2015 is officially launched with the 5th season of Downton Abbey. It’s nice, this winter glut of entertainment: “Downton Abbey”; Oscar countdown; soon another “House of Cards”; and signing up with Hulu for the highly recommended Scandinavian version of “The Bridge.” Makes me want to curl up with a good screen and never leave the house.
However, on this early cold January morning, I must go to work. And that’s what I’m thinking about. If I am correctly counting, I have been working 57 years with some blocks of weeks or months off here and there to have kids, live abroad, subsist on unemployment once, some travel—so actually I’ve only worked about 50 years. Still it does seem like I should have more money but, unfortunately, I’m way down range of the top end of the 99%.
But that’s not even what I’m thinking about this morning. I am thinking about how to BE at work. By that I mean: reserved and serious; friendly and chatty; curious and engaged with my staff; cranky and idiosyncratic; and/or bland and noncommittal? Isn’t it odd to be thinking about that after all these years in the workplace—when I have probably veered among all of the above.
It is just that I want to be fair to my very nice job and hard-working staff while still acknowledging I am in a whole new phase of my life. A phase that demands I bring 40 hours a week worth of value to my paid employment while having removed myself from all the attendant work-related socially-oriented activities that are a big part of what gives ”work” its hugely important place in all of our lives. That piece now belongs to writing. So there.
Okay then. Showered, coffeed, bundled up, out to the cold car. Here I am. Opting for pleasant (previously referred to as bland and noncommittal) with exactly eight hours of attention available.
And I will never wear my gym clothes to work. Never. Tacky.
With each job comes a work space, frequently called The Office. Big offices with windows or the passenger seat of your car. Sometimes there’s only a counter, a kitchen table or a platform.
Since offices are the places where many of us live out much of our lives they are worth contemplating for a moment. The history of my spaces for doing my work goes something like this.
First job, board marker at Cargill Inc. in Wayzata, Minnesota. Yes, a very old-fashioned position. Although Cargill has taken over much of the food world for better or worse, generally worse I think, back then it probably wasn’t quite so greedy—but I don’t know that because I was one of those pretty little high school graduates from a small Minnesota town come to work in the big city and I wasn’t paying attention.
There was Oscar, the grain buyer god, and we girls posting the price quotes on a giant blackboard as they came in over something like a ticker tape machine I think. It’s been awhile….
No desk at that job. Moved to Florida which was the next thing those pretty young girls from the rural north did, although California was also a destination. In Florida I served morning coffee at the NCO club; no desk but I met my first and only ex-husband there.
Got married, had kids, worked at dead end jobs with not even a sign of my own space in sight. The counter in Sears credit department was as good as it got. But then college promised something a little grander eventually, right? Not so fast. A degree in Secondary Ed. teaching history with no accompanying sports licensure got me into a lot of teachers’ lounges as the sub of the day. Working on a Masters had me leaning against yet one more counter at the Minneapolis Salvation Army, downtown center.
Then my luck changed. My own desk. True, it was at McGovern for President headquarters and I was making $25 a week or so…but as volunteer coordinator— I. Had. A. Desk.
So the story goes. There were some other jobs, usually in conjunction with a main one—that old single mom routine. Several of them involved the front seat of my car. No, it’s not what you’re thinking…more like being a surveyor for the Gallup Poll or doing a field study for NM State University in Gallup.
Then I went to work for NM State Government and finally had my own desk. Better yet, my next gig was the City of Albuquerque where eventually I had a spacious private office at the KiMo with big windows overlooking Central Avenue. Wow. Definitely the high point of my office life.
Which brings me to today. Cleaning and organizing my office so it can be painted over the weekend. It’s a nice office I have here as executive director of North Fourth Art Center. True, there are no windows, and with a lot of students and staff using the same facilities it’s all quite far removed from having a key to the executive bathroom. Still it is my own private office and it’s almost as big as the Tech Director’s space, but then he has to keep all that equipment with him. Whereas all I must keep with me are a desk, a computer, a few maps and a flip chart or two. The computer enables me to check in ever so infrequently with my ‘friends.’ You know who you are. I make cute newsletters instead of perusing the typical office porn we always hear about—but then we’re mostly girls here so interest in porn is probably pretty limited. Another one of those things I don’t know for sure? The maps serve as my office windows, I glance up or gaze longingly, and there’s the whole world. Which I can access as soon as I work enough days to earn enough vacation….
Sometimes a change is in order. With new paint colors I might be more efficient. With a new work table I might be more enthusiastic. With new pictures on my wall I might be more art appreciative. With newly-painted little green tables I might feel … fresher? Greener? Springier? But the maps will return. There’s the world…there it is. The Entire Compete Whole World.