An account of working without much sleep and the dreams associated with this.
It is raining out side, but not too hard that I can’t ride my bike. I turn away from the front door and walk towards my room to find my rain gear. Of course this extra 5 minutes of getting all these extra layers on, means I will be 5 minutes late for work. I am tired, I have a sleep headache and the idea of being late for work, makes it worse. This always happens when the middle of the week comes around. Getting more than 4 or 5 hours a night’s sleep isn’t feasible working these early hours. There is a tension that exists when you work early, a fear of sleeping in, or not opening the store on time. It turns into a resentment, an anger that sleeps inside of you. These feelings are present and accessible at all times and they are created out of fear and powerlessness. You are vulnerable and disposable and any day now, this reality will be confirmed. It’s dark outside and I fumble around trying to find the buttons on my bike lights, both are blinking and I carry my bike down the stairs to the street.
My way to work is always downhill and I am so familiar with this route that I can picture what is coming up ahead of me, before I turn corners. Every morning, I think about the same things, recall the same memories, look for the same pleasing confirmations, like the mountains, and the passing neighbourhoods. There are hardly any cars on the road, and once in a while, another biker sweeps past me, reminding me that I am moving, rolling over cement, pushing forward to a destination. The cold air on my face is real, and my muscles are stiff, and I am in fact, in a hurry. I bike through the rain, cutting it off on a diagonal, rushing through the intersections into downtown. At certain times of the year it is light outside when I arrive at work. I lock my bike outside the shop and quickly look to see if I recognize the other bikes belonging to my coworkers.
I arrive at my workstation. A tiny triangle sized back room of a coffee shop. This is my 4th location with this company and my baking area is also the dish pit, and the mop area.
I sometimes refer to this space as a pizza slice, and I have spent countless moments considering whether I should draw pizza toppings on the concrete floor. I turn the radio on, and the Early Edition is 50% over, I will have just enough time to hear Rick Cluff devour any sense of non free market neo liberal thinking. He will go on to address local issues, patronize his queer and weekly Early Edition contributor, and beam over the city’s new development. The listeners of the CBC will call in and affirm Rick’s ideas and I will start scooping.
Scooping, scooping, scooping. Within my first 8 months at this job, I estimated I had scooped 324 800 muffins, as a minimum, just by daily requirements. This excludes any of the times I felt guilty and made sometimes 3 to 4 dozen more a day when the product was running out. The scooping involves a process, and it has been broken down to many fine installments. The trays are out and prepped, the Pam is plentiful, the muffin cups are fully stocked, the buckets are sorted, received, and stacked accordingly. I arrange in my mind whether I want to scoop based on muffin foundation (bran, oat, vegan etc?) or by fruit or content. I decide to look at the batter from an aesthetic bias and start to love the way the shapes of the muffins take over the trays. The colours of raspberry, and peach, side by side creating a desired freshness in this tiny space. The scoops I use are particular in size and it must always be the same, the green handled first, and then the grey handled, and there must always be a bucket of hot water standing by to alleviate any grip, struggle issues. The muffins go in the oven, and then out and prepped for sale, and this happens all morning, and I perform the tasks as afterthoughts as I am totally wound up in the scooping. Always scooping, and prepping for scooping, for the next day, for the next hour, for yesterday.
And then the buckets are there, multiplying before my eyes. They arrive while I am scooping, and they pile behind me as I empty them. They start to fill the dish pit behind me, and my coworkers start coming into the back with dishes and our tempers start to mix together. I stop what I am doing and start another process. The buckets are soaked, and sprayed and sent through the washer. They are stacked wet, as the final act before they get sent back to where they came from. It’s the buckets, and the scooping, until I can’t keep my eyes open. I finally submit to my tired eyelids and confirm it is 9 am. At this half way point, I know it is my break and I do what I do every day on my break.
In 3 and a half years, I estimate I have taken at least 465 midshift naps. I go into the office, with a baking timer, I set if for 29 minutes and I put my head down. It takes a few moments to forget I am working under a 40 storey market priced condo development, which is known to many in the community as a destroyer of culture and neighbourhood solidarity. The heaviness of this physical space wears on all of us, I try to let this go while my eyes are closed and for 29 minutes I wander around myself and sink into a deep sleep.
I wake up in a panic when the alarm goes off thinking I have left something in the oven. My mind scans for the familiar imagery it needs to confirm that nothing is out of order. I look around my bedroom wildly for the oven, to see if there is anything in it. I can’t find the oven, I am confused and mixed up, I glance at the closet and under my desk. I close my eyes and remember that I came home from work yesterday and it is the next day. I haven’t left for work yet. I notice my alarm clock says 5:15 am and I go back to bed and try to listen for rain outside. I have an overwhelming sense that I am participating in something intrinsically unnatural. The panic, madness, fury, reddening in my cheeks when I am awoken prematurely on this premise, conflicts with survival objectives. The threatening of job security floats over my bed like a second blanket. It sounds like there might be a light drizzling rain outside and I push snooze, scooping and scooping until the alarm goes off again.
My coworker lightly taps my shoulder to let me know I slept through the baking timer. “The beeping wasn’t quite enough today,” they affirm. I nod sleepily and rub my eyes. “The order just arrived,” they say, and I look towards the pizza slice. “Ah yes, it certainly has,” I respond and get up from the chair in the office. The buckets are stacked high against the fridge and block the access way to the dish pit, so the coworkers have started to stack the dishes against the stack of buckets, in a queue for washing. In a daze, I start setting up for the second half of the shift. There is a note from my manager in my baking area asking why I was late for yesterday’s morning’s shift, and to please email them immediately.
I rip it down and with dread start going over my response. It’s hard not to approach it with too much emotion, but I can’t think straight having just woke up, and I can’t say exactly why I was late. I was late because I dream of muffins, because I am scrutinized when the product isn’t perfect, and when the buckets get out of order. What I do for a living insists that I encounter humility several times a day. These feelings are familiar to me, I know them the same way I know the street names and houses on my way to work, and the same way I size out each muffin on the tray before it goes into the oven.
I promise myself that tonight will be different, and I will put off some of the things I have to do in order to get some good solid rest. This alleviates some of the hopelessness, and because I am dreaming I believe this to be true. This extreme hazy consciousness, where I can convince myself of anything in order to survive until the end of the shift, in order to make it to the end of the day, to make it to the next note from my manager. When I am laying in bed at night, I can’t tell where I will wake up. The only thing I know for sure is that when I do, I will be reacquainted with the same estranged relationship to work because it is always there, I’m either scooping, sleeping or dream baking.
Originally appeared: April 15, 2012 at Recomposition