Nonfiction

Of Möbius Essays

Conveyer belts were introduced in the late 19th century as a method of transporting coal. By 1913, Henry Ford revolutionized the conveyer belt by stationing humans before it to make a factory line. But to me, the conveyer belt represents more than just industry: it is cyclicality and repetition. The belt itself remains unchanged, while what it carries is constructed, piece by miniscule piece, until the thing becomes wholly unrecognizable, a Frankensteinian monster—but with function!

The sentence moves along a conveyer belt in Molly Gaudry’s “My Name is Rose.” An appropriated essay, each sentence fragments and builds syntactic mutations. Gaudry writes: “Rewrite them. And when is your name Rose. Rewrite the hurt. And where you are a little girl. Surrounded by people. A woman was trained to use her mind in observation and upon the analysis of character. And where your name is Rose.” Reading Gaudry’s essay, I envision rows and rows of women breaking the sentence apart and stitching words into a pattern of elegance and frustration.

On a strictly literal level, the narrator in Evan Lavender-Smith’s “Running on Treadmill” is running on a conveyer belt, but even more poignant is Lavender-Smith’s interiority, which is a slow construction of worst-case scenarios to punish his wife for a petty crime. He admits, “As I continued running on the treadmill, I began to consider how I might go about deliberately tripping and falling while running, how I might deliberately injure myself, how I might best maim myself in order to get back at my wife for disturbing me, for asking for the Amazon password while I was running on the treadmill. I began to consider how I might go about tripping in order to fall down on the treadmill in such a way to be hurled across the room against the far wall and break my ankle, break my leg, or, best of all, crack my spine.” His thoughts move along the conveyer belt, and each pause is a new permutation that launches the speaker further into absurdist revelation.

In the factory, the conveyer belt promises a uniform end product. That is, of course, the goal. Comprised of the same component parts, aberrations are discarded. Fairy tales and pop culture provide us with a similar model applied to the human scale: boy plus girl equals love equals marriage equals—and when things go wrong, don’t worry, you can always trash it and move on. The characters in Julie Marie Wade’s “Anything for Love” refuse this fate though. Wade explains, “On Saturday, my parents celebrate twenty-eight years. This is how they say it now. Not an anniversary unqualified, but the compound accomplishment of all the anniversaries before. Marriage begins to sound like a competition, with other couples keeping pace or breaking stride, a few of them tearing numbers from their jerseys and leaving the race behind. These are the drop-outs, the losers, the ones we make casseroles for.” Told from the point of view of a jaded teenager, the essay follows a husband fighting against the dissolution of his marriage through both embarrassing and unorthodox means.

As an employee at the factory line, you are expected to repeat the same tasks again and again. In Nina Yun’s “So I Nod,” displacement yields repetitive action. Yun writes, “I turn the cup on its mouth and again learn the pleasure of saying no without saying the word. In Seoul, I find my manners resting on actions and not on words. I don’t need to be understood—it’s only a matter that I understand. So I nod, bow, I shake my head.” Whereas traveling to a foreign country is almost antithetical to the confinement of the factory, Yun’s gestures of communication mimic the repetition that the conveyer belt promises.

Whereas products on a conveyer belt do not change, humans do. We age, grow older and weaker, we do not hold the same immortality as objects. Karen Holmes’s “Losing Control” is a lamentation of the body and how the corporeal can rebel against the lucidity of the mind. Holmes explains, “Menopause is a truly vile process. You get all the chaos of adolescence with nothing to look forward to. Aching joints. Painful muscles. Insomnia. Deathly fatigue. Acne. Flaking skin. Nausea. Palpitations. Thrush. Cystitis. They were no fun at seventeen and are even less so now.” There is no room on the assembly line for the aging body: for both the worker and the product. For the aging body, there is only elimination, and reading Holmes’s essay, the body is seen traveling along the conveyer belt, except rather than building something, the workers chip away at the body, weakening it with the plague of maturation.

The conveyer belt transformed industry, but its influence resonates far beyond the walls of the factory. It is a battle of uniformity against individuality, and the essays in this issue strike hard against homogeneity—and their deviance and defiance sparkle bright beneath fluorescent lights.

Lily Hoang
Nonfiction Editor
August 2015

Lily Hoang

Lily Hoang is the author of four books, including Changing, recipient of a PEN Open Books Award. Her choose-your-own adventure love story Old Cat Lady is forthcoming from 1913 Books in October 2015. With Joshua Marie Wilkinson, she edited the anthology The Force of What’s Possible: Writers on Accessibility and the Avant-Garde. She teaches in the MFA program at New Mexico State University, where she is Associate Department Head. She is Prose Editor at Puerto del Sol and Nonfiction Editor at Drunken Boat