Groundlessness: Reflections in First and Third person, by Uzair Amjad
I came to Finland to pursue a Masters Degree in Visual Arts, Game and Narrative Design. But just into my second year, I ran into an unforeseeable financial situation, the kind of “unforeseeable financial situation” which is a regular fixture of adult life. I was completely unprepared for it, with my next visa renewal appointment just around the corner I had to save up Four Thousand Euros in Six months in order to not get kicked out of the country and continue my education. I started looking for work as a Game Designer and a Narrative Designer as I had prior experience of working on Game projects in these capacities but all my efforts went to no avail. While the native people who had started school with me were being offered jobs from Left and right, up, down and center. One of my Finnish friends a Fashion Designer, for example, was hired by a construction company, his job for the first year was to create a job for himself. He was literally getting paid for a year to define his own job description and to assist him with this nerve-wracking experience, he was provided with state of the art facilities, a corner office on the fifth floor, skirted by big glass walls, with a view… well, the view wasn’t much to take in really, it was basically just this building being reflected in the glass façade of the identical building opposite to it, or maybe I lacked the appreciation for this view given my soreness. And yes I was sore, I was about to reach a century of Job Rejections.
Rejection: Rejection occurs when an individual is excluded from a relationship or social interaction. A person can be rejected by individuals or an entire group of people. Rejection can be either active, by bullying, teasing, or ridiculing, or passive, by ignoring a person, or giving them the “silent treatment”. Rejection can become a problem when it is prolonged or consistent. Rejection by an entire group of people can have especially negative effects, particularly when it results in social isolation.
There’s also a third type of rejection which Uzair was encountering along with the previously mentioned types. This is a mix of active and passive rejection. This is when a company that you have applied to for a job refuses to engage with you directly and instead employs a computer program, an algorithm that rejects you actively. This rejection starts with a Thanking note before breaking to you the news of your rejection, the algorithm knows you have braced yourself for yet another heartbreak as soon as it thanks you for your interest in the position, so it quickly follows the thanking note with informing you that is not only in your misery. They received many great applications and yours was one of them. You were so good that you actually made it pretty difficult for them to make their decision, but alas! You were not “suitable” enough for this position. The algorithms will never define this suitability but will encourage you instead to find out more about that by following the company on social media. By this stage, they assume that they have done enough talking to squeeze one more like one more follower out of a broken and dejected applicant. This is the rejection of the post-industrial world, it is structural, it is systematic, it wants to maximize capital, and it is deceptively passive and active.
I did not give up, never give up Immigrant attitude! I kept applying to all job openings I could possibly find and finally, I got my big break. I was called in for an interview by the local postal service. A substitute supervisor there wanted to hire me as an early morning newspaper delivery boy, for a locality he was taking care of for the time being. He wanted to hire me for the holiday season from the beginning of December till the end of January. I negotiated a week’s break between the months as I had to travel to Sweden to present a Game Project in a conference. All was set my task was simply deliver over 200 newspapers between 1-4 AM every night or morning if you will. I was told that if I can perform well during the Holiday period when the workload is greater, accompanied by the challenge that the weather presents at that time of year, I’ll definitely be locking down a long term contract. They gave me the contact details of my on-field trainer’s; he would train me for a week after which my real test will begin.
My trainer was a young man in his early thirties with an athletic build, but he seemed to be lacking in energy and had a limp in his walk. He told me that he had been working through a knee ligament injury which that had reoccurred for the third time this year and was finally getting a break from work after training me. He had also come to Finland as a student immigrant from Nigeria and was working on the side to survive in this economy. He shared his experience of working in the Postal service and was quite open about how much he despised their treatment towards immigrant workers. The Postal service took advantage of the immigrant workers not knowing their rights; they hired them on monthly contracts, for work trials, paid them less and then dismissed half way without providing them with any explanations. My trainer also expanded on the general lack of warmth and trust the Native society has towards immigrants. He had a Masters degree in electrical engineering for example but was delivering newspapers to make ends meet due to biases of the Finnish job market against immigrants. Many immigrants in Finland have to do labour intensive jobs that have nothing to do with their relevant educational qualifications.
My trainer and I also connected over our fear of working alone at night in barren landscapes with howling and barking of dogs in the background. We shared cultural anecdotes on what the barking of a dog at night signifies, I remember sharing a South Asian myth with him one night according to which dogs can see what people cannot, they can see the ghosts at night and then they bark at them. We both also had a common passion for football which was a constant topic of discussion throughout the training period amongst other more worrying subjects. He could understand Finnish and we would often go over the headlines of the front pages. People of colour would only get a mention when for example a tragedy like the Turku Terrorist attack occurs, but when a Pakistani immigrant, father of a 4-year-old gets stabbed thirty times in Vantaa by three native youths for not giving them cigarettes to smoke because they looked underage, a crime as heinous as this never gets a mention in any headlines, not in the papers not on TV and the local authorities refuse to recognize this as a hate crime. It’s unfathomable the trauma a man and his family suffers from, who survives after getting stabbed thirty times. Even after switching three houses that family lives in constant fear for their lives, they have not been able to find a place that they can call home again.
Home: When Uzair types “Home” in the Google search tab, the first result that appears is a link to Wikipedia English about Home, according to which “Home is generally a place that is close to the heart of the owner, and can become a prized possession. It has been argued that psychologically the strongest sense of home commonly coincides geographically with a dwelling. People may become homesick when they leave their home over an extended period of time. Places like homes can trigger self-reflection, thoughts about who someone is or used to be or who they might become.”
Popular sayings about home include:
“A man’s home is his castle”
“There is no place like home”
“Home sweet home”
“To be at home”
“Home away from home”
“Make yourself at home”
“Home is where the heart is”
“You can never go home again”
The second search result for “Home” is from the Finnish edition of Wikipedia according to which, “Home is a microfiber that grows a distinctly distinctive flesh or spore mass. Homes are naturally important organic matter breakers. They also cause contamination of food and structures, neurological symptoms, allergy symptoms, asthma, mold dust, hypersensitivity and other indoor diseases.” It further states, “Approximately 800,000 Finns are exposed to significant humidity and home damage at home, at school or at work every year.”
The third search result about “Home” for Uzair is the Home page of Finnish immigration services. A Home page that he regularly visits, still trying to calculate the processing time of his visa renewal application today, an application which has been waiting get processed for over eleven months now, an application on the processing of which he will finally get to travel towards a place which was once home. Home he thinks is like the horizon for immigrants. The more they yearn for it the more distant it seems. It is as if they are always trying to travel towards home and home is always travelling away from them.
As the training period ended, my trainer advised me to find a strategy to get myself through the night’s work or else the job will become pretty lonely and cumbersome. I had decided to treat this work as a challenge, a game against time, a game which I have to win in order to secure a longer contract. While working alone at night I started to find an unnerving partnership in my own infinite reflections, trapped behind opposing mirrors in elevators and double glass doors. My image, dressed in the Postal service uniform, performing repetitions reminded me of the many such rituals enforced upon immigrant workers that my trainer used to talk about. I tried to disassociate myself from this image of myself, I tried to completely immerse myself in this game as if it were a cardio routine of some sort. Perhaps this was also my trainer’s strategy, to avoid mental displeasure at the cost of running your body into physical pain.
Disassociation: Dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences, from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experiences. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality. Dissociation is utilized by immigrants as a strategy in times of emergency when their entire agency of actively resisting second-grade treatment is neutralized. Immigrants then switch from their First person experience of reality to a Third person experience of reality in order to deal with the inescapable oppression. They try to approach the biases confronting them objectively in an attempt to find the best possible solutions while in a state of intermittent alienation from their emotions.
Dissociation is not recommended as a long-term strategy though, and should only be exercised in cases of unbearable stress and trauma; otherwise, it can lead to dissociative disorders that are characterized by failures of integration of memory, perception, consciousness and identity.
Midway through the second week of work, the holiday period decorations started to appear on and around the doors of the apartments that I had been delivering papers to. It somehow felt as if the blank shut doors were responding to my gesture of feeding them papers every night. During the third week of work while the decorations continued to grow a door on the top floor of one of the buildings was uncharacteristically wide open, with a view to complete darkness. I had noticed this door before as it was oddly painted in a pistachio green shade unlike all the other brown doors with a vinyl façade. I was part scared, partly intrigued, I took a quick glance over my mobile device to check if I had an extra ten minutes today to check on this open door, someone might need my help, I decided to take a closer look.
As I got closer to this door it became clear that the door actually opened to the rooftop terrace of this six-story building. I proceeded towards the roof and as I stepped out under the sky again, this time six stories closer to it, I experienced a change in perspective that I had not seen the city through before. From this terrace, I could see all the tightly packed lookalike buildings that I had been delivering papers to. Buildings, the colours of which had become unsaturated over the years as if life had been sucked out of them over the course of many winters, to my amazement were capped by vibrantly coloured slanting roofs, a contrast to behold really. And in the distance beyond the limits of this multi-coloured grid of rooftops, I could see a glowing panoramic white stripe connecting the two blues of the sky and the sea. I could feel a tangible connection with this infinite belt of purity which was all around. But soon I was brought back from this serene experience by the squawking of a nearby seagull as if it was telling me to “get back to work”. And from my thoughts of going beyond the horizon in sight when I travel on a ferry to Sweden to present my game project, I was rushed back to my present reality, building number twenty-five next, with another ten to go before I can call it day. But from that day onwards there was a spring in my heel, the mood had changed, my interaction with the infinite reflections trapped behind glass doors and mirrors was far more cheerful, infinity had taken a new meaning altogether.
Perspective: East and west look at nature through different lenses or at least used to. Their understanding of space has had a major influence on what they did in it, and what they did to it. One wanted to preserve its eternal magic while the other wanted to conquer space and colonize it. One saw infinity all around them and themselves as a part of it, while the other saw infinity in the vanishing distance, something to strive towards endlessly. These converse ideologies are best represented in image making traditions of East and West, Chinese Tapestries, Japanese prints and Persian Miniature paintings all resisted spatial depiction through Linear perspective and instead painted the infiniteness of space. On the other hand, paintings in the west predominantly made use of one point perspective since its inception in the early 1500s. The invention of Linear perspective also assisted western military technology majorly, leading to the creation of projectile weapons that fulfilled the colonial dream. Mirror reflections played a key role in the realization of a linear perspective. They helped make space more predictable and calculable, these developments further cemented ideas of linear time and linear progress which are integral to the operation of all Capitalist economies today. Mirror reflections are not an exact representation of reality though, they are an illusion, they are laterally inverted.
A few days later as the decorations outside the doors continued to grow, a few presents also started appearing with notes on them addressed to me. I learned that these presents were for me later when after not accepting the presents for a few days, the notes switched language from Finnish to English. This was perhaps an attempt from the Finnish society to include me in their holiday festivity, I felt a part of these celebrations. I decided to compliment this correspondence extended to me by the inhabitants living behind these doors and planned on bringing them gifts of my own. “What can I bring as a present?” I thought to myself, I hardly had any money to spare. The only thing I had a lot to spare were extra newspapers that I dumped every night. The day before I was completing my first month of work and leaving for Sweden the next day, I brought an origami piece made out of the spare newspapers, a paper flower for every apartment that left me a present, a paper flower that symbolized the fragility of a relationship developing between natives and an immigrant.
I left for my own apartment after work that day with a feeling of pride and delight at being able to communicate with the natives, albeit through gestures. I felt like any other citizen that day, for a split-second all distinctions between natives and immigrants had vanished. I decided to take a different, longer way back home. I wanted to exercise my feeling of belonging to this city, a confidence, an ownership had transpired in me. In the midst of my thoughts as walked pass a fenced backyard, a dog from the other side of the fencing viciously attacked me. I was completely caught off guard, the attack by the dog sent shivers down my spine and after a moment or two of instinctively trying to rush away from the scene, I slowed down, turned towards the direction of the barking dog and shouted out curses until my adrenaline levels normalized again. I started walking back to my apartment slowly, thinking of the myth I shared with my trainer earlier about dogs barking at ghosts. “Immigrants are like ghosts to native societies that only dogs see and bark at” I thought to myself and quickly rejected the idea “it’s just a stupid legend, shouldn’t dwell on it too much”. My newly acquired connection with the native community and the idea of going beyond the horizon to Sweden the next day provided great optimism.
I returned to Helsinki refreshed physically and mentally after a successful presentation in Sweden, with many developments to look forward to, but for the next month, I had to get to back to living the double life, full-time student in the day and a full-time newspaper delivery boy at night. I called the substitute supervisor who hired me to inform him of my return to Helsinki and discuss the work situation. A far coarser and deeper voice than that of the sub supervisors returned the call. This person snapped at me as soon as I introduced myself and went on a rant about my absence from work for a week, this was the permanent supervisor that the sub supervisor was covering for when he hired me. Without asking for any explanation from me and without reviewing my contract the permanent supervisor told me that I was not required as a worker anymore. I was shell shocked, still holding my mobile phone to my ear a minute after the call had ended, I could hear the sound of a barking dog echoing from my mobile phone and resonating all around me. I had acquired a state of complete groundlessness.
Groundlessness: Groundlessness is an inversion of temporal reality. Everything around you turns on its head and floats in space, it is the absence of gravity. You are free falling in a loop stitched so perfectly at its tips that you cannot tell where the fall starts and where it ends. And as you continue to free fall endlessly soon you lose all sense of movement and direction, you are suspended in an inversion of space, a place oblivious of linear time. Past, present and future cease to exist.