Rhea Thomas takes us on a whimsical journey in this anecdote about the day of an officer worker whose stress gets manifested in a peculiar way.
Every day for the last six years, I’ve walked through a revolving door, literally and figuratively, to the advertising and digital media agency I work for. (I don’t know why we have an actual revolving door. It sucks in the cold weather and seems really inefficient.) To keep my job in the agency world, I have had to work long hours and be willing to do whatever needs to be done. That takes a toll.
It all started around the new year, when everyone was so excited about “the new year, the new you,” and what resolutions we should all tackle: healthy eating, exercise, new hobbies, work/life balance, etc. My Facebook feed was full of articles informing me of “10 Ways to Deal with Stress” or “5 Stress Relievers You Need Today.” Well, someone in my office (I’m going to guess HR or Molly, the girl who is nauseatingly healthy) printed out one of these headline-grabbing quick-fixers and posted it in the break room. It was tacked on the bulletin board right next to “Why Sitting All Day Can Kill You” and “The 138 Health Benefits of Yoga.”
I usually ignore these postings on my way to brew coffee or grab an extra energy drink from the never-ending supply in our company-provided refrigerator. However, a few weeks ago, I was stuck waiting in line for my caffeine fix because Richard was filling his mammoth mug. (Seriously, if you have a giant mug and it takes, like, half the pot to fill or at a minimum, three K-cups, be polite and let the rest of us to go first.) I didn’t want to get stuck talking to him while I waited, because all he talks about is numerology, spin class and his paleo diet, so I hovered in front of the bulletin board, pretending to be absorbed in the articles posted there. And, well, I ended up actually reading the one about stress.
The number one item on the list of things to reduce stress was to walk. According to this article, walking can improve your mood and self-esteem through the production of feel-good endorphins and actually lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. I snorted. We all walk. I walked all day, right? I walked to the bathroom, to the break room, to meetings. And I still felt stressed. My best friend Lori swore yoga was her stress-reliever, but the one time I tried that, I almost passed out from the heated room and ended up just trying not to toot the whole time or fall flat on my face from my lack of flexibility.
“Annie, I need this statement of work edited right away. Do you mind?” said Stan, one of our C-level suits who never talks to me except when he needs something. He’s notorious around the office for getting everyone’s names slightly wrong. Case in point, my name is Amy.
“Sure, Stan,” I replied. “When do you need it back?”
“Right away! I have a meeting at 10 a.m. with Gazongas Grill, and I think they’re ready to sign!” He swooped over to the coffee pot as Richard walked away. It would never occur to him that there was a line.
“Okay. I’m going to get some coffee first and then I can get right on it,” I said to his back.
“Great! Thanks, Annie,’ he said, flashing his meaningless smile.
I sighed. It was 9 a.m.
* * *
By the time I made it back to my desk (after getting stuck in conversation with Erin in the kitchen about the merits of putting her dog in daycare and then pulled into another conversation as I passed Sam’s desk, where he wanted to mention to me how his cousin’s girlfriend was taking writing in college and wondered if we had any job openings for writers) and opened my email, I already had three blog requests, five editing requests and an impromptu “processes” meeting scheduled for 9:30.
I am the director of content at Ripple Media. What does that mean exactly? Good question, since my job description seems to evolve every six months or so. I hire freelance writers to create blog posts, press releases, video scripts and social content for our clients, which are big companies who need help with social media and digital advertising. We had an editor who proofread all content, but he ended up sleeping with half the women in the office and was fired after a huge, very public break-up with a woman from the graphics department last month at the Christmas party.
I think it’s safe to say that the beer pong, jello shots and our kegerator and hard liquor bar definitely exacerbated the drama. So, now I’m filling in as editor because no one seems motivated to hire a new one. I happen to be pretty decent at it (thanks, Mom and Dad, for all those years of grammar -Nazi private school), but now I’m doing the jobs of at least two people.
Sitting at my desk, I opened the usual ten or so browser windows I need to function daily. There’s a window for my personal email, my work email, our time-tracking site, our project management site, our document sharing site, social media management platform, the spreadsheet I use to track writers, the worksheet I use to track my worksheets … you get the idea.
“Amy, can you add Lisa to the Psalm Shoes account in WorkTogether?” Krissy pinged me in g-chat. “I don’t have admin access, and she’s been moved onto the account as community manager. I need to assign her some tasks.”
“No problem. I’ll do it now.”
Psalm Shoes is a fledgling company that sells tennis shoes with, you got it, psalms on them. Some pseudo celebrity was wearing them in an Instagram photo that went viral (mainly due to the fact that the celebrity was ONLY wearing the shoes, which subsequently caused Instagram to ban it, which then insured that everyone had to see it). Now, not only were these shoes a fad, photos of people wearing them nude or mostly nude were flooding the internet. Their one-man marketing team knew enough to know he didn’t know enough and realized that in order to ride the wave, he needed to hire us immediately to manage their social media as the brand grew exponentially. We’d all received shoes after handling a particularly touchy situation involving an animal rights group and the material the shoes were made out of. My shoes were lime green and said, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
After adding Lisa to the Psalm Shoes account in WorkTogether, I pulled up the statement of work for Stan. Statements of work (usually referred to as SOWs) are typically only a few pages and follow a basic formula with lots of bullet and sub-bullet points. It lists what work the client will have covered, which personnel will cover it and how much it will cost, and it lays out all the payment terms. This SOW was for a breastraunt called Gazongas Grill, a local spot for great burgers served by big-breasted servers. They offer an ostentatious Sunday brunch for the LGBTQ community, complete with over-the-top drag queens. It’d probably be a fun account to work on, if the deal went through.
The biggest problem I have with editing SOWs is usually formatting, getting everything to line up right and making sure the correct client is mentioned (because they are often copied and pasted from previous SOWs). I knocked that out in about twenty minutes and emailed it back to Stan, just in time for my 9:30 meeting to discuss a new process for documenting office processing. Meanwhile, five more editing task notifications hit my inbox.
* * *
After a working lunch (a bag of chips and a coke), which I took at my desk while browsing Facebook, throwing a few things in my Amazon cart and gossiping over g-chat with Lori, my best friend who works at another marketing agency, I realized I was running late to a video conference. Luckily, the rest of the meeting attendees were having technical difficulties in projecting to the large screen, so my late arrival wasn’t a big deal. We’d been hired by a large cellphone maker to help with some big product launch.
They needed extra hands on deck who were experienced with community management to respond, record and report back on how the campaign went. My role in the campaign was to be able to edit real-time while our community managers engaged with the target audience real-time. The talk varied from setting up approval paths in our social media engagement software, to having me just sit next to the young community managers in an operations-style command room. There would be one community manager dedicated to each platform. The usual marketing speak was used, from “high level strategy” to “organic content “ and “potential reach.” In fact, if someone used the term “piggyback” or “wheelhouse” one more time, I was going straight to the kegerator to start drinking.
After that meeting, I headed back to my desk, but not before swinging by the break room to grab another coffee (I didn’t have to break out the alcohol … yet). To delay going back to my desk, I found myself reading over the bulletin board again. The article about stress again caught my eye. I read further this time. Apparently, walking can help relieve stress, especially walking outside in nature, and most people should aim for 10,000 steps a day. My mom gave me a Fitbit for Christmas, and I’d worn it for about a week before I lost interest. But I’d only logged about 4,000 steps a day. 10,000?!
I g-chatted Lori when I got back to my desk. Friends since college, she’d worked at Ripple Media until about a year ago, when she left and ended up at rival marketing agency.
Me: Asshat got my name wrong four times today and right once. I think that’s a new record.
Lori: Maybe you should start calling him by the wrong name.
Me: Ha! I don’t think that would help anything.
Lori: Maybe add a request to the suggestion box recommending everyone wear nametags?
Me: Whatever, he’s the least of my worries. I’m knee deep in editing now, and there’s no talk of hiring another editor. Meanwhile, I’m doing that in addition to my other job duties, so really, I’m doing enough work for two employees.
Lori: Demand a raise!
Me: I wish! The timing isn’t right yet. BTW, I don’t think I’m going to make that movie tonight. I have to work late to finish everything.
Lori: SMH That’s the third time you’ve canceled this month.
Me: I know, I’m so sorry. I’m the worst friend ever.
Lori: It’s not too late to ditch Ripple and go corporate. We need a content manager here …
Me: I know, I just feel like I should stay loyal. Misguided, perhaps.
Lori: Just take care of yourself. Get out from behind the screen and go for a walk or something.
* * *
So, I took her advice and the advice of the bulletin board article and went for a walk. I hit the bricks. Literally. The nearby park trail and neighborhood sidewalks were made up of bricks in faded grays, pink, orange and yellows that made a lovely palette. The dead leaves scattered throughout made satisfyingly crunchy noises as I walked over them, the acorns breaking with a sharp crack. In spite of the bucolic setting, a large waste management truck rumbled by and I could hear a steady hum of highway traffic in the distance, muted by buildings and trees.
I rounded a corner and slowed down as I strolled by a row of several-story tall town-homes with quaint, low-walled gardens in front. An orange tabby cat watched me from the front stoop of one, and I smiled at her as I passed, calling out, “Hey, kitty, kitty,” in a singsong voice. See, I could do this. I already felt more relaxed. Unclenched my jaw I blinked rapidly, moisturizing my dry eyes. I rolled my shoulders, feeling the tension that tightened my muscles loosen just a tad.
And that’s when it happened. The tip of my lime-green Psalm Shoe bumped into something solid and I tripped, stumbling, but catching my balance before I fell. I looked around to see if anyone noticed my clumsiness. Not a soul in sight. Then I looked down.
A few of the bricks in the sidewalk popped up slightly, almost as if something was trying to burst out from underneath. Even as I had the thought, I dismissed it. Because of course, there wasn’t anything trying to come out of the sidewalk. It was just poor bricklaying or rogue tree roots. There were trees lining the sidewalk, large oak trees whose roots I’m sure were battling the bricks.
I kept walking, determined to exercise out my demons, so to speak. I visualized passing the stress through my body and working its way down my legs and out through my feet and Psalm shoes onto the bricks as I walked brisker and brisker. My legs tingled.
I decided to stick to a certain grid of streets and keep to the same route, kind of walking laps. The second time around, I remembered to look down as I rounded the corner and I stepped over it. Was the crack bigger, the bricks pushed up more? Surely, it was my imagination. The tingling in my legs subsided a bit and seemed to move lower, into my ankles and feet. Were my toes vibrating?
As I reached the spot my seventh time around, out of breath and ready to quit, I stopped a few feet before I reached it. The bricks were trembling and erupting … a dirty gray chicken-like creature, with booger-colored eyes and a puke-green beak clawed its way out of the hole, the bricks crumbling and breaking around it. It was a grotesque birthing. At last, free of the bricks, it preened, ruffling gray feathers and then stared at me once with its putrid gaze … shaking its stick legs wearing lime-green Psalm Shoes.
I gasped and took a step backwards. It mimicked me, taking a jerky step backwards almost simultaneously. What the hell. I blinked a few times, and it did the same.
“This can’t be real,” I spoke out loud. I didn’t feel threatened, but did feel slightly sick to my stomach. “What are you?”
It squawked, an awful screech combined with a belch.
“Go away!” I yelled, waving my arms and taking an almost involuntary step toward it. It spooked and ran in the opposite direction, lime-green shoes fading around the corner. Within seconds, I found myself alone on the sidewalk, staring into a dark hole in the bricks with a single dirty feather lying in the crumble. I crouched down and picked it up with my thumb and forefinger, half-expecting it to dissipate into my imagination. But it was solid. Uncomfortably solid.
I walked back to the office slowly (checking over my shoulder often, eying the bricks suspiciously), through the revolving door, up the elevator, past our receptionist and straight into our HR director’s office. Not sure what happened out there, but whether I hallucinated or birthed a stress chicken, something obviously needed to change. I told them I was going home for the day, then after a second, realized that’s not what I wanted. “I quit. I’ll do my two weeks but then I’m out.”
Feeling lighter, feeling free, I sent a quick text to Lori, “Let’s do that movie. See you at 7.”
I had enough in my savings to take six months off. I could do whatever I wanted. Maybe I should actually write that great American novel or some children’s stories centered around a stress chicken. Or maybe check out the job Lori mentioned.
I grabbed an extra pair of Psalm Shoes from the bin on my way out and left the building. As I exited the revolving door, I glanced at the shoes. They were neon orange and said, “Then the Lord said to us, “Get moving.” I sat on the curb, pulled them on and did just that.
Rhea Thomas lives in the Dallas, Texas area. She works as an editor and content manager in social media. She secretly collects vocabulary, all the unique and beautiful words she can stuff in her purse, her closet and her brain in hopes of using and loving them all.