"Could there be anything more demoralizing than having to wake up in the morning five out of seven days of one's adult life to perform a task that one secretly believed did not need to be performed - that was simply a waste of time or resources, or that even made the world worse?" There are certainly things much more desperate and tragic and traumatic than wasting away in a desk job, but as I enter the new year on the hunt for more work that will pay better than the creative work I really want to be doing, this line from the preface to David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs feels like a validation. It's always demoralizing to be looking for work, but doubly so when you know the work won't even mean anything.

There's also a special irony that the skills and experiences one might acquire with the hopes of success as an artist are often the ones best suited to a bullshit job. It seems easy enough to parlay a good eye for composition and some common sense into being a UI designer, and the average UI designer earns better than the average landscape painter. But whereas making a painting of a beautiful beachside view, or writing a poem, or telling a joke might ultimately bring some delight or empathy into the world, I'd argue that most UI designers work on things that probably don't need to exist, probably make the world worse, and probably aren't even particularly well-designed. At least the Taskmaster tasks bring joy to the world.

This week, I have another bit of fiction for you, inspired by writing too many cover letters. If we've been chatting via email, and I haven't followed up, feel free to bother me again. And if you need some bullshit work done, feel free to hire me.

My Work History

Everything in this part of the city used to be something else, especially the buildings, and all the new office complexes and shopping centers and clubs are really just factories and shipyards and slaughterhouses that have been cleaned with a bit of paint and some LED lighting to contain a new type of work. Even the streets used to be something else, and sometimes the old cobblestones and train tracks crack through the asphalt like wrinkles too deep for even the most skilled makeup artist to cover. My building used to be a factory for the old cookie company DE-LI-CO, whose iconic square cookie is now a subsidiary product of Nestlé, and which is now sold primarily to airlines and primarily manufactured abroad. In place of the cookies, the building now has two cafés, a restaurant that only sells meatballs, a restaurant that only sells meatballs on Thursdays, and eight floors of offices for various companies that are wealthy enough to pay the rent in this neighborhood but not enough to rent or buy an entire building.

My company is older than most of them, old enough to have existed when the cookie factory still made cookies, but there is a plaque in the lobby that says in those days the company operated out of the barn of the father of the founder, as evidence of his humble origins. I still don’t know what we do, but we earn enough to pay the rent and to pay the salaries of everyone who works in the office, none of whom have ever been able to tell me what we make or sell. And they’re good salaries, good enough to eat in either of the restaurants downstairs every day, and to save a little, and to take a vacation to a different old city once a year to see other old buildings. I never take a vacation, but I like the meatballs - the Thursday ones more than the everyday ones.

When I started here, I worked on the first floor with all the other interns. There were lots of free sodas, and the majority of my work was to open emails and click a button to confirm that I had read the email. If I took a break to drink a soda in the kitchen every hour and a trip to the bathroom every two hours, well, I could pass eight hours without doing much work. But one day I made the mistake of fixing a loose cable on someone else’s computer, and they promoted me to “IT Lead.”

In IT, I worked in the “back room” that was really two floors below. I mean, the ground floor had the restaurants open to the public, and we were in the first level of the basement. Someone told me this was because it was better for the servers. Why? He didn’t say. My new job was to walk around and verify that all the lights were lit on every server and that none of the switches were flipped and none of the buttons were pressed. In the server room, I was doing less than when I was an intern, until I accidentally deleted all the emails of the “Head of Growth.” I couldn’t help myself, after six months I had to see what happened when I finally pushed a button. They promoted me to “Systems Administrator.”

The Systems Department was another level below, and I thought I could feel the metro vibrating below me while I worked. This section had even larger servers, covered in more dust, with more switches and buttons, but no lights. They always hummed and moaned, and I had to walk around and verify that they were still working, but without any lights to check. It was more of a feeling, I would just know when something was wrong and what to do, I figured. One day I decided to dust everything - I was tired of sneezing all the time - and our stock went up 14 points. They promoted me to “Head of Operations.”

At this point, I was waiting to return to the surface, but it turned out that Operations was another floor below. Somehow there was a staircase I had never noticed at the back of the server room that took me to a floor with a big, peeling sign with the name of the department and a labyrinth of metal pipes. The tubes were as big as tree trunks (or like my memories of tree trunks from outside of this city), and they rumbled and echoed all the time. I guess this is what I thought was the metro. There was less to do there than on the previous floor, but someone gave me a wrench, and I wandered every day, tightening the bolts on each pipe. Every bolt was already perfectly tight. I felt so comfortable in the pipe room that sometimes I ordered my meatballs to go and would eat them sitting on the floor amidst the twisting metal.

I never thought that life could get better until one day I took a few sick days for a cold, and when I returned, they promoted me to CEO.

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gift-giving, don't go