Vacation Retrospective 2018
I'm on vacation this week. It's pretty weird, honestly. Nobody in my family gets vacation days, or works anywhere that has a vacation policy. I am not acclimated to taking vacation; even when it's available, unspoken bonds turn your absence into a question of your commitment. Now I work for Germans and they take vacation all the time like it's nothing. I think about whether "medical debt" exists in Germany.
The last time I took a vacation it was 2014 and I had just come out. I went to Japan with my friend Julian on the wages of a job filled with people who had never experienced scarcity. I got kicked out of a lesbian bar because I hadn't shaved and multiple well-meaning strangers tried to inform me that I was using the wrong pronoun for myself, but nobody harassed me and nobody hurt me and nobody batted an eye when the oversized white guy bought a lightning miniskirt (it was super cute). A gaggle of schoolkids on Bunny Island asked to take a selfie with us and a girl about my age running the cafe at the hotel / retirement home there lit up when I asked for a mocha in Japanese.
When I came back to Boston, it was like going back in time. "Thirty years," Julian quantified. We saw it more than ever in the broken roads and busted trains and drafty houses where we crammed together. Folks had warned us that Japan was expensive, and it simply wasn't. Boston was more expensive. Portland is more expensive than the prices we saw, on food, on homes, on travel... everything. The most expensive part was getting there.
Over the next three years, I melted down. I burned a lot of bridges and made a lot of questionable choices and took a lot of questionable jobs. I even spent time in a psych ward, and racked up a wicked bill for the privilege. Transition is and was hard but it wasn't just the stress of it that got to me. Schizotypal symptoms that I had hoped to outgrow instead grew worse, and amid an increasing number of dead friends I really started to lose my grip. CPTSD aggravated intensifying hallucinations. I awoke one night from a flying dream and found myself about to mount a fourth-story balcony. I wasn't suicidal. I wasn't even sleepwalking. I was convinced I could fly.
It's the sort of thing that manifests in your twenties, so I was right on time.
It has taken a lot of work and expense to develop even a patchwork support system, and to overcome enough trauma to continue working as a software developer. I know that if that support system falls apart, I'm dead, and I know it again every time the cops or the cold kills another schizo like me. I read the same story every year, about how she was doing fine until she decided to stop taking her meds, and now photos of her frozen corpse outside homes kept empty by speculators spend all of three days evoking sympathy and outrage to no effect. So I'm haunted by spirits. So I have dreams that come true. So I have memories of things that never happened. It's not a death sentence, but people with names and addresses make it into one. Since time immemorial, people have experienced the things I experience and manifested behaviors like mine. I take strength in our shared history.
The place I work, Neighbourhoodie, accomodates better than I understand, and they understand when I have particular needs or lack certain faculties. I'm still a contractor and I still have a boss, but the pay is enough for the essentials and my code isn't killing anyone anymore. I've open sourced at least one tool since I've been there, and I feel in good company when we architect and build and deliver things. It's such a nice place that it's actually quite alienating: my colleagues take vacation and go travelling, they see doctors as inclined without expense, and their police don't execute people in the streets or fill concentration camps with kids. When it gets to me, I'm not sure how to talk about it. Do I tell them I'm scared for my life? That the people close to me regularly face starvation and violence? That there may not be another job for me in the US? It never seems appropriate to mention, but it's like a vice around my head and a millstone around my neck. Jeff Bezos could make every one of his employees a millionaire and still stay a billionaire but instead we're all left pointing the poverty gun at each other. My landlords bought a Tesla with ad money from unboxing videos and loving merch on CNN. My friend's only pair of shoes are sandals without straps, held to her feet by rubber bands and hair ties. I got her out of an abusive home and the only place for her to live her truth was in shelters. Still, she says I saved her life.
How do you tell diversity-conscious bluebloods that it's nice that they want our under-represented labor in their scabware factories, but that only the destruction of their class will feed our people? How do you just keep doing tech support after a friend commits suicide by immolation in political protest? I guess you just have to. You put food on the table or the rich let you starve. Same as it ever was.
I don't think my questions have answers any more than our planet has a reason for hurtling through space. Maybe there will be justice in my lifetime. Maybe not. But I know justice is possible, and that it has existed across history. Lives without fear and societies without masters. It cannot exist without our commitment and our labor. Do not entertain any arc of history propaganda: we will feed our people with our toil, and we will sow a fecund future with our bodies. There is no future that will do for us what we must do now, and the rich will never do it themselves. We must seize the means of survival! Together we are strong!
This essay doesn't really have a point. I've just wanted to write about some of these things for... years now. Maybe in a few years, assuming I ever get another vacation, assuming I'm still alive, I'll write up another retrospective.
Thanks for reading.