This morning I awoke from a horrific dream.
It was my first day working in an office. I shared a space with three other people, one of whom was overly friendly, the next had an inflated sense of seniority, and the third refused to smile at all. All the computers had at least one broken part and there was a mysterious sticky spot on the table in the middle of the room. I wasn’t allowed to have lunch away from my desk, though there was a short period of time for me to fetch something from the canteen. After hunting in various parts of the building I found the canteen, which looked eerily like my high school cafeteria and where they served only two things: a soggy mix of pasta salad, and greasy cheeseburgers.
I spent a long time staring at the ceiling after I woke up, debating whether it was worth getting out of bed. For you see, unlike my fantastical nightmares about zombie sharks and giant maurading wolves and whatnot, this is exactly the sort of thing that might turn out to be true.
It will probably sound embarrassingly whimsical once I admit it, but I’ve always had a subtle conviction that my life would be full of glamor, mystery and excitement. So far, this has turned out to be a remarkably accurate prediction. (Some of you out there might be saying, what on earth is she talking about? But the fact is that I FEEL like my life is full of glamor, mystery and excitement, and that’s the important thing.)
Much of this feeling revolves around being the mistress of my own time, getting to work and play whenever it suits me. (Living in a foreign country and having traveled quite a bit certainly doesn’t hurt either.) Conversely, the idea of having to work in an office where I have to turn up every day, day after day, at the same time, even if there’s nothing pressing to do, and I’m not allowed to leave, just makes me want to set fire to something.
Presumably it doesn’t help that neither of my parents have worked in what you might call a normal office since I was about eight years old. And, unlike the soul-flattening corporate headquarters in my dream, when my mom worked in an office she was forever jetting off to the far regions of the earth where she got to see kangaroos and koala bears and mystical temples and strange floating cities. (She also worked very hard, but that doesn’t make much of an impression on an eight-year-old.) My dad hasn’t worked in a “real” office since I was about four; when I was growing up he was a freelance toy inventor. (He and his business partner had an office/workshop, but it was more Charlie and the Chocolate Factory than…well, than The Office.)
All of this is truly wonderful, but I don’t feel it is a fully adequate preparation for the screaming horror of waking up one day realizing that your dreams of glamor, mystery and excitement died when you signed your life away to HR in HQ thinking it was only a temporary measure to get you on your feet and only now discovering that you will never, ever get those years back.
The optimal solution, obviously, is to stay a graduate student forever. Unfortunately, I have the sinking feeling that eventually somebody would catch on.
Forgive me for getting all “The Pit and the Pendulum” on you, but the thing is that I’m deeply and acutely aware that my hours as a graduate student are numbered and that each passing day brings me ever closer to the risk of an endless line of mushy pasta salads. (If I were better at physics I’d probably come up with a great metaphor about time horizons and black holes inexorably sucking all the life out of the universe, but unfortunately you’ll just have to imagine it.)
I suppose if a future of officedom is inevitable, I might as well go out for a walk now, while I still can. I’ll be at the cathedral if you need me.