Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Great Workplace Romance

I've discovered that conversational, slightly odd accounts of working in cubeville (Dilbert, Then We Came to the End, microserfs) are my equivalent of the romance novel. I read them from cover to cover, empathizing and wishing that I had a well-paying, life-eating, interesting job instead of the crazy job I have or instead of spending all day avoiding doing the dishes.

In addition to being guilty pleasures, they show the way that workplace relationships function (for that one job, in that one company): how they create identity, how they offer opportunity for the demarcation of private and public information and personas, how they are as fleeting as collegial and high school status structures. These structures are as good as the costume personas of the romance novel. While I didn't believe in the myth of happily ever after vis-a-vis your average romance novel long enough to pick up the habit of reading them, I do believe in the idea of the perfect job, in which status, hours, salary, and responsibilities align to bless the employee with respect and satisfaction. Alas that the limits of my practicality don't extend into the workaday world.

Job novels are also about the artifacts of communication and technology that shift with the status of the company and the age or status of the corporate leaders. I recall the time that I left a temp job after arriving and being given a pencil and a pad of paper upon which to do some odd job--it was obvious that neither the company nor my position in it would provide the status I wanted at the time, especially being eager to prove that an English degree from a local university didn't make me unfit for the earning of a reasonable salary. As I hunched over the pad, miserable and drawing chains down the side of the page, I realized that this was another dead-end relationship. Now, in the middle of another job search, I'd like to combat the creeping Romance colonization of the rest of the bookstore with a new category: Workplace Pub Fiction, or those novels in which you could imagine hearing the majority of the book across a table from a disgruntled coworker, best friend, or former boss. There are good stories out there, from the very heart of our cubicled, consumerist, flourescent wastelands.

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