I understand there is a tradition to quote some
fine lines at the beginning of a foreword, so I mention Shakespeare's
words: "the law's delay, the insolence of office, and the
spurns that patient merit of the undeserved take," proof
not only that Shakespeare worked in an office but that he worked
in my office.
There is no heavy lifting in the office, but
the work situation is never an idyll. There is stress and abuse
and the gamut of whines. For a writer, it is a gold mine, beauty
and tragedy and wonder. Boredom and violence, meanness and generosity.
In a wink you can see it all.
The interaction ritual is superb, simultaneously
intimate and distant. There will be the most kindred spirits
who for dozens of year will never see each other outside a huge
room filled with gray desks in cubicles. In today's commuter
world you may live eighty miles from the colleague in the next
desk. In the office there are people who know secrets nobody
else would know or want to know. Who has the chocolate donut
or two with orange juice every morning?
I realize there are analogs to the office situation
everywhere. In a bakery or summer ice-cream stand, a factory
or military unit, there are lackeys and greater or lesser tyrants,
thieves, conspirators, and perpetual victims. But the office
seems more definitive a paradigm to me, a lasting entity. I
mean you can distinguish differences within archetypes and you
recognize that these characters will be together a very long
time. No exit.
The setting appears more common than you might
think in cultural stories, now, past, and distant past. The
performance artist Claudia Shear has a fabulous account of office
work. The Charles Laughton clerk in the movie "The Millionaire"
was always a hero of mine. The recent movie "Office Space"(I
am not mentioning the character I relate to) has an associate
you could easily see in "The Overcoat."
In terms of reflecting society, the office works
in microcosm, the interactions in a cast of characters, saints
and psychotics can be pure drama and poetry at best. The people
are all different and in a way all beautiful. The stories are
real and timeless; I believe it is a study worthy of a writer's
© Michael Casey 2000. Used by permission
of the author.