One of the reasons I left my job when I did was the view. When I started that job in 2013, my desk was on a sunny, top-ish floor that seemed sort of like a comfortable space ship; I had windows at my back and an unrestricted view of a quiet but not empty hall, which meant I could have pleasant, passing conversations with passersby as I liked.
My desk was large; there was room for photos of Fat Jeoffy and Sir Walter Ralegh. When it was sunny outside, all was light and industrious contentment; when it snowed, we found ourselves huddling cozily in our sky-cave. I got a lot of work done there, work I enjoyed, work done with and for people I respected.
Such a beautiful corporate dream couldn’t last, of course; the inevitable blood bath that results when a new CEO takes over began last summer and while I retained that improbably perfect desk almost to the end of my time there, the gold paint on my dream of money AND happiness quickly began to chip and peel. People got laid off; one day, I saw this poor HR woman get let go after having spent that day and many of the preceding days forced to let other people go.
Many people remained, of course, but while the conversations continued, we all walked around with hunched shoulders, tired eyes and a toxic, boiling mixture of fear and resentment and disgust. Then the team on my left side got moved; then my work bestie went to another team; and then my team got moved to another floor.
We were officially relocated but no one came to claim our desks, so I just stayed. I stayed while everyone else left. I sat alone there every day for over a month until my boss gave me a strict and final due date for transferring my belongings. I didn’t want to go because I knew that once I did, it would just be a matter of time before I quit. Which means, of course, that it was already just a matter of time.
The joy of that desk wasn’t the desk, by any stretch, though it was truly a fabulous piece of office furniture. It was the view—of happy people and a professional community that made sense, and that I made a sensible and good part of.
The new location for our team was on a much lower floor with very few windows and desks half the size. There were 6-foot partitions between us. There was a window behind me, but that window was controlled by a woman who refused to open the blind. My view was of an insurmountable wall covered in old beige carpet.
Sitting there for the maybe 2 months I lasted after the move felt like it was cutting little pieces out of my personality with a serrated knife. I had interesting work to do but became increasingly uninterested in doing it; I went out for a lunch a lot; I looked for jobs at my station and didn’t try to hide it; I went to the cafeteria (nicely windowed and with a view of the street) and read novels while deafening myself with 2-hour best-of classical playlists on my phone and didn’t try to hide that either.
So, yes, freelancing generally suits me better than 9-to-5-ing my days away in rumpled business casual; but no matter where I am, when it comes to work the view is the tipping point between claustrophobic boredom and the quiet joy of hitting a deadline and admiring what I’ve produced, even if it I am just shilling for a bunch of corporations (which I’m still doing; more about that at a later date).
The point is, I would not have finished my PhD were it not for a succession of very sunny home offices with yellow paint on the walls. I would not be freelancing from home now if I didn’t get to look at a giant tree every time I looked up from my computer.
It’s fine to shill but there’d better be trees and sunlight and blue jays and squirrels and starlings and raccoons and butterflies, that’s all. (Or a snow squall or a rain storm or the bare branches trembling in the wind.)
I must always and forever be able to see the life outside from inside the cubicle, regardless of that cubicle’s size or relative physical reality. I like work but only because it’s not the thing looming largest from every horizon; the difference between a job and an affliction can be so terribly fine.
Which is why I’m here, of course, and not still on the well-heeled prowl for dress trousers that don’t wrinkle too easily. And cats, of course. Cats.