I work in an office now. It is a mobile space and I am constantly surrounded by people. Every morning I fetch my computer and keyboard and everything else from my designated locker and roam the floor until I spy an available desk.
I try to sit in the same spot every day, though I don’t know why. It is on the corner and directly facing a window. The back light on the computer means I have to keep the blind downs and the stand-up desk is too tall for me and non-adjustable. I am worried about getting one of those boring work injuries induced by bad ergonomics.
Still. It has a corner. A window on the fifth floor looking out onto the street. Also, if you can snag the same place you were sitting in the day before, you don’t have to spend time fidgeting with screen settings. The set-up process is a lot shorter.
That rarely happens though. My work day starts later than many of my co-workers as I like to get some writing in and a run before I start. I end up wandering around like a lost pack mule, my purse, lunch bag and computer bag slung over my shoulders, my keyboard in one hand and my coffee in the other, until I find a desk. For someone who likes to know what to expect when they arrive somewhere, it is very exhausting. I try to view it as a daily exercise in accepting the unknown.
Let’s just say some days I do better with this perspective than others.
I like the work I am doing now. Find it meaningful. Can see how I can add value to it, help improve it. But it is just a temporary assignment, so who knows. [See above practice of getting comfortable with the unknown]. If it does end in June, and I cannot stay, it will be an opportunity to re-examine, to course adjust. That is how I am looking at it anyways. It helps to moderate the increasing panic.
It’s at noon that the immensity of my aloneness tends to hit. I don’t know why this is the hour of my daily existential crisis. It just is. Has been for most of my working life. I will be working away, listening to someone’s voice chatter to me through my earphones and a sense of …dread? Grief? will come over me.
Sometimes the days seem like a vast ocean I need to swim across to get to the other side and finally rest. The middle of the day finds me surrounded by tasks and duties and responsibilities and I am already so tired.
I used to feel this in Montreal as well, but these last few years has amped it up to a thousand. Before I knew there was somebody there waiting for me, that could help shoulder the burden. Now it is just me.
And the dread has a different tinge to it. An abyss of weariness, of sadness. I know this particular anvil— we have become quite intimate in the last few years. It is the wave of grief, of bewilderment, of panicked nausea that comes from loss.
It comes upon me suddenly, like a flash flood. Though it happens often, I never see it coming. But I know it when it’s here, and all I can do is tread water patiently and try not to drown until the waters go down.
I don’t want to talk, to reach out to anyone. I just want to stop the damn, fucking tears in my eyes so I don’t make a spectacle of myself at work. Try not to hyperventilate. Go quickly to the bathroom like I’m on the way to a meeting and take deep breaths behind the stall door, the only privacy afforded to me during the day, and try not to make those embarrassing crying sounds. Try to masquerade my grief as a cold. It’s just the sniffles, really! Add a few fake coughs in the mix to throw people of the scent. Dab at my eyes with toilet paper so I don’t ruin my mascara. Try to take deep, silent breaths.
Though it weighs heavily and is a little embarrassing when it happens in a public place, this sadness is not unwelcome. In fact, I would even say that we’ve become close. It has become that unpredictable friend that flits into my life like a butterfly, that forces me to stop what I am doing and pay attention, even if it is in the middle of the work day.
Instead of fighting it, trying to ignore it while I keep on working, I have learned to sit with it for a while. Pour it a cup of metaphysical tea and hold its hand. My sadness has taught me the infinite complexity of human emotion and meaning, about how all our grief, happiness, sorrow, joy, boredom, restlessness, peace are constantly morphing us. If you stop for a minute and watch, it is the most beautiful, most meaningful spectacle of all.
From sitting with my sadness, I have learned to sit with the sadness of others, to hold its hand and not try to ascribe reasons for it, or try to fix it. To let it flash out its complicated pattern until I have drawn a better understanding of the world from it, even if that understanding is just a deeper, ineffable, felt sense of my own humanity and that of others.
By sitting with it, I eventually calm down. The tears stop and I unlock the stall door and wash my hands, pretend that it was just an old regular bathroom break. Smile and say hello to the people in the hallway and make it back to my desk. I look at my list of to-dos and try to remember what I was doing before the flood. Make myself say the task in my head so I can focus. Mentally repeat it while I clean my coffee mug and boil the water for some refreshing peppermint tea. Take another deep breath for good measure, put my earphones on and start working again, my heart a little bruised but bigger than it was.