“Poseidon sat at his desk, going over the accounts.”
So here’s Kafka at his desk. At the insurance company. All he wants to do is go home and get to Work, but instead, he’s got to be at the office, doing work. The problem is: he’s competent. This was supposed to be a “temporary” sort of gig, but they’ve promoted him twice in the last six months. They’ve got him writing memos. They’ve got him writing articles. Annual Reports. Lectures. Evaluations. The work piles up. Everybody loves him. “That Kafka,” they say, “he sure can write a memo!” He’s in his twenties. It’s a respectable job. His father brags to friends. He enjoys the bread, but the work means nothing to him. He dashes off e-mails to his girlfriend: “The office is a horror!” He only wants to Work, but he must work. So he writes in secret. He writes a story about a god who can’t be a God because he’s too busy doing godly paperwork. He writes a story about a faster who’s pretty much out of a job, because nobody sits around and watches fasters anymore–they have cable and internet. He writes a story about a guy who hates work so much that he transforms himself into a giant cockroach. (Think of the sick pay!) Then one day, with the Microsoft Word cursor blinking at him, his fingers hovering over the Minimize Shortcut [WINDOWS key + M], his nerves shot from looking out over his shoulder for snoopy co-workers passing the cubicle, Kafka has a revelation. “Screw it,” he says. “I’m going to go get my MFA.”
*sketch from Kafka’s notebook
I was driving over to our writer’s group meeting last night, and caught the tail end of Harvey Pekar on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Great stuff about work and writing:
PEKAR: I knew I couldn’t make money at the stuff I liked to do. So I took a job that was not challenging, and you know, when it was slow at work, I used to sneak into the corner and read or write. It worked out. It was easy, I didn’t have to go home and worry about the work, I just went and did the work, and went home and thought about writing about something.
GROSS: Now that you don’t have your day job…you can write as much as you’d like. I think most writers find it really hard to write for a good deal of the day. You might have dreamed your whole life of having that flexibility, but now that you have it, what’s it like to have it?
PEKAR: That’s a very good question, Terry. It would be pretty hard for me to write, you know 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day, that kind of week like I did when I was at the V.A.
GROSS: Did you have to learn how to deal with an unstructured day–a day that wasn’t structured by a 9-5 job?
PEKAR: Yeah. I did. At first it freaked me out, uh, In fact, I got so depressed and screwed up I was hospitalized for major depression…