INTRODUCTION:

Speaking of Work

An Excerpt

The thing most people don’t consider about the cavemen is just how many of them worked in offices. Not all the cavemen, of course. Some were freelance boar hunters and berry gatherers or else they whittled clubs with names like “The Lady Sleeper 3000™.”  But the rest of the cave people woke up every morning, commuted to a different part of the cave, and got to work on a task for which they expected to be rewarded. History has been woefully negligent of these people. Who do you think sorted the sticks and organized the animal teeth? Who do you think saw reindeer trotting across the south of France and instead of thinking “Oh good, food,” thought: “Oh good, visual aids!” The planet’s first office workers, that’s who. The human imperative to produce on a regular basis — to excel and be of value — is a lot older than we tend to think it is. Read More

The thing most people don’t consider about the cavemen is just how many of them worked in offices. Not all the cavemen, of course. Some were freelance boar hunters and berry gatherers or else they whittled clubs with names like “The Lady Sleeper 3000™.”  But the rest of the cave people woke up every morning, commuted to a different part of the cave, and got to work on a task for which they expected to be rewarded. History has been woefully negligent of these people. Who do you think sorted the sticks and organized the animal teeth? Who do you think saw reindeer trotting across the south of France and instead of thinking “Oh good, food,” thought: “Oh good, visual aids!” The planet’s first office workers, that’s who. The human imperative to produce on a regular basis — to excel and be of value — is a lot older than we tend to think it is. Which means that whatever you do for a living, it’s probably closer to the world’s oldest profession than what you have long assumed to be “the world’s oldest profession.” Probably. Thousands of years later, it may be harder to achieve success in the modern world (a couple of loin cloths do not a fashion line make), but humans want more or less what we’ve always wanted — to find our role in life’s cave. It’s the workplace itself that’s evolved. It’s the workplace itself that’s constantly in flux. And it is the workplace itself that’s the focus of the eleven stories in this book. Here, some of today’s most talented authors (and two singer-songwriters) come together in a kind of virtual office to ask themselves the same question: What does it mean to get to work now? As it would be in real life, each author has decorated his or her metaphorical office differently. Some have used fiction, some autobiography, some poetry. But each chapter shares a thematic wall with the next. Organized in connected clusters, this book explores contemporary issues of mentorship, creation, competition, and even boredom. These tales take place on street corners and in classrooms, in parking lots and Genius Bars. And because this virtual office is occupied by writers, who are rarely in danger of underthinking an issue, there’s also plenty of nostalgia, of longing for the days of warm photocopies and nubby carpeting. And they’re not alone. Open up the suite of office emojis on your phone and you’ll find a floppy disk, a fountain pen, a push button phone and a Rolodex. This is because, while we weren’t looking, the taste of burnt coffee and the sound of a fax machine jamming merged with our schema of the world. Time curled around the mundane and made it meaningful. Which brings us back to our friends, the cavemen. While they may have had a sense of creating something great in the moment — an especially well-stretched animal hide, say —they surely did not believe that one day their descendants would walk through dark caverns to admire their handiwork. How could they have known? And how can we know what pieces of the modern workplace will stand the test of time? I suspect the vocational legacy we leave behind will be less about artifacts and more about the array of worlds on display in the stories you’re about to read. About how we got to work, about how we balanced passion with obligation and creativity with structure. Here is the modern workplace as it lives now, in twelve different imaginations. So please, come on in. The meeting’s just down the hall in the conference room. They can’t start without you. Close