December 18, 2013 by alie
It’s 40 degrees in the shade. The sidewalks have sucked in the heat of the day and hoarded it so that barefoot children must run and hop between shadows, yelping as their feet sear on the tarmac. I wave like a big creep from inside 3 inches of padding. A child fearfully accepts a balloon while I bob up and down with my arms akimbo and shake my augmented hips from side to side. His little lip trembles and he runs from me, wide eyed.
My fifteen minutes were up ten minutes ago but my boss is on a roll. She doesn’t realise the lady she’s talking to just wants free samples. Whiteness rolls down over my vision, dripping like rain on a windshield. What would be worse? To take my head off in public and reveal that I am in fact, not a bear, or pass out in the shop front. My skin is damp and slick against the padding, my insides arid, like swirling dust. My damn boss refuses to be interrupted. Her smile doesn’t falter as she pushes my flailing arms out of her face. I’m going to have to go it alone. The door at the back of the grocery store looms in the pinpricks that are my eyeholes. I have to walk with my head tossed backwards and my arms held out to make up for the loss of periphery vision. My foot falters on the first step and I stumble backwards. It’s so hot. Why do I live in a country that gets this hot? Whose dumb idea was it to populate Australia? The door is in my line of vision and step toward it. Wait, that’s the floor. Why is the floor filling my eyehole? My boss manages to tear her attention from her customer, commando roll over to me, skid under the display of baby products that I’ve collided with and catch it just in time. No, please, don’t worry about me, I’m fine. Protect the display. I’ll just flounder here in the aisle in a state of heat exhaustion. Finding her customer gone I finally merit some attention. She helps me from my prostrate position and leads me by the hand to the storage room, my head hung, taking staccato shuffles in my big bear feet. She lifts off my head and unzips my body. I flop out and languish in the cold air, letting it roll over me, chilling my sweaty clothes. My limbs go soft, my pores suck at the fresh air. I close my eyes, put on my Earth Mother smile and swing my flaccid arms to create a breeze.
Jobs like these are the scourge of starving writers. For a week I have dressed as a bear, a predator in the forest of commercialism. I get driven to artisan grocery stores, lure children over to me while my boss preys on mothers, assaulting them with pasty skin slimes for their child, natural healing remedies that smell like earth and moisturisers for the discerning baby. I am everything I hate. My parents are of the ‘go, be free’ generation. This means free from handouts, free from parental concern about my finances, free from a nutritious diet. I know they mean well, they want me to learn, but look what I’ve become.
There seems to be an expectation put on writers to be relentlessly fabulous. We’re supposed to sleep late, smoke cigarettes in cafes, be social pariahs, then at midnight, when the world is asleep “sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. To that I say ‘pfft’ and I’m talking to you, Hemingway; you and your lofty standards. The day job, however dehumanising, is fuel on the fire of creative impulse. How do you write about the world if you aren’t in it? How do you write about the day when you sleep through it? For how long can you find inspiration in clouds of smoke and long blacks, or candlelight in silent houses? The writer who remains relevant is the one who lives while others live, who ends up in strange places, who sometimes dresses as a bear and accidentally scares children.