Little things

Although I hate it, I’m a workaholic. I have trouble letting go of work even after official working hours. It’s got a lot to do with not having fixed times or shift times. I’m used to seeing colleagues show up at work after noon and leave at midnight or arrive at 8 and leave at 4.

I’ve done it plenty of times myself. Sometimes I stay up late watching a movie, cleaning my room, or chatting with my roommates, oversleeping the next morning. Come to think of it, some of the stringent time rules in many workplaces are insignificant since they don’t consider the frivolousness of human nature.

Or that’s what I used to think.

I love having flexible work times—after all, isn’t that why everyone wants to be a freelancer? People think freelancing is the ideal way of life—PJs, late night snacking, mid morning brunches, and still damn good money. Alas, I now know that that’s just a stereotype the internet has inflicted upon us. Nothing about freelancing, or working flexible hours, is any more fun than working regular hours.

It took me over five years to realise this.

A few weeks ago, I was at work lounging—it was rather a quiet and uneventful day. I’d finished most of my tasks for the week and had plenty of time to kill. I’d been working so hard the couple of months leading to that day that I felt a gaping emptiness when I didn’t have anything to occupy myself. And so I succumbed to the YouTube temptation, watching a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef in the North Eastern coast of Australia.

It’s a three-part documentary, each running about an hour. And as I watched the camera pan across the ocean waters, and heard the narrator’s voice ring through my headphones, I realised how ignorant I’ve been about the world’s most gorgeous and vast spread of natural phenomenon. I had no idea it stretches over 1400 miles. Or that there’re 900 islands spread through the Reef, or that the Reef wasn’t formed until 10000 years ago—or that almost 40 percent of it is destroyed already.

Sure, I knew the Great Barrier Reef was a natural treasure undergoing an unnatural devastation, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I never had the time in my life to watch documentaries or read articles online about the world that surrounded my immediate office and work.

In a moment of shame and disgust, I understood how blinded I’d been by my work routine. I’d awake, exercise, go to work, return, and engage on social media before going to sleep. I read during the weekends and every other chance I get, but that’s limited to fiction, online articles, or general nonfiction. I’ve never spent time appreciating the magnitude of the world’s events outside of the realm of my work. I’ve been so obsessed with meeting my personal requirements that I’ve been missing the finer aspects of life—like widening my eyes in wonder at a coral reef, or experiencing the joy in my mother’s voice when I make time to chat with her.

I spent the last couple of weeks with my parents, and I made conscious efforts to indulge myself less in office work and more in my surroundings. And it’s served me well too. Now that office work doesn’t dictate my day, I’m noticing small things about work that don’t matter as much as I’d thought. Little delays or mistakes that would’ve upset me earlier don’t anymore. After all, there’s a lot more to life than the pay check.

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Downtown Miami

Pressure

As chlorine water

smothering from deep within

suffocating life

Moving on

Some might say I’m heartless. That I don’t care for those I’ve known for over five years working with through some fun-filled campaigns and stressful product releases. Some might say that I’m so stoic that I can’t even feel sad about leaving.

I’m not sad.

I’m moving to a new place. That meant letting go of my benefits as a full-time employee for a life of freelancing. Although my physical location is changing, I know that in this age we are never out of touch with anyone. There’s always something or the other that’ll pull us back into each other’s paths. I’ll still be working with the same crew, for the same company, and be a phone call away.

Sure, I’ll miss my current work style. I’ll miss not waking up at the same time every day, walking to work, nodding at my friends at the security desk, and devouring the free office munchies. Who wouldn’t? I’ll miss chatting with colleagues across the desk, laughing and pulling pranks on each other, and sharing ideas and experience with people much more knowledgeable than I.

I’ll miss the droning regularity of office food; I’ll miss expecting the clock to strike 4 for snack time; I’ll miss walking 10 minutes, all way across the campus for a 20-minute meeting; I’ll miss the sound of construction workers drilling on Saturdays, and the banging hammers all through the week. I’ll miss concocting my own coffee and wincing when I get the proportions wrong. I’ll miss the office gossip and complaining that there’s too much gossip.

I’ll miss work, and there’s no doubt about it.

However, I’m also happy for what lies ahead. I’m excited to figure out my life as I go. There’s sadness about leaving my routine of five years behind, but there’s also the delight of exploring the next part of my life. I don’t want to cry over one chapter when I know there’re more to come in this large book of life. After all, in the end, it’s a bunch of varied chapters that constitute a book.

“What do we leave behind when we cross each frontier? Each moment seems split in two; melancholy for what was left behind and the excitement of entering a new land.”

Robert M. Pirsig says it well in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Old friends

I’ve known V for over five years. When I walked into the campus scared and nervous, she assured me everything would work out well. She guided me to the restroom so I could wash the sweat and tiredness from my face after a 45-minute commute in the dusty local trains of the city.

Everything was new—the scorching heat of the city, the slums on its edge, the barrenness that exemplified the smoke issuing from vehicles so old they shouldn’t even be on the street. It was my first time in the city, and I knew within minutes that I’d have a hard time living here, if at all. But I was also eager for the job interview to go well—it was an excellent opportunity, and I didn’t want to mess it up. And V’s simple gesture was a tremendous comfort.

I got the job, and since, the company’s employee count had grown over four times. V and I, however, are still here. It’s strange, but although V was so nice to me on that first day, we never became close friends. We were in different teams, under different supervisors. Our roles were different—she a developer and I a marketing writer. We shared no common whatsoever except an employer.

However, if we ever cross each other’s paths, we’d smile, and I’d oblige to some small talk.

That was the problem—the small talk. I’ve grown less interested in crossing paths with V not because I developed a disliking to her, but because not everyone’s satisfied with just a smile—the inherent human quality to frolic in frivolous conversations stretches awkwardness to new extents.

And now every time I see her dread rises from deep within me, and my mind entertains thousands of possible topics we could discuss, each punier than the previous.

And that’s why I prefer a longer route if I can avoid running into old friends like V. I don’t want to humour meaningless exchanges over other people’s careers when I could just sit and stare at space.

Ever felt that way about someone?

The why of writing

“So I heard you have a habit of writing every day?”

That’s the clear winner if there’s ever a contest for the silliest thing you can ask a writer.

And yet it still confounds many that a writer would, after all, write. Although I can see how the confusion arises, it’s surprising that we’re now part of a society where corporate copywriters aren’t writers in real life.

It all started with a colleague who raised their eyebrows as I admitted to writing every day. They couldn’t understand the reason. Why would I spend an hour or so every morning writing, before I started work which was also—writing?

As I stood there, stumped, I realised I didn’t have a ready-made answer. No, it wasn’t because “I love writing” or because “I’ve always imagined myself a writer” or because “I don’t know anything else.” Although those statements ring true in many ways, it’s also true that they’re resumé answers—something you’d say to impress a potential employer into giving you the job.

I have different reasons.

For one, it was my writing habit that landed me a career as a copywriter. And despite writing countless types of pieces at work, I still don’t write what I want, the way I want. And for a good reason, too, because a corporate copywriter shouldn’t possess a powerful personal tone that disrupts the business’s tone. Therefore everything I write depends on the company, its offering, and audience. When I come home after a day of such scrutinised writing, all I can think of is work. Not only do I don’t have time for myself, but my thoughts revolve around work as well. The mind goes around in circles in constant debate and debacle—”perhaps I should’ve used a better title for the blog, or added a banner image, or tweeted it out with a GIF.”

Dabble in this long enough, and you’ll wane. A writer who’s lost the ability to expand beyond work isn’t far from losing the ability to write altogether.

Consider those who write only emails all day. They become accomplished at conveying their purpose in an email, but when asked to write something different—a comment on social media, a guest blog, a webpage, or even a catchy advertisement—they’d crumble under pressure. The reason? They no longer have the creative spark to think outside email jargon.

A full-time copywriter isn’t any better. The longer they seep in familiar territory, the more comfortable they become. They get used to using certain phrases and styles and avoiding others that don’t sit well with the business they write for. And it’s often already too late when they realise they’d forgotten how it feels to come up with something unconventional. When a writer foregoes the spine-tingling sensation that results from framing an excellent metaphor, or the jubilance that emanates from dropping a witty pun, a writer ceases to exist. What remains is the shell of a person who can create ideal corporate content.

That’s why I write every day—to keep the chaos within alive. I don’t write flawless pieces in my blog. I don’t put forth impeccable grammatical sentences or distinguished vocabulary. What I do write, instead, is random thoughts, scribblings, and haiku—all the things that help me remember why I still write.