Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Write Club is a monthly, literary bloodsport in which contenders face off against each other with 7-minute essays on competing topics. Below was my combatant essay based on the prompt “TAKING,” facing off against “GIVING.” This essay was performed on November 20, 2018, at The Hideout in Chicago, and was defeated in its bout.
Somehow, through a series of prior circumstances and questionable personal decisions you now find yourself within a room full of people who are about to be subjected to a man, on a stage, with a microphone, who will be speaking for approximately seven minutes in passionate, full-throated support of Taking. You are going to be made to listen to this vampiric screed as if you somehow don’t already live in the chemical haze of America’s Second Gilded Age, as if the faucets didn’t gush hot and cold running avarice and the air wasn’t thick with the pungent flatulence of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money. Look at him. He’s ten seconds away from stalking a mid-sized conference room at the Marriott and demanding of individuals that they Sell Me This Pencil.
How did you let this happen to you? How are you caught in this situation, three damn days before Black Friday, that Capitalism Coachella whose wingspan casts shadows over every mini-mall in America and transforms a seemingly civilized populace into hair-trigger, bargain-simple, elbow-throwing maniacs, ravaging the shelves like genetically enhanced locusts escaped from some underground laboratory. You are at this moment taxiing down the runway towards the warmth and camaraderie of the winter holidays, after all. The season of generosity is nigh! Why are any of you still listening to this man? Why haven’t you stood as one in defiance of his impending Gordon Gekko harangue and marched yourselves to the exits? There is nothing this man can say to you. There is no virtue to be found in taking.
Except the real reason the alarms go off in your moral centers is that you’ve been conditioned to think of taking in its material terms, its accumulation ethos, its cogito zero-sum. Taking must be wrong because it means you gain while somebody else has less, and in the duochromatic simplicity of that construction you forget that the enterprise of take, verb, can be a tool, noun, can be a good, value, depending on the object, syntax, that you have decided to take. Whatever else you might think about it, you know that take is going to be active, that it is up half an hour before the crack of dawn with a ten-point plan for the shit it is going to get done today and by the time you blink it has already accomplished three of them.
Take does not wait to be asked for its assistance and Take has its eyes on constant surveillance because among the things that Take is taking is command of this whole situation.
It is Chicago in November out there and the darkness is getting bolder and the mercury is not only in retrograde but in mu’fucking freefall; and Take is out on patrol, Take is wandering from house to house and listening for the sobs you smother in your throat, the low-level panic that creaks like tinfoil beneath your skin. Take knows when you are too proud or too ashamed to say you are in crisis and now Take is standing in front of you, Take is taking your hand. Take is taking a long look into your eyes, Take is taking deep, calming breaths in tandem with you, Take is offering to take some of the burden off of your shoulders.
Take is just getting started. Take has energy to burn but no impulses to indulge; Take is taking its time and Take is taking precautions, because Take has bigger bears to wrestle. There is more to be taken. There is more to be taken away. There are your fears of the oceans swallowing the edges of the land. There are the insomniac evenings about what happens to your treatment if the insurance cuts you off. There are pipelines snaking through Native lands where they do not fucking belong and there are voting districts where the borders were drawn by drunken surrealists. There are velvet seats in marble halls that are filled for a scant few remaining months with the asses of spineless sycophants, and there are unearned bonuses for the yacht-and-jet-set who should be getting their three squares a day from the prison mess. There are murder machines in the tantrum grips of entitled toddlers. There are funds earmarked for infrastructure being handed out as bribes. There is the notion of a nation so far removed from its idealism that its people handed its stewardship over to a haggard old hippopotamus of a president, galumphing gradually towards sundown and content to trample the rest of us as he goes.
There are all of these things and more in the vortex of our existence. But Take is also there, covered in armor, a two-handed sword in its gauntlets, standing fast against the pachyderm, heels dug into the gravel and preparing to push.
Because without Taking there can be no Taking Back.
Ignore your Dickensian definitions of the word. Ignore your after-school specials and the final lessons of the animated anthropomorphs, breaking through the fourth walls of your television screen to tell you that the greatest of qualities is your selflessness, that only marauders and miscreants take. Ignore whatever is left of the lessons from your elders and remember instead that there is a time for everything, even the most unpleasant of things, to become the best possible version of itself. When one stands as we do with our backs against the wall, it is the most opportune of moments to Take.
And it sure as hell isn’t a moment to show any give.