Notes from the Lonely Cubicle
Last year I wrote a three-part essay series called Death of a Good Job, which recounted my experience of being laid off — over the phone — while I was on vacation with my wife and son in the Pennsylvania mountains in the summer of 2009. I’m currently editing that series into an eBook that will be published in the next couple of months. While searching for cover ideas, I stumbled across these photographs by Swedish photographer Lars Tunbjörk. The shots are from a monograph called Office, which was published back in 2001. If money was no issue, the top left photograph in this set would be the cover for the eBook. It depicts the dreary isolation of sedentary office work in a way that I find strangely appealing. As it stands, however, the search for a cover image continues.
— Consolidated Aircraft, Fort Worth, Tx - Oct 1942 —
I remember a teacher at school who, upon being told by a pupil that there just wasn’t enough time in the day to do all the things they wanted to do, would simply refuse to accept this. There is enough time, was all she would say. There is always enough time. I have never been able to decide whether she was right or not. All I know is that the impression she wanted to give was devoutly meritocratic: that if you didn’t want something enough to wear yourself ragged in chasing it, then you probably didn’t deserve to have it in the first place.
One problem with deciding that you only ever want to post long and (how else can I put this) ‘serious’ things you have written on your blog is that this takes time and energy and inspiration. Time, in fact, is not such a problem for me. I have to go to work in the week but I don’t work unreasonable hours. I am home by 7pm most days. I have evenings and weekends. I’m tired in the evenings and I seem to sleep through most of my weekends, but that oughtn’t to stop me doing anything. Which only leaves energy and inspiration.
And if you believe some authors, you don’t even need either of those things. I am often tired but rarely so tired I cannot keep my eyes open. I have no dependents. I have no debt. I have a computer which works. I count myself incredibly lucky and privileged in all these respects. I had a creative writing tutor at university who would always say that he never had writer’s block. He would just sit down and do it. And if it comes to it, I can do that. I do that with the little book reviews I’ve been writing. I did NaNoWriMo last year by getting up at 5am to write for an hour and a half before work. It was exhausting but I may do it again this year. I’ve barely looked at the manuscript since but really what did you expect.
So what do I do. I pick up ideas and turn them over in my hand. I am looking to be surprised. I expect them to sprout legs. I look at them and put them down again. I write a few hundred words and I can’t think of how to end it and it goes into a file which I will probably not look at again. I think about what Jaron Lanier wrote in his book, about how the whole notion of a file system on a modern computer conditions us to think in certain ways that aren’t necessarily inevitable or even desirable. The first Mac, he explains, did not have a file system as we know it today. Nobody would even dream of going back to that now.
I’m sure I like to give the impression here that I am a relatively erudite and well-informed person, but if you were to build a graphical user interface which approximates the content of my brain on a 1:1 basis it would be full of the most shockingly stupid, banal, offensive crap. A lot of people are good at turning the crap that is in their brains into good blogs. But my filing system is intended to enable concealment as much as it is about categorisation.
I’m sure you don’t care, actually, but if I were to write that what I put up here is only the tip of the iceberg, please do not take this to mean that there is some great hidden work of genius lurking below the surface. All it means is that the tiny part of what I do that is good is supported by a whole mountain of mental rubbish. This is actually the best I can do with what I have.
this is comfortingly/disturbingly similar to my current self-assessment and anxieties
|—||Beryl Markham, West with the Night (via leopoldgursky)|
|—||David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest|
|—||Francis of Assisi (*1182, †1226)|
The old and honorable idea of “vocation” is simply that we each are called, by God, or by our gifts, or by our preference, to a kind of good work for which we are particularly fitted. Implicit in this idea is the evidently startling possibility that we might work willingly, and that there is no necessary contradiction between work and happiness or satisfaction.
Only in the absence of any viable idea of vocation or good work can one make the distinction implied in such phrases as “less work, more life” or “work-life balance,” as if one commutes daily from life here to work there.
When a farmer approaches a piece of ground, he has to take it as it is, not as he wishes it to be. It’s the same for you and me in our life and creative endeavors.
The land has to be worked. The only thing you’ll grow with no effort are weeds and wild things. And you might get a few berries every now and then, but it won’t be consistent and you’re more likely to end up with ragweed.
If you don’t like what the soil is producing, you have till and fertilize. You have flatten hills and remove stones. You have to scare crows.
However, you have to know where you are. You can work as hard as you like at growing pineapples and bananas in Idaho: it’s not going to happen. So, it’s not all work, but it won’t happen with out it.
Approach it as it is. Work. Plant. Harvest.
r.i.p. david weiss
HOW TO WORK BETTER, 1991-2000 - FISCHLI/WEISS
SCREEN PRINT ON PAPER
69,8 X 49,8 CM
Work is no longer a secure base, but rather a source of anxiety and indignity, both a matter of life and death and utterly meaningless, overwhelming and yet so insubstantial it could run through our fingers. It is normal to feel under threat and undervalued, to feel snivellingly grateful to have a job, any job. We must be sure not to take work for granted and yet be willing to be taken for granted ourselves.
-Ivor Southwood on knowledge work and temping
Excerpted from The New Inquiry Magazine, No. 1: Precarity
|—||Charles Baudelaire (via enjio)|
My thoughts on working this week.