Lucy Biederman on "SPELL for Making One Not Have to Work in the Gods’ Domain."
SPELL for Making One Not Have to Work in the Gods' Domain.
Save my settings, save my settings, Lord, or I might as well not pass through. Nothing could interest me in the Heavens like what I watched on television. My love is shallow, up against how deeply I was entertained. The way I left myself behind—that became who I was.
ILLUSTRATION: He has a t-shirt featuring an airbrushed image of Donald Trump, looking slim and belligerent, standing on a tank. He's proud of his lack of education. Anti-education, he calls it. He doesn't care what happens. The world is already over. Anything could happen and he'd simply endure. His wife drops him of at Walmart at 10 am. The earlier part of the morning is reserved for the café, where he socializes with a few veterans of the first Gulf War, whom he never forgets to thank for their service, even though they did deskwork, but still. His time at Walmart he spends browsing tools. He hasn't made as many friends there as he has at the café. This is because some of the people at Walmart are rude, especially in the manlier sections, like plumbing and automotive. He tries to ignore them. At noon, his wife or son will pick him up and take him home for lunch. After that he naps, then watches his programs. It's important to keep busy. That's why his wife, for example, works. Work has never appealed to him, and he has problems with authority, which is one of the reasons he doesn't get along well with some of the people at Walmart. Another thing that keeps him from working, as he discovered when he sought work a couple years ago, at the urging of first his wife, then his son, is his anti-education. At the time, his son had told him, using harsh language that he will not repeat, that it wasn't fair for everybody in the family to work but him. Life isn't fair, buddy, he should have said, but he didn't think of it at the time. He shakes his head with a sense of gentle wisdom in his imagination, saying life isn't fair, buddy, life isn't fair.
On "SPELL for Making One Not Have to Work in the Gods' Domain."
The wealthy in Ancient Egypt had detailed guides to the afterworld, called books of the dead, inscribed in expensive papyrus in their coffins; if you were poor, you died without instruction, consigned to wander confused forever. (The formal scheme of The Walmart Book of the Dead, and the titles of its sections, this one included, are taken from Egyptian books of the dead.) In America, the wealthy consign the poor to wander around Walmart as they live. It's a sign of wealth to avoid Walmart. I've never read a piece of "high literature" that mentions Walmart as the grand place it is, the world it is.
This loser, lying to himself, is part of that grand place. I shouldn't call him a loser, and I wouldn't have while I was writing this spell. The difference between him and me is that I have my MFA, my Ph.D.: my papyrus. Like me he has problems with authority, like me he hates work. Like me he watches his programs, though I wouldn't call my shows "programs."
Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. That's from one of my favorite Henry James stories, "The Middle Years."
There are worse things you can do than have illiberal political opinions and go around wearing a t-shirt with an optimistically rendered image of Donald Trump on it.
But even if I'm wrong—which has happened before—even if those are the worst things you can do… still: The fire of my doubt, my passion, my task, finds a home in imagining what it's like to feel that way, to be the one in that t-shirt.
The rest is the madness of art. Not a soul on earth deserves the fate of being left out of that madness.