A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Gothic Tale

I have been dreading the prospect of being chained to a desk from nine to five. I have avoided traditional employment in the business world for most of my life. But once I started applying for corporate public relations jobs, I was anticipating that once I became an office drone, I would at least be able to write some sardonic blog posts about the monotony of it all. It would be commentary hopefully as depressing and hilarious as Office Space. After two days at my new job, though, I am starting to think that I may not have much of a reason to complain about monotony – and I certainly don’t think I’m going to experience any depression over the futility of my work.

First of all, I don’t work in an office building; I work in a yellow brick mansion constructed in the late 1880s. Formerly our organization’s functioning orphanage, the beautiful manor house has been converted into the administration building. Its three-story façade is impressive and even a bit intimidating; it reminds me of Manderley in Daphne de Maurier’s novel Rebecca and Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Although many of the rooms have been subdivided into offices with drop-down ceiling panels and fluorescent lights, graceful arched doorways and the original (albeit somewhat chipped) pattern of floor tiles remain intact. Some of the larger offices and public spaces still have beautiful leaded glass windows and to get to my office, I have to climb a wide, winding staircase with an iron scrollwork banister. The property is set right on the Hudson River and the windows along the western side of the mansion look out over the water and at the sheer face of the Palisades Cliffs, which right now are partially covered in snow and looking even more stark than usual. The atmosphere has a slightly romantic, slightly ominous feeling; when I am sitting in my office and the wind comes across the river, the mournful blustering sound of it makes me feel a little isolated and forlorn. I do not mind, though – I felt a shiver of excitement today as I listened to it, imagining that I really was tucked away in a corner of Thornfield Hall and hearing the wind come across the barren English moors.

A little atmosphere can go a long way to breaking up the monotony of office life, so instead of a sardonic blog post about my first day at work, I could write you a haunting Gothic tale – and I can even include a ghost story. While the building was still functioning as an orphanage, there was a fire on the third floor which trapped and killed several of the children. Instead of rebuilding the destroyed section, the organization simply had it demolished it – I suppose it was cheaper that way. All that is left of the former level now are staircases that climb up to a non-existent third story, which is strange enough. But some employees swear that even though there are no longer any children in the building, they have sometimes heard in the stairwell a little girl calling out, “There’s a fire! There’s a fire!” from somewhere above the second story landing.

My Gothic tale also contains a mystery – the mystery of the previous Grant Writer’s identity and disappearance. As I am introduced to other employees, my co-workers keep informing people, “This is Lauren. She’s taking Natalia’s place.” People nod, smile, and welcome me. No more is said about Natalia, though, and this brief but constant allusion has made me curious – who is/was this woman that I am replacing? How old was she? What did she look like? What happened to her?

Natalia is such a pretty, exotic name that sparks my imagination on its own, even without the mystery of her disappearance from the organization. When my brother and I were young, we used to watch a movie from the early 1980s called Condorman. Starring a young Michael Crawford, Condorman is a wonderfully ridiculous flick about a comic book illustrator who is mistaken for a CIA agent and must help Natalia, a glamorous KGB agent with almond-shaped eyes and full lips, defect from the Soviet Union. While Crawford bumbles through the adventure, Natalia remains striking in every scene and cool as a cucumber. I have therefore always been fascinated and a little bit in love with that name.

I am doubting that Grant Writer Natalia was quite as exotic as Michael Crawford's sexy KGB agent, though. I was able to discover only a little about my predecessor while cleaning out my new office – she had left behind some cobwebs and some odds and ends, most of which I swept into the dustbin. I was amused to find a Xerox of her hands, though, set on the copier in such a way as to make a heart.

Natalia had also bequeathed me a bunch of colorful paperclips in the shapes of stars, hearts, musical notes and fists making a thumbs-up. Finally, I found a stash of fortunes from Chinese fortune cookies, but none of them were very interesting. I was a little bit disappointed – I was hoping that she had saved fortunes that were particularly unusual and might yield a clue about her personality. They were all trite sayings like, “Happiness isn’t an outside job, it’s an inside job.” I suppose these fortunes do reveal something about her – she is the type of person that enjoys platitudes. So, what I had uncovered about her thus far was that she likes cute paperclips and clichés.

I decided to ask my co-workers about her, which finally dispelled the mystery. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to ask,” I said, letting my voice trail off for a moment. “But Natalia – what happened to her? Why isn’t she working here any more?”

There was a pause, and then one of them said, “Well, Natalia… she got fired when…”

My breath quickened: I was about to hear something juicy.

“Just kidding,” he said with a laugh. “She decided to back to graduate school.”

I let out a slow, slightly disappointed breath. My Gothic tale has lost a little steam at this point, since the disappeared young woman hasn’t met a mysterious or tragic end of any kind. She picked up and went of her own free will, leaving behind her paper clips, a Miami sweatshirt, and a cheap, dusty fake chrysanthemum plant. But I still have my ghost story and the sound of the wind across the water.

As you can see, my job hasn’t robbed me of my imagination or the literary side of my identity as of yet. The atmosphere of the organization has, in fact, nurtured my story-telling nature. If my soul is sucked away by this desk job, it will have more to do with an encounter with the ghosts of the orphans than the monotony of any desk work…


Alexa L. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexa L. said...

This is great. I love the fact you posted the hand copy. Nice touch. And congrats on your new job and all. I'm jealous of your workplace. My building is old, historic, but since it's a college they've made it feel less so.

Xiaoyan said...

This is all interesting.. I didn't really expect the ghost story and the curiosity about Natalia I guess. It makes me think once again, people ARE different, guess that's what makes life interesting. I never imagined my work place (now or future) would be anything romantic or mysterious, never even imagined any view it might have... right now I just wish there were a window in my office that can let some sun shine in during the day:) I'm the type of person that doesn't really leave much of my personal stuff in the office, like picture frames, mugs, plants... Think I did leave a poster named "focus" but I never really liked that poster and I wonder I had it there for all those years. The reason I had guessed why Natalia left the company was that she got pregnant haha! It's probably from the saliency of my own experience, and obviously nothing mysterious or tragic or romantic:)
Looking forward to more postings!

Rachael said...

Sounds like the job is so far so good. I love how you unveiled the mystery of the first day. I still hear about the person I replaced ... and she really was ... you know ...

Can't wait to hear more tales from the Gothic mansion! (P.S. Which is so cool!)

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