“This is our decision, to live fast and die young
We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.
Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do
Get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute.”
–MGMT, “Time to Pretend”
In a beautiful display of clockwork precision, SouthWest Trains’ fast service to Waterloo pulls up to Surbiton station. The doors open, a few passengers disembark, and I find a seat–preferably in the quiet zone–settling in the for the commute. Eighteen minutes to London. Zero stops. Priceless.
I won’t lie that when people ask me if I’m here working or studying, I love being able to say, “Both, actually.” I love my return to student life–having an excuse to spend hours in the library again, being able to attend workshops and masterclasses, going to lecture, brown-nosing professors, thinking about essay topics and what Diane Ackerman’s use of imagery in The Moon by Whale Light says about her as a narrator.
But, oddly enough, I equally love going to work. I’m in my third week now and all systems are go. It’s been strange picking up exactly where I left off, working with the same bosses and colleagues at another university in London. I’m back in their health and social care department–which couldn’t be further from my own personal interests, but I’ve found that dealing with it for just twenty hours a week is a welcome break from the la-la-land world of creative writers. The first couple of days were weird–but when is your first day at any new job not marked by an awkward sense of, “What am I doing here again?” By my third day, though, staff members had started to realize I’m here, available, and actually not annoyed when they have work for me.
I’ve been hired on a ten-month contract to work especially on a series of government-funded projects. All of the departments within the faculty are in the process of switching their course modules from fifteen credits to twenty credits. This “translation exercise,” as the switch is officially referred to, requires updating all the course documents and paperwork…which is right where I come in. I spend my three days each week tidying up documents, fixing stray bullet points and going crazy over Microsoft Word’s imbecilic automated formatting system. But at the end of the day, this is precisely what I was looking for–a well-paying job with hours more suited to my schedule and with a bit more responsibility to show on the resume than “bartender at a gourmet pizza restaurant-turned-nightclub.” A girl can hope for a little respect, right?
And as I float between the life of a student and that of an office worker, I’ve found what I look forward to most in each day is my commute. Starting at ten every morning means I miss the hectic hour between eight and nine–and more importantly can get a window seat–but there are still enough suits and jackets around to have that corporate feel in the air, me looking on as Paisley Tie #4 makes a call: “Hi Jackie, it’s David. I’ll be in the office by half past. Cheers, love.”
When the train pulls away from the station, I settle into my seat. I read, I write, I think, or sometimes simply watch the the view outside my window. It isn’t the discontinuous journey of riding the Tube, stopping every two minutes and doing everything in your power to ignore the beeping of the doors opening and closing, opening and closing.
Instead, it’s an uninterrupted moment of fluidity, of trees melting into trees as I transition from one world to another. Essentially, it’s a pause–the time we never give ourselves. When do we ever take fifteen minutes away from our desks, from our laptops, from our lives, to just be still? I recently read an article in the New York Times titled “Your Brain on Computers: Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime.” It addresses the fact that in our new age of mega-technology, we never have any downtime away from electronic devices. We fill every spare minute–“micro-moments,” as the article calls them–checking email, checking voicemail, checking in and up and everywhere but out:
“Cellphones, which in the last few years have become full-fledged computers with high-speed Internet connections, let people relieve the tedium of exercising, the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation. The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.”
It’s the kind of research I know I’ll be quoting to friends at the pub, defending my decision to not use a smart phone. As a writer, especially, I don’t want to lose those moments where inspiration may strike–but hits the person next to me instead because I’m too busy flicking through my phone to hear that little idea pop into my head.
9.34am. The automated recording of a woman begins to play, telling me we’ll be arriving in Waterloo in two minutes. If I’m reading, I close my book. If I’m writing, I jot down a few final notes and put the cap back on my pen. I rummage in the front right pocket of my messenger bag for my office-issued ID card and slip the royal blue lanyard over my head–a final act to mark my move from student to worker.
Let the office games begin.