I hope that last week was a good one. It’s officially summer now. The first day of summer, or rather the first night, is a fun event in Paris. It’s a celebration of music, where music groups, bands, people blessed with musical talent, perform in the streets. It’s a happy way to usher in summer and gives people a chance to share their musical gifts.
On another note, I am always somewhat fascinated to learn about the evolution of our habits, styles, and trends in this rapidly changing world. Some innovations seem like a vast improvement, others seem downright strange, or take some major getting used to. The last ‘corporate’ job I had a long time ago was in advertising, as a copywriter. After that, I worked for three years as a high school teacher, teaching English and creative writing, and after that I gave up my ‘day jobs’ to write full time (which in my case means day and night). I was in my twenties then, and had written my first book at nineteen, so it’s been a long while since I had a corporate job. Working at home, I set my own rules, make my own schedule, and can wear whatever I want. (My favorite writing outfits are old cashmere nightgowns, which are warm and comfy). And I’ve always gotten more work done at home without the distraction of others working with me, office politics, and meetings to attend. There are many advantages to working at home, but there are also downsides. You have to have the discipline to actually DO your work (and not clean out the kitchen cupboards or your closet instead, or the garage, or go for a walk or have three hour lunches with friends.). But there are definite downsides too, mostly on the social side. I don’t think it’s entirely healthy to work in solitary circumstances, never see anyone, get properly dressed, or have exchanges with other humans. It can be lonely, you don’t meet new people that way, which is an important part of daily life, and impacts relationships, or the ability to meet someone who might become a friend. I loved running the art gallery I had for 5 years, because I did have to get dressed up, go out, and met really interesting new people every day.
When I interview assistants for my office at home, the two questions I hear most often are “Will I have flexible hours?” and “Can I bring my dog to work?” Flexible hours means “Can I work from home?”. And my answer has always been no to both. I need people working in my office, not in their own home, so I can hand off work to them, sometimes projects, or a single mission: Xeroxing manuscripts, researching something I need, shipping manuscripts off to editors, dealing with the press, sending things to attorneys to check, and all the minutiae of my writing life. And although I have always had a lot of dogs of my own, I don’t want to deal with my employees’ dogs too, but I’ve eased up on that. And my office accountant brings her French Bull Dog to work—-who growls and barks every time she sees me (the dog, not the accountant!! Although I give her reason to bark at me too, but she doesn’t). But I still want my employees working at my house not their own. My employees work in an extensive ground floor space, each with their own private office, all of them three floors away from me, so I can still work quietly, alone, in my ‘ivory tower’, my tiny office upstairs (always the smallest room in every home I’ve lived in.) My current office, for the past 30 years, is about 8 by 10 feet. Over the years, I’ve worked in a laundry room, and several times in a closet I transformed into an office. I like small spaces, which are are cozy, when I write. So that’s what’s comfortable for me. And when I write, I’m surrounded by a million (maybe a few less) small mementos made for me by, or given to me by, my children, some photographs of them, with the walls of my office covered with art made by my kids over the years, funny signs, and the framed quotations I love. It’s all very personal, and I like everything neat and tidy when I start a book, and as I work (although my desk gets messier as the book grows). There are stacks of papers on my desk, either current projects, or others I need to refer to. There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ on my desk, but it’s all very orderly. I like to keep things neat, and no one sits at my desk, ever, except me. (the bad habits of an only child, I don’t like sharing my work space with others).
In light of that, a recent conversation with my French and British publishers stunned me, describing their new practices in their offices. And I think the same practices are now being used in the U.S. First, they said they did away office walls, so that people were working in wide open spaces, which I would find very distracting with a sea of people around me. Also, isn’t that noisy?? I need total silence in the room when I write. The smallest noise, especially a mechanical one, or a phone ringing, or people talking, breaks into my thought process as I write a book. My British publishers recently moved, and my French ones are moving in a few months, so these new systems are new to them too.
The most amazing to me is that, having done away with office walls, and actual rooms where you can close a door, is that their newest change is that NO One will have a desk or their own space, their own room/office, or their own desk. There are areas of desks where you can work for a few hours, but you have to arrive with your own ‘stuff’ (papers, files, etc.), and take it with you when you vacate that desk a few hours later. There are couches, and sitting areas, and all the possible arrangements and configurations of furniture used in an office, but ALL of it is generic, does not ‘belong’ to you, and you have to carry all your paperwork around with you, as you move from area to area. When I asked where they put their files or other materials, they responded “on the floor”. Bluntly put, that would drive me nuts. Not only would I not have all the little personal things around me that make it ‘my space’ and feel homey and familiar, but you can’t leave anything anywhere, it’s a totally nomadic daily life, as you float around the whole building or office space, with no office of your own, and nowhere to put or leave your ‘stuff’. I would be a wreck by the end of the day, carrying manuscripts with me. I am definitely a ‘paper’ person, and not a high tech (or even low tech) computer person. Supposedly studies have shown that the new system works better, and gives people a sense of freedom, and the set up they need to perform different tasks. The lack of ‘possessiveness” stuns me…I love having My desk, and My space, and My office, not just a couch, or a random desk, or a table I can use as a desk for a few hours. I don’t think I could work that way. It seems incredibly modern and high tech, and I wonder if time will prove that it really is more efficient, or if office workers will just be shuffling around aimlessly, and lose some vital piece of paper as they move from place to place. (That would REALLY drive me nuts. WHERE is page 262???? or chapter 3??????) But I still write on a typewriter, not a computer. Just dragging all my stuff around all day would wear me out, and it would feel like working in an airport, not an office. But maybe people will love it. The ones I spoke to said they are still getting used to it, but have been told they will come to love it.
Brave new world!!! And it’s interesting to see people embrace change…..as I tiptoe off to my overcrowded little office, with everything in it just the way I want, to work 22 hours a day sometimes writing a book. And if anyone moves things on my desk, I have a fit, and can tell immediately!!! I’m happy I don’t have to make that adjustment!!
Have a great week ahead, and happy first day of summer!!!