Tuesday, August 24, 2004

my kingdom for a door

I dunno. Maybe I'm a big wuss. Maybe I suffer more from anxiety than I realized and I just need to up the dosage on the meds. But, I swear, this whole cube environment sucks really extra hard.

I get teased a lot about my apparent inability to be happy in a job. As much as I'm a sucker for a confidently spoken phrase, and as much doubt as I let myself feel because of it, deep down I don't believe it's true. Yes, I'd much prefer working freelance for myself, sitting on my couch with Law & Order as white background noise, (it's noise if you've seen all the episodes 3 or 4 times...), or working from 10pm-3am when the rest of my personal, solipsistic universe is asleep, writing marketing materials for high profile companies that pay well, taking the afternoon off to go to a cheap and uncrowded movie, or hanging out catching a few afternoon trains with my buddy Kirk.

Sure, that's great, but I've been happy in real jobs before. Really.

I swear.


Ok, I've had a total of... hang on... (mumble mumble 3 years here... mumble mumble 2 years there... mumble freelance... mumble miserable cubes mumble mumble...) 5 real jobs, and one 3 month contract position, and I was happy in at least 3 of them. There are 2 common threads among the pre-freelance happy, long-term jobs. 1) I had an actual office, and 2) I hadn't learned yet how nice it was to work for myself.

Even after deconvolving the affect of #2 from my job joy factor, I'm left believing that there's a real connection between my happiness on a job and the amount of privacy I have.

Cubes drive me crazy. Literally.

And here's why:

1) Cubes are loud.

During my three months at the Horrible Company From Hell (heretofore known as HCFH), I worked as a writer in a cubed room with 4 other writers and 4 account managers. First of all, I need to say that this was an ad/graphic design agency, king of the cutthroat industries, and home of every shallow person on the planet. Image is everything. Obey your bulimia.

So, there *were* other issues...

Every day began at 8am. After morning yoga (Ok. I exaggerate. Yoga was only a Wednesday morning thing.) the first set of discussions would be about the previous night's reality TV shows. Not really giving a shiny rat's ass about reality TV (and particularly the people who enjoy watching other people humilated) and having plenty of work to churn out in the next 10 hours, I had a hard time ignoring the inane, high volume chatter. Telling people to shut up, even nicely, was out of the question because the owner and staff manager both got deeply involved in these discussions. I was outmanned and outgunned and really really annoyed.

Account managers (almost missed the 'o' in account... how freudian...) have no sense of... well, they just have no sense. One, who I fondly nicknamed "the moron", would place speakerphone calls to writers who worked no more than 20 feet away from her. An interesting stereophonic effect, to say the least. Another, not so fondly nicknamed "the bitch", would scream and kvetch all day at the top of her lungs about her client and her projects and the fact that she was NOT chosen to be on The Bachelor, in spite of the effort the company made in producing a video audition tape for her. (No, not making that up.)

When I suggested to the staff wrangler (her business card actually reads "zookeeper") that it was a little loud, and maybe we could encourage some quietness, her suggestion was to get a boombox and keep the headphones on. Well, that would be great, but I can't work with music piped directly into my head either. Ambient, maybe. Earphones? No way.

Both other cubelands I've been in and have commented on the noise level, the suggestion has been "get a boombox and keep the headphones on." Argh.

2) Cubes foster (almost wrote 'fester'... I am very freudian today...) paranoia.

At HCFH, the girls would get together one cube over from me, and whisper. Ok, maybe they were trying to be considerate volume-wise, but given that they were not considerate people in general, I find this unlikely. To make things worse, they would occasionally look over at certain people, and continue whispering.

Whether or not they were actually talking about other people behind their backs is irrelevant. The fact that it was *possible*, and that anyone watching was aware of it, made me nervous. Were people talking about me? Why was I suddenly not getting the projects I had been getting before? What did "the bitch" say to "the moron" that caused them both to look my way and giggle?

It was like being in a Twilight Zone episode. You know. One of the ones where the video montage kept growing more and more druglike and distorted, and the main character eventually goes insane... Yeah. That one.

3) Cubes cause physical anxiety.

There's something about small motions in my peripheral vision when I'm trying to concentrate that makes it absolutely impossible to control my "fight or flight" reaction. Maybe it's just a side effect of being a fair bit ADD, or again, maybe I'm predisposed to a great amount of anxiety, but even someone just coming to sit at the desk next to me, I react. I look up. I jerk my neck around. I sometimes even jump. I need to know what the motion is in case I need to attend to it. It's like being a freakin' jet pilot in a dogfight. Aaaaa! 8 hours of tension. Every day. Ack.

Even in the high rise cubes I work in now, where I can't see anything in front of me, I still have people walking around behind me to get to other desks. In the dark spots on my computer screen, and the dark spots on the picture of my son I have on my wall I can see moving reflections. Joy to those who can turn the reaction off, but for me, JEEEZ, let me tell you that makes me edgy.

4) Cubes mean never having to close your door.

Ever have a less than wonderful day? Brink of a divorce? Child having problems at school? Finances in ruins? All three? Add a dash of PMS? mmmm....

Sobbing and sniffing within earshot of co-workers sounds like a party in a box to me, but really, it's not. "Oh, you can go to an empty office to make private phone calls if you have to..." You mean those empty offices with the big picture windows? Fab. Where to you go to just put your head on the table and cry your fucking eyeballs out? Oh, I'm sorry. That's not professional. Just leave your personal life at home.

Well, ok. I can't do that.

So, maybe it is just me. Maybe my ADD and my emotions do prevent me from thriving in a work world devoid of doors, but I tend to think that I'm not the only one.

Who knows. Maybe one day, the peasants will revolt, the cube walls will come down, and we'll all get our doors back...

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