Workaday

Library

The library seems so far away, now. I mean, it’s only been two weeks, but the difference between an academic library and a huge advertising agency is, as it turns out, fucking huge—similar to the gulf between the two salaries. Who would have thought it? I wouldn’t have thought it. I would have been amazed and alarmed, if you had come to me six months ago and whispered in my ear, "libraries and ad agencies have nothing in common." I would have accused you of being a dirty communist who was trying to corrupt me. Why, libraries and advertising agencies were practically the same thing! I would have cried, and then slapped your momma and called you a whore. But only because working at the library for five years had made me really, really crazy.

Okay, so I would have believed you. It’s the reason I left, isn’t it? Because I couldn’t deal with everything that made working at an academic institution so unbelievably soul crushing. Maybe "soul crushing" is overstating it a bit—which is so unusual for me—but it had gotten hard working there. Despite how, on paper, it sounded like the perfect job for the laziest person to ever roam the earth (i.e., me). Get your work done in approximately 45 minutes, and then spend the rest of the day surfing the net? Sign me up and pay me a pitiful salary, please!

It was pretty perfect when I was in grad school, and I needed those remaining 7 hours for schoolwork and reading and writing and decompressing from all the rage that filled my soul when I thought about the limitations of what talent I have and also about all the papers that were due that week. The library was a job that kind of absorbed those emotions, and diffused them, and let them sort of spread and sink and disappear. A delicious creamy pudding onto which you pour molasses, or maybe some kind of really old dish sponge.


There was something about the place that encouraged the most laid-back, laissez-faire, bon temps roulez kind of feeling. We showed up late, we forgot how long our lunches were, we put our feet on the desks, we threw paper clips and packs of Post-its and shot rubber bands, and we dressed funny on Halloween (see picture, above). We sung ’80s ballads and did the Charleston and jogged through the stacks and hid under our desks and we did our work, and well, in the middle and in between and it was like being in a co-ed dorm that had been sprayed down with vodka, sometimes.

And sometimes it was slow and quiet and I took off my shoes and curled up in my chair and wore a scarf wrapped around my head as a turban or assembled sticky notes across the top of my head and took care of my own stuff and no one seemed to care, and everyone was just as weird and casual as we were, clomping around in bedroom slippers and wearing wool hats and bathrobes and wandering the halls in search of a red stapler—just to have.

Sometimes I didn’t bother to shower before I came into work, and sometimes I didn’t bother to change out of my workout clothes after I ran, and I don’t think I ever wore makeup after my very first day there, when my co-worker at the time said, "Aren’t you fancy?" and I wiped off my lipstick and I had been happy ever since.

It was the perfect job for the pack of weirdos we were—are—and it is still that kind of perfect job. But I got restless, and antsy, tired of days that could sometimes seem endless, tired of being more or less useless, and also of being poor. I wanted, instead of vague and amorphous days that stretched out forever and ever, to have a point and purpose, an in-box and an out-box and a steady stream of work that would keep me busy and useful and happy. I wanted excitement, adventure, really wild things. An atmosphere charged with ambition and go-getterism, and people wearing shoes. And not only shoes, but really, really nice shoes. I wanted to feel like a grownup, I think. And wear really, really nice shoes.


Every time I freelanced at the agency, I thought, how different! How exciting! How different, and exciting, and look, they are all wearing slacks and proper grown up shoes, and they all look so fancy and expensive! It was very exciting to freelance there, because I would shower especially for the occasion, and pick out something nice to wear, and pull out a pair of shoes that I enjoyed immensely but had no occasion to ever wear because really, what’s the point when you’re sorting periodicals? And it made me so happy to hang out with grownups and wear lipstick and get paid a whole lot per hour to do actual work.


It’s been two weeks of lipstick and nice shoes and that in-box, out-box lifestyle of busy importance, and after my 100th retail ad of the day, I want to shoot myself in the eye most afternoons. But otherwise, so far and so good. I had these nagging doubts, when I accepted the job—everything that went along with those beautiful blondes I’ve mentioned before, their tiny little bodies, their beautiful clothes, the sense that in being forced to elevate myself to this level of fanciness and daily advertising-casual dressing on a daily basis that I would start to feel pressured, phony, ugly, inappropriate, inadequate, dumpy and ridiculous.

That’s entirely possible. Maybe one day I’ll wake up and the only thing I will want to do is put on a night gown and a pair of flip flops and forget to comb my hair and wander into work and say fuck all y’all, to the haters in their $300 jeans. Maybe I’ll develop an outraged sense of personal integrity and protest silently against the fashionista/os and show up every day in the same pillow case with unbrushed, yellow teeth. Or maybe I won’t get tired of what feels, to me, like taking care of myself. I haven’t bothered to really worry about my appearance in a long time, to think about what makes me feel good to wear, and how I want to present myself to the world. Maybe it will start to feel shallow, in awhile (around the time I’m so hungover and late to work and really, really don’t want to take a goddamn shower or wear pants), but for right now, it’s what I needed.

  10 comments for “Workaday

  1. Amy
    August 9, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Though I have an administrative assistant type job, the atmosphere is still very much like the library you worked in. We all come and go pretty much as we please. We joke around all day with just random outbursts. Some walk around in their bedroom slippers. Others, I just think, “God, Stacey and Clinton (from What Not to Wear) would have a coronary and send everyone to NYC at once if they ever ventured in this office.”

    The job is easy and very laidback, but it’s the same thing, day in and day out. Sometimes I want fast-paced and exciting. I got a degree in English, for crying out loud! Where’s the publishing company? Why am I editing this crap when I could be an editor for a newspaper or ad agency or SOMETHING that involves the usage of my English degree. And my salary is pretty shitty too.

    But I am slowly evolving. I still can’t get to work on time to save my life, but I am the one dressing like a professional and a grown-up now. Maybe my next step will be to get an actual grown-up job too.

  2. August 9, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    Haha, yes, the grown-up job and grown up shoes. I looked forward to this moment. And I got the sales job and pieces of the wardrobe to go with it. Then I realized everyone in my office wore Tevas, ancient cargo shorts, and t-shirts advertising a brand of software or memory card. Did I mention I work in high-tech? Now I frequently dress as you did at the library, often in my sweaty, tattered workout clothes.
    Maybe my next job will be REALLY grown up, like yours, and I’ll have a reason to wear tailored slacks and the suit I spent way too much on, along with all of my fierce heels. That notion actually excites me quite a bit…

    PS: You’re seriously looking awesome, keep up the pics – love ’em!

  3. August 9, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    That’s the job I dream of, but am also scared of – a job where I have to/get to dress like a grown-up and worry about my appearance and generally take care of myself. Right now I wear jeans and grubby T-shirts and Crocs to work (so I can take my shoes off and be barefoot under my desk all night, because I’m not allowed to wear flip-flops), and putting on makeup seems pointless and wasteful. But whenever I do bother with makeup and doing my hair and a nice shirt, I feel so GOOD about myself and wonder why I don’t do this all the time. I’m going to be changing to working days soon and will have to start dressing better, and I’m both elated and horrified at the thought of looking presentable 5 days a week, instead of allowing my inner schlub to shine through. Let me know how it works out for you, okay?

  4. sally
    August 10, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    I work at an academic library, but it’s a business library that’s really uptight–as am I–at work.
    I dress in suits and sensible heels (really!!) I teach students how to use databases like Bloomberg and VentureXpert in classes called Strategy 670. I’m not that much older than you guys and I’ve been doing the grown-up thing for years. Blazers, Talbots, Anne Taylor and Dansko.
    Your lives are like my 18 year old daughter and stepdaughter’s clothes-wise. It’s like another world. It’s pure voyeurism for me. I would have a heart attack if I had to teach a class in my bedroom slippers. I could never face those MBAs without my Talbot’s “Blazer”!
    Sad, I know!!
    Anne, please do a makeover on me!
    Help!

  5. Diana
    August 11, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    I guess I have been a giant lurker for so long on your blog and others. I didn’t even know I could leave a comment unless I had a blog or and Url. I have really enjoyed your story and your story-writing abilities. Keep up the good work

  6. Diana
    August 11, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    I guess I have been a giant lurker for so long on your blog and others. I didn’t even know I could leave a comment unless I had a blog or and Url. I have really enjoyed your story and your story-writing abilities. Keep up the good work

  7. August 12, 2007 at 8:46 am

    I’ve been an academic librarian for almost 30 years and yeah, a lot of our places work the ways your library does. It’s pretty casual attire for many, though the professional staff dress up more.

    But I hate wearing suits and pointy toed shoes with heels turn me into a babbling, stumbling idiot who can barely walk 10 feet. So it works for me to be business casual and have flexibility.

    People outgrow jobs and workplaces. Yours was perfect for you for a while and when it wasn’t anymore, you were smart enough to know it and find another option to match who you are now. Good job :)

  8. August 13, 2007 at 5:15 am

    it’s true what they say. the grass is always greener…

    i love this blog because i always feel like i can relate to what you say…

    when i worked in an office, i always envied those who worked out of their homes, pjs all day, do your work when you feel like, take a nap if you feel like it.

    now i work from home and i miss the human contact. sometimes i feel frustrated because there is so little structure.

    it’s human nature i think, and you described it perfectly, as always ;)

  9. K
    August 13, 2007 at 7:28 am

    I have mixed feelings on this one. I’ve had the drift-through-the-day jobs and the focus-focus ones. I like the focusing ones better, on the whole, but I really wish I could do them in jeans…

    I feel good about myself when I’m all dressed up: I feel good about myself in jeans and docs. It’s the sad black trousers and frumpy shirts in the middle that sap my soul, and somehow, whenever I have a job that requires business attire, I cannot keep up the high-gloss, and end up in the sad black trousers…

    I should throw them out, except that they fit me and all.

  10. August 13, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks for having a fabulous blog. I have read so much of it already, and have the utmost respect for you. Congrats on all you have achieved.

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