When I started up at my last job, the corporate memos were the same style as a competitor I worked for prior, because the competitor had stolen the Word template and just changed the logo at the top, but kept the rest of it the same, the “To, From, What, Why” format and the font, Arial 12.
I was pushing 30, had worked in coffee shops on my feet all hours of the day, then transferred into corporate as a secretary, which they dressed-up as “administrative assistant” and even had ranks within that job denoting pay grade and status to match the person you assisted, their rank and status, which corresponded to the style of office furniture they were entitled to, the finishes and artwork palette, which I guess is only fair.
I was hired to write bulletins that conveyed direction from the corporate HQ, disseminated hardcopy by mail packet once a week to retail outlets around the US and Canada, with multiple versions denoted through an indexing system in small font, in the header.
If there was a voice to the memos — which is a stretch to call it that since the voice sounded synthesised like a vocoder pedal — the voice was dry and directive with nary a drop of humour, it was all business. It was the voice of people who reflected what they thought the company needed back then, a tuck-in-your-shirt attitude, and it wasn’t until 2014 I think the voice started to loosen, the memo archives date back to the early 90s.
I fell into a rhythmic pattern writing the Operations Bulletins. Before I got to corporate I worked in the stores and sometimes read the bulletins they sent, which were kept in a binder on a sagging shelf above a computer in a jam-packed office with jackets and paper cups and first aid kits and all the money, in a safe.
The bulletins were black and white, all text, sometimes multiple pages, directing you what to do and when. Writing and editing them was easy, and after I transferred into the corporate office and went back to the stores and told the employees what I did there now, they smiled because it was something they could relate to even if they didn’t like the messages from corporate, at least they understood what I was talking about, which was rare with people from corporate.
For about six years I wrote Operations Bulletins and other correspondence: voicemails, emails, promotional messages, training content, manuals, online action items, abstracts, disaster recovery procedures, product recall specifications — video scripts for executives wishing everyone happy holidays, because that was the best way to put it.
I didn’t know the saying then, that all choices are compromises, and I don’t regret my choices really: I guess I was acting out of fear, which at least helps you focus, until it becomes your only focus and you can’t see beyond it. That’s what easy gets you.
My family and soon-to-be wife seemed content with my job because there was nothing to worry about, even if they never read what I wrote or cared to, or fully understood what I did, it didn’t matter. But on the rare occasion I found myself at a party say in Portland, with some hipsters and artist types and told them about my job but that it wasn’t the kind of work I really wanted to do, they’d break eye contact with me and I’d feel kind of embarrassed.
Years later I was on the run, fearing the walls caving in on me at work, perhaps so disconnected I couldn’t commit to it the way I had to anymore. I went back to my old group, a friend of mine now running it, and she said they were looking at ways to change the voice, to make it sound more real and personable. But I’d advanced in my pay grade and status to where it didn’t seem plausible to go back to my old position. Actors probably have the same problem after playing the same kind of role too long.
Maybe when you settle into a job that feels comfortable and alright you should stay there, even if it doesn’t challenge you the way you think it should. You can follow the template and earn a good living and tell yourself you supported your family, and in the end, it wasn’t so bad after all. Rather than write your own songs, you can cover hits from the ’70s and they’ll sound pretty close to the original if you just learn the chords and pay attention to what they were wearing. You can convince yourself and others and not have to worry so much, that’s what easy gets you.