Monday, February 04, 2008

Notes from the Cubicle Jungle

Seriously, folks, how have you done this all these years?

I admit it: I wanted to give up teaching. I wanted out of teaching like a butterfly wants out of a chrysalis. I wanted to expand my damp little wings, I wanted to feel the warmth of sunlight, get the antennae moving around, do some stretching, breathe some fresh air, luxuriate in all this new-found student-free SPACE. And now I'm in a four-foot by four-foot beige box with berber carpeting on the walls and not a window for three floors. What happened here?

I knew the transition would be hard. For example, in academia, I never really had anyone I could point to and say, "that's my boss." Instructors don't have "bosses," not in the traditional sense. There's a pecking order, no question, but whenever I referred to the guy that I had to call in sick to as my "boss," I always felt it necessary to qualify the term with "only not really." For many years, I had supervisors, peers-with-power, stuff like that, but no "boss." Now I have three. Huhwhat?

I don't get to dismiss myself 10 minutes early because I behaved "really well that day and worked hard and learned a lot." I can't bring in "guest speakers" and give myself some time off. There's no pop quizzing for a wee little break, no developing lesson plans solely around their time-sucking potential, not anymore, oh nooooooo. Now it's get here at 8.30, stay all day, then come back and do it again tomorrow. Really? Are you serious?

I could have taught in sweat pants. I could have worn slippers, and my students would have thought I was absent-minded, my peers would likely never have known, and I would have been comfy and content. Now I have to dress like I mean it. This sucks. I have never had a profession that encouraged or afforded decent clothes, and suddenly I have to dress like a grown up?! I sit in my beige box all day; my computer couldn't care less if I showed up with my toothbrush caught in my hair and my t-shirt so covered in strawberry jelly I had to fight off the CSI team to get to my desk. So why the dressing up malarky?

But I like it. I have to admit it. I have no idea what I or anyone around me is talking about (I giggled in a meeting the other day because these grown men were talking about "baby dolls" with great seriousness and purpose. They were talking about tops, not toys, but either way it was damn funny), but it's kinda fun. Like, they pay me to be funny. I get paid for word play. I've never gotten paid for that before, not directly. I've gotten away with it before, but it's never actually been encouraged. OK, there are issues, like when Nervous Nellie, hunched and trembling in her corner office lest someone write a joke that's not on the Permitted List from Corporate, hacks and slashes her way through my copy, but I sense that with time and kindness and maybe some snacks, I'll be able to work with her.

But the dressing up has got to stop. I've started whittling away at that: I'm already down from tights and skirts and clicky, fussy little shoes to corduroys and hiking boots and big, chunky sweaters. The other women in my office may wear sleek little tops and silky little blouses, but blue is definitely not my color -- it's frickin' COLD in there. I figure from corduroys and hiking boots, it's a mere hop, skip and wee little leap of the imagination to jeans every day and not just on TGIFridays.

I had a bad day last week in which hardly a word I'd written survived the threshing machine, but it's been better since and a few good lines have slipped past here and there. It's not the perfect job. I'm not making the world a better place -- only, occasionally, a mildly more amusing one for the very few people who actually read the text of a clothing catalog. I'm not helping the environment or setting religious nuts on fire or otherwise improving the world. That's too bad. I'd like to be. One good thing about my former profession was having students tell me that I'd made their lives a little bit easier, a little bit less chaotic, a little more sensible. Helping immigrants and refugees make a life in the strange new world of the U.S. was rewarding, no doubt. And periodically futzing with people whose ideologies conflicted with my own was fun too.

This all leads to the fact that tomorrow I'm supposed to have a "conversation" about the possibility of a permanent position (I'm a temp now). This is that moment when the Big Boss and I sound each other out for a decent fit. The great thing about ambivalence is it's so calming. I wouldn't mind getting the job, I guess; I'm sure the money's good, and the benefits, and best of all is the chance to beef up (tofu up?) the resume and portfolio. And like I said, I do actually like some aspects of the job very much. But if it doesn't happen, then I go back to what I was doing, only with a slightly chewier resume and portfolio for the experience, thank you very much.

I'll keep you posted.


NuclearToast said...

Now you understand why all those well-dressed people you see downtown walking around at lunchtime or after work have that deer-in-headlights look about them. Welcome to the club! (And 5 bonus points for actually using the word "malarky".)

DK said...

Welcome to the jungle. Don't let the man and wo-man get you down.

Ash said...

How did the talk go?

Lynn Sinclair said...

For many years, I had supervisors, peers-with-power, stuff like that, but no "boss." Now I have three. Huhwhat?

The corporate world--I don't miss it a bit. Best of luck with the "conversation". Let us know how it goes.