Thoughts After a Long Day at the Office

Hopper Office in a Small City
Edward Hopper  Office in a Small City  1953  oil on Canvas

Before you get too excited and congratulate me for my overdue re-introduction to society as a productive member, let me just say, I’m only halfway there.* 

And as usual, “there” is not looking so great. I’m on the fence now, dried grass before and behind me, thinking, “My God where did all the greenery go?”

Last night over dinner with two girlfriends who, like me, came to New York for graduate school and who unlike me, graduated into respectable jobs in their fields, I wondered aloud about my inordinate exhaustion – the feeling that leaves me feeling hollow behind the eyeballs. Was this normal?

“It takes some adjustment,” both admitted, “It’s definitely a change from your structureless student/freelancer days.”

“At some point,” one friend said, “It stops being so strange and uncomfortable and just becomes like any other day.”

Perhaps I’m compelled to write this because on the work front, I’m utterly out of practice. What’s more, I’ve just come home from my first 12-hour day (fine, 11.5, not quite enough to qualify for a company-sponsored cab ride home). But I know now surviving and growing in a corporate environment takes practice, like running a marathon or blowing perfect smoke circles – two things that to me, seem to be largely pointless aside from their side effect: a low BMI and the short-lived admiration or at least acceptance of your peers.

I look back too, on the past few years and note how little I’ve changed. My approach to work has gotten more realistic: pointless still as in it brings me very little joy or purpose, but there’s the welcome side effect of monetary gain. However slight it is. And I wonder if I’ll ever change the way I think about most work I know. The staid corporate office or the hip startup atmosphere – both mask the visage of the same grotesque monster. The team projects with people who, in any other setting, you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. The happy hours with the handful of people you do like but because your desk is so far removed from theirs in the impossibly long office, will probably never get to know better without considerable extra-office effort.

There are upsides. The warm if over-zealous boss (though her warmth could cool considerably the longer I’m there). The fresh fruit that’s occasionally in the kitchen. The surly but patient video editor in the post-production basement who later, after working together for six hours straight trying to get a 1.5 minute reel just right, apologizes for being surly.

“Oh it’s alright,” you say, “Most people need sunlight to be cheerful.”

“I’ve stopped needing that a long time ago,” is his response.

Oh, the people! There is no better place to people watch than in Corporate America.

Better than the Las Vegas Strip. Better than Hollywood Boulevard. Better even, than a San Francisco Bridal Salon, though that, being a part of my previous work experience, remains very close to the top.

Within my first eight days I’ve already met a fellow writer and part-time actor who, upon hearing that I too, was a writer, shared his 65-page screenplay with me and is now expecting feedback.

“Please don’t tell anyone,” he said, “Because you know, if it gets picked up I’m outta here.”

The funny Brit that sits in the corner who loves all the dingiest bits of New York while his girlfriend, a Texan, pesters him constantly about moving back to London.

“I’ve already told her,” he said, “I won’t do it. My mum cries about it but I just love it here.”

Though our definitions of “New York” are quite different. He lives in Greenpoint.

And there’s my boss, a former writer who had originally moved to New York to be a freelance fashion writer and on our first lunch together, realized that once she started working, was surprised to find she didn’t miss writing. 

“Like at all,” she said, her voice an interesting combination of forceful but scratchy, “I was tired of that hustle.”

I don’t blame her. That same lunch I learn that she only recently moved into a studio of her own in Greenwich Village-  a “steal” even though she upped her budget twice.

80% of the time I’m an unapologetic Negative Nancy when it comes to work, even though I get it – especially for those with bills and children and boyfriends who, like their girlfriends, dream about being a lady of leisure.** The other 20% of the time I’m just along for the ride, trying to keep my eyes open as the vehicle containing my sparse abilities (for instance, this new version of Microsoft Outlook is alien to me) bumbles down the road.

*I’m not “full-time” but “perma-lance,” a fancy term for, “Indefinite trial period.”
**Yes, Tom has actually said those words to me.
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