entry_157I’m distracted. I look up from the doodle on my post-it notepad and see the department manager, stem to torso, standing at his desk. I haven’t gotten used to it even though it’s been two weeks since he first decided to start standing. Let me be clear on this point: he no longer sits. Ever. His laptop rests atop a tower of stacked monitor stands, and an attached keyboard is placed such that his arms can reach it from a neutral position. It’s like he’s become an upright fundamentalist. I don’t think he has a chair in his office anymore, and even the family photos on his desk that depicted people sitting were removed by the custodial staff. At first I assumed that this elevated stature was designed to give him a crow’s nest vantage point over the cubicle farm, but now I remember the mean ergonomics lady.

She is responsible for this, I’m sure of it. Last month she made her presence known to the entire staff, flitting from cube to cube, making notes, and offering each of us cold reads on the spot. “I’m going to have you move your armrests down,” she said. And people complied because they assumed she had complete armrest authority. She could hear carpal tendons from across the room, inflamed and rubbing together like frayed ropes. “We don’t want to hold our wrists up like that for an extended period of time,” she said. And, “Let’s go ahead and increase our monitor’s refresh rate so that we can avoid seizures.” And, “Do you have scoliosis, or are you just broken?”

Ergonomically-speaking, I wanted to urge her to relax as she plummeted from our sixth story window, but pity cooled my coals. Her task, after all, was unenviable. The implicit question is: how can humans survive in an office environment for an extended period of time without physical trauma? Personally, I would answer that succinctly by pulling out my urine-stained performance review and weeping. Point made.

It’s not my office manager alone who is responsible for my distraction, but rather the altered environment ergonomics lady left in her wake. Strange things are afoot, and it’s proven detrimental to my performance. Late last week I attended an in-house training class, and our instructors, three women from the HR team, conducted the entire class in a fetal position, lying on gel-filled mats, and navigating through their PowerPoint decks using sip/puff tubes. They certainly seemed comfortable–one of them even fell asleep during the course, and we had to reconvene after lunch.

Were these the lengths to which people would go to reduce the stress of the oppressive confines of their corporate veal cages, without actually escaping them? Why draw the line at the cubicle then? Why not just stay home instead? It’s the interstitial area between fight and flight, a state of mind that is accessible only to those who medicate to toleration. But the real truth, I fear, lies within a cylindrical glass tank.

Deep in the bowels of the building where I work there is a vaulted chamber, thrumming like a secret heart. In its wanly lit atrium the members of the Executive Committee perform their unholy congress cloaked in Brooks Brothers and DKNY. These are the minions of our CEO, who has lately taken to floating suspended in his tank full of burbling amniotic fluid. From this ergonomic utopia he directs the business, communicating his directives through a subdermal microphone.

At our company’s all-hands meeting we gather, all of us, around the CEO’s tank like pigeons around the breadcrumb lady on her park bench. As they massage their palsied wrists, I see fear and admiration both on my coworkers’ faces. When the CEO addresses us, we are expecting to hear wisdom of unmatched depth, but, as incongruous as it would seem, the meeting is actually boring: market-spew and revenue stats, and other obscure information best experienced as background noise. Right up until the very end, that is.

“The last order of business,” he says, “concerns your participation within this organization.” We look at each other as he pauses, drawing the moment out. Then he tells us that we are each, in turn, to have a hand in transferring him from the lymphy broth of the tank to his sensory deprivation chamber. At the end of each workday we will sponge him off, and pat him dry. We will powder his cherub skin, swathe him in a silk tunic, and slide him into his live-work womb. There is some consternation among the ranks, and I hear one of the Marketing reps asking her neighbor whether such a burden might not exacerbate the nerve damage in her forearms.

But the CEO is not finished, and the look on his face has transformed. He places a palm up to the glass membrane and says, “Though life is but the setup to death’s punchline…. Friends, shareholders, it is too late for me. If I could weep still…” he swirls his arms at his sides like propellers. “This life-restoring soup may as well be my tears. But I can see now that I’ve gone too far. I know that. And it happened, all of this, because I lost sight of the truth. But there is hope for you. The truth is that carpal tunnel syndrome and a numb ass are the modern office’s gift to you! What could be more life-affirming than fluorescent headaches and mouse-finger calluses? Please… try to see these things for what they are. They are reminders… that we are alive–truly alive!” His hands are both on the cylinder wall now, and the plea has brought life to his eyes again, if only for a moment. “Now back to your desks,” he says.

Work hurts.


entry_156I used to pretend that my pencil was a rocket. As my Grade 3 teacher broke the world into morsels digestible to eight year olds, I was launching golden missiles into space. I would squint with one eye open and, holding my Ticonderoga by the metal band around the eraser, move it steadily upward into my field of vision. Then, once the lead tip (or “nose cone”) had ascended out of view, I would deftly switch hands, grabbing the tip in my other hand while releasing the engine in time to see it sweep seamlessly by. Persistence of vision provided the illusion of unassisted flight across a constellation of adolescent heads. This business was hardly subtle, and on more than one occasion I was spotted by the teacher, my attention compromised, and made to participate in undesirable activities.

Daydreaming wasn’t the problem. Daydreaming is never the problem. The problem before the child with fantastic proclivities is figuring out a way to attend to matters of mind without gaining the attention of the authorities, as participation represents a spiritual forfeiture, and, to a lesser degree, an endorsement of dogma.

Several years passage found me an asocial tyke not yet at home in my own skin. A recent growth spurt had seen my legs replaced by mysteriously articulated stilts over which I had yet to gain mastery. But, though I was as awkward as a moist fawn, nothing could keep me from my running. I ran constantly, whether circuiting the school playground or dashing to the teacher’s desk to hand in my paper at the conclusion of a pop quiz. I had but two gears, fidgeting or sprinting. And if my energy seemed boundless then I can only attribute it to one thing: the power cartridges in my shoes. In the heel of each treble-striped Adidas was an invisible cylinder, shallow and wide. These provided me with a capacity for physical activity that few could match, and which fewer still could even tolerate. I would extract spent cartridges from my soles at least once a week, and this behavior became so ingrained that it continued–albeit with slightly diminished frequency–right up until my graduation from High School.

My tendency to running abated sometime during Grade 8, once I became aware of the disapproving glances of the girls. The girls had existed prior to my awareness of them, to be sure, but never in any substantial way. I’d seen them, if at all, as representatives from some obscure and transient sect, no more than shadows really. But something had changed over the Summer, and now, as I became more aware of them, they became painfully aware of me, as in Lovecraft’s tales of spectral beasties from beyond. And oh how the girls judged me, and tormented me by their mere existence. And so I had no choice but to withdraw, again.

As a teenager, during my final years of innocence, I spent most of my time pretending that I was a hollow giant, and that people–tiny to me–watched my every movement from my observatory eyes. I became hyper-conscious of my physical structure, and went about my business in a plodding, calculated fashion, supplying sound effects if I felt particularly alone. Sometimes I would pick up something nearby–a die, a salt shaker, a floppy disk–in order to satisfy the curiosity of my inner audience. A whine of hydraulics brought my arm toward my eye windows, and the little people would lean forward in their theatre seats, straining to examine each new artifact in as much detail as possible. As reserved as I had become though, there were still occasional difficulties. Using the lavatory became a challenge, for instance. I couldn’t risk seeing myself after all. And I remember one day when my stepfather caught me peering down at a sock that dangled from my fingertips. When I noticed him he just shook his head and went silently into the other room. I wondered how long he’d been watching me, and what his inner audience was saying about me.

Now, more than a decade removed from that age, I find that some things do not change. I haven’t used pencils in decades, the soles of my shoes are too thin for cartridges, and the theatre seats behind my eyes are empty. But presently I’m pretending that I’m an adult, and I do adult things such as buying my own hats, and working in an office during the day. And though none of this makes the least bit of sense to me, though I am certainly a fraud, I’ve garnered nothing but approval–praise even–for so successfully mocking the trappings of adulthood. This pretend life of mine is not as interesting as my more youthful pursuits, not by any measure, but fewer people are apt to question it.


entry_155I’ve come to understand that, in most cases, there is just one thing that is supposed to hold our attention. It’s usually the most obvious thing, and far more clever folk refer to it as “the thing right in front of you,” or “the task at hand.” Yet it could be anything. Whether we’re clipping off body parts and storing them in freezer bags, or filling our tax forms with bizarre scribbled figures, we know where our focus is supposed to be.

Even so, it’s difficult for me to lose myself in the moment. A given situation may be worthy of my attention, but time and time again I find myself distracted by the meta situation. The vaguest notion is likely to set my mind to recondite contemplation, and I soon lose track of things completely, like an autistic child distracted by a shiny button. A good example is my stepfather’s watch. When I was a child I had a stepfather who sported one of those auto-winding watches. I was fascinated how it whirred when he moved his wrist, which was usually when he was gesticulating at me during one of his tirades. A tirade is something you’re meant to pay attention to, otherwise why bother? But my mind was on that little mechanism with its flywheels and gears and… I didn’t actually know what was happening inside the watch, but by the time I emerged from thought it was already too late, and that watch was a hornet around my ears.

I go into each new situation with the best of intentions, determined to behold, consume, appreciate, without falling prey to the seductive analytical noise that whispers from somewhere close by. Sometimes I think I may even succeed. For instance, I recently managed to enjoy several sets at a local tennis event. It was during a slow weekend, and I had no pressing matters to attend to, so by all accounts I should have been able to surrender my attention to the little yellow ball. But that’s just it: the entire audience had already surrendered to the ball. Once the syncopated swivel of their sprinkler-like heads became apparent to me, any hope I might have had of being engaged in the rest of the match was lost.

The attendees were oblivious, and to a person, hopeless. I fancied I could hear their vertebrae grating against each other like granite blocks, and feared that their synchronized movement would generate eddies of air that, cumulatively, might soon suck down the roof of the stadium. At the same time I became very conscious of my own head movement, and the thought of joining mindless consensus gentium was out of the question. In fact I didn’t turn my head for the rest of the weekend, and spent the remainder of my leisure as if my spine had been fused.

Though my life of seclusion offers some respite from distraction, I still find myself occupied over things I shouldn’t notice at all. Very recently I’ve been hearing newscasters breathing. To be sure, any given news program consists primarily of actual news, recited by a photogenic crew, fleet of tongue, and authoritative. But the sheer volume of words involved in such presentations requires a precision of breath control matched only by the hurried inhalations of synchronized swimmers.

Unfortunately, once I’ve become attuned to the scantily camouflaged snort of an anchor’s inhalations, it’s all I can hear for the rest of the show. The rest of the monologue becomes a vague chatter, which is punctuated by a continuous chain of thunderous billows. I understand that the news staff must continue to feed oxygen to their respective brains, but must they allow the atmosphere to whistle through their teeth like a turbo prop?

Am I thinking about something, or thinking about thinking about it? The question occurs to me with increasing frequency, and I fear there may be no end to it. I wonder how self-referential this sentence will be, and if I’ll know when I’ve made my point. I’ve become an outsider in my own head. I’m just pretending, merely going through the motions even now. And if it’s true what they say, that in the end you are who you pretend to be, then maybe in the end I’ll be no one at all.


entry_154All this shuffling going on, and suddenly the barking guy is back. I remember the barking guy from a long time ago when he used to sit in my unit (“the ward”), and now the churn has popped him back up like a shell in the surf. This is the guy who spoke in short, staccato bursts, always peppering his Tourette cadence with authoritarian hand-chopping gestures. His manner to coworkers was always immaculately perfunctory, so he became an easy villain in the dramatic construct I fancied myself a player in. Of course I’m no protagonist–I’ve never been anything more than a background character in my own fantasies–but I’m certainly qualified to make such judgments about others.

My point is, some people need to be the bad guy, and they need to stay the bad guy. It’s just a part of the corporate ecosystem. Naturally, there shouldn’t be any drifting of these well-defined roles. I mention this because, after that long absence, barking guy has returned full of wisdom. Not only that, but it all seems to make a canny sense. I fight this, oh yes I do, but the pearls that dribble from his lips of late seem preternaturally lucid, and his curt tone now sounds refreshingly concise. Let me be clear: I don’t want to agree with him. When I see him I think, “Don’t say something I respect. I don’t want to stop hating you from across the room, not just yet.” I cling to my initial characterization, though it seems increasingly futile. But why? There are very few things we can really rely on in these times, but one of them is that we need to know who our pretend-enemies are.

One old saw we can rely on is that extreme circumstances call for extreme measures, and I’ve thought of two just to help mitigate this nascent ecological imbalance. The first is that I’ve made a new pretend-enemy; several, actually. It must be several, see, owing to the fact that I’ve had absolutely no dealings with these people whatsoever. I know my methodology may seem flimsy, so I avoid the issue–and them–assiduously. Second, I’ve discovered that, by exploiting a latent cognitive flaw, it’s possible for me to cultivate enmity for someone based solely on the fact that they’ve forced me to like them, which is surely a manipulation of the natural order of things that borders on assault. Well I, for one, will suffer this Jedi mind-fuckery not a moment longer.

But then barking guy approaches with his friend, and I hear him making what is undeniably an excellent point, and now I like him again, and it occurs to me that I’ve just strobed across the full gamut of emotions in about 12 seconds, all the while sitting before my screen, still as a gargoyle. Madness behind these eyes. Madness.

Entropy OS

entry_153All around me, decay. Even renewal is part of the decay, because it is part of a continuum I view through clouded lenses, and perceive with synapses beset by atrophy. So it is that I grew tired of playing the portrait to my operating system’s Dorian Gray.

My erstwhile tolerance for this perfect projected environment came to an end when my mouSe stopped working one day and, for the briefest moment, I thought the problem might be with the button on my screen. Now there’s a lovely thought. Of course the @ctual source of my difficulty was the physical contact just under the mouse button, but the initial suspicion proved irresistible to me.

And so it was that I endeavored to craft an algorithm which would, over time, degrade my user expErience in a wholly organic fashion. I wasn’t interested in mere crashes, nor instability, nor the system rot so closely associated with substandard operating systems. I was inter3sted in something far more elegant: an interface that would age as I aged.

I set about familiari2ing myself both with the inner workings of my computer system, as well as the myriad principles of entropy and biodegradation. After several years of consultation and development, I began to see patttterns emerge that I was able to exploit to bring about a synthesis of these two worlds. The resulting algorithm was, to my mind, the perfect balance of art and science, and, upon implementation, the results were both immediate and satisfying.

Some applications take longer to launch, depending on the hour. Other functions seem stubborn at first, but become more efficient after repeated use. Several of the buttons in my most used programs aren’t exactly where they used to be, or hAve become somewHat less defined. Over time I’ve seen several of my preferences go missing completely, while still other, erRrrant control widgets have materialized in the most unlikely spots. Photoshop stares into the abyss, and the abyss stares back, and my images are processed thereafter with increasing re1uctance, competing as they are with obsessive thoughts of obs0lescence.

The way I see it, I’ve evened the playing field. If invincibility remains just out of reach, then mortality it is, and for everything. Eventua-ly my operating system’s color profile wi|| fade, and the cursor will jitter with palsy, but will IIII even notice? I suspect not. The only real concern I have is my tax program’s rather premature inclination toward dementiA.