The Work Only You Can Do

The cards are shuffled
the cards you’re dealt
are approximately random
tho there is a near infinitude
of subtle factors
beyond our comprehension
influencing every outcome
every hand
random is close enough
except that some have advantages
great or small
&, in proportion
some have disadvantages
great or small
an extra card or one less
a high or low card
theirs by birth
or by the associations of their family
or their name or skin color
or the wealth of their family or tribe
or its poverty
its control of assets
or lack of control of assets
the power or strength of any enemies—
recent history & the spirit of the time & place—
so the cards are approximately random
tho skewed by circumstances
beyond your control
often fiercely adverse—
even those with advantages
have to make their way among
people who misunderstand them
& are prejudiced against some of their attributes
& who are competing for attention & resources with them—
but you get the cards that you get
say you start in squalor, poverty, & ignorance
say you start programmed
by parents whose knowledge
is incomplete & in some cases wrong
programmed likewise by schools & peers—
say that your parents, teachers, peers
are full of resentment
& the kinds of habits people develop
when they find themselves thwarted
& don’t believe that they can overcome
the obstacles frustrating them
when they give the world up
& give themselves over to playing games
on this field or that, at this table or that
in this house, along this route or that
til they die of only playing games—
& see you as a means of fulfilling
insane revenge on the world

say that all this (of course there’s plenty more)
becomes clear to you at some point in your life
when you’re dissatisfied with your circumstances
with the outcomes you have managed
by application of effort
development of skills
decisions & choices
diplomacy or lack of tact
to attain—
you look around you—
the injustices are as fiercely prevalent as ever—
the situation seems worse, & accelerating—
those who have ignored or perpetrated the injustices
are better off than you are—
you don’t even seem to have a chance left—
what you have done is ignored or despised
or everyone who values what you do
seems to be swirling down to catastrophic defeat—
what you have done seems pathetic even to you
tho you believe that what you have done
is what the world needs more of
& tho you managed to realize some achievements
generally considered impossible
& never before or since achieved—
still, no one pays you anything in return
for your contributing what you contribute to the world
& without some payment occasionally
you’re bound to die soon
& you’re surrounded by squalor
you haven’t kept things neat & clean
while you did your desperate deeds
& waited for others to make moves that meshed with yours—
& things wore out & broke down
beer cans & used rubbers are strewn along your periphery
you’re outside the realm of neighbors’ & strangers’ respect—
whether respect from the heart or from fear of punishment—
you’ll never be as fit as when you were younger—
& it seems that more & more skills are required of you
& you must somehow purchase more & more equipment
& comply with more & more unjust & insane requirements
just to maintain your unsatisfactory position
among people who won’t mind if you drop dead
& a few who will be briefly grieved
then forced to forget you & get on with their own struggles
let alone to break thru your situation
to gain while you’re alive
from what you’ve done so far
what you have made of yourself—
it seems you have to start all over yet again—
you can hardly believe it or stand it
it’s so unfair & your work has always been
transmutation of the unfair into fair—
don’t give up, don’t discover you’re Don Quixote
don’t stretch your arms out on the cross & sigh & die—
you must compete not only with the remaining elder tyrants
& drones in fealty to them
& with your contemporary tyrants & drones
but with youths, too
some with advantages, some disadvantages
some confident, some daunted
all savagely furious at what’s gone on in your lifetime
before they were born & before they became aware
which they assume you were a willing participant in
or some limp victim leaving them a legacy of desolation—
you must compete according to standards
assumed by the conspiracy of those who control
most of the assets & discourse
& the police force, courts, & prisons
& the standards
of those stampeding to try to join that conspiracy
to become winners in a sea of losers
at whoever’s expense—
it seems that you’re a loser
& must either fold your cards & die
or salvage whatever you can
of what you’ve done so far
& pull another card from your sleeve
not a card of the deck that just about everyone is playing with
it’s not cheating or even magic
it’s just doing something other than everyone assumes
& that you yourself have been too exhausted
by your efforts so far
to remember that you began with—
& it’s not as tho you ever had a crystal clear conception—
everyone has the equivalent card, the equivalent sleeve—
you’ve been trying to tell them so all along—
that’s your work—
you’ll try to get paid for doing it
or you’ll try to find a way to get paid for doing something else
to keep yourself alive
& pick up & clean up & repair
one thing after another
starting where & when you are
you’ll sort courage from fear
organized from random
fair from unfair
it’s the work only you can do—
for which, finally, you’ve qualified yourself.

Eric Chaet, b. 1945 in Chicago, denigrated, beaten, sinking, swimming--then in the larger world, too. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.