By Cindy Milstein
One of my sisters, who is also a good and insightful friend to me, asked me this evening, “What’s standing in your way of writing?” Her paid job is helping folks who are labeled “mentally ill” to figure out their own aims and then support them in achieving those aspirations; her question to me is the crux of what she does for others, although the “writing” is particular to me (I’m having trouble doing it, especially in the way I want to). I also know that my sister isn’t doing this for money, although she — like me and everyone else under capitalism — must do something for money, to then purportedly exchange that money for our lives. She really cares; she really values that process of self-discovery, even when it’s ever so slow or painful.
It would be easy to answer, as I did in my head when she asked me: “capitalism.” While she was reminding me of all the other unpaid things I’m doing besides writing that are good for myself and others, that are about giving back to the world — from innumerable hours put in voluntarily, joyfully, at Interference Archive or the Institute for Anarchist Studies, along the spectrum over the past few months to the untold hours put in voluntarily, stressfully, for my two seriously ill parents — I kept repeating silently in my mind, “but where does all my time go?” I heard her say something like “just stop doing whatever you’re doing at 3:00 p.m. each day and write for a half hour or maybe an hour,” yet I only half heard it, and soon I almost wasn’t hearing anything she was offering as comforting advice. “Capitalism.” I apologized to her that I was drifting into anxiety, and that the multitasking mess of “to-dos” dancing jigs in my now-mushy brain seemed to be hindering my ability to take sound in. “Capitalism.”
Yes, there is all the time that capitalism steals from me, giving me so much less of it to fill with what I love and care about. What I really want to do. That’s almost too easy an answer, though clearly a monstrous part of it.
It has less to do with time, even though time constantly escapes me, or my wagework to-do lists, sitting cozily by my unpaid to-do lists. I haven’t been able to write recently because I haven’t been able to think — think clearly. Emotional overload has sat like a damper on me. I am physically here in the world, but what’s inside me is a different self than usual, not my self, and yet I’m not sure whose self either. A seeming fog-without-end is standing in my way, surrounding me in a space of immobilizing aloneness and loss, trepidation and terror — immobilizing, that is, in terms of doing anything that isn’t sort of auto-pilot activities. It’s exceedingly difficult to create.
That’s the more nuanced portion of my “capitalism” mantra when my sister was trying to be a good friend. Capitalism steals our imagination, our ability to envision — partially, poorly, but snapshots nonetheless — life outside and beyond it.
Read this essay in its entirety at Cindy Milstein wonderful blog: Outside the Circle.