Subscribe in a reader

Monday, October 24, 2005


(I wrote the original version of the following story in 1984. I've sent it out a number of times over the years in different versions, but have never succeeded in placing it anywhere. This current version is a total rewrite of the original and is substantially different. Since I can't find a home for it otherwise, I've decided to self-publish it here. Of course, as with all my posts on this blog, "Seminar" is copyright 2005 Len Cassamas.

It did once get an Honorable Mention in a short story contest. I hope you enjoy it.)

The thing to do in these situations is to just put your head down and work. Ignore the distractions and avoid anything that will distract you from your task. Sure, you can take lunch. You can even take a break, if you have to, but the thing is, when you are at your desk that is your world. Go beyond concentration. Live it. Discover the process. Find patterns and motifs heretofore unnoticed even in the most mundane and tedious of tasks. And remember: Interruptions are the enemy. Which is precisely why I went after him with an exacto knife.

Concentrate on the mechanics of whatever it is you’re doing, no matter how silly or mind numbing. For example, take your pen. Hold it. Sense it in your hand. Move your fingers over the long, stiff shaft. Now, grasp it firmly, lovingly. And write. Now, what do you hear? Anyone? What are you hearing? Is it a scritch scritch scritch or a pfft pfft pfft? Because there is a sound, and it is constantly lifting itself off the paper, waiting for you to hear it. All you have to do is allow yourself to experience the pen. Feel its penness. Connect with the inner pen deep inside you. Live the mystery of hand, pen, and ink all cooperating, all working together, all synergizing in the achievement of writing. Maybe if his writing had been more legible, I would have been less likely to stab him.

Okay, now, let’s talk about your desks because they are very important. When you are at the office, it is your home. When you are at home, it is your office. We call this “duality.” Okay, so you have a desk at work, and you have a desk at home. You cannot escape this. Unless, of course, you are in your car, which is why we have laptops and cell phones. Now, the thing to remember is this: Love thy desk as thyself. Respect it. Keep it clean. Don’t carve your initials in it. Somebody else is just going to end up sitting there anyway. And you wouldn’t carve your initials in your house or apartment, would you? Because this is how you have to think of it: It is your home. And it is a home that comes to you free and clear from the company without the two mortgages and the home equity loans. All it costs you is forty to eighty hours a week, depending on your commitment. My commitment was six weeks, entirely voluntary. Long desk. Cool desk. My desk. Put your coffee somewhere else; you’ll leave rings. Phone rings. Coffee rings. Onion rings. Answer politely. Give name even though they never get it and always end up calling me Herb. Right, right, Tuesday the 12th. We’ll reference it. It impacted me. We’ll have to address the longitudinalzation of our imprint in the asymmetrical market-zone firing place. Optimize. Maximize the minimization. Damn the torpedoes, full steam for the shoals and rocks. Quacking? I wasn’t quacking. I think it was a cough.

Of course, your desk isn’t just hovering around the building like the mail guy or an escaped thought. Oh, no, it is anchored securely to a cubicle, and the cubicular life comes with a certain amount of responsibility. Just imagine if you had a neighbor who had walls covered with pictures and magazine clippings, every surface covered with junk and knickknacks, and piles of papers all over the floor. What would you do? Why, you’d do the only thing you could. You’d get the city to condemn the place and have the neighbor thrown into the street and their house razed. It’s the only civic-minded thing to do. Now, what is a cubicle if it is not a house on a street? Isn’t the person in the next cube your neighbor? And the guy over by the printer and the lady next to the copy room? And a good neighbor keeps his area clean and orderly. You’ll find that loose papers cloud the mind and block the heart. So, remember, there’s a place for everything. And everything had better stay out of my way. I’m busy. What? The Feldman file? I think my shredder ate it.

Now, as will sometimes happen with neighbors, disputes can arise. I didn’t start it. He did when he stole my stapler. Hurt feelings produce more hurt feelings. My beautiful stapler. There’s a temptation to act out I’ll poison his coffee or shut down right after I finish this game of FreeCell. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The key, here, right off the bat, is to try to relax. Take a deep breath and try to reassert your own personhood, your own value as an employee. Say to yourself, “I am a person. I have worth.” More than they pay me for. Find your center. Nougat. And if you can do that, do you know what you’ve got? A twitch along my jaw line. You’ve got the beginning of the first step of the dawn of a new relationship.

Remember that your relationships with your coworkers should be open and friendly. You should be a seamless part of the group, and yet still your own functioning ego system. A whole within a whole. I wish I were in a whole. I miss my stapler. But not the guy who stole it. Him I’m going to hit.

Work should be a fulfilling experience. You should leave work energized every day because fulfilling the work fulfills you. Every time the company’s stock goes up, you should get a jolt of pride. Enjoy your work. Luxuriate in it. But don’t lag or you’ll end up in a line downtown. Use your time well, economically and efficiently, and you’ll find yourself more productive, more proactive, and a greater asset to the company than you’ve ever been before. You’ve got sixty minutes in every hour. And twenty hours in every minute. Use them to their fullest and you could find that doing the same work at the same place for the same pay on the same days in the same weeks can be a very enriching experience. Emotionally, that is. I want my damn stapler! I called it Fred. It used to sing to me with its simple ker-chuck ker-chuck ker-chuck. How we’d improvise, me and Fred. Fred the Stapler. The thing is, he shouldn’t have had his hand there anyway. And he didn’t need a tetanus shot, only a booster.

Now, speaking of emotions, another good rule to have is to keep work at work and home at home. This is why we don’t encourage you to bring in pictures of your family, or to take personal phone calls or e-mails. It’s for your benefit. Because a cocktail made up of equal parts of work and home is a very heady brew, and not everyone can handle it. That’s what my ex-wife said. There are studies with pie charts and graphs that prove this. According to our figures, a recent survey of studies showed that all the real money is in research. Be a rhesus monkey for fun and profit! Just draw the pirate! And quarter him, too!

What I’m trying to give you here is tools. What I need is Valium. But you should feel free to go out and explore, do some research, ask your friends, and see what kind of coping mechanisms you can discover in your own life. Yeah, but then how would I ever pass the random drug test? Maybe you could hit a loved one with a pillow. Maybe I could hit you with a brick. Take the long view. Must stop at drugstore, get razor blades. Watch TV. Feel like high technology is over your head? Try Compugram, the digital vitamin. Keep your perspective. I wouldn’t worry about downsizing. It’s the poor performance of the 401k that’s got me oozing sweat. Examine your options. What did I do with the classifieds? Sharpen your skills. Twenty-seven across is the same as three down except on Thursdays when it’s “erne.” But most of all, I want to leave you with this one final thought: Relax. All right. Who’s vibrating? You or me? Now, who’s ready for a break? I know I am. Yeah, I'm ready. I’m ready for anything.


No comments: