Thursday, March 13, 2008

The guy in the next cubicle is driving me nuts

I spend several hours a day working in the Writers' Room of Boston, which provides quiet space for writers. We have about 50 members, with working space for 10 (12 if we stretch things), and at any given time we average 3-6 folks writing (or reading or thinking) away.

When we say quiet space, we do mean quiet space: no talking, no humming, no whispering, no muttering, no cursing, no whistling, no slamming your fist down on the keyboard.

But we are only human, so there are, of course, many small disturbances.

  • Sometimes people forget to turn their cell phones off.
  • Sometimes it's too damned hot and people futz with the windows.
  • Sometimes people forget that the kitchen is not all that soundproof.
  • Sometimes people leave things to rot in the fridge.
  • Sometimes people text (loudly).
  • Sometimes the bar across the street has a University of Michigan football game on, and we have to hear the UM fight song all Saturday afternoon.
  • Sometimes people use the last leaf of toilet paper and don't bother to run downstairs and buy a roll at the 7-11. (Grrrrr.)

But mostly, it's amazing tranquil in here - at least by my standards. Some of the writers, however, are disturbed by very small things - the sound of someone's fingers striking the keyboard, the rattling of a newspaper, the clicking of a pen. These tend to be writers who haven't spent a lot of time in offices.

Me? Given all the years I logged in offices open and closed, I'm pretty much inured to the noises and irritating behaviors here. How can any of this compare to:

  • The guy in the next office who whistled the theme song to Gilligan's Island every moment of every day - other than during those moments when he was reciting some Masonic incantation or another - nothing like the sound of someone speaking in archaic tongue!
  • The health food techie who kept a bag of sweet potatoes in his office, but somehow never noticed the foul stench emanating from the suppurating bag of yuck those puppies had turned into.
  • The woman who, in an extremely loud and grating Australian accent managed to insert, not just the lowly f-word into every phone conversation she had, but the m-f word and the c-word. Throwing the f-bomb is one thing - I've been to those barricades myself plenty of times - but wrack my brain as I will, I can't really come up with a business context for the c-word.
  • The creep who, claiming he had a bad foot that needed to be exercised, wandered around the office every hour, pausing in the doorway of every woman in the place to stare in at her.
  • The fellow who, over a two week period, spent an inordinate amount of time recounting every last detail of the fender bender he'd been involved in with his pickup truck. (As Jeff, my buddy in the next cubicle said, "Hey, at this point, I know so much about the accident, I should file the insurance claim.")
  • The paging system at Wang that was right over my head, and paged incessantly for someone or another from the shop floor to pick up on line 23. Of course, I was about 1/4 of a mile over, and 10 floors up from the shop floor, but paging had to be "available" (and on) everywhere.

For me, the Writers' Room is comparative bliss. It doesn't bother me at all that in the next cube over, Mark is quietly working away at translating poetry from Spanish to English; the next to him, Marilyn is polishing her novel to send to her agent; that beyond that, Mimi is writing about communications skills, that Peter is writing about the environment, that Jenny is writing a poem.

In fact, I rather like it.


Anonymous said...

I thought that one had to have a room of one's own?

IMR editor said...

I am so glad I am working from home .. because i am one of those awful Australians who uses curse words all the time. My kids now say "What the heck!" and I think it is quaint. Forgive us, but Australians say "You're f..k.d" meaning "You are great, f..k..g great." It is a different approach than American puritanism. But yes, I worked with a guy who used to whistle like a bomb landing all the time. It was extremely annoying. And then there were the women who used to talk about worshipping goat phenomes or something strange like. Will pass your post over to my colleagues at It could make a funny story for them. thanks, Julie