Denissa Almyra Putri

Jan 18, 2020

4 min read

The Rat Race and The Ivory Tower

It was Christmas night.

I rushed to my apartment to bring back some of my stuff to home, since I no longer used the studio bedroom for the rest of the semester. I took the 9 am train and it’s oddly full — even I’m used to it.

I like to observe, usually — even when I have my headphones on. But at that time, it was different. It was Christmas night, I’ve finished the first semester and now it’s my time for a holiday. My dad was home and he planned to take a 3 weeks’ straight off in fact of he must spent a couple days to auditing his reports in the national bank. Tomorrow should be a national holiday for me, for my dad, and well, yes — for us. But I was in this commuter, surrounded by the usual view in the morning: the uniformed governmental employee, the common employee, the store seller, blue-collar workers, and some middle-to-low class people carrying huge plastics and box to sell, commuting through this urban city from edge to edge. Approaching the suburb, one by one the odd-jobbed get off, those who breath plastics and dusts in overtime shifts. They spent Christmas night at work, and far from their faith we forgot about the holiday rights they could take instead. Even they’re working in new year.

I’d always secretly need time to wondering how much school demanded of me, that I’d be grateful and been exhausted by academic expectations since the first grade. Paralleled, my whole life taught me that I had the privilege and capabilities of meeting those expectations. The social obligations yet become logic as a life purpose I should pursue, as I grew wise enough to recognize that illusion. — Until I knew it is just me and what they want me to be — creating my own ivory tower.

Amongst all my reasons to meet those people’s expectations about applying for nice college, getting a good job, there was one problem: I feel too selfish for being an individual but there’s nothing I can do.

Sometimes, people are chasing the wrong future.

But we’re denial about that. Blue-collar and middle working-class origins sow a higher purpose of life to transcend the prospect of the people from their background, including me.

Fuck no.

In fact — it’s not working comprehensively. It’s just not, our way. Studying the social-science, I’d hope further to afford some real efforts on society’s marginalized, what we forgotten about, and understanding those the disadvantaged groups. Difficulty and privileges exist along the spectrum, and sometimes it’s inversely proportional. But you won’t always understand how universe steering your life because it works on a hidden way.

I once took a train from the north edge of Jakarta (Angke) to the suburb satellites (Bogor) — 21 stations, including 3 transit stations. Let’s say I spent hour and a half in the train, and waiting for the train which came every 30 minutes normally, could be worse in the rush hour or late night. Or maybe you have to wait for another 2 trains because you couldn’t barely get inside in the first place. The train waits about 10 minutes in the transit stations. Then it takes 30 minutes to get yourself to work, with the traffic and so on. It’s a damn 6 hours back to back, 8 hours of work, 6 hours sleep, and there’s 4 hours left that you must decide to use it wisely: coffee, cigarettes, chill out, sex, or extra sleep.

Philip K. Dick used the term “the rat race” on his science-fiction The Last of the Masters — in a postmodern dystopian word after a global anarchist revolution. Through the dialogs, Dick explained the term as a way of competition, and quitting it to reform into the normal living.

McLean said softly, “you and I can then get off this rat race. You and I and all the rest of us. And live like human beings.”

“Rat race,” Fowler murmured. “Rats in a maze. Doing tricks. Performing chores thought up by somebody else.” McLean caught Fowler’s eye. “By somebody of another species.”

I wonder how people deal with the urban capital city dreams, when they’re not even fighting for their own pleasure of fulfillment. They don’t even think about the holiday — they work for the people who’s having a holiday. Those people live in a dead circle while their purpose is only a simple life. They work to eat and other vital commodities, but that’s it. Apparently, people these days mistaken a simple life to a minimalist life, where actually that the simple life stands for a competitive yet unhappy endless cycle.

I spent times watching people struggle for lack of money, and work is commonly associated with suffering and sacrifice for certain people. Thus, it’s hard to see blue-collars as a legitimate job to fulfill the endless list people don’t want you to give up: family, travel, creativity, hobbies and so on. I understand then if that path just might not be for you. Furthermore, money may not be everything for us, but it’s everything for them. What we called ‘making up our lives’ by more expensive and overrated lifestyle, apparently it’s just as simple as work. The white-collars have more time and pennies to spend for pleasures.

And if they decide this, they’re not a failure. They are brave. Those who are less appreciated and even underpaid. There are thousand chances to draw your own mark in the world with mysterious ways that haven’t been invented yet.