• Tess Unami

Leaving the heavy boots in the old storage room

I worked at a warehouse once for a couple of months; wore big, thick, and, what felt like, loaded boots that protect against dense metal and heavy objects. The labour performed would differ since I came through an agency. I was put wherever I was needed that day. Sometimes I would spend the evening putting stickers on two meter tall boxes ending up in a flow-like trance or, what later became, a more monotonous automaticity. Other times I would be put in the gigantic hall where buckets with clothing and household products would move from one end, coming through a scanner where I would stand to check, to the other on a roller-coaster-like machine. On my way walking, there were two other huge halls with tall storage containers stacked upon each other (figure up to five or six). As I would be on my repository promenade to pass on a message to an unknown colleague from another ward, I would hear the sirens from the halls above. Another technical failure would be warned about and little boxing cars would blow their horns to keep one sharp from the organized chaos.

It had been only two years since my sister's passing, so as my unfortunate peer grievers know, I found myself as disoriented as day one. But the question had me staring with a frown at that same spot on the floor while my hands kept moving. Aside from the obvious torments, what is it inside me that is causing this disconnection from self?

It can be amazing and incredibly healthy to have repetition and clarity on work that needs to be done. Especially, physically and manually, it can be as stabilizing, nurturing and refreshing to the mind as cleaning and organizing a space. With all the heavy and daunting punches that came after my precious sister’s death, managing stress with work like this could be soothing despite how excruciating I experienced those years. That same state of flow I could have writing rhythmic tales or dancing as a kid, I could definitely find back here. At times and at first, that is.

Go figure that, yes, we need both certainty and uncertainty to thrive because we need safety for balance and novelty for learning. That security instilling us with potential for hope and that new stimuli thriving new sensed purpose and feeling of wonder.

The compulsive obsessive sound of the chains moving around the ceiling and coming down to the ground to deliver the goods became as captivating as pallet stackers bumping into lift trucks at the corner. Bereavement had me in an empty daze and loneliness in a vacuum. At a certain point, I wished the state of flow where energy travels, intuition slides and working memory improvises with long lost unconscious visions, would have lasted longer. It wasnt long before I clearly felt the burden of automation filtering into my nervous system ready to dampen my spark. Who I was was further being put on hold, it felt like.

Some days I would visit the toilet a lot to sit in a limbo with no apparent colour or sensory modality to express the internal chain supply of utilitarian existence. Without any inner intention to engage and interact with the environment, I found myself stuck. Same muscle movements and gaze range throughout the nine hour working day. From four to midnight. Sometimes it was also great to remind me of where I was and to give structure to my mind but, with a lot of guilt in my heart, I could not deny I secretly wanted to express myself differently every day.

On some toilet breaks I would write some rhymes and poems on my phone and other moments I would hide a white sheet to make some doodles and drawings when no one was watching. But that did not last. As usual, I was very much on top of what was unfolding; analyzing my mental changes and examining my lethargy. Was it the seemingly never-ending repetitive behaviour and lack of novelty for what I was seeking that was causing fatigue? or the lack of space to express personal qualities and stories? Or most definitely both?

I mean, what is a human if not a collection of narratives, carrier of creative abilities and processor of emotions that produce tough, sensual and heartwarming movements. Where do I go with what my self wants to express, share and receive? Energy is always in the body and it is the suppression of energy that is so tiring, I guess. It is definitely not just the repetition in excess. Disbalance with more certainty than novelty; more of the same than something new. It was the blockage of abilities, insights and feelings that did not receive attention and field to play. It got no space, no further purpose and, without sounding dramatic, abilities themselves didnt get love.

I kept feeling ‘I am number, not a soul. I am outcome, not a process. I am obedient, not resourceful. I am category and not potential. I function but am not. I am singular in that I am an addition but am general in that I have nothing to add. I mean, we received these thoughts-consuming boots to protect ourselves from objects falling but I cannot remember being offerred a pallet to catch my identity losing its roots and tumbling over.’ And, yes. A lot of this was my own deep inability to build myself up. Yet.

In particular, now, that I am looking back, I see how not expressing myself was blinding my inner gaze. In other words, I began to feel I was losing intuition and it became harder to create or find energy for life outside the gigantic warehouse halls. Not practicing more social skills, sharing insights and opinions through an honest scope, and not being challenged in creative ways. Of course, there was still plenty of trauma work to be done that was causing such intensely restricted states, but even then, the fact that I was in an environment not stimulating me to do what I deeply craved began to weigh heavier.

Years later I shortly worked at different warehouses that were behind, on top or underneath of clothing shops. There, I spoke to a man once; a brilliant, charismatic and savy old man. He captivated me the moment he spoke serious truth, he said, ‘hobbies do not exist’ and I was like ‘Oh my, this is my man!’ Ha! He meant that we have skills and talents which are only linguistically labelled as a side-kick to the supposed ‘actual job’ as dictated by educational and economic systems. At least, thats what I make of it. But I immediately began conversing with him as we put all the new clothing on separate racks to go in the shop later. It was interesting. His pain spoke clearly through his lower pupil gaze as he shared about his deep love for art. He confessed that he would look away while walking through the streets of Amsterdam seeing sculptures. There was a voice in him that knew he would be very good but with challenges life had thrown at him fifteen years prior, he decided he would go for any job he could get. ‘That’s it.’ He said. ‘I have been here in the basement ever since. I dont see much daylight’ he giggled. His stature was inward; he was short and slim. There was as much confidence in him as there was disappointment. Seriously, though, both were very present. Maybe its the essence of wisdom.

As I would usually do with my grandfather while trying to ask him about his grief surrounding my sister, I would pause. Give space for another silence. Another breath. Because I knew opening up was so damn heavy. So, I paused for him as well because the pit of my stomach was feeling his soul recognizing its own asphyxiation. ‘I dont look because it hurts, you know. Its too painful to deal with the confrontation of what I could have done, of what I truly love to do but never again will’. That was it. I understood, once again, that not expressing one’s true self is maybe the ultimate human pain. That constant stressor constricting the right flux of energy that would make more of us feel free and alive. I worked with him for several weeks, then never saw him again. But I always remember him walking out of the door with a hump on the back and his finger in the air pointing north to say goodbye the same way my grandfather would greet. Till this day I wonder whether his back curved due to the low stare, head facing down, which he found himself having to adopt to survive not creating his art.

Im laying down in my bed now during this COVID-19 self-isolating times in my studio reflecting on feeling stuck. I have just a few steps to take in each direction before hitting a wall and that is about it. I am suddenly grateful, though. I cried a bit and was so happy to see the sun is here shining through my room validating my whirlwind of emotions. I never thought I would make it this far: feeling closer to expressing myself when funny enough we are supposedly ‘on hold’ in the world.

Its time then, I figured, to put many tough lessons into fruition now, finally. The feeling ‘stuck’, ‘on hold’, ‘irritable’, ‘unstimulated’ is still a state that many of us can influence. And, if anything, this is the best time to reevaluate the underlying systems that motivate our lives.

I hope to dismantle huge walls around my heart to show up and open up to all possibilities and opportunities that exist in space-time. Sometimes excess certainty and excess uncertainty can be used to build a better pendulum to flow by later on.

No matter what, we should still fight to be ourselves everyday. Write down authenticity, speak truth into the mirror, draw out genuine doodles and dance away real quirks. Small steps but real altogether. Extreme need for control and numbing our fears by not confronting them leads to mindless pattern repetition within ourselves. Our nature allows for so much more than that.

I have faith that if you have something to share you will stop the internal standardized warehouse managing your belief system and will build the courage, no matter the speed, to leave the basement that inprisons your unique blueprint. And, remember, leave the heavy boots behind.

Stay safe.


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