Archive for March, 2016

Questioning Myself

Do you remember when you were good at anything?

I turn up the music in my headphones and look back at the screen. Two cubes over, coworkers drone on about whatever they grilled this weekend. Typically meaningless Monday banter about what we did this weekend. As opposed to typically meaningless Friday banter about what we are going to do on the next one. How often do our visions of the weekend on Friday line up with the sad realities of Monday? Or do we just need 48 hours to come up with more meaningless banter? I don’t know. Some people seem to be an endless wellspring of that. I start hammering at the keys.

Do you?

The cursor blinks as I stare down unending strings of numbers on the screen. No matter the education, this is life for so many of us. Or life for me. The only suite you and I will ever know anything about is the Microsoft suite. How many widgets do I have to move today? Or how many bits and bytes do I have to move since I have nothing to show for what I do every day? It’s not like I can ever point to something and say “look at this thing I made with my hands”. I won’t ever be able to take any of this home and say “I did this”. In fact, if I took any of this home, I’d have to find something new to do rather quickly.

Were you really ever?

My boss sends me an email. Can we meet in 15 minutes? Of course we can. It may be polite to put it as a question, but it’s a statement. The illusion of choice. I’m sure plenty of smart people somewhere have written volumes about why that matters, the difference between being asked and being told. But is there a difference when you can see right through it? How many relationships are built on false politeness? How many people do you tolerate because you have to? How many do you actually like? I shake my head and get to work on my first widget of the day. They don’t produce themselves, and if they did, then they wouldn’t need us anyway.

Do you remember what that was like to care?

The door clicks behind me. My boss begins with a grandiloquent speech. Tightening belts, hard times, everyone making sacrifices, and then she slides a piece of paper across. This is how many extra dollars all the widgets I produced last year are worth. I was shocked by the number years ago, now I’m just inured. How much is your CEO worth? A lot more than you. At least he looks good in a suit. Sometimes I think that’s the only qualification; you’d think he could buy better ones with all that money. My boss has been talking the entire time, so I nod. Keep it up and next year something good will happen. Next year. Carrot and stick. Mostly stick. I’ll get less for the same number of widgets next year, because now I have to do more to get the same. That’s how it’s worked every year. It’s perverse, but nonetheless true.

Did you ever actually know?

No, no, go to lunch without me. I can’t stand the thought of staying late just to hear about your dog. Maybe at a happy hour. At least then there’s beer. And we can say the things we want to say. We still speak in code though. Everyone still has rent to pay, so it’s hard to be too truthful. It’s all qualifiers. It seems, I feel, I believe. But we all know. I know you get paid for me even though I do more just because you’re a man. I know we can’t talk about that either. They say it would breed resentment, make us less productive, but I’m no fool. Information is power. None of us have power; no one intends to change that. Please, though, tell me more about your dog.

What happened to you?

Another email. They are switching the creamer in the office to a cheaper type that lasts longer. Also, please bring in your own mugs. For the environment. Next email. Record profits. We couldn’t do it without your excellent work. Yet another email. We’re going to need those widgets a bit quicker now. I hear muttering from a few other cubes around me. I guess that’s just less time I spend reading Buzzfeed. It doesn’t really matter how many widgets it is. Less Sisyphus and more Zeno, but neither of them ever finished. I roll my shoulders. Time to start pushing again.

Is this it?

I power down the computer. It’s not my computer. Nothing here is mine. There’s been a string of break-ins so lock it in the drawer. I’m the last one in the office, so there’s no one left to say goodbye to. I grab my things, out the door. Make sure it’s shut. We wouldn’t want another break-in after all. Down the stairs, and already I can barely stand the thought of doing this all again tomorrow. I match my record of making it to the platform before feeling that way. How much longer can I do this? Either way, I have a train to catch.

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