"How long can you last before bursting?", Meryem El Mehdati writes the anti-work novel

"How long can you last before bursting?", Meryem El Mehdati writes the anti-work novel

Meryem El Mehdati (Rabat, 1991) has written, he says, an anti-work novel. Her debut Supersaurus (Blackie Books) proves her right. In it, a twenty-five-year-old girl goes to do an internship in what, in principle, should be a supermarket belonging to the most important chain in Canary Islands. Soon that dinosaur reveals itself, without losing its colorful facade and smiling face, as a parallel reality of tensions, lack of communication, competitiveness and loneliness for the price of a monthly salary. In the guts of the animal, the protagonist uses the defensive tactic of practically faking her own death for eight hours a day. After all, no one there even says her name right.

The Meryem writer and the supermarket live in Puerto Rico, a tourist town in the southwest of Gran Canaria. They also share a fondness for fan fiction. In a little more, both Meryems agree. "98% is fiction. When I started writing, I hesitated. I could have made the character called Teresa and not live in Puerto Rico. But men usually have uncles who are journalists or astronauts and I didn't see any Meryem on television ", it states. Meryem tries not to feel or suffer in Supersaurus, although she sometimes has to lock herself in a room right there to cry. "Most of us don't say anything. You google 'is it normal to feel like this?' I hesitate to say. You express a super negative feeling and you have many likes, you stop feeling alone, but before others we are afraid that they know that we are vulnerable, "he says.

Is the labor market responsible for the current emotional health crisis? "Many people have written to me diagnosing the protagonist. If she has anxiety, depression, if she has to go to therapy. Why have we become unable to talk about how we feel without pathologizing it? Being sad is normal, and we don't know it goes away in three days. It's like you tell me you're sick and I tell you to go to therapy and the conversation is over. You go to therapy to say you're sick because you hate your job but you can't leave it, can that really solve a therapy or should we change the structural conditions that have crushed so many people who are forced to go to therapy because they are going to burst? Sometimes I also feel that we behave like temporary work companies that outsource everything. The sadness, the hate or anger are not healthy emotions, perhaps, but normal. You can not be happy 100% of the time, "he defends.

The writer draws her protagonist with a tragicomic voice but makes an important decision: not to make him give up his rage. "Society takes the anger of men very seriously. It is an anger that pulls towards aggressiveness and you fear it because it can end up in a pineapple. If we are angry we have to constantly hide it. A smile because, if not, you are not A kind aunt, you're crazy. I see it in my friends, who are all very tired. If it's not the guy who teases you, it's the one who tries to get his hands on you, or your boss or the annoying colleague, who is not bad people but makes comments. You force yourself to hold on, but how long can you hold on until you burst?

Supersaurus is also a call for help about the touristification of Canarian Puerto Rico. Where you don't cry in any limo, as El Mehdati writes, but in bus 91. "It makes me sad, because we tend to keep a lot of love for the place where we grow up. And I was very happy in Puerto Rico. I went to my little school, with my little hill and my friends, and I was not aware of how little by little I was being expelled. There was no school and I had to go away, and then again. Today I cannot live in Puerto Rico because I cannot afford to pay those rents. There is no many people my age living there with a future project to form a community in the place. Little by little it has been destined only for tourists. The Mercadona has the signs in English and German. If you want to live there and go to work in Las Palmas you have to take bus 91 which leaves once an hour. It is not for us, it is for the people who stay there, visit the city, spend the day and return to their hotel. If I think there is no future for the area? Yes. And it makes me sad," he laments.

If we talk about work, we must also ask if it was easy to write it. "You don't usually talk about it much, it seems that one day you sit down to write and it goes away. And no. I have a normal office job from 8 to 18, I would come home and start writing. It was a bit hard, fell in the middle of the pandemic, and with that my days got a little crazy because there was no home-office separation. It wasn't as ideal as if I had rich parents who could support me while I wrote. There's not much talk about how literary production is pushed by people with the means to be able to dedicate themselves only to their book. That is why Supersaurus is planned as a diary of the protagonist, sometimes written without points because she is very overwhelmed, "he says.

"I can't believe the things I can put up with for money." "I hate my job but how I need it." They are two of the phrases that the protagonist of the novel verbalizes. "It's an anti-work novel," admits El Mehdati. "It sucks your energy. Sometimes I leave the office and, without anyone treating me badly, I feel like I can't remember what I've been doing all day. I come home, I have to pack, have dinner, sleep and the day is over," he says. Whether you're in a ditch or falling in love, the obligation to produce pervades the entire book. "Sometimes you cry in front of the computer, hidden, and it seems very jarring to me. We have normalized it. Now look at the casualties due to painful rule, all the comments that I have seen on networks to the news, almost all of them from men, are defending the businessman. But do you know what it's like to have your body on fire and be bent over having to answer an email? You're defending people who will never look after you, that you're not going to inherit that company. Why is your enemy the one in the next cubicle and not the one in the office on the fifth floor? It's a tremendous class disloyalty. I don't know if you have to be crazy or stupid to believe that, if you give everything for your work , this is going to give you something back. Your payroll is much less than what you deserve for the work you do, "says El Mehdati. "It seems that it is taboo that you say you don't like to work because then you are lazy. I have been working since I was 16. And there is also that belief that we are very lazy in the south. Sir, if the first concern, when the pandemic appeared, it was like going to work the next day: 'How do I get a piece of paper so the police don't beat me up on the street while I go to my office?' You don't have to love your job to do it well. We've created identities around what that we do eight hours a day, but we forget that most of us do it for a salary, to live. You see jokes on social media about how when you're on vacation you look gorgeous and everything goes well, eating super healthy and with better skin. And Sunday night, all hysterical".

As if she were a character in a platform game, Meryem tries to avoid traps in the supermarket. One is the cool boss: "You have to be very careful. Your boss, however cool he may be, is never your friend. Treating you well is not a merit, it's that he has to treat you well. If he has to fire you, He is going to do it. If they have been cool with you, you have to answer. I have had bosses who did not take it well that I was reserved, that I did not say anything about myself. They asked me if I did not trust them but there is that line that I I see very clearly, I am very clear about my position in this small pyramid". Also the afterwork. "Christmas dinners, for example. What if I want to use that time to be with my friends? It's not a gift from the company, it's hours of performance," she criticizes. The lack of communication and competitiveness are other of the great themes of Supersaurus. "Meryem has, at the beginning, a scene with Yolanda in which she tries to please her. She is the only woman on her team and she thinks that maybe they could be allies. If a group of people spend many hours together, problems arise that we tend to pretend do not exist People are weird. The world is. And we tend to ignore money. Many times, among colleagues, nobody talks about salaries. It is more difficult to join people who hide that information. Class hatred unites a lot, what happens is that there are very treacherous people," he says. Labor stratification had a lot to do with the set of the novel. "One day I was shopping and I saw that someone had thrown some custard with a leaky container on the floor. A lady was washing it and seeing that was the trigger for placing the novel in a supermarket. It is one of the few places where I still you see people who are different from you, as Annie Ernaux says in Look at the lights, my love," she says.

El Mehdati is a fan of coffee, Benzema and the Caliphate ¾. And of tranquility and calm. He tries to apply them to his own literary career. "We live complaining that we have to produce a lot," he recalls. "The novel has just come out and there are already questions about the second one. I don't have anything to tell for now. I want to write only when I really feel like it."

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