On Striking

Striking Back


I’ve never had a problem with it, really.  You need to stand up for what you want, and if standing up means clogging up the works, throwing wrenches into the gears, removing the cogs themselves so that the machinery of life no longer works as it’s supposed to, I say do it.  The world is not designed around you, or me, or anyone in particular.  To get it to take notice, you can’t just stand up and sing, you’ve got to stay home and stop collecting the trash.


While I was in Athens with Anna the garbage workers were on strike.  They had been long before we got there.  Black towers balanced precariously on sidewalks, their skins of thin plastic only enticing the flies to fury.  The streets never smelled as bad as I thought they should.  And then, one morning, the streets were clean.  It had rained.  It was as though the ground had opened up to Hades below and taken the trash into itself.  What actually happened: the strike worked, or scabs came to cover our wounds.


It is just a way of getting what you want, whatever that is.  My mom served food to my brother and I, and we didn’t want it.  We struck with our mouths, keeping them closed.  We weren’t allowed to leave the table until the food was done, struck down.  We would not give in.  We were threatened with the same food, refrigerated, deposited on our plates at each meal until we capitulated.  We did not give in.


At several points in graduate school, both during my MFA and Ph.D. programs, we graduate students felt used and abused by the administration.  We talked about striking.  We talked about walking out of the classes we were teaching and refusing to go back until they gave us some security, or health insurance, or a raise.  Nothing ever came of it – in order for it to work, we’d have to get everyone to strike (or, at least, most of us) – and people were afraid of being fired.  I believed everything had risks.  Let what will burn, burn.


The last thing you do is turn off the lights.  Before that, you mop the floors of all the sweat.  You sweep up all the debris you tracked in.  You remove the furniture that made the theater look like a place someone would live in.  You make it so that you no longer live there, your home for a few weeks, that place that has grown into you like a hangnail.  You take your props – those things that told you who you were – and you file them away by type.  They no longer have any meaning.  You fold your costumes.  You forget your lines.  You forget who you were with when you said your lines.  You forget who you were with.  You forget who you were.  You forget.

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