The joy of work

24 October 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Short prose from Sivullisia (‘Outsiders’, Like, 2011). Introduction by Teppo Kulmala

Since I’ve been unemployed, I started a blog called Outsiders. It soon came to serve as work, and I became dependent on its benefits. Although describing being an outsider helped to anaesthetise me, and verbalising all of my afternoons didn’t even take up all my time, the feedback that came in was reward enough. I wouldn’t have taken any other reimbursement anyway because of the restrictions set on recipients of government benefits. Increasingly frequently I found myself longing for more. Even a short blog comment about being an outsider felt even truer than what I with my self-employed, jobless person’s competence was able to achieve in relation to being sidelined as an unemployed person, regardless of what kind of manager I had been in my previous life. When asking for more accounts of other people’s well-being, I wanted them to use their own names. I justified this because I did not want to read lies, which often come from and lead to chatter in cafés and on the web. Apart from the pure enjoyment of being present, using one’s own name – even in wrong-headed topics or notions – makes it easier to approach the harsh laws of the working world. When one knows that by using one’s own signature one is dragging one’s family into the mire, including those who have gone before and those yet to come, one is able to blaze trails along which one can outflank the passive to activate another, equally unemployed. I did not place any further requirements on the other commenters besides first name and surname, as the rules had been drawn up by professionals in their own field. The regulator’s work also requires skill, if not a tremendous craving, for damming up another flood of text so that one’s own advantages do not have a chance to dry up. To facilitate reading for myself and others, I introduced only a couple of restrictions, which I imagined that I, too, would be able to adhere to. Only one side of a sheet of A4 was to be used – that is, one page – and what people wrote had to be true. Truth, beauty and quality ensured that everyone would begin what they had to say by writing about their current work. More stories, anecdotes, even poems piled up than the law permits me to read – much less compile – during working hours. For this book I have selected only 157 stories from the Greater Helsinki area for the sake of efficiency. The faster you can read the work, the less time it will distract you from your main job. I chose to limit things to the capital area so that the stories about well-being from individuals linked to this place would seem to form a more integral work, or document at least, about what was happening in the Big H, the centre of the nation, at the start of the millennium. I will publish the tales of work from beyond the outer ring road at some later stage, if I manage to come to an agreement with the writers concerning intellectual property rights.

Policeman

A blue heart throbs in my blue policeman’s trousers. It is alert, as a poet’s heart is to urgent issues whose solutions the cynics like to mock. Without thinking, automatically everything is immediately at stake: left hand out in front, knees slightly bent, right fist clenched. How come nobody ‘likes’ my updates on Facebook, even though the job of a policeman is so awesomely cool, especially among young people? It was a whole other story after Finnish Independence Day in the queue at the spa. In honour of the public holiday I was sweating with my ex-partner and her son at the ticket window of the Serena indoor water park. We stood side by side with hot steam in our beaks in the full light of day. Bit strange for a shift worker. So muddled up from the good mood following the military parade that I let the lad go for a coffee with his mother and stayed in the queue for my ex-partner. When I got the last key, I gave a cry of joy and shook the girl at the till by the hand. There is justice in the world. The liars behind my back collided with the fists of truth, just like clients at the door of the nick. And there was no chatting in the queue either, if I didn’t seize on my neighbour’s words. These queuing exchanges are social chafing: the subjects come from the day’s tabloid headlines. There’s not much to them, the lady in front of me agreed. Murders and robberies mainly, I said in a rather official tone of voice, and saw the lady’s smile congeal. And the Jokers always lose at ice hockey, I managed to add before she could leave the queue. My husband is over there, she waved in desperation as she let me take her place.

Paper deliverer

The stack of newspapers to deliver goes down slowly. The trolley from which you pick up the ad supplement and bundle it inside the paper always empties much too slowly. You need to fold the paper before the supplements will stay inside. ‘And let’s not forget the keys there’ echoes in the rattle of the wheels. Weather conditions are not so great at the front door of the apartment blocks that you’d happily go back to look for keys in the middle of the run. Small, heavy printed matter is the worst. Bus timetables slip out of the papers. But from which pile? You’ll know it on the eighth floor. And having to go through the junk mail for the entire building. There you’ve got time to think about how paper can swell up when it gets some air beneath its wings. How did they get so much emptiness to make up such a dense pile? And with air, the weight just grows like in a cat that’s awaiting its kittens on the windowsill. As I sigh with empty hands, the scent of the Ehrnroths’ coffee follows me to the door of the lift. I can still smell the President coffee through the chain-link mesh.

Presenter

The presenter asked a personal question. He hit the button, and the audience opened up. True, the presenter didn’t manage to finish reading the book by the second interviewee at the book fair, but a quick skim revealed that it was about the same incest theme as the previous output by the authoress. If a library is a department store of death, book fairs are a crematorium, thought the author. Her mouth said she had made it back from the brink of death thanks to a long course of therapy and pork gravy made with her mother’s recipe, along with the chocolate bars in the blue wrappers. The audience sniffed fresh blood along with comestibles in their snouts, and the presenter prepared his third helping after this fatty portion of interviewing. The works interred on the library shelves are the urns of authors, the condensations of their eras and their bodies. In worshipping the silence of the library, people become aware of their own mortality and the author is buried in her body twice over. Oh, in remembering that mute joy mixed with a sweet tinge of envy before a row of Tolstoy’s works, how she smiled at the customer at the book-signing desk at the Academic Bookstore. And it was repeated over and over again.

School pupils

School pupils generally only think about breaks. During lessons, and especially during maths lessons. Besides breaks, they like PE. That’s what they say and it’s true, unless you think about what the maths teacher is hoping for with regard to his early retirement. And why wouldn’t I say that? Usually in the breaks the girls assemble into cliques and gossip about their friends in the neighbourhood. The boys play football. A bad break is when it’s too cold and frosty. People at school think about careers too early on. Should I become a singer, a chef or maybe a celebrity author? That last one seems easy, we had an author here. Not like the PR person I couldn’t find on Google. A lot of the children go to after-school clubs, and it’s no wonder. It’s not nice to come home to an empty house, when parents are at work, usually, or at their body pump classes. Usually the children do their homework properly. Sometimes they might forget and then they can ask for help on their mobile phone, if they have older brothers or a sister. Or they can ask their mum or dad after the sports news. Or Mum is at the sports hall and Dad is driving to the gym. Friends can help more quickly on the computer. A good teacher is nice, not too strict and fun, like in Finnish class. A bad one is too strict, no sense of humour and a short fuse. In the mornings I don’t feel like doing anything, I just have to. Then it’s a good idea to eat a proper breakfast so you can wait till lunch. I eat two spoonfuls because I’m the baby of our family in the mornings. The food at school is good, the pupils are just suspicious. Especially the girls. The girls don’t eat generally to gain weight exactly, but the boys are a different case. They scoff everything down, especially if it’s meatballs. After school people go to do their activities or spend time with friends. But you have to go home when it’s time. Some are obliged to be interrogated online by people at six, while others only come to chat at eight when the oldies are snoring. At weekends the incomings become the parents’ outgoings. Then when the summer vacation starts, the kids are overjoyed. If you move house, the next school doesn’t begin until autumn. Wild horses couldn’t drag me there, and neither could a bag of sweeties. That’s why I’m writing this. Help, please help the nice children! Of course you know which one of the teachers is planning to postpone his early retirement at that school I won’t go to.

To Harri Virtanen, Programme Director. I am currently working on a novel entitled Outsiders, which consists of around a hundred and fifty narratives up to one page of A4 in length. These page-length entries tell of various professions – or perhaps more accurately, how the joy called ‘work’ drives people to become sidelined in their own lives. I do not believe that even any criminal activity is as antithetical to poetry, philosophy and life itself as the ceaseless bustle of work. When God died, work took his place – for the slave, not the free man. Well-being comes only from work, says the Minister of Finance, to whom well-being means merely the management of freely available resources. In other words: for her, freedom flourishes only when enslaving the slaves. The visual setting and soundscape for these outsiders is Helsinki. The stories are online on the main character’s blog, entitled Outsiders. The repetition of places and soundscapes in the blog entries creates sequences and the plot of a blog novel. It is not my intention to use the auxiliary characters and all the stories in a drama; merely those tensions that will provide material for scenes and entire works. I eagerly await your response, which the Finnish Broadcasting Company’s website promises within two months of the date the offer was submitted electronically. Log line: Those who contribute are content. Being an outsider continues to be the most common occupation in Finland, in large corporations and unlisted companies alike. Possible venues: the Radio Theatre, Television Theatre and downloadable from the web. Target audience: everyone who conceptualises their existence through work. Note from screenwriter: the final work will arise only through collaboration where the experiences of the eyewitness, the writer, the producer, the director and the actor all intersect. Jouni Tossavainen of Pietarinkatu Street, writer.
Greetings, and thank you for your interest. We at the Finnish Broadcasting Company have taken a look at the proposal you submitted. Unfortunately we do not have room for this type of item in our schedules. Yours sincerely, Esko Salervo, screenwriter, Drama / Radio Theatre, Finnish Broadcasting Company.

Translated by Ruth Urbom

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