P—W  V° 02:06

Thoughts on the Office

by Nico Chilla

01. Productivity has always seemed a funny idea to me. It suggests I can chop my task into little discrete chunks, and count how many I finish in an afternoon. Yet most of what I do involves either throwing things at the wall or beating my own head against it.

02. It’s clearly a categorical error to suppose that a poem admits of a progress bar. But if not “producing,” what is it I’m doing at my desk all day, in between rabbit-holes and glances at the clock? Maybe nothing—that would at least be a step up from nonsense.

03. In truth it’s disingenuous to wonder what I do at my desk, given I spend hardly any time there at all. I sit, write a single line, and then launch back up into furious paces around the room. What does the pacing do? I haven’t the slightest idea.

04. When the weather allows, my pacing expands to the surrounding neighborhood, going up and down blocks while I type with one hand on my phone. All the ideas come on the walk; the office is just where I patch them together afterwards into something sensible.

05. Why should this be, when according to Descartes all I ought to need is this modest “stove-heated room?” In theory, I am the architect of my mental surroundings; in practice, I am their captive.

06. To note: my “office” is an “office” because it is also a bedroom. These realities are non-contradictory. I arm myself with the maxim “make your own meaning,” and the space conforms to my semantic decrees. On what grounds would you say the “bed” is essentially a sleeping device, and this room defined by its presence? I will not accept appeals to common sense.

07. A space is invested with memories—good, bad, or utterly tedious. Maybe this is why libraries and cafes are such havens: they are fresh and untouched by past experience—ahistorical, in a sense.

08. Work. Task. Labor. None of these words of contemporary life which I am obliged to use to describe my activity get at the heart of it. I like words like toil that are so antiquated no one has much association, except maybe a vision of a monk toiling away at an illuminated manuscript. That is roughly the image that occupies my dreams.

09. The trouble is the damned surrounding nonsense. A labor of love is still labor, and why labor when it is so easy to not-labor? Or so the self-sabotaging rhetoric goes. The fact is that sitting back and consuming junk is not just a waste—it is palliative, a cowardly escape. This is why I say nothing is preferable to nonsense.

10. “Create” has gone the way of “produce,” clichéd into oblivion. I don’t know any “creators” and I hope I never meet one. I only know individuals in various states of confusion.

11. Nonsense steals my sleeping hours because I know—somewhere in the back of my mind—that if I don’t bring a distraction to bed, I will be alone with myself in the dark. Maybe that sounds grim. All I mean is this: when our thoughts are directed inwards, we weave stories about ourselves. I have simply concluded that there is no value in these stories; be they jubilant or painful, they will always be lies.

12. No, these aphorisms are not self-narratives. I see them as phenomenological narratives. If you choose to read me into them, that’s your business. All the same they may lie—not in the sense of intention, but in the sense of accuracy. There’s no reason that my observations of how I work should line up with the fact of the matter (although there’s also the question of if there even is a fact of the matter).

13. Why is it that psychology, at least as popularly disseminated, hasn’t given me the knowledge of how to master my workflow? In my scrounging all I can find are suggestions too general or particular to be actionable. Sometimes I imagine having an incarnation of Laplace’s demon: a device that scans the universe’s material composition, my brain included, and instructs me on how to get a clever idea. I can picture it now, a little machine continuously repeating a single instruction: “THROW ME AWAY.” 

14. But in any case what I’m really after isn’t clever ideas, it’s eudaimonia. The puzzle is how to flourish while psychic and worldly conditions undermine each other. I am compelled to look for patterns that order the chaos, but I find myself lost in endless subtleties that never resolve.

15. “We feel as if we had to repair a torn spider’s web with our fingers,” Wittgenstein says, describing a problem at once very different and exactly the same as mine.

2022 © N.Chilla