Working in an office isn't a drag when you know that you don't actually have to. Even one as miserably drab as the Tribal/DDB offices in L.A. You'd think, seeing as how they're located in the Frank Gehry "Binoculars" building on Main Street in Venice, that their offices would be hip, slick and cool, but you'd be dead wrong. I myself am sitting in a cubicle that is truly no color at all; to define it as beige would be to insult that hue's honor. Pinned to the wall are reminders for staff birthdays and anniversaries for the month of September. One of the anniversaries is for 23 years. Wow. I haven't even been a mom for 23 years, and that's the longest I've done anything.
As a freelancer, usually the day is mine to do with what I choose - and a good deal of it is spent hammering out copy that pays the bills - but I do it from the comfort of my own kitchen and on my own timetable which is anywhere from 7:30AM to well after midnight, if I so desire.
But it wasn't always that way. For many years I worked in an office, and got used to the rhythms it engenders: roll in around 9:15AM, hit the coffee machine, hang out and gab with the other drones for a half-hour, go into a boring meeting, or sit down at one's desk, or make a presentation, and then rinse and repeat several times throughout the day, interrupted only by lunch which is more often than not a sad little affair conducted at one's desk while going over email, and on it all goes until 6-ish, when we all pack ourselves into our cars and hit the rush hour traffic that gets us home by about 7PM. Except on the days when we had a big pitch. Then we might not get home 'til the wee hours.
Actually, working as a creative in advertising, the day was a bit more colorful than I describe it above; there were times of great hilarity - and the more inappropriate the better. When one is freelancing in their kitchen, they can't, for instance, delight in the politically incorrect pleasures of "Sexual Harrassment Thursdays", where, you guessed it, all HR bets were off for an 8 hour period. What great joy is to be had when, on said day, one, and then all, discover the fact that a member of your team, named "Gina", can have her name pronounced to rhyme with a part of the female anatomy? These are fond memories for me and cannot be duplicated via a conference call, or betwixt myself and my cat.
What I have found to be a dandy little tech toy and the next-best-thing to inappropriate merriment is a thing called IM. Of course, if you're looking at a blog, you're savvy enough to know this stands for Instant Message, and oh-my-God, is it addictive. My friends and I have been known to while away an entire hour just discussing recipes or, more likely, mutual friends' bad boyfriends. There are usually a lot of those emoticoms peppering these conversations; you know, the smiley or weepy or angry or angelic faced icons that are supposed to say more than words about what you're really feeling.
There are sound effects, too. I had a close friend whose desk butted up against mine at one job, and she nearly lost her mind with all the bloop-blooping coming out of my computer whenever I was engaged in one of these discussions. And forget sarcasm. It doesn't translate on IM. I've known of a couple of friendships that have bit the proverbial dust because of an errant sly IM that didn't read correctly. The long and the short of it, obviously, is that IMing is dangerous, obnoxious, idiotic and a complete waste of time. I love it. I'm willing to take those risks, because IM has been known to save my sanity when working on long, tedious editorial jobs from the comfortable, but people-free zone of my home. You can only hear the voice in your own head for so long before you start to get the creeping crazies. I'm a big one for mental balance. Doesn't matter how you get there.
And so, when I get an on-site gig, I lunge at it. It is lovely to be surrounded by the hum of human activity. Voices and footfalls, a few outbursts of controlled laughter, and yes, even the hushed cubicle gossip make for an entertaining way to pass several hours. I'm listening to one such conversation even now.
"...Then his phone battery died? So that's why he didn't call me Friday? Then we talked on Saturday? We were supposed to meet at the game? But my phone doesn't always give me my messages? And I didn't see him at the game? But I know he must have called, but I didn't get a message? But I know it's because of my fucking PHONE, goddamn it! I knew I should have gotten a different phone! Anyway, he didn't call all day Sunday either? He's probably really mad because I didn't return his call on Saturday? But I don't know what his call was? Because I still haven't gotten his message? I hate my phone!"
You can't get that sort of monologue out of your own imagination. It has to be clipped from life.
My art director is in full-on countdown mode - his pregnant wife is due any day now. My ex-partner who's an Associate Creative Director here is trying to decide what to do with the rest of her life; twenty years younger than me, and I TOTALLY relate to her. A woman who made my life a living hell when I initially came here as her boss months ago, is now tentatively, almost pathetically, trying to befriend me. A woman behind me is showing another one a picture of her new puppy and the woman looking provides the requisite "Awww!"s.
I won't go so far as to say it's time to bust out the "Circle of Life" from The Lion King, but there's definitely a sense of ongoingness in the microcosm in an office. I once saw a t-shirt that I felt really summarized who I am, because I don't think of myself as a leader, but I'm anything but a follower. The shirt read simply: I WANDERED OFF FROM THE TOUR.
For this lonely wanderer, it's good to check in on the glorious mediocrity of life. If only to adore it in small doses.