Working Girl

I haven’t had a 9-5 in over six years.

Now that I’m back in the “legitimate” working world, I have some observations.

  • I forgot how many people smoke. Most, if not all, of the people I hang out with don’t. I don’t know why, but it’s always funny to me when I see people speed walking with a cigarette in hand. It’s also sort of sad/funny to me that businesses will make having a designated smoking area a priority, but won’t think about accommodating nursing mothers. (My job has a room, which I thought was pretty awesome.)
  • It’s impossible not to want to eat out for lunch. There is somewhere to go on every block, at least two or three places. It’s also nearly impossible to eat for less than $10. A co-worker pointed out the Subway sandwich of the day, but also conceded you can only do this so much. Plus, it’s an excuse to get out of the office, which is a must when it’s 70 degrees in November.
  • Speaking of food, I’m always trying to figure out where the skinny girls go to lunch. I assume it’s salad in their to go bags.
  • Still on the topic of food, I try hard to eat at places I can’t find in the suburbs. This means I do my best to avoid Chipotle and Panera, even though they do serve things I like.
  • Why are there so many Potbelly’s and when did this happen?
  • Time becomes far too important. Not that it wasn’t before, but everything is about minutes and hours and schedules and deadlines. The train is late. Traffic is bad. Three people are ahead of you to use the microwave. The elevator is stopping at every floor. Someone on the street is walking too slow. Someone behind you gets into the same revolving door as you because they don’t want to miss their train (actually happened to me on the way home from my first day.) Everyone wants to stand on the escalator. Which, I mean, is fine, but my understanding of a moving staircase is that it goes faster when you keep moving and if you didn’t want to actually do any work you’d take the elevator. (I DON’T ALWAYS WALK UP THE ESCALATOR, YOU GUYS.)
  • The dress code at my job is casual. This is great, but I still fret over what I should wear. I used to have a job where the only person who really saw me was a baby. Then I spent over a year in maternity clothes. (Yes, I know pregnancy is only ten months.) Now I’m working downtown and can’t really show up in yoga pants. Though that would actually be OK according to policy. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I care way too much about it and no one notices or cares. It’s true! A cute outfit is still cute even if it’s worn more than once a month.
  • The last cubicle I had was actually pretty big and nice and I never thought I would mourn it until I saw how small my new one is. As the only girl in my training group, I of course asked if we could decorate them.
  • Because at the end of the day, working is just like high school. Who smokes, what you eat, what you wear and how you bedazzle your personal spaces matter. Not to mention, everyone looks like they’re ten years younger than me.

A Love Letter to the Sick Day

As a kid, I loved sick days. It helped that I wasn’t sick. No, aside from an early tangle with a forced air heater and the occasional stomach flu I was relatively injury and accident free. I attribute this natural good health, moderate cowardice, and after age 10 transitioning slowly into an indoor kid. I played sports when I was little, but after we moved to Minnesota pre-teen athletics turned into serious business. Girls were ultra-competitive and ice hockey was terrifying. This coincided neatly with my self-consciousness and angst hitting peak levels, culminating in a general feeling of “fuck teamwork, I’m going alternate between staring at my shitty complexion and reading a book for two hours, and fuck everything else too”. What a peach.

But back to sick days. Sick days were the greatest. Left home alone with large amounts of unstructured time – the luxury of a full eight hours (!) – I read, watched TV, and ate buttered noodles with parmesan. The house was gloriously quiet. My parents were at work. I wasn’t at school. No one was yelling, no girls were snickering as I walked past, and Ray Bradbury Theater reruns were playing on the Sci-Fi Channel. At that point we lived in the lower level of a duplex with large windows and a sunroom. Light streamed through, casting shadows on yellowing issues of Funny Times or The Mists of Avalon. It was peaceful and perfect.

Sick days are important. Maybe even more so as an adult, where being busy is the ultimate humble brag and working 60+ hours is a badge of screwy and terrible honor. Often it feels like people are convincing themselves that it’s a virtue to be a cog in a machine, a martyr to endless, churning productivity. And I feel like I’m sounding like the 13-year-old who hated gym class with that last part, but I owe a lot to the sick day. Through those hours, I figured out what made me excited, the words and pictures that came alive and stuck around, rattling for months and years and decades. This is probably why I still remember that episode of Legend of the Hidden Temple where Olmec’s face fell off, revealing the machinery beneath. It was intense.

Eventually I started to write little things – mostly lists, and then stories. They were pretty terrible. But still. It might not have happened without a pseudo-Mayan talking head, Lynda Barry comics, and the time to bury myself in them completely.

The sick day is not about being sick. It’s about free time, and a lot of it. No agenda and no expectation. No apologies, because free time is awesome. Free time is amazing. Free time is never wasted.

It’s also about buttered noodles. Feel free to sub out for a comfort food of your choice. Flexibility is what the the sick day is all about.


Snack Break

Have you ever had kind of a shitty job? Not like, the worst job. It’s fine, it pays okay, co-workers are nice enough for the most part with a few bright spots and a few assholes. It’s fine, but you know consciously or subconsciously that you’re not going to stay there forever.

Much like relationships, a job works until it doesn’t. You do it until you realize you can’t do it anymore. Sometimes it’s one thing that pushes you to that realization, an a-ha moment where it all falls into place. More often, it’s a combination of many things, both ongoing problems and specific events.

Sometimes, it’s the low-level yet pervasive sexism of office culture, strictly timed 15-minute breaks, and doing something really, really gross. I say in the story below that eating Corn Nuts on the toilet was my foxhole, but really it was a wake-up call. A salty, embarrassing reminder that it was time to move on.


There is something about being a woman in an office setting. You can’t be too gross. One could say that applies to being a woman most anywhere, and they would be right. But it’s particularly true in an office. Guys can belch, get too drunk at the holiday party and throw up a few blocks from Soldier Field, let mayo drip down their fronts and it’s stomach-turning but somewhat acceptable. If a girl does that it’s socially lethal. You’re a foul goblin — no longer gendered but some beastly thing, a cartoon legend that echoes through Google Chat or IM or if your office is particularly restrictive, company email. It sucks. You’re supposed to be pretty and get along with everyone be and social and pleasant, but not too loud or icky. It’s unfair. It’s sexist and awful.

I still shouldn’t have eaten Corn Nuts on the toilet.

Eating in a restroom is legitimately gross. It’s unsanitary on a basic, scientific level — food doesn’t go in a room where people shit. I accept this. You probably know this. This story is not for you. You probably don’t eat delicious junk food, let alone in a work setting, let alone in a multiple stall company restroom. This cautionary tale is for the girls and women who take bites so big it makes their cheeks look like woodland creatures, because they finally got the good pizza for the project meeting. The type who emit ungodly odors, not realizing that a leftover burrito chased with a giant coffee isn’t the best breakfast when you have to be around other people. The type who go three days without a shower because those extra 20 minutes of sleep are just beautiful and awesome. The type who chug a beer too fast at happy hour because they don’t really want to be at Paddy McFakeIrish’s Shitty Suburban Pub, and choke back upchuck while smiling politely at some bro from sales who will two months later get housed, give you his sleek, expensive Columbia earmuffs, tell you you’re beautiful, and quit a week later before you have a chance to awkwardly give them back. This is for you, because I like you, and I am like you. I know you’re doing this until you can find something better or so you can do something else, and I think you can. I want you to be remembered for your job performance and pleasing personality, not a very avoidable form of social suicide. And that means not eating Corn Nuts on the toilet, which I definitely did.