Do you remember, reader, when you were a lovely, plump little child? Remember your cheeky gap-toothed grin, your one perpetually sloping grey knee sock, the way you could casually enchant passers-by with your cockney accent and the jaunty tilt of your flat cap? What’s that you say? That was that just me and the Artful Dodger? In any case, you were probably some sort of a child once, enchanting or not. Perhaps you remember making your communion; that special, sacred time in our lives when we stomped around with satin pouches full of cash like demented greedy girl-brides and befuddled pint-sized grooms. Oh, it was a magical time alright- I could bring you to nostalgic tears right now if I so wished, talking about DibDabs and somehow whispering bits of the songs in the back of Religion textbooks into your ear.
Do you remember during those halcyon days, looking up at your teacher, wrinkling your unfeasibly adorable button nose, and saying,
“Teacher, when I grow up I want to work in an office. I want to shred, and scan, and file all the live-long day. I want to cross-check spreadsheets until the cows come home, God damn it!”
If you did, good for you. I admire your precocious realism, you little freak. Unfortunately I was raised to believe I was special, the particular curse of my generation. We got the “You can do anything you put your mind to!” spiel from every angle, from our parents to the hundreds of meaningless but reassuring platitudes postered up in every classroom. I really believed, until it came to the time to put in any significant effort, that I could have any career I wanted. I would just have to decide on it, and my much-praised adequacy would surely take care of the rest. Naturally, this all blew up in my smug, mediocre face.
To cut a tedious and depressing story short, I dropped out of college and now I work in an office. I’m lucky- I work in as good-natured and pleasant an office as you could hope to find. But it still falls somewhat short of my earlier idle certainty that I would be a novelist/sassy and somehow American lawyer/forensic psychologist who chatted to serial killers all day. I never knew how weird working in an office would be. For one thing, I’m still not used to the constant culture of excessive politeness. Is it REALLY necessary to smile and nod and thank someone for holding a door open for you, even if they’re walking directly ahead of you and do it like six times in a row? I don’t know, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the one to find out. In my previous job, waitressing in a burger restaurant, our version of politeness was agreeing to man the floor alone for half an hour while the hung-over one sat on the bar floor, plunging their head in and out of the ice bin and wishing for the sweet release of death.
The strangest thing about office existence though, is the sense that my actions actually matter. Before, the worst thing I could mess up was an order, and the most severe consequence was some narked off yuppie tweeting about it. I never woke up before ten, and it never once felt like what I considered to be real life. It was only when I had to start putting on the grown-up costume every day that I realised this was probably all being an adult involves- wearing the right things, getting up at the right time, and not stinking of booze and fags constantly. What a strange feeling, to realise that I wasn’t getting a free pass for the last five years – that it has all been mattering, all along.
Megan Nolan @Megaroooo