I rub my face with the flat of my hand. Behind my eyes, a fractured kaleidoscope slowly rotates, releasing small shards of multicolored glass that fall onto my lap, radiating light in the dimness of my bedroom. I brush them away. On weekday mornings, I can’t wallow in what I’d rather be doing with my time. For now, all that matters is the eighty-slide deck in front of me: a leviathan of cruelly misaligned bullet points and unruly fonts over which that I have been agonizing for nine weeks. What did people in this industry even do before the advent of PowerPoint?
I am painstakingly shifting a cursor left and right, a million micromovements involving one calloused fingertip against the chrome mousepad. No crusader has ever felt a stronger commitment to the divinity of struggle than I at this moment. PowerPoint leers at me, its red-orange icons twisting in the periphery of my vision. Its torments are numerous and varied. I have spent the last hour of my finite life changing the typeface of select words from normal to bold, obsessing over my selections, begging God for the guidance of infinite wisdom, and then reverting the changes in a fit of pique.
Professional work, a career, a “sector,” a CV like a beaded string, in which each glass bauble represents a new attempt to configure an adult identity, to carve out, from the mottled clay of endless days, the shining form of perfect purpose. When I explain what I do to new acquaintances, I use words like “liaise,” “craft,” and “grow,” stirring these terms into conversations in a lofty tone, generally striving to cultivate the impression that I am a conjuror communing with the deep from within the darkness of a cubicle. In actuality, I spend most of my time neck-deep in the minor intricacies of a slide deck, every wrinkle in my satin blouse illuminated under pitiless white bulbs, while pretending not to notice the tensions flaring around the water cooler as two suited sixty-year-olds, each drawing from a seemingly infinite well of moss-covered grievances, circle each other with toothy grins and vacant eyes, like wary, tail-thumping predators returning for a final showdown on the savanna.
Free from Pygmalion and in search of pure freedom, Galatea steps off her pearly bed and boards the commuter train. She drowns out the sounds of rattling wheels by way of chrome-coated, teardrop-shaped earbuds. Brushing her hair out of her face, she casts her gaze around the subway car and lands on me, a figure clumsily pressed against the door, the strap of my bag digging into my shoulder. She meets my eyes and fixes me with a disdainful look. She can see the churning seas within me and finds my lack of courage, as I sit in my canoe rattled by waves, unable to seize the oar, contemptible. I shrug. I understand her disdain. I even share it. But some of us have relinquished the need to find work meaningful, though we still light a candle, in the dead of night, for our former, and now long-lost, fantasy of the future. That fantasy is a crystalline vision that splintered away to flower in a different universe, leaving behind only a few shards embedded in the mind. But Galatea doesn’t care about the mourning I’ve already done, and the closure I think I feel. She only sees the outcome, and she despairs.
At the office, I glue myself to the PowerPoint with all the joyless energy of a black hole. I click idly, squashing each imaginative, unproductive thought that stirs from the muck of my mind-at-work with methodical, emotionless totality, as though vacuuming up a frothy, bronze-colored galaxy. The dusty glow of the stars, seized in a fist of spacetime, twists, warps, and then vanishes. The light at the back of my brain dims and goes out. Nothing is left in the small, tender place where my dreams used to live. But the best (worst?) thing about dreams is their infinite powers of resurrection. The kaleidoscope doesn’t stop turning. Galatea doesn’t give up. Tomorrow morning, I will wake and, hand groping for my phone lodged somewhere in the sheets, my mind will bump into the revived fantasy in all its cosmic, catastrophic lust for life. Galatea will meet my eyes again on the train and smile, this time, with new faith in my ability to be a vessel for true purpose. “Quit your job,” she’ll mouth at me. “Do anything else.” The sun will flash through the windows as I turn away, heart aflame.