tired of the rat race (2001-2003)

Why is the life of a mouse not absurd? The orbit of the moon is not absurd either, but that involves no strivings or aims at all. A mouse, however, has to work to stay alive. Yet he is not absurd, because he lacks the capacities for self-consciousness and self-transcendence that would enable him to see that he is only a mouse.

– Thomas Nagel, “The Absurd”

We used to go to family parties sometimes. Driving up hills to get there. Mostly grownups standing around with their drinks, talking.

My great uncle introduced me to one of his friends who had just written a book about running. Told me he wrote it because he got tired of the “rat race.”

I’ve thought about that conversation ever since, and every year it seems funnier to me. Who talks about the rat race to a kid they just met at a party?

I wondered what the rat race even was. Imagined rats scurrying through a maze, fighting for a piece of cheese.

Except that the maze walls were cubicles, and the lights were buzzing.

Except, evidently, that a rat could declare he was tired of the race, leave the maze, and write a book instead.

The rat race, I thought, as I started my first office job. Every morning someone handed me stacks of paper to deliver to salespeople. I wandered through hallways, got lost. Collected papers at the end of the day and organized them into folders, put the folders into boxes.

I was sixteen then. I felt exhausted after work, lying on the couch watching television. What did I even do today?

At the end of the summer, they sent me to archive all those boxes in another building. There were rows and rows of empty cubicles, dust motes hanging in the air. I put the boxes under a desk and left.

Perhaps I, too, was tired of the rat race.