate, she’d speed up, get ahead, and then just end up writing the thing herself so she could get back to her own work.

I hated becoming dependent on Jo, partly out of concern for her, partly from pride, and partly (selfishly) because I’d be at the mercy of her decisions: she’d help me when she had time, and I’d have to wait, dancing with impatience, until that time.  My class worksheets were her ideas, written in her idiom (and with her strange syntax!) But I felt there was nothing else I could do. Not only would it be monstrously ungrateful, I’d completely collapse, ruin my students’ chances of succeeding, and be ignominiously sacked. .

And, at the same time, it was a relief, because I knew the work would get done, would no longer be hanging over me, and would be good. I’m a bit useless. I’m scatter-brained, lazy, and often find myself at a loss, yet I was praised for my lesson plans.[1]

I came to rely on that relief: I couldn’t face going back to my previous state of anxiety when I had to make things up for myself, without the ratification of somebody I trusted, when it felt like I was making wild guesses and inventing baseless comments, then feeding them to my students as gospel truth, when I was a charlatan and my teaching was chicanery.

At work, my good reputation relied on the devil’s magic bullets of Jo’s help; at home, I didn’t feel I had the right to impose my wishes on others, especially as I hadn’t earned the money that would be spent. If we disagreed over the best way to parent, I tended to accept Jo’s point of view. She was the one with the sense of vocation and she’d read the parenting handbooks. She was the one who’d been sensitively brought up[2]: she tended to be right.

Ok, I gained some ability to acquiesce with good humour to less important choices, but I lost the ability to make key decisions. My decision-making muscles wasted away. I became unused to responsibility and so started to fear the consequences of any decision I made, to fear the very idea of consequence, which is a fear of any change or any future.

And the more dependent I became, the more of a nag I became. To get what I wanted, or needed, I had to influence higher powers, who’d decide, and do it, for me. I did this by complaining: a situation was not as I would have liked and I needed to explain that to somebody else. That’s called complaining and people get bored of it, especially if there’s an implied criticism of their decisions. So people had a tendency to resist or dismiss my complaints. After a while, I stopped expecting anyone to listen to me. I was just expressing myself in the language of grievance, and I’d have been horrified if anyone had actually responded and tried to sort it out. That would have given me responsibility for what happened and I didn’t want that! I’d have got it all wrong! My identity had become “Her indoors”, the bitter, unappreciated grumbler, and I’d become comfortable with that.

There is, of course, another way to look at all this (and I often did.) I could have seen myself as cosily ensconced at the heart of a loving and mutually supportive family, capable of robust exchanges, interruptions, even ignoring each other, secure in the knowledge that everyone loved everyone else.

I could have remembered that we’re a collective and we communicate and make collective decisions for our mutual benefit. Each member plays their part, no matter how unobtrusive, in the well-being of the whole. Psychologically, people benefit from supporting, as much as they benefit from being supported, maybe more so: it makes them feel like valued parts of a community. Being in need performs a public service. From each according to [their] ability; to each according to [their] needs.[3]

Humans are social animals and work best by collaborating towards mutually beneficial goals. To deny or resist this is to be an individualist misanthrope, a patsy who has bought into the capitalist idea that the highest good is self-development, a concept dreamt up to keep you consuming and thus spending, to maintain the market in coloured water, sold as bottled self-fulfilment by snake-oil salesmen: seminars in how to overcome “Imposter Syndrome”.

I am that patsy. My desire for independence in thought, identity and achievement springs from the same sources as my need to be solitary and secret. I’m selfish. I’m hoarding myself away in the hope that, somehow, I alone can profit, existentially. It shows no generosity of spirit at all. It’s shameful.

In the days of my deep anorexia, I’d now say, “And, you know what? If you don’t like what I have to offer, fuck you all! I’ll just wander off, somewhere, AND DIE!”

But those days are gone.


[1] It’s strange how you can take pride from praise, even if you know it’s undeserved!

[2] My parents, though loving and nurturing, were a bit shouty and a bit smacky. It was all, “You’ll do what you’re damn well told, because I said so, or you’ll get the back of me hand!” Not very modern. They wanted the best for us, and that’s how they thought you got it.

[3] Karl Marx, 1875, Critique of the Gotha Programme

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