The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (21)

This is my last graveyard. Sitting in Bob’s car this morning, off shift and waiting to go home, I decided to give notice. Called in this afternoon.

It’s hard to let go of this weight.

My “graveyard” piece–story, essay, film–never materialized. Probably wont. I haven’t finished with “The Mill,” haven’t made much contact with the men who work here, haven’t learned a great deal about the production process, have only begun to understand the shiftwork experience.

As for influencing the place, that too is an aborted project. Right now two grindermen, Wayne and Bob, sit writing verse satires. They’re less depressed than any grindermen I’ve seen. So? My presence has stirred up hopes in them, but we’re all isolated; it wont add up to much. Bob and I were like brothers for a while. Now we have nothing to say to each other. The forcibly repressed background distinctions have surfaced.

I could have tried to make noise, but I never was able to decide what I wanted to change. I came to make money like the rest of the workers. There’s no sense of class oppression since there’s no ruling class in this town. Everyone is in the same boat. The necessity of having the job is a given. The only improvement conceivable is a little more money per hour, a few hours more overtime, a little less work per hour, a few more lightbulbs to steal.


So what do I want? To raise consciousness by creating discontent and at the same time provide my family with enough income to allow for a good life in the country. And to be able to express my own creative energy. I’d have to work here much longer and be less attached and self-involved to take any political role.

Though we still have no money in the bank and the only significant purchase allowed by my five months stint is an automatic washer, working in the Mill has cured me of financial anxiety. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I experienced a way of life motivated solely by that fear for long enough that I feel I dont need any more of it. I know the time I need to put in will come to an end for me, and though it’s been hell, that time hasn’t been lost. I learned that suffering has its rewards, the colder the winter the richer the spring, the longer on the job, the longer you can draw pogey.

Some day I want to write about what it feels like to get off graveyard: the slow deliberate ritual of cleanup with broom, air and water hose at the end of each shift; filling out your punch card and totalling what you’ve earned, always more satisfying than the paycheck with its heartless deductions; meeting your relief man, fresh from sleep and breakfast and tense while you’re stale and tired and loose; waiting for Bob in the roar of the steam plant; lighting the joint as you pull out of the parking lot; following the black-white track of snow on the powerline along the twisting highway; coasting the last four miles down from the summit; seeing the smoke from the stovepipe at the head of the clearing, blue against the tall firs as you walk up the driveway; the clank of the thermos in your empty lunch bucket, Ajax crowing in the chicken coop, frost outlining the jagged ends of roof shakes, the orange glow of the skylight, Janet feeding the baby in her chenille bathrobe next to the barrel stove, splitting the wood for the day in the half dark, eating a bowl of porridge and sinking into oblivion as night turns into day.


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