November 15, 2001
On The Clock
lied to you, Sascha.
last spring, when they fired Ned
the Receptionist Guy after the Accounting Manager walked into the lobby and caught
him looking at porn on the Internet, right there at the front desk?
(Poor old Ned was booted off the Totem Pole faster than you can say
"Rump L. Svelteskin.") After I wrote about that incident on my website,
you sent me a thoughtful, courteously-worried e-mail, cautioning me to
be careful of *my* Internet usage at the office. "I would
hate it if you got in trouble for writing *FootNotes* at work,"
you said. Or words to that effect.
do you remember how I responded? I wrote back to you, right
there on the spot: a faintly snooty response, all about how I never ever
composed *FootNotes* on the office computer, how I brought my laptop
into the office with me, every single day, and wrote *FootNotes* in
bits and pieces, but ONLY during sanctioned coffee breaks and lunch
hours, and blah blah blah blah. In the evenings after work, I told you, I transferred the entry
from a floppy disk to our home computer, giving it a final
tweak-and-polish before hurling it out into cyberspace.
worry," I sniffed, primly virtuous. "I would never jeopardize my job by
writing my journal at work."
was, of course, complete and utter horseshidt.
suspect you knew that it was complete and utter
horseshidt, too, but you were too kind and too tactful to call me on
it. As I recall, you wrote back one more time, just to say that you
were 'glad' to hear that I was being so careful, and to apologize for
having doubted me in the first place, and to wish me well with my
upcoming wedding. That was basically the end of the discussion. I don't
think I've heard from you since.
sorry. I shouldn't have lied to you. Would it help if I tell you that I
had my fingers crossed while I was writing to you?
truth is that the Totem Pole Company was the greatest thing that ever
happened to *FootNotes* ... besides sobriety, ginko biloba and Paint
Shop Pro, I mean. Not only was the TPC an endless and ready source of
material -- all I had to do was listen to thirty seconds' worth of
Franz hacking up a lung into my voicemailbox, every morning, and there
was my day's topic, right there -- but it also provided me with a lot
of the OTHER
stuff every Internet journaler craves:
privacy, inspiration, opportunity, a decent computer, a fast Internet
connection, a window view, endless black coffee, limitless KFOG-FM,
plus a door that conveniently closes and locks. (Although I
long time ago that the best way to be sneaky about something is to be
sneaky right out in the open. Which is why I usually wrote with my
computer monitor clearly visible to everyone and my door wide
thing every morning I would open up a Notepad window on my desktop --
minimizing it down to a teeny-tiny one-inch square block of monitor
real estate, camouflaged in the middle of a busy Excel spreadsheet --
and there I would write my *FootNotes* entry, in hand-coded HTML,
hidden right there in plain sight. I didn't write the entry all at
once. I wrote it in chunks throughout the work day ... while I waited
on hold, while I waited for meetings to start, while I waited for Franz
to call from Australia or Germany or the parking garage. A sentence
here. A couple of edits there. A paragraph or eleven, every couple of
hours or so. I wrote fast and furiously, fueled by caffeine and
paranoia, and by 5 p.m. I would not only have that day's entry in the
can, ready for upload, I would usually also have a cartoon, an
updated archives page and an outline for the next
day. When I was done writing, I would slap the whole mess onto a floppy
and toss the disk into my purse, to be uploaded to the Internet when I
got home that evening. I finished by going back and carefully scraping
all traces of my handiwork from the Totem Pole computer. (I'm sure I
didn't get everything -- there are probably still *FootNotes molecules*
floating around in the TPC network -- but we had no IT Department to
speak of, and nobody ever bothered to check.)
it all I strived never to lose sight of the reason I was there: namely,
the care and feeding of my lunatic boss. My productivity at The Totem
Pole never felt compromised by the fact that I was writing *FootNotes*
on the side. Neither did my conscience. If anything, it seemed as
though the busier I was with Totem Pole stuff, the better I wrote ...
and the better I wrote, the better I seemed to handle the TPC stuff.
It's as though the two different kinds of energy -- creative energy and
executive assitude energy -- fed on each other, turning me into this
Super SecraTerri. That's what I told myself, anyway. I also told myself
that it was OK because I wasn't doing anything grossly inappropriate on
the computer. I wasn't looking at gay porn. I wasn't playing Mahjong
Solitaire all day. I wasn't forwarding nude .jpgs of my girlfriend to
all the other Testosterone Units in the office. I didn't even write
personal e-mail or read other Internet journals or check my horoscope
more than a couple of times an hour if I could possibly help it.
*I* was doing was writing journal entries about engagement rings and
back now, do I feel guilty about writing so much of my journal on Totem
Pole Company time? Am I ashamed of myself for abusing the trust (and
the electronic equipment) of my previous employer? If I could go back
and do it all over again, would I do things differently?
will admit I do still feel some residual guilt about the trust issues
involved -- especially since *I'm* the one who is always yammering on
and on about being honest and being straight-forward and doing the
right thing and not tempting karma by doing stuff you know in your
heart is wrong.
of course I feel bad about lying to you, Sascha.
I must admit there was something weirdly exhilarating about writing on
the sly that way. The thrill of the forbidden, I guess. The danger. The
edge. The possibility of getting caught. Blah blah blah. It's sorta
like having sex in an empty International airport terminal ... except
that you smell better afterwards.
of this sneaky, underhanded, tiptoeing around in front of the boss's
back, of course, came to a screeching halt as soon as I signed on with
The Dirt Company last month.
the first time in years -- hell, possibly for the first time EVER -- I
have a job that I actually like, and am glad to show up for in the
mornings, and hope to keep for a while. I want to
become a member of The Dirt Company team! I want to grow with the
company! I want to eventually evolve into one of those indispensable
employees that they absolutely cannot live without! (Or at least I want
to stick around long enough for my 401K to kick in.)
I want to NOT get fired for doing something stoopid ... like getting
caught writing about waterproof mascara on company time.
from the very first day I showed up for work at the new job -- right
off the bat -- I've played it straight and honest with my new employer.
I brought my laptop into the office with me on that first day -- the
little Toshiba, which I refer to as the *auxiliary* laptop -- and I
immediately established a precedent: during my lunch hour I sit in the
empty cubicle, next to the file room, and I write for an hour.
People walk past me for that hour and see me sitting there, with my bag
of baby carrots and my can of Slim Fast, hunched over the laptop typing
away, and they know that means I'm not to be disturbed. It took about a
week for them to 'get it,' I think -- for them to understand that this
is what I want to be doing during my lunch, that
I'm not there because I couldn't get a lunch date, that it's important
to me, that no, I don't want to go to Kentucky Fried with the rest of
the gang -- but I think it's finally beginning to sink in, and they
respect it and accept it and they mostly leave me alone for those
precious sixty minutes. (Nobody has come right out and asked me what I'm writing, yet, but when
they do, I plan to say "I'm writing my column" and leave it at that. No
sense getting into the whole Internet journal discussion just yet.
Let's wait till I get to that "indispensable" stage.)
far, so good.
that there aren't problems with the new "system." I still haven't quite
gotten the hang of laptop-journal-writing, for one thing. It's klunky
and cumbersome and I can't type as fast as I like and the screen
resolution sucks and it takes me three days to write one journal entry
and a single hour never, EVER seems like enough time. My journal entries the
past month or so have been everything I hate: brief, random, rambling,
forced, sans cartoon (or -- worse -- sporting a recycled cartoon from
two years ago), filled with HTML errors and broken links. Plus I seem
to be talking about my JOURNAL in my JOURNAL
entirely too much lately. That's something I try to avoid, generally
... not only because it's boring, especially to the non-Journalers in
the audience, but also because it's sort of illusion-shattering. I want
you to know that I keep an Internet journal, of course. I just don't want
you to see all the crap that goes wrong behind-the-scenes. I want you
to believe that it's effortless on my part ... that I simply come home
every day and hit a couple of buttons and vóila!
Instant journal entry!
I've been plugging away at writing-during-lunch anyway
... mainly because it's important to me, and because it's important to
a handful of other people, including people with whom I share DNA
and/or a toothbrush holder, and because if I wasn't writing *FootNotes*
I might not be writing anything at all. And not writing anything at all
isn't an option. So every day at 12:30 p.m. I haul the Toshiba out of
my bottom desk drawer, and I hole up in the abandoned cubicle, and I
type like a madwoman for sixty minutes, praying that when I'm done
there will be a journal entry sitting on my screen, ready for upload
that evening. Sometimes there is.
sometimes there isn't. A LOT of the time lately there isn't.
fact, I was beginning to feel ever-so-slightly despairing about the
whole writing-the-journal-at-work situation ... until yesterday.
Like any office, The Dirt Company has its share of frenetic non-stop
Crazy Days, and a nearly equal share of Coma Days. Yesterday was a
Coma Day, start to finish. The phones weren't ringing. All of the
geotechs were out in the field, collecting dirt samples or something.
My *In* basket was empty. So was my *Out* basket. The office kitchen
was so clean you could have eaten off the floor (or -- even more
astonishingly -- straight out of the refrigerator). Desperate for
something to do, I picked up the tub of antibacterial wipes and started
polishing my telephone receiver for the 1,387th time that day.
that moment JoAnne happened to wander by.
she said, "when things are quiet like this, it's OK if you do your
writing, here at your desk."
journal writing, on the clock? The equivalent of a papal blessing from
my boss, authorizing me to write *FootNotes* on company time? No
sneaking around? No hiding in plain sight? No keeping one eye on the
doorway and one hand on the mouse?
not sure if my puny little journaler's brain can wrap itself around the
I said, very calmly -- not allowing so much as a single solitary *joy
molecule* to show on my face -- "I suppose that might be better than
just sitting here, doing nothing." And I continued polishing my phone.
When I was finished cleaning the phone, I went around the whole office
and cleaned everybody else's phone. Then I did the
doorknobs, and the buttons on the fax machine, and the handles on the
push-cart. I didn't immediately fire up a Notepad window. I didn't
divebomb for the floppy disk with today's half-written journal entry on
didn't write anything at all, in fact.
I will. Maybe. Someday, when the office is quiet and the phones are
slow and there's nothing else to do, I may very well take JoAnne up on
her offer and get some of my "typing" done at my work computer. I'll
have to be careful about subject matter, of course. No boss-bashing or
orgasm chat while I'm writing at work. I won't be doing it very often,
either: only when I'm in a real pinch. I'll have to make sure I'm
working directly to/from a floppy disk. (In fact, I'm thinking that
what I would really rather do is just use my
laptop, sitting right there at my desk. No Internet connection ... no
touching the network ... no URLs left carelessly laying about.) But it
still might be kind of nice, knowing that if I need to, I can compose
your daily dose of ridiculously self-indulgent cyber-blather without
fear of reprisal.
might not be as much fun as sneaking around. But it won't get me fired.
I won't have to lie to nice people like Sascha anymore.