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Work Ends

Desk emptied

Desk emptied

Last Friday was the last Friday of packing up the computer that isn’t mine, getting on the bus, and going home. It felt normal and easy. Routine. Anticipating it for months has helped, counting down unconsciously and free of any feelings of desperation or release. I am neither happy nor sad to go. The clock has run out in the way they do and that’s fine by me.

Out of hours

Out of hours

Projected fear from others is the largest hazard I have encountered. Upon learning I’m done at the end of June, people are either sad or indignant. Whether they feel injustice has been committed or the Man is simply being cheap, I can’t quite tell and am not curious enough to ask, but for some an obvious component is fear. Many people support families, or are up to their eyes in debt, and job loss is a real terror–not only are they adrift but they have been cut off. It is an act of quiet violence done with paper and arithmetic. I think people react so violently to job loss because the subconscious cannot square a primal loss of sustenance with such cerebral abstractions. It only knows the numbers turn into food-TV-place-to-sleep, and now the numbers have stopped. I think adults experience a sort of tantrum when they lose their jobs, even if they hate them. Unlike with children, adult tantrums can be dangerous.

You are safe with me. I have learned to see the upside of the greed machine that has made people disposable atoms in the free market: you truly have the right to work, which includes the right not to. The Man tries to play its role of the house that never loses, thinking He holds you with gobbledegook contracts and unspoken threats, but the Man doesn’t realize power has shifted. The Man has become a fungible commodity, exchangeable for and indistinguishable from any other Man. He has become what He wants you to be, and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t play by his rules. I have the right to work, right? Well, I think I’ll go work for this other Man who pays a tiny bit more. I hear that you’re desperate for me to stay, but I don’t see this translated into a tiny bit more plus some. It’s all about economic efficiency, you know. Don’t you listen to that odious Marketplace? Call me when you find more budget. You have my number.

"And they call it a mine. A mine!"

“And they call it a mine. A mine!”

Fortunately for my humanity, this job engenders no such cutthroat relationship. The people I work for and with are kind and humane with varied interests outside of work. At times it feels like they’ve drunk the Kool-aid, but they do not proselytize or make me feel shame, so I’m happy for their finding sustenance. I am not heckled with TPS reports or made to attend the overwrought and endless meetings that seem to be Microsoft’s primary output, and I get no unspoken social demerits for not participating in corporate he-said-she-said gossip. Since September I have shown up, sat at my little desk, stared into a screen and made it dance, and left, and in exchange, through a variety of intermediaries, I have ended up with money. Seems fair enough.

Getting off the bus

Getting off the bus

As days go it is unexceptional. I ride the bus on Microsoft’s dime for the last time, an almost empty ride with what must be people leaving town early for the Fourth of July. Overcast and cool, everything is green and being tended by the small landscaping army whose shrill two-cycle buzz is always around. Hallways are quiet, nearly deserted. People shuffle in courtyards with their heads down, take smoke breaks standing and staring out at nothing.

The latest space

The latest space

Three weeks ago we were moved to a new office, a square space identical to the one I was previously in. Dislocations and “reorgs” are a perpetual feature of the Microsoft way whose ultimate goal remains as elusive as its dogged pursuit. It makes it easy to remain unattached. At least I have a place to sit and a place to go, instead of always working in isolation at home. In fact, Microsoft pays more for me to be there and subjects itself to additional reams of its paperwork to achieve the normal.

Over the week I have packed up my stuff, which was more for show than anything. I have hardly any personal items at work, a single plastic grocery bag not even half-full with clamshell software packages. Had I been fired I would not have needed the requisite records box to pack up. Most other contractors are the same. My officemate here keeps her things in a big orange bag, visible next to the file cabinet. She accepted a fulltime job, so I presume her eventual office will accumulate the framed art and futon common among the fulltimers. Who doesn’t need a place to sleep at work?

What there is to see

What there is to see

Neither warm nor cold, the day is grey with hints of lighter grey. Everything is quiet and nothing hurts.

Complimentary farewell emails start trickling in by the afternoon. Those that I don’t really know and who I have hardly interacted with submit kind and what must be factually inferred messages of a couple sentences which I appreciate nonetheless. People I’ve worked with more and who I know better send farewells effusive in their detail. I’m much better at accepting compliments than before, say, my late thirties, but reading them is still awkward and uncomfortable. I wonder if they are really writing someone else. I suppose I could show them to some future job interviewer. I wonder if they would be impressed. Now that it’s far easier to find jobs, I realize I have little interest in the kinds of praise I would have printed out and put under my pillow twenty years ago.

I decide to take a chance and write a surreal response that I mean to be funny. I describe the boss-once-removed I have never really spoken to a tank commander, the gay guy a connoisseur of cute little hats, the woman I shared an office with Pollyana laced with Neitzschean darkness, my actual boss a Brazilian jungle queen. I assure them these are not standard compliments I pass out to every group I’ve worked with, because all my former groups were assholes. (I welch on assholes and use jerks instead. One must always be mindful of the watchers.) In the heat death of the universe a billion years hence, the quantum foam will remember them, along with ice cream and justice. It felt reasonable, easy to write. I used my rule of stopping when it seems barely complete. Less is more.

At the moment of sending that email, I feel no more or less done than before. I feel tired, as in drowsy, as in high school when summer was spent inside with the TV or headphones. There’s nothing left to pack up, nothing left to do but run the hours down to zero. At the end of time I can say I have never faked hours.

The former officemate who made muffins for me stops by. We say the kinds of things I expect are said when a job ends and there is no animosity. She is interrupted by the woman I work for, steering the prow of her pregnancy through the hall but avoiding getting any closer than the hallway due to my lingering cold. She remains upset I couldn’t stay on the job, which I find touching and baffling. It really is just a job.

Windows don't open

Windows don’t open

In the end, I am alone in the empty office lost in empty halls. It’s not the release of school letting out, free of the worry of what comes next. Job offers are already coming in, but I think I will be braver and take time for myself. I have the money saved, and can spend it to save something else. Thanks for the offers to help. I am grateful.

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2 comments on “Work Ends

  1. I have mixed feelings about decorating my office. On one hand, cultivating a sense of detachment is useful, and having few possessions makes the inevitable reorg/job ending that much easier.

    But I spend so much of my day at work – I hate to leave my surroundings sterile and ugly. I always bring in a plant or two because it makes me feel happy. And I like pinning up brightly colored pictures (not in frames, so they’re easy to transport).

    • It’s certainly a fine line: what balance of detachment versus the need to humanize the place. Do I not invest more in where I am at work because I don’t want to risk any level of intimacy? Or am I just a distant and cool person?

      Mostly when at work I find I’m focused on what I’m doing enough that I don’t notice the bare walls and corporate sameness. I’ve always held a distance between myself and work. May not be for everyone but I think it gives me what I need.

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