Being of Use
The quote ‘What’s your dream job? I don’t dream of labour’ has been floating around the Internet for a few years now. It’s been attributed to, depending on your source, various Tiktok creators and Twitter users (and if one Reddit thread is to be believed, either James Baldwin or Eartha Kitt). While this is, at surface level, just a punchy little quip, it’s been on my mind for a few months now. The issue is that I do dream of labour. Insatiably.
My hypothesis is that we all dream of labour. Labour we can wrap our hands (or our minds) around. Very few of us want to go to work every day of our lives and see nothing come of it. I posit that this is not laziness. On the contrary, this is the desire to be useful. We all want to feel that we’ve changed the world for the better, even (and especially) if it is just our own world.
Let’s perform an experiment. I want you to, for fifteen seconds, close your eyes and visualise your ideal life. There’s probably a good amount of rest and relaxation in there. But did you paint your house? Did you cook your friends a nice meal? Did you go dancing? Did you read a physics textbook? Did you stay outside all night, plotting the positions of the stars?
We ache to do something we can see the results of. As Marge Piercy says in our second recommendation today, ‘The pitcher cries for water to carry / and a person for work that is real.’ Write a song today. Water a plant. Pick up a hammer.
Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. She earned her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio. Nye is the recipient of numerous honors and awards for her work. Nye’s experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.” (Poetry Foundation)
To be of use by Marge Piercy
Marge Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan, into a working-class family that had been hard-hit by the Depression. Piercy was the first member of her family to attend college, winning a scholarship to attend the University of Michigan. She earned an MA from Northwestern University. During the 1960s, Piercy was an organizer in political movements like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the movement against the war in Vietnam, an engagement which has shaped her work in myriad ways. Perhaps most importantly, though, has been Piercy’s sustained involvement with feminism, Marxism, and environmental thought. Piercy’s poetry—frequently she writes a swift free verse—shows the same commitment to the social and environmental issues that fill her novels. (Poetry Foundation)
Laura Palmer Graduates by Amy Woolard
Amy Woolard is a legal aid attorney living in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her debut poetry collection, Neck of the Woods (Alice James Books, 2020), received the 2018 Alice James Prize. (Poetry Foundation)
Frequency- 64 Hertz of Wishful Thinking
Disclaimer: Let it be known that I am writing this through a heavy dosage of paracetamol and phlegm - you’ll have to bear with me on this one.
When I am sick, as I evidently am quite often, there’s always a sign I was going to wake up the next morning with a fever of 101º. Every time I’m sick, I have the same dream on a continuous loop. My REM apparently despises me, because it is always the most mundane of things playing over and over again. Once, it was me not being able to catch the Chennai Express; I would get on the platform at least a thousand times, only to miss the train every instance. I will try not to make any half-baked analogies about my mind resembling a broken record, but sometimes, on these Crocin-induced nights, it truly feels that way. Every dream is a semi-frequent rinse and repeat of the last; periodic, recurrent visions like a cosmic joke from the Gods above. It’s a loop that I am stuck in, a cycle of replicas that I cannot break.
As cosmic as it may seem, frequency in the things we see (even though the circumstances are, well, circumstantial) is a surprisingly common phenomenon. The Baader-Meinhof syndrome, or ‘frequency illusion’, is a ‘cognitive bias by which a recently learned word, concept, etc. suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency’. According to Macquarie University, there’s two facets to this: one, our perception of frequency, and two, the belief that this shouldn’t be very frequent. Our brains are hardwired to recognize things for the sake of survival, to discern dangerous from safe and good from bad. We seek what we already know as well, just for the comfort in knowing what lies ahead.
Until a few years ago, I thought this complex was me having Eleven from Stranger Things powers (turns out, I unfortunately do not have the ability to flip over cars and destroy Demogorgons). I would hear an arbitrary song or word, and for the next few days, it would follow me everywhere. But I now understand it was no coincidence, but a trick of the mind, a subconscious way my brain wants me to identify and recognize certain things. To see a sign.
Since I did promise an Olivia Rodrigo reference in the synopsis and I am a woman who keeps her word (I hope), I see an interesting observation of this in her song Driver’s License. “Red lights, stop signs, I still see your face in the white cars, front yards” is exactly what I was talking about - something keeps coming back to you as a recurring thought or memory. It’s a sign her brain is giving her, quite literally, about her own heartbreak.
This is just my own conjecture and not scientifically proven in the least, but maybe, just maybe, your brain wants you to see the signs. The red flags, the greens; the opportunity that you’ve crossed your fingers for silently, the shooting star that you hoped to catch in the clear sky. If you’re seeing it so often, give it a thought.
I’ll make it easier for you. You can still cross your fingers and watch out for a shooting star, but let this article be your sign, and let yourself see the signs.
Frequency is nothing if you don’t stop to hear it.
If there’s one album out there that I will think about till the day I die, it’s Glass Animals’ Dreamland. Considered a favourite within Riot, this album boasts a tracklist of songs that evoke more in us than we can ever understand. To me, Dreamland represents all the things we’re too scared to speak out loud about. Things we keep inside for ourselves to see and don’t let anyone know about. But these things, as vague and all-encompassing as they are, have to escape sometime from the confine of our minds.
What do you think your dreams are for?
I’m admitting that I only really thought about my dreams once I listened to this album. ‘Tangerine’ makes me think of picnics and walking in an apple orchard with my arms raised to the sun. ‘Hot Sugar’ reminds me of the time I learnt to drive, and subsequently lived out my desire to be unconsciously carefree. All in my dreams.
This album made me think about everything and nothing, all at the same time. In the midst of all this confusing and fantastic hollowness, I reached into the soft core of everything that goes on in my head. Underneath the tufts of grey matter, I imagine there lies a little Pandora’s box of tiny things that interlock like Lego bricks, waiting to escape into the darkness when I sleep.
The A-side of any album is the side we choose to listen to the most. What we’re meant to listen to the most. What is Dreamland trying to tell me about what goes on in my head when I sleep, and what chain reactions begin when I dream?
I’m not skilled or tonally aware enough to comment on the musical complexity of this album, but what I can do is tell you how it makes me feel. I’ve always been apprehensive about the future, and what it holds for me. And so, I dream. Fabricated realities that I wish would happen. My wildest desires come true. The pitter-patter of ‘all will be well’ against the window panes, as I drift into unconscious slumber. I haven’t been ‘dreamlessly sleeping for years’ like in ‘Tangerine’, but with the soft and soothing truths that Glass Animals have to sing to me, I feel a little bit more confident that when I dream, I dream well. What I don’t remember when I wake is probably nothing to be afraid of.
Dreamland, in all its intangibility, is powerful beyond words. Even in its subtle sinisterness, it encapsulates the bubbly, upbeat optimism that we all need at times. Can you feel its love, its (sadly) temporary touch? Dreams may come and go, but Dreamland is forever. And whenever I play it for myself in the middle of the day, everything seems to be a little bit better, a little bit happier.
Glass Animals, I feel your love. I feel your hope, resplendent and fickle, and beautifully so. And dear reader, if you want to feel what I feel, here’s a playlist with Dreamland's brightest hits.
Playgrounds are the liminal spaces connecting the person I was to the person I am right now. Like most liminal spaces, a routine side effect of being in playgrounds, or even thinking about them, is having an existential crisis. And the best (and least destructive) way for me to process liminality is to just walk through it.
Speaking of places where it’s difficult to walk, the wobbly bridge at the centre of the playground was where all of us gathered first. Standing up there, on the highest point of the playground, we felt like the world (or at least, a playground with fifteen boisterous children) was our kingdom and we would rule forever. Our reign lasted for about two seconds, and then we’d have to get down and give the other children a turn on the bridge.
The humiliation of being driven away from our throne was softened by the fact that we could ride the slides on the way down. I can’t count the number of times I’ve skinned my elbows while sliding down an extremely slippery slide. No amount of time on any roller coaster in the world could ever compare to those fleeting few seconds on a slide where I felt like the fastest creature alive.
The only other thing that has managed to make my heart beat as fast is a merry-go-round. The thrill of flinging yourself off of a merry-go-round moving at top speed makes you feel invincible and unbreakable, even with a bleeding wound and a few broken bones. Maybe it was the thrill of doing something absurdly dangerous with equipment designed for children, or maybe it’s the fact that I don’t perceive time in the same way anymore, but those moments feel different to me in a way that I can’t describe.
Swings have always been my favourite part of the playground. My friends and I would try to see who could swing the highest. With wind in our hair, stars in our eyes and a smile on our lips, we were angels who had just found their wings. Except instead of flying while a holy choir sang in the background, we threw ourselves off the swings as our parents screamed at us in the background.
The sandpit was ultimately where we all ended up when the stars came out. We sat there and created lumpy “sandcastles” while talking about everything and nothing at all - it’s easier for me to talk to people when my hands are busy. Those hours spent sitting in the playground felt like aeons and seconds all at once. No unit of time would be able to measure them. They were wrapped in a kind of magic that could only be accessed by twelve-year-old girls on summer nights.
While every other piece of playground equipment showed me how to make the most of every second of life by doing as many crazy and destructive things in as little time as possible, the sandpit taught me how to stretch a second into infinity. It gave me a place to collect my thoughts and connect with the people closest to me in a more honest and open way.
Maybe I’m overthinking this. I was just a normal child in a normal playground. Maybe the playground equipment was just there for us to play with, it wasn’t meant to teach us anything. Maybe I should just move on and think about things that are more important, like my upcoming exams or my portfolio for college.
But I think I’ll play in the sand for five more minutes.
Deciding to do something, and then actually doing it the way I decided is something that seems pretty straightforward, but is something that I often struggle with. I have made so many study schedules for exams in my life, and never once have I been able to follow them the way I planned to. A major factor that limits me from adhering to the goals I set is procrastination. Procrastination is something that plagues not only me but also millions of other people in the world.
So what is the solution then? Stopping to set goals altogether is not the answer because these goals are important, helpful, and provide us with something to accomplish. When we have something to accomplish, our brains automatically strive to do that task. When we do that task, we get a rush of serotonin which makes us want to do the whole thing all over again. When we have our navigation ready, we know where we are going and we know we will get there when we need to. Setting goals is the best way to get work done.
Coming back to the reason we usually miss our goals, procrastinating. Imagine we decide to study 3 chapters of chemistry in a day and we know each chapter will take about twenty minutes to finish. Throughout the day we wander around the house aimlessly telling ourselves that there are 12 hours left of the day. 10 hours. 5………..4…………3………….2………. (wallowing into oblivion)
With 1 hour remaining we finally sit down and try to finish studying the three chapters we promised we’d do but we get sleepy before we can do the third. Now, this could have easily been avoided if we had just done it earlier in the day when we were free for several hours at a stretch. But instead, we thought since we have only an hour's worth of work, we might as well do it at the end of the day. This sort of procrastination is something I often find myself doing and causes a lot of stress to pile up over time.
Of course, you cannot simply stop procrastinating, but one thing you can do is set your goals in a way that prevents you from procrastinating too much.
One thing that I noticed with not only me but other people as well is that if we have an unproductive day or week, we plan out our next day with a lot of studies and tasks. These goals are often unrealistic and we usually just end up telling ourselves that we will do them to help us feel better. But, as mentioned before, this will end up inducing more stress instead of benefiting us.
Alternatively, I think we should break our goals of the day into smaller, bite-sized pieces; make them easier to digest and accomplish. This way, we would feel more rewarded as well as finish more things over a day, regardless of how small they are. For example, instead of saying study 3 chapters of chemistry in a day, we set our goal as doing one chapter of chemistry between 8 am and 11 am, the second chapter between 1 pm and 4 pm, and the third between 6 pm and 9 pm. This way, we are less likely to procrastinate and we would have a more accomplished feeling since we were able to do 3 different tasks successfully.
This method has helped me study for several exams and meet several deadlines without procrastinating too much. In fact, I don’t think this article would exist without it.
When we pace ourselves out even within a day, we give ourselves more room to be able to fruitfully complete the work we have. This method has seemed to work for me and I have started slowly implementing bite-sized tasks into my schedules rather than setting a goal of a huge plate of work in a single day with no discrete time slots assigned. I think we should allow ourselves to be flexible about the goals when mental and physical health comes in the way but not too flexible that we end up slacking off.
Setting goals is an effective method for getting work done and making them small and doable is beneficial to us as we can accomplish the same amount without a lot of stress and procrastination. This type of goal setting also ensures we keep up the highest quality of work that we can. Eating a chapati in 8 bites rather than 4 doesn’t change how many chapatis we have eaten. If anything, it helps us savour the chapati more and enjoy every little bit of its taste.
LOSING THE SAFETY NET
Lately, I’ve been trying a lot of new things and meeting a lot of new people. Whether it was traveling by plane alone, going to a dance, or trying a vanilla oat milk frozen yogurt (if you’re wondering, it was free, and it was pretty good), my new experiences helped me realize that trying new things isn’t all bad.
I’m not the biggest risk-taker, and I never have been. I’ve always been protected by the safety net of my school, my friends, and my parents, and I don’t normally experience a lot of change. I embrace my humdrum daily routine and I don’t usually feel the need to switch anything around. However, growing up is a huge transition. It’s finally starting to sink in that in a year, I’ll be experiencing a change of huge proportions by going to college. Contrary to the attitude of most small children, I've never been a fan of growing up - growing up means getting rid of my safety net, and getting rid of my safety net means I can fall and get hurt.
Needless to say, I’m not fond of getting hurt.
As much as my 10 year-old self didn’t want to hear it, or my 14 year-old self didn’t want to hear it, or my 17 year-old self doesn’t want to hear it, everyone has to grow up at some point. That’s where new experiences come in. Each and every new thing we try out, each and every new person we meet has an impact on our lives. They help us grow as individuals, and help us understand the world around us better. We’re all restricted by our fear of the unknown, and I’m still learning that being paralyzed by fear just makes things worse - most often, the best way to deal with it is to face it head on and take a leap of faith.
All of my new experiences this summer have definitely made me more confident for my future and have helped ease me into being (somewhat) ready for college. I’ve learned so much about so many different things just by trying new things and meeting new people. Even the free vanilla oat milk frozen yogurt taught me something: oat milk is delicious!
All in all, maybe I still don’t like taking risks or maybe I’m still not that welcome to change. Even so, I’m definitely more willing to try something new and see where it takes me. This summer, I’ve begun to understand that taking a leap of faith can be the first step to soaring - as opposed to falling down to the cold, hard ground, which is what I used to think (bad metaphor, but the sentiment remains). Seek out new experiences and new environments and soak up all the knowledge you can from them.
It’ll definitely change you for the better.
THE LOVER AS DEATH
- DIA BHOJWANI
The lover as death.
Spring as the endtimes.
Love as the beast bringing berserkers to their knees.
Love as the black hole swallowing all of creation.
Anticipate the end of knowing what it means.
Expect the end of you as yourself.
Love as the swelling of music as the shot pans out
And words roll across the screen :
- LEWIS OWEN ELVIS
THE WHITE CANVAS
i met a painter who was friends with a painter.
the second painter gave the first the
canvases they’d stretched before dying of dementia
now that’s a pretty weird idea
a whole side of the shed with leaning frames laughing
at you, your tragedy is a comedy
each one a tooth
from the mouth of the joke
(what would you do to the white canvas?)
i like to think the second painter, the dying painter,
carried each canvas, all heights, one by one
& each canvas going unnoticed until the news came
and our painter walked to the shed to mourn
to hold a bench and to run his hands across it
feeling the cuts sharp and worn, the stains and creaks.
feeling the self.
and in the lumpy shed full of white canvas,
like a bucket of canes at a charity shop,
the painter’s shell cracks so quietly
and stood not-crying, his pearl shows
remember those quiet evenings, when i would smile before you cried
THE BOY WITH THE
- LEWIS OWEN ELVIS
Lollipop Boy, was holding
traffic only one road
away from his mother.
infatuated with college girls in long skirts.
Their quiet talking, loud eyes;
his museum-ready Mackintosh.
I saw him for a flash and
the more I thought of the boy
the more I did not like him.
He was shy and it made me feel unoriginal.
Leaves had fallen in neat lines
along pavements or roadsides.
All of Britain looks the same
under victorian skies. I thought
of all the ways to my house
through the various alleyways and the ones I liked best.
The springtime weight to the brambles.
Wet autumn leaves stroking your jacket.
Muddy verges and scratched winter ice.
The weather was fine for October-
November but it was that time of year
where you can feel things being
day by day life gets smaller. I walked
dreaming of springtime where it’s light all day and
summertime where it’s light all night.
As I went along the last leaves left fell. I was sure of it.