I work in an office. It’s a good job, the people are mostly wonderful. Some of them are fascinating actually. Most of them are brilliant. I’ve met a Nobel laureate since starting my job, I even got to pour him a cup of coffee. Perhaps I’m bragging about that because a part of me thinks that pouring him a cup of coffee is the closest I’ll ever get to greatness.
Depressing… I know.
Anyway, since I began working in this particular office my creativity has not been stifled. In past office jobs, especially a job I had for more than six years at a travel agency, I have found myself drained of my will to write. Not so in my current position. As best as I can tell that is because I’m ready to make writing my primary passion. I have decided that if I am a bad writer, so be it. Perhaps I will discover some talent for a short period of time. And when that time comes I will capitalize on that talent.
What’s the point of being bad and making mistakes if you’re not going to improve?
Perhaps I view this current job as the perfect segway between my office jobs and my future of scribing away in an elegantly simple wordsmith’s den. A den not entirely unlike Neil Gaiman’s (perhaps with a few large pillows, I love pillows).
I suppose you can say that I have been “planning” for a career as a writer, but that planning has been slow. And perhaps that planning has not been all that involved. I don’t know if that is by design, apathy, or a lack of self-confidence. Mostly I have been planning for a career as an academic administrator. So now I am at a crossroads. Which goal do I choose? Maybe both.
Regardless of the path that I follow through on, and I am going to follow through — because I am still holding myself accountable, these plans ultimately result in me second-guessing my ability. In terms of the writer in me, it is true that all writers engage in this constant self-flagellation. There are many evenings when I lay in bed thinking that no matter the idea, no matter the execution, no matter the connections I make, and no matter how positive of a reception my work receives, I will always remain painfully average.
Perhaps that state of being average shouldn’t hurt me, it should fill me with contentment. But it doesn’t. I have never been content. And isn’t it that feeling that I keep searching for? Why wouldn’t you want contentment? Contentment is a state of being at peace. Isn’t that happiness?
Why does contentment evade me? I think Because I feel this great story clawing at my chest every night. I hear it in my dreams. I feel the weight of expectations which I have no doubt I created out of thin air. I feel soul-crushing doubt
Sometimes my office job works to feed my doubt. And so I have tried to use doubt to examine my situation. Doubt has become the platform on which I dive into written accountability.
A couple of weeks into my new position I began to take notes:
“You walk into the same room every day through the same door. The room is a faded ivory, the door a worn burnt amber. There are no windows. The fluorescents are oppressive.”
“If she doesn’t arrive on time, which she almost never does, the responsibility of making the morning coffee is yours. You don’t even like coffee. ‘Two heaping scoops’ is what is written on the lid of the bright scarlet cannister.”
“A faculty member asks you to clean his personal Keurig. What the fuck?”
“Your email is always the next task. There are generally dozens of messages which require little more than clicking on ‘delete.'”
“You have two monitors, not one. Someone determined that your position could be most efficiently managed with two backlit screens. You put a film over them to help protect your eyes from overexposure to the warm blue lights — something you think you need to do because you heard about it on Oprah’s Twitter feed.”
There are many more notes… all written in the second-person point of view. I think I began this note-taking process, the early beginnings of a short story I am writing, because I am attempting to disassociate myself from everything there is in my life (or my office) which I view as tedious.
However, I have little experience writing in 2nd so I reached out to a mentor to ask for a few reading suggestions. I have just finished one of his suggestions, “Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney. I had never heard of this story before, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was adapted into a film starring Michael J. Fox and Keifer Sutherland.
The narrator tells his story in 2nd person for the exact same reason that I want to tell my story in 2nd person, to disassociate from the situation. Our similarities do not end there… we both have experienced a painful and awkward breakup (at around the same age… he was 24, I was 26). We both turned to various vices and partying to cope with that breakup. We both repressed our feelings and hid our pain from those closest to us. We both became assholes, avoiding our friends (at least the good ones) and family. We both struggled with a feeling of having lost our way professionally.
This narrator reached into my soul and pulled out a lot of emotions I thought I had left behind.
On Friday (September 14) I came into the office complaining about my copy of this book (which I found at the library). Some incredible dickhead had ripped out pages 124/125 — which so happened to be the pages in which the narrator was about to confront his ex. Which, by the way, is a confrontation I never got to have with my ex. I was looking forward to this scene, and I was a little distraught. I said as much to one of my co-workers and to one of the faculty members.
“I have been struggling to get into this damn book. And now, just as it’s getting good and the big confrontation is about to happen, I have to find a new copy!”
I was 100% ready to torrent a copy of this book. I have no shame.
Later that day the faculty member I was bitching to politely waited in the entranceway of my office as I was helping a student rent a locker (I lead a very glamorous life). After I was done helping the student she handed me a hardback copy of the McInerney text. She had gone to the library to see if she could find an unmutilated edition. Her only request was that I make a copy of the pages that had been torn out of my book and place them where they belonged, thus returning it to the library whole for the next reader.
I lived in New York City for two years. No one outside of my closest friends had ever done something that nice for me. This faculty member is a virtual stranger. Why did she do this?
There is a character in “Bright Lights, Big City” who does something kind for the narrator. She too barely knows him. But she senses his hurt and realizes that he is falling hard for reasons which escape her. As best as I can tell, this professor felt something similar in me. At the time I thought I was just bitching. People bitch. But now that I analyze the situation I think that I might have appeared panicked.
I’m embarrassed for having given so much of myself away. But I also feel like if I had not done so then I might not have experienced her kindness. Perhaps the kindness of a stranger is worth a little embarrassment?
The book is average. The narrator is an asshole. Probably a bigger asshole than I’ve ever been (I hope so). He’s also an annoying homophobe… that’s a subtle stereotype that McInerney hoped would make his narrator feel more “real.” I feel that fell a bit flat and petty… especially considering that the narrator is an aspiring writer of high intelligence.
However, he’s also dealing with some significant pain. Pain which I understand deeply. So I’ll give him a pass this time.
This story slipped into my life. It became a part of my experience living both in LA (currently) and NYC (a few months ago). McInerney reminded me of the pain which I have more often than not scattered to the furthest reaches of my subconscious. And the recent kindness of a stranger revealed to me the cathartic necessity of sharing our emotional attachments to whatever inspires us.
I give this book five out of five stars simply because it inspired me. I hope you read it.