The Soul on Strike
”Instability is now the order of the day. Disorder, a technique of government. Depression starts to look less like a drying up of desire than a stubborn, if painful, libidinal slowdown or sabotage, a demobilization. The soul on strike.”
– Franco “Bifo” Berardi
There was a hollow he would go to when the world became too much. Not a place you’d find on a map but a moment in time when time itself slowed. A blank space that refused to be filled. This is where he would meet himself. This is where an emptiness would peel off his clothes and gently stroke the dirt of the world that had become engrained on his skin. Not to erase it. Simply to notice. He would feel himself outside the chaos of his mind for the first time in months. Feel himself as a body. His thoughts softening and fading, reducing themselves into moments of past or future. Here, he would breathe. And it was good.
It was good for a while, but then it was intoxicating. He found himself falling into this dreamland whenever he could. When he wasn’t there he was longing to be, and when he wasn’t longing the emptiness itself would seek him out and beg him to return.
You see amidst the rush of the everyday he had fallen from the tracks and lost interest. He couldn’t make decisions for himself, couldn’t respond to trivial gestures or comment on the happenings of the world. He quit his job and turned off his phone, locked his door and pulled the curtains shut. He let the food in his cupboards rot. The potatoes crawled with growths and the milk in the fridge turned to a lumpy solid mass. The steadiness of the breath became a suffocation. It rescued him, and it consumed him.
The post kept falling through the letter box. Bank statements and phone bills. A magazine from a shop where he’d once bought a glow-in-the-dark bowtie. Flyers from the college Marxist society. ARE YOU FED UP OF BEING A COG IN THE BIG OL’ MACHINE! Tokens for the newest takeaway spot and the local hairdresser. Big bold red announcements of 30% off and BUY ONE GET ONE FREE. They fell to the mat, untouched. His computer continued to ping and light up as his emails came through. Colleagues who hadn’t noticed his absence asked about meetings and sent drafts to be checked. Ping after ping. Facebook continued to tell the desk chair about his ex-girlfriend’s cat and how his cousin felt personally offended by KFC’s new menu. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t there to see. He was drifting.
His friends and family didn’t understand, and he didn’t try to enlighten them because he didn’t get it either. You see, nothing had happened to him. He hadn’t fought through a warzone or been victim to a terrible crime. He lived a normal life, a good life, one that he should feel lucky to have. His job at the advertising firm was somehow both dull and stressful, but it payed the bills and filled the days. There was a roof over his head and a TV on the wall. When he was hungry he need only walk for two minutes before finding a supermarket stocked to the brim with cheap food, or a further few steps for a strip of cafes and bars. He was relatively fit and healthy, kept up with the news, saw his friends at the weekends. His life was fine, more than fine.
And yet, there was a feeling deep in his gut that this was all he could do. For a while at least. To drift. It was cold and he often wanted it to end, but then he remembered the heat and the haste of his previous life. Now at least each second had the space to breathe and settle into who he was. He was here in each moment, and this was better than being tethered to the cogs of before. It was somehow cleansing, relieving, and exactly what he needed. So he would stay until he was ready, until it had passed.
At first, time raced around his little box and let him sleep. But then one day it asked to meet him at the edges. One bright morning in April, a scent, a little like vinegar, crept through the stale air and into his dream. His nostrils twitched and his eyes flickered beneath their lids. This smell rolled him from his bed. His knees hit the floor and he reached for his glasses, waiting after all this time on the bedside table. He fumbled across the room and pulled open a small gap in the curtains. The sunlight fell in a streak, illuminating the dust on the windowsill. He drew a line in it with his finger. Then he looked down at the street below and watched as a lady walked past. His eyes moved to where her left trouser leg was tucked into her sock at the back. A trace of fondness for this little token of humankind rose in his chest, but then he felt the tug of that no-time blankness. His breathe rose and fell, rose and fell.
The slowness in his bones and his mind wouldn’t disappear in a moment. He knew that. But he also knew that the emptiness was not a home. It had taken him, loved him even, when he needed to be lost. But time had not stayed as still as he had imagined, and the world was calling to be built again. It spoke a foreign language, but he heard it, and for the first time in months, he listened.
Finding his place between the silence and the chaos would not be easy or quick. It would be no great awakening. Instead it would consist of dusty fingertips and tucked in trouser legs. And that was okay. That was all it needed to be.