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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Office culture

As of today, I have a month left at my two-day-a-week office job, and I have mixed feelings about leaving.

On the one hand, it will be GREAT to be able to support myself purely on an academic salary, and I'll be plenty happy to leave behind the more tiresome photocopy-this, print-out-that aspects of the job. But at the same time I feel reluctant to leave. It's been a good experience (the job is in academic publishing, where I already had some prior work history); the people are generally nice; and I've managed to wangle quite few free books out of it. But it's more than that--it's that I like having a life apart from academia; I was work-study in college, and I worked full-time for two years after college, and I've had a part-time job all through grad school.

The thing is that I like structure and I like regular deadlines and I like people who don't always live inside their heads all the time. Working after college (paralegalling at a big, scary, white-shoe law firm for many many hours a week) was such a revelation to me: for the first time, I really felt good at stuff. In college I just never seemed as smart or as hip as the Boston-New York-D.C. prep school kids, who would riff confidently on this or that in the classroom, write beautiful papers, and casually get shitfaced at parties. But in the working world I was . . .reliable! Organized! Quick on the uptake! It was also while working that I learned to make small talk, and it came as a complete revelation to me that the much-maligned "talking about the weather" could in fact be a pretty meaningful exchange in which one cemented bonds over the coffee maker. And having a teasing relationship with the folks in Word Processing or Duplication? Meant my projects got done faster. And that I had friends who had my back. (It was also while working that, arguably, I learned how to dress and how to party, but that's another story for another time.)

So going back to grad school was hard. I was sick of the corporate world, but after a few years of being a genuine adult--earning a respectable salary, being depended upon, organizing major financial transactions--being thrust back into that infantilizing classroom role, where you're a suppliant to your professors' wisdom, was tough. Once again I was never the smartest person in the room, and once again I had no gauge of my intelligence or skills--unless you count that single end-of-semester essay as a gauge. I honestly believe that it was working at the university press, and then teaching, that got me through those first three years of grad school--those things that made me feel I had some control, and some competancy, and that, not incidentally, reassured me that if I dropped out of grad school I'd still have options.

When I moved back to MEC I lucked into this job with a reasonably well-regarded press. It was originally intended as a three-month internship, but then one editor went on maternity leave and another left (and eventually the new mom left as well), so my group was tremendously understaffed and managed to keep me on. I did a lot of grunt work, but for a while I was also handling tasks normally assigned to senior editors. (As a side note: if you've ever wondered why the back jacket copy of certain books bears NO RELATION to the actual text within, it's because people like me, with no background in the relevant field, are usually writing that shit.)

Anyway, it's been almost two years now, and the learning curve is long since flat; it would probably be time to move on even if I didn't have a full-time job lined up. And yet, I still have pangs. I like to believe in myself as someone who isn't completely beholden to the academy, as someone who has outside skills and interests--and this is one tangible proof of that. By leaving I feel as though I'm saying no to that other life, and yes I will yes I will yes to academia . . . but I'm not yet convinced that academia feels quite so strongly about ME.

So--no diss work today: tired and rather tipsy. After spending all day at the office I went out to meet one of my oldest friends for drinks. For which she was . . . an hour and fifteen minutes late. (But she paid for my drinks in the end, so I really can't complain.)

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:42 PM |


Blogger Professor B commented at 7:59 AM~  

"In college I just never seemed as smart or as hip as the Boston-New York-D.C. prep school kids,"


I can't imagine you as not hip OR smart. I wonder what that made me in college? ;-)

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 9:55 AM~  

Well, word has it that you had a smoking jacket in college that you rocked pretty hard, Prof B!

Anonymous Tanisha Sanson commented at 6:35 AM~  

One of the good things of office work is that you can really get out of your personal comfort and space, learn a lot from your colleagues, and expand your skills through experience. In especially busy business centers like NYC or Charlotte, NC, each of the office has their own distinct culture that really nurtures everyone! I know, because I've been in it for quite some time now.

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