Third-Quarter Interlude: Bringing It Home

The memoir I’ve been writing is an honest account of one part of my life: the work I do. Because this is a story taking place in a modern professional workplace, I like to compare it to other recent books, movies, TV shows and plays that cover similar territory, like the great TV series “The Office”, the movie “Office Space”, Joshua Ferris’s “Then We Came To The End”, Ed Park’s “Personal Days”, Douglas Coupland’s “Microserfs”, Michael Wolff’s “Burn Rate”, Mike Daisey’s “21 Dog Years”.

These works are often very clever and touching, but they can also be dishonest for at least one reason. They tend to rely heavily on irony and sardonic humor, adopting tones that are Kafkaesque, absurdist. The message of these work stories all too often amounts to “people are crazy here”. And since people are crazy here, the implicit heroes of these stories maintain a knowing distance.

In real life, this is a lie. Very few of us manage to maintain a cool ironic distance from our jobs, or from the people we work with. It’s much more comfortable to snicker about the problems we face every day than to admit that we are deeply, passionately engaged in the projects we work on, and that we care obsessively, often to an unhealthy degree, about what our co-workers think of us. Why is this so hard to admit? In the chapters I’ve recently added to this memoir, I’ve been forced to make one of the most painful and embarrassing admissions anybody could possibly make in an autobiography. I went to work every day and I really did care about it. I liked it when I did well and I hated it when I did badly. More importantly, I liked it when *we* did well and I hated it when *we* did badly.

I also lost my composure often, and maybe some of my common sense too, and I’m not sure I ever fully got either of these things back. I did, however, learn how to fight to survive, how to take control of my own destiny.

My greatest goal with this project, as quaint as this may seem, is to write a moral tale. In some strange way, I want this memoir to be a book of philosophy, a set of arguments, a record of lessons learned. I am very encouraged by the positive feedback I’ve gotten so far, which convinces me that I must be getting through to at least some readers out there. If it were not for this encouragement, I don’t think I would have continued past Chapter Ten.

I began this online writing experiment in January, and I’m planning to end the first phase of it — the weekly chapters comprising a ten-year period of my life, 1993 to 2003 — by the end of December. That doesn’t mean the entire memoir will be finished by then, because the complete story I want to tell takes place between 1993 to 2008, a fifteen-year span. But I am going to save the concluding chapters that cover 2003 to 2008 for a later time.

This is partly because I think the ten year tale of 1993 to 2003 has a nice arc, and I think I can bring it to a satisfying conclusion by December. I like the neat idea that I’ve spent exactly one year writing about a period of ten years. And, really, I need a break, and I’m looking forward to calling the main phase of this writing experiment done at the end of this year — reeling it in, taking inventory … getting my privacy back.

Then, once I’ve taken a long break, I have a few different ideas what I’ll do next. I need to figure out what form this memoir ought to take once I revise it (I’m sure I can tighten up the prose with a second draft). Then I’ll return to write the 2003-2008 chapters online, beginning sometime in 2010, or I will write them in some other form, or maybe I’ll never write them at all. I’m really not sure what I’ll do next.

I’ll be posting the next chapter next week as usual. We’re now at the end of the year 2000, and there’s a lot of story left between now and the concluding summer of 2003. One procedural change: I plan to begin posting stories on Tuesdays or Wednesdays from now on, instead of the usual Wednesdays or Thursdays. I definitely plan to keep up the pace of one chapter a week until we reach the summer of 2003. It’s starting to get easy.

Thanks again, dear readers, for your attention and positive vibes. I hope you all get to write your own memoirs someday too — it’s a hell of a way to come to terms with your past, and you might be surprised what you discover. See you next week.

6 Responses

  1. Have you found that once you
    Have you found that once you make an “embarrassing” admission, it doesn’t seem as monumental a secret as you thought it was? That’s how it usually is with me.

    Levi, your memoir is thoroughly engrossing. I understand why you want to bring this part to an end, but I really hope you eventually write about 2003 to 2008. I seem to recall a bit of drama on the Litkicks message boards.

  2. Hi Levi!

    Keep the good work!
    Hi Levi!

    Keep the good work! I love reading your memoir and look forward to a new chapter every week. The undercurrent of your memoir is how the internet has evolved over the years (which is very interesting by itself) but you also add a personal touch to it.

    Do you have plans to turn this into a print book, or at least an ebook? I hope so, it’s an excellent read!

  3. When you finish will you
    When you finish will you write the Idiot’s Guide to Memoir Writing or the Dummy’s Guide to Memoir Writing or both?
    Has any bricks-and-mortar publishing companies expressed interest?
    I don’t know how to respond to the other remarks regarding work because most of my life–88%–has been spent working. If I was unemployed, I looked for work and it is just something that’s part of life and it sucks.
    Writing is the only thing I ever cared to do and I don’t think I’ve cared enough.
    Can’t you just write the chapters you want and than an epilog and say, “That’s all, folks!”?

  4. Sounds like a plan, thanks
    Sounds like a plan, thanks again for sharing this insider’s look at the dot-com mania along with your personal life. It’s been a fun voyeuristic trip.(didn’t know I knew how to spell that didja)

  5. Yeah, all along I’ve been
    Yeah, all along I’ve been viewing it as a moral tale (similar, in a very different vein, to Eric Rohmer’s).

    It is very hard today to present irony-free material (except, of course, for naturally occuring irony). What I most like about this are its stripped-down yet detailed quality and the sense of a voice of measured, thoughtful person looking back on something that mattered to him.

    There is surprisingly little work in fiction, unless it’s academic work, police work, detective work, or working for Anna Wintour. I can think recently of Joshua Ferris, Ed Park and a few others. My favorite novel about working in an office is “Something Happened” by Joseph Heller. I remember my boyfriend saying after he read it, “*Nothing* happened!” Well, yes and no.

    I like the matter-of-fact narration and your ability to discuss personal details in a not-too-revelatory (your kids and your former wife and your co-workers keep their personal privacy) way. You’re honest about your own embarrassments and failures but not to the point of making the reader feel embarrassed *for* you.

    There’s a real sense of dignity and integrity in this, and from reading this, I see what I’ve should have realized, that you’ve given this a tremendous amount of thought.

    I do feel bad for people whose work is “just something that’s part of life and it sucks.” It’s not fun for me, like writing is, but it’s been satisfying and interesting even during the times work (literally) made me sick. I don’t ever want to stop working (not that I could).

    Levi, I think you would make a great co-worker.

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