Monday, August 5, 2013

I've Got a Problem

I didn't quite realize the severity of my problem until I attended my company's Christmas gathering last year. It wasn't a party, it was a gathering. It was perfectly nice, but it was a gathering. 4:00pm in the conference room. When the cubes of cheese were gone, and the plastic cups of wine were drained, people went back to work. It was a gathering.


I worked this particular job, at a small but well-known publishing house in Manhattan, for almost exactly three years. Which is weird to type out loud, because for a job I didn't much care for, three is a big chunk of my cumulative twenty-five. I'd lay some math on you at this point, but I don't math well, so I won't.

So back to Magic: The Gathering.


My office wasn't the type that would socialize. Or maybe they did, I don't know. I wasn't doing any socializing. There were two people in my department, including myself, and if the higher-ups looked hard enough at what we were doing every day, they'd realize that we could've easily been replaced by computers. Well - let's say robots. Robots are more glamorous.


So anyway, I'm standing in a corner, looking at people who I've worked with for upwards of three years, realizing that I don't know any of them, getting anxious about it, and sipping my merlot. Corner, people, anxious, sip. A cycle. Soon I'm tipsy, as is my wont.


At some point, one of the senior editors approached me directly. That or I was blocking the door frame, and I misinterpreted his "excuse me" as an invitation to start talking at him.


For a quick moment I was relieved that a conversation was happening. I remember that. I remember congratulating myself on all my accomplishments thus far. I was having a conversation at The Gathering. I had washed my hair that morning. The afternoon wasn't a total bust.

But as quickly as that feeling came, it left. It left me like Brad left Jennifer, the dog. All of a sudden I was extremely self-conscious. I started stressing about rules of basic human interaction.


We talked for a minute or so. About whatever. I was borderline drunk, and sweating profusely. I couldn't understand why I was having so much trouble holding up my end of the conversation, and the more I thought about it, the worse it became. Involuntarily I started tuning him out, so I could regroup in my drunk head and come out the other side with something interesting to say.

I could tell by his cadence that the sentence he'd been speaking was almost over, and that I'd need to give some sort of indication that I'd been listening. So I business laughed.


Business laughing isn't real laughing. It's a placeholder. But it didn't matter - it worked.

Here comes the part where I realize I've got a problem. Remember? The problem I have? I alluded to it in the first sentence. Try to keep up.

We finished business laughing, and he asked me a question that brought me out of my anxious tipsy haze.


At this point it should be reiterated that at that moment in time, I had been working full-time at that office for close to three years. And so had Tim.

Something shifted. I felt the anxiety fall away. I laughed. Loudly. And this was no business laugh.


I couldn't stop laughing. It was, and still is, ridiculous. He gave a genuine apology, and I genuinely accepted, still laughing. I laughed for a million years. We laughed together, and at some point, he left. Everyone left, and I was still laughing.

It wasn't until I went back to my cube and put my head on my desk that I realized I had a problem. That it wasn't Tim's responsibility to get to know every insignificant assistant on the company's payroll. That not only do I need to make an effort, but I need to be better at the efforts I actually end up making.


Eight minutes later I lifted my head up and watched a moth flap its stupid moth dust all over my inbox, which in that place was a physical box, with paper, like in the old movies. Two weeks later, I left that job forever.