Since we’ve all decided this recession, the Great Recession, will leave a wide and deep footprint in our national soul, journalists have begun sketching it out. Yesterday on “Talk of the Nation” they were discussing this story in the Atlantic, which I haven’t read and don’t intend to, because it’s February and I’m coping with my usual winter subclinical grumps, and who needs more?
This one, from Sunday’s NYT, sort of snuck up on me, hiding as it was in the Styles section; I thought Sunday Styles was the place you went to avoid reading about strife and misery, but maybe this doesn’t count, although it does to me:
In 18 months, Ms. Lentini went from editing one daily newsletter to still editing that one, as well as the 10 weeklies that generated new ad revenue at no extra cost to her company. Of course, there was a cost: her free time. “It’s, ‘How many plates can I keep going?’ ” she said. “You’re giddy with hysteria.”
She now starts at 7:30 a.m. instead of 9, and works Saturday and Sunday mornings. The night of the Super Bowl, she finished at 11. When she was first hired, she had money to pay someone to fill in during her two vacation weeks. That ended with the recession, so now she doubles her workload the week before vacation. Holidays? “I work most holidays,” she said.
Even while driving one of her daughters to an after-school job as a hair salon receptionist, Ms. Lentini works. “Bridget holds the laptop,” she said. “She’ll say, ‘Mom, you got an I.M. from the photo editor.’ She’ll read it to me, I’ll say, ‘Just put ‘O.K.,’ and write ‘tx’ for thanks. So I can work and drive.”
The story was about the new way we do more with less, and then some more, and some more on top of that, and wondered what might happen when the recession ends, if it ever really does — will we still work this way? My own experience says yes, of course we will; that’s certainly the way it was in newspapers during our long slide, which presaged the general economic collapse. I used to liken it to starving to fit into a two-sizes-smaller dress by prom night or your wedding day or whatever. Diet-diet-diet-celery-water-diet, keep pulling everything in and then comes weigh-in day (quarterly numbers) and whew, you just made it to your goal! Yahoo! [Pause.] Now lose 10 more pounds.
I wonder because I heard from an editor yesterday, pointing out several sloppy goofs in a story I’d handled, and not only was he right, I knew why I made the mistakes: Because I’d edited that story at 1:30 a.m., after a seven-hour shift on my other job. I was still working because I knew I’d have trouble sleeping that night (even though I was exhausted). Why? Because I’m stressed out at how much I have to do. It’s a loop.
I’m not complaining. I’m just wondering. I wonder why we tell our friends story after story about work, its miseries and occasional joys, and yet, so few of our entertainments are about work. (Except for the usual venues — police stations, hospitals and forensics units.) The answer is obvious, I guess: Why pay for a novel or movie about something I live every day? A few years I noticed something: How often the people I met in the pages of a book were independently wealthy, either through family fortunes or early-career windfalls that left them with the means to have novel-worthy midlife crises uncluttered by having to show up at work every day.
One of the many things to admire about “Office Space” is how well it captures the existential misery of life in a cubicle farm, from the chirpy receptionist to the passive-aggressive boss to the ritual of the office birthday cake. You can almost taste the cheap frosting. My favorite sequence in “Up in the Air” is when the three main characters sneak into another company’s Miami team-building party; there’s something about the way the m.c. greets all the members of the best! sales staff! in the southeast region! that sent chills down my spine. (Not that I’ve ever been to such an event. In journalism they just bark, “Back to your oar, 42.” The Miami sojourns for Knight-Ridder were known as Prick School.)
And yet, existential misery is preferable to unemployment, isn’t it? The new normal will be no Miami at all. And no health insurance. The new model for freelancing is Crowdspring, which puts a high gloss on the feeding frenzy. It works like this: You post a project, saying, “I will pay $300 for a logo for our start-up business. It should convey the idea of “bookishness,” but be really smart and sorta techno and have blue in it. Show me what you got.” And then dozens of starving designers (or writers, if that’s the project) do the work and submit it. You pick your favorite and pay your pittance, and everyone else goes home hungry. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
If you have a job, you’re grateful. If you have a job you like, you have rubies and diamonds. Pause a moment to appreciate it.
The Daily Telegraph asks a number of writers to list their Top 10 rules for writing. Part one here, link to part two in part one. Will Self made me laugh:
Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment.
Now, I must go to work. (Which I like very much. I only wish it paid better, especially when there’s eight inches of snow atop my aging roof.)