Somewhere along the way I thought about a desk job. I don’t know what type of job it would be exactly, but I knew (or thought I knew) that working a desk job would be perfect. This coming from a writer who sits at a desk in a home office all day, only to occassionally leave the house to walk his dog, get coffee, or meet his girlfriend after she is out of work for dinner. Maybe I watched too many episodes of The Office, and more recently Parks and Recreation. These television shows glorify the inept ability of people to perform jobs that regular people do everyday.
But how fun would it be?
Years of people wishing they did not work in a cubicle, or at a desk in a sea of desks, is what made satire about said jobs such hits. Take for example the year 1996. In that year I was 11 years old. Despite having kissed two girls – one on the playground of my Catholic school, sinner – I was still an obsessive fan of comics. All comics. I always had a fresh stack of MARVEL titles, but I also was engrossed by the antics of Calvin and his tiger Hobbes. My mom commuted over an hour to work in North Andover, MA and for some reason I was going with her one day. It wasn’t the type of bring-your-child-to-work-so-that-they-will-pray-for-a-swift-end type of thing. I was just there. I saw, as I passed cubicle after grey cubicle, the yellowing panels of Dilbert comics tacked to the outside carpet of the cubicle wall. Each bemoaned some aspect of a nondescript office job; someone stole dry erase markers from the supply closet, or, HR is serving day old donuts at the meeting again. I must’ve read one and thought it was funny because I remember each night, after homework, I read through a collection of the strip.
Looking back on that now I can tell you I didn’t understand a majority of the jokes. And I can say that they weren’t as funny as I thought they might’ve been. I even watched the cartoon based on the strips. Despite the characters in full color and moving I lost interest. But people were interested. They were interested because the comic strip, like The Office and Parks and Recreation, brought the absurdities of the daily office life to the front, blew them up to maximum satire, and made it bearable.
But I will tell you that the long commute my mom made – a single mother – meant I stayed in on Saturdays when the weather was bad because she was at work and couldn’t drive me somewhere. Or that my lunches on weekends I usually took from the freezer and cooked in the microwave; dinners coming home in small paper bags, the smell of fried grease emanating from within. When we did have a sit down, home cooked, meal it was usually close to eight in the evening and in front of the TV. My mom and I enjoying the television as she relaxed from her day.
I don’t fault my mom for what she did. She was trying to make ends meet and to this day I think she feels a bit of regret. But those long days I spent watching movies, reading books and magazine I took home from the library, and starting filling the back pages of my english notebooks with stories and screenplays. And I am not saying that The Office, Parks and Recreation, or Dilbert are doing a diservice to the people who work these jobs. No. I think they are honoring them, letting people like myself live these peoples’ lives vicariously through the exaggerated personifications that appear in comic strips and on television screens. People my mom would’ve known with her own stories of mishaps and bumbling colleagues.
This sudden change of thought, this idea that the job of the every-person would be entertainment clashes with the inner me struggling to break from the job trade my mother had, and her mother before her, my aunts too. My mom wanted to work in radio, writing. Her sisters, too, pursued life in the arts (one a painter and the other a photographer). But they were instilled in with the hard truth that you have eat, you have support yourself, and therefore, you have to make money. And they did. They woke up early, commuted, moved across country, raised kids as single mothers, went through the hell of being robbed, divorce trial fees, lawyer fees, tuition payments so that I could sit, a 25 year old, at a tiny desk and come up with stories, to research and write about things that interest me. And then complain when no one wants to publish it.
Whether it is the desk job, or a creative cramp that keeps you from getting to where you want to be, you have to keep moving. You have to support yourself in whatever it is you do. And if there is a silver lining to the work you do, it’s the ability to laugh at yourself.