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Saturday, May 27, 2006

IT'S A CORPORATE LIFE FOR ME







Ten years or so ago, the world of web development was wide open. So much money was being thrown indiscriminately into the industry that there were jobs for everybody and anybody.

"Anybody? Why, I'm anybody. Hand me that dry eraser, give me three burlap upholstered walls and have the Help Desk set up my email. I'm in!" With my freshly lasered certificate from the Clark University Computer Graphics and Pre-press program, I mounted the digital bandwagon with gusto at a Boston area publishing firm. Finally, a use for the two dozen orphan ties I had adopted from my Dad's closet.

I embraced the corporate lifestyle while keeping one eye in a permanent wink and a tongue firmly planted in cheek. I figured if they wanted to pay me to do this, that was fine by me. I'd take that paycheck and I'd wear those ties and I'd attend those meetings and drink that kitchenette coffee and sing those rounds of "Happy Birthday" and chip in for those going away presents and drink those happy hour drinks at the Bertucci's downstairs and do all the things that have become American clichés that are so very popular nowadays in comic strips and television shows.

Let it be known that such cliché's are all devastatingly accurate.

For an average worker bee like me, corporate life consists merely of the strict adherence to a series of well established rituals. The conference call. The email. The office birthday party. The gossip. The introduction of new hires. The unannounced dismissal of inadequate employees. These functions and hundreds like them exist. They are summoned as needed. Deviation from them creates disruption. The disruption leads to confusion which can only be eliminated through a thoughtful return to the rituals. That return re-establishes the norm setting the cycle in motion anew.

Despite the distaste I had for corporate life or, more accurately, my imagined version of it, in 1995 I bowed my head and jumped straight in. I was fully aware of the potential friction this strange new environment and my more liberty-based outlook (read: don't tell me what the fuck to do!) would likely cause in light of an epiphany I experienced at 17 when I saw Pink Floyd's The Wall at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, Mass. During "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2," a throng of school children chant a staunch refusal to relinquish their individuality in the name of sustaining the status quo. And yet as they do, they march their faceless bodies onto a conveyor belt that carries them to a mysterious vat where they are processed and regurgitated as a thick fecaceous ooze. Horrified but emboldened by this image, I resolved to never give in to the system, to pledge allegiance only to myself and to dismiss forever convention for convention's sake. My happiness would be born of the path that I alone would carve. And this would bring me true happiness.

Or so the bargain implied.

Years later, I still clung to those principles, but experience and age had clearly diluted the fervor of my beliefs. I hadn't joined the system but the happiness I found without it was infrequent and not terribly compelling. Honestly, I was tired of the deadly boredom I encountered in my blue collar endeavors – retail stock person, call center operator, a scroll of temporary assignments, and worst of all, the breeding ground for debilitating depression: chronic unemployment. Whatever I was doing, it wasn't working for me. I needed a large change. The combination of a little therapy, a little Wellbutrin and some experimental sobriety did the trick. It popped me out of my funky rut and sent me hurtling into the world of awkward elevator rides with executives who pretend they don't recognize you rather than admit they don't know your name. And to my utter surprise, I didn't mind this world after all.

Sure, corporate culture tends to accentuate the extremes of human nature both good and bad and that can be exhausting. And, yes, the flaws in the system allow for all kinds of injustices and humiliations. But as it turns out, my years of resistance against this culture are serving to insulate me from its ill effects. I see the lunacy around me and for the most part chuckle my way to 5PM. It amuses me to see people behave the way they do. I feel like the little plastic deep sea diver at the bottom of the aquarium watching all the fish go around and around. I'm right there in the fish bowl but my participation is nicely limited. While all the fish are busy fighting for flakes of desiccated meal worms and worrying about catching tail rot, I'm over by the rock and the treasure chest blowing bubbles.

I've been at my current job for over six years, twice as long as I've held any other job. It is a creative position in a corporate environment. I survive due mostly to my sense of humor. I keep a supply of several dozen grains of salt in my back pocket and my desk drawer. I keep a constant eye out for the lunacies that play out before me and either make note of them here or expose them to a baffled audience of friends and family.

Eh, it's not too bad.



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