You know, I’ve never really thought before about what a strange thing working is.
But it totally is; the workplace is this sort of artificially-induced intimacy between a bunch of people with nothing more in common than that they get paid by the same entity to be in the same place for eight or nine hours a day. As a result of that proximity, they wind up sharing a lot about themselves, but guardedly so because there is an actual book of rules governing how you’re supposed to talk to one another and what’s grounds for dismissal, like streaking or taking student workers as pets (why don’t marriages and parenting have these handbooks?). Also, because you have almost nothing in common, everyone else is potentially a gossiping, judgmental asshole, so it’s like a minefield of hidden enemies. When you find one person who seems to be pretty okay with your personal brand of weirdness – or better yet, has an actual sense of humor – you hang onto them like a floating door next to a homicidal iceberg. AND – and this is maybe the strangest part – I’m one of those people to everyone else I work with.
And we spend more time with each other than our own families, who while they may not always like the unvarnished us, definitely love and accept us for exactly who we are.
Herein lies the problem: I’ve spent the last couple years either a full-time student, freelancing, or unemployed. I am always exactly who I am. I don’t have closely guarded filters or a host of situational personae. I can’t if I hope to ever make another blog post again. I don’t care what people know about me, and I’m not really sure I understand why it’s not good for students to know about your personal life or your absurd sense of humor if your job is just to help them navigate their academic path through school. We’re all adults here, for goodness’ sake & I’d rather relate to them person-to-person than have some kind of weird faux age- and position-based authority. I’m sure there must be a reason why this is the norm at universities, but I have yet to get a reason that makes me want to filter myself at work. Maybe there will come a day when someone explains it to me and I’ll reconsider, but aside from the paycheck, I’m here for the connection; no point in building walls for their own sake.
So this is me, three months into full-time job having: I haven’t met my department’s life preserver yet, and I’m still sort of paddling around, mentally sizing up every conversation I have for tiny clues that someone else wears a thin veneer of normal over a thick, crunchy center of freak-flag (and the award for the Mixiest Metaphor goes to…). In the meantime, I am in a constant state of acute self-consciousness over my behavior, which is only not crippling through the miracles of modern medicine. But I can’t help myself. While I was writing this, I turned the bottom of my shirt inside out to detach a tag that was bothering me with a staple puller. I am aware that this may make other people look at me askance, but I’m on the right antidepressants so I don’t actually care enough to go do it in the bathroom (wow, we really do mostly filter ourselves based on anxiety about how we might be judged, don’t we?). I blurt out random things that I find interesting and amusing, and where Jim or Corinne might laugh or look interested, I just get these puzzled looks from the people in the desks around me. I suck at pretending that I can’t overhear someone else’s conversation, or pretend that I can’t see the computer screen of one of my coworkers, who must have a new girlfriend because he’s suddenly started shopping for flowers and jewelry. I manage it, but it feels sort of like they don’t know I’ve seen them naked (a metaphor – I definitely haven’t seen any of my coworkers naked). I offer to make people scarves with my new ninja crochet skills, and everyone sort of awkwardly declines.
I keep hoping that in the long term my weirdness will be a good thing. Like somehow my be-yourself influence will rub off on everyone and reservations will become something you make for dinner again, and we can all have a good time. But I don’t think I’ve ever been the influencer anywhere I’ve ever been so it’s admittedly kind of a long shot.
Instead of opening them up, I just make people uncomfortable when I hang a little Miley Cyrus on one of the office nonspecific winter holiday (but not really because what other holiday involves trees and ornaments?) ball ornaments and then when the judgment fest begins, announce that I kind of like her and remind everyone of Britney’s big “I’m no longer a Disney star and therefore am allowed to have functioning genitals” coming of age media blitz, which they suddenly see as no big deal. And I actually think that’s pretty awesome, because that means that girls kissing on TV is no big deal anymore, even to some of the serious conservatives in my office (or at least compared to twerking, the reasons for which are a whole different rant). It’s not the sea change I was looking for, but I’ll take what I can get.
Anyway, now that I’m settled into my new job, hopefully the misadventure quotient is about to rise. Also? I really wish you were my coworker. We would have so much fun.