|"Working Hard on Those Reports"|
Like many middle class Gen X’ers in my age cohort, I have worked for most of my life. I don’t mean this in a Charles Dickens sort of way, but in a 20th century American Midwestern suburban manner. I started humbly in junior high—mowing the lawn and baby-sitting for neighbor kids. Introduced to a rainbow of parenting styles at a very young age, I was convinced that being a full-time parent is probably the most difficult enterprise on the planet, and therefore had no desire to plunge into that universe of responsibility for 30 years or so.
In high school, I worked retail, selling children's shoes at Shoes R US, followed by a stint waiting tables at the local retirement home. I don’t know what is harder-- squishing limp child-feet into overpriced shoes and convincing a parent that their kid indeed does possess two left feet, or balancing a giant tray covered with tiny glasses of orange, cranberry and prune juices and enduring verbal harassment from the “mens table.” In both jobs, I was introduced to the delicate concept of “customer service” to some of the most ornery customers I would ever encounter.
In college, during summers and parts of the year when my schedule allowed, I waited tables at the business school, and learned basic bartending when I turned 21. Waiting tables for future CEOs gave me insight into the the profound levels of blandness the business world demands of its charges. Beige on beige. In lieu of tips, we were paid with food-- very good food.
After college, I have labored at a series of jobs that range from the fun and exciting (television shows), intense (bartending), mundane (office work) and creatively challenging (freelance art/video work/teacher’s assistant). In addition to accruing a bunch of bizarre skills, every one of these jobs taught me some valuable life lessons about ethical responsibilities, working with others, and the value of time.
Six years ago, in need of health benefits and some financial stability, I officially gave in to “the man” and decided to work full-time as an administrative assistant in a large, corporate not-for-profit company. I found the work to be very simple-- data entry, organizational, database-oriented computer stuff. I type 80 wpm, and have decent writing abilities, so none of this was remotely challenging. The hours are regular, and the job is largely predictable. The hard part is mustering the will everyday to get up and commute to a job that I find to be mentally disfiguring.
My intention was that I would work on my creative endeavors during all the “other hours” of the day and use the meager salary I make at this job to support myself. This approach is, quite frankly, utterly exhausting, physically and mentally. My life-force is being sucked out of my body by the giant vacuum of cubicle imprisonment.
Not to be overly dramatic, but this work plan plummeted me into a state of existential despair that has resulted in some revelations... I’ve never felt more out-of-place in my life. Like I’m wearing all my clothes inside-out and walking backwards every day. Corporate-ese is a foreign language to me. Corporate construction seems artificial and soulless. Bureaucratic machinations, however necessary to keeping order, are just downright hilarious to me. And it’s not supposed to be funny. I am the Beavis and Butthead of my own life right now-- the anti-intellect in the workplace. The person who goes to meetings and in lieu of taking real notes, doodles immature scrawls all over my notebook.
I don’t mean to disparage this kind of work-- some people clearly thrive in the office environment. They feel challenged and energized by the work. Good for them! It warms the cockles of my heart to know that there are happy people who like working in a giant beehive with hundreds of other people.
Cubicles are the architectural incarnation of purgatory.
Personally, I find it impossible to concentrate in this environment. At any given moment the soundscape provides a hostile environment to thought: in the cubicles near me… one co-worker engages in non-stop phone yapping, giggling and chortling, as she works her way through three hours of personal phone calls. Another listens to music on headphones, happily humming atonally. Sometimes, I am treated to interminable co-worker blather about children’s illnesses, wedding showers, reality TV, Hallmark holidays, etc. etc. Other times, office workers engage in monologues of manufactured drama, as people attempt to make their job seem more interesting to themselves and others by creating an atmosphere of urgency and importance.
To be continued…