Monday linklog

Vanitas by Aseem Kaul

“I was looking at my work desk, with items as described in the poem.”

No skull on this desk.

No fruit gleaming like gemstones
or globe pregnant with distance –
imperial balloon revolving
between two fixed ends.

Only the dull incandescence
of the computer – unreflective,
self-contained – three stubs
in the jaw of the ashtray,

and a venti coffee cup
that proclaims Caution
Contents May Be Hot.
A life stilled, arranged:

poems too fleeting, days too
quick; two squares of light
on the wall like post-its,
reminding me that somewhere,

outside this frame,
children are laughing
in a timeless sunshine,
traffic is flowing, birds are at play.

Look out the window:
it’s a beautiful day.


Quilted Toilet Paper

So I don’t know why, maybe because I’ve been sick and blowing my nose every five seconds, but I got to thinking about quilted toilet paper today.

Have you ever considered the design on your quilted toilet paper?

The design on the toilet paper at my house is kind of a criss-cross thing with flowers like this:

Now, what I want to know is whose job was it to design this?

Who designs the patterns on quilted toilet paper?

What is this person like?

Think about it–they design something that people literally wipe their asses with. That must suck.

What a poor lost soul this person must be. I bet she’s someone who went to design school, studied all the principles and theories, had some great senior project that made a big statement about the form, or about the world, and then she graduated and couldn’t get a job. So then maybe she moved to Arkansas or, I dunno, New Hampshire. Anywhere. Somewhere new. And let’s face it, she probably followed some dumb guy she fell in love with her senior year and then the only job she could find was this small time design job for a toilet paper manufacturer.

Or maybe she works for some huge company that manufactures a bunch of products like Proctor and Gamble so that she doesn’t just design toilet paper but also other things like the outside of tissue boxes (which is much more fun), the packaging for soap, shampoo bottles, or the patterns on quilted paper towels.

But still, one of her jobs is creating designs for people to wipe their asses on.

Also, if her work is anything like my work, people have to review her designs.

That means people have meetings about the designs on quilted toilet paper. They probably sit down and talk about things like what is and isn’t an acceptable design for people to wipe their asses on. I bet there is a quilted toilet paper styleguide. And at one point someone had to make the decision that flowers and criss-cross designs were acceptable while smiley faces and wavy designs were not.

I wonder if this designer is all grown-up now. Like maybe she isn’t a girl anymore but a woman. A woman who is dark and cynical.  A woman who smokes and wears black and says fuck and shit a lot when she tells stories because she had to give up her dream of becoming a great designer in order to live in Arkansas and design toilet paper.

I wonder if she sits in her toilet paper meetings listening to people give her feedback on her designs and feels herself slowly dying. I wonder if it makes her want to stab herself in the eye with her pen. I bet she thinks to herself that if she has to listen to one more person tell her that her flowers look too flowery she might just jump over the table and smack someone.

I wonder what I would do if I found myself stuck in a job designing toilet paper. I’d like to think that I would try to find something else, but what if I didn’t? What if that girl who is now a woman hates her job but loves her life. Maybe she’s cynical but maybe she likes being cynical. Maybe she likes that she wears black and smokes cigarettes and says fuck and shit. Maybe she even likes her job in some weird sick way. Maybe she likes that it’s kind of sad and pathetic, and therefore gives her a distinction, a reason to be dark and cynical and to say fuck and shit. Maybe the woman likes doing something that she hates every day because it gives her a reason to be the way she is.

If she got a new job, one she liked, one that was rewarding, she wouldn’t be able to deliver her jokes in the same dark way. She wouldn’t be able to sit around tables drinking wine with her friends laughing over her flowers that are too flowery, her criss-cross designs that are too wavy or too close together.

But say, one day, something happens to this woman. (Because something always happens. Things have to happen.)

Maybe it’s something small:

Like her boss actually loves one of her designs–a new one of a rocket ship she did as a sort of joke. But, as it turns out, rocket ships become the most successful type of quilted toilet paper the company has ever manufactured. People love to wipe their assess on rocket ships. The marketing and sales departments are baffled. They can’t figure it out. All they know is that this toilet paper has really taken off (ha ha ha) and it is all because of the rocket ships. And that’s when the woman realizes that she’s probably the best, most-innovative toilet-paper designer that has ever lived.

She immediately finds this depressing.

Because designing toilet paper was never something she wanted to be good at. She never grew up thinking she would be a toilet paper designer. She never dreamed that her greatest moment of triumph would be when she decided to put rocket ships on toilet paper.

But maybe something big happens:

Like maybe she snaps one day and realizes that it doesn’t really matter what designs she puts on toilet paper–no matter what she creates people will just wipe their asses on it–so really her job means nothing. And she’s in her meeting listening to the criticism on her designs that don’t really matter and something in her head snaps, or breaks, or turns in a new direction–it morphs somehow. And she can’t stand the thought of sitting in one more meeting listening to feedback she could care less about on designs she could care less about for a product she could care less about.

So she decides to do something crazy and fun and destructive in order to bring about an immediate and dramatic change in her life. And what she does is this:

She breaks into the secret toilet paper design files and changes the toilet paper designs right before they go to the toilet paper press. The designs are no longer flowers and lines. Oh no, they are much much more than that. Instead they are the elaborate designs this designer has been creating on the sly and hiding away for all the long years she has been working for her company– the designs she has secretly cherished, even been proud of, but never had any intension of sharing.

And they are really beautiful designs actually. And of all different types:

Designs of abstract shapes–of swirls and swooshes, and dramatic lines and circles that overlap.

Designs of people.

Of landscapes and animals.

Of natural elements like waterfalls and oceans, mountains and rocks.

But also manmade things–things like rocketships yes, but cityscapes too. Radiowaves, lightbulbs, a reproduction of a DNA strand, a timeline of the American Civil War, a map of Odysseus’s travels in the Odyssey.

And all of them, these designs, were obviously made with great care and attention to detail.

The woman takes these designs, these secret cherished designs, and puts them in the files that then go to press, and the toilet paper is made. And it’s some of the most beautiful toilet paper the world has ever known.

But (and this is the thing) people are upset. Of course, people are upset. Because though the abstract cityscape of Portland, OR is lovely and even inspiring, nobody wants to wipe their ass on it. And so the toilet paper doesn’t sell. None of it does. As a result, the company falls to ruin. The woman loses her job and her reputation. She’ll never work in the toilet-paper design industry again.

It’s  a very big thing to have happened. Especially when compared to the small thing.

But whichever thing happens (the big thing or the small thing) this woman will find herself changed. This will surprise her at first. After all, nobody likes to think that their job defines them, makes them who they are, or has any kind of effect on their actions or the ways they interact with the world.

But the sad truth is that after the thing happens, this woman will no longer be the designer of the designs on toilet paper and this will change everything for her. After all, this is the only way anyone has ever known or thought of her for quite some time. It’s the only way she’s ever thought of herself. What will she design if not the designs on toilet paper? What will she do if not design the designs on toilet paper? Where will she go if not to her job where she designs the designs on toilet paper?

The answer, of course, is that she does not know. She can’t even imagine. (I certainly can’t imagine what she’ll do.) But whatever it is she’ll end up doing, it won’t involve wiping asses.

Unless she decides to get married and have a baby. (Which is very likely.) She’ll have to wipe asses then.