Copycat: An Ode to Individuality

If there’s one thing in life I hate most, it’s making copies.

It’s always you in a claustrophobic room full of neglected office supplies–hole punchers, tape, and staplers obnoxiously labeled, “PROPERTY OF SO-AND-SO, LLC” as if the most boring burglar in existence would whisk them away once you turned your back. (Even if that were true, I doubt there would be much profit to be made in the scotch tape trade.) Then there’s the age-old war of Assistant vs. Machine. Why is it that copy machines only break down when you have to make 250 copies of a flyer for your boss’ meeting the next morning? The only thing I’ve learned from these encounters is that machines don’t respond well to yelling.

By definition, a copy is an exact duplicate of something. With each blinding green scan of the machine, you destroy the originality of that first document by tiny little increments. And of your own individuality in the process.

I’ve made my fair share of copies. Fortunately enough, my day jobs have never taken me into the torturous world of retail. Nor have I ever had to flip a burger. But sometimes, between fubbing phone transfers and nursing paper cuts, I almost longed for grease stains and lousy tips.

Office culture is something that fascinates, irritates, and amuses me all at once. Conversations are stale and repetitive. Some weather we’re having today, huh? Busy day? Yeah, me too. Well, take care! Lather, rinse, repeat. In the two months that I’ve been at my current job, this is as far as I got in conversations with Julie, a woman who works two suites down from ours. But who is this Julie, I wonder? Is she a legal clerk by day, bank robber by night? Does she like pickles with her hamburgers? Has she ever stalled while driving stick shift? What’s the worst Christmas present she ever received? There must be an entire world packed inside this myopic woman I run into on a daily basis. Alas, relationships in the office stay suspended near the surface, floating somewhere near the top of the water cooler current.

If human beings are a sum of their actions, then I’ve been reduced to nothing but a conglomeration of copies, phone calls, e-mails, and errands. We office monkeys are highly susceptible to office amnesia, a condition under which we temporarily forget that we hold lives beyond the cubicle. Hypnotized by blinking cursors, we’re sent off into cyberspace along with our e-mails.

Noooo! I feel like shouting at the top of my lungs, for dramatic effect. This can’t be all there is! The good news is that it isn’t. I refuse to believe that everyone is as boring as their day jobs. I know in my heart of hearts that Julie must harbor a secret passion for spelunking and that my boss, a writer, is really a concert pianist waiting for his big break. Just as I often feel pressured to conceal that I’m a musician, I know that others are equally hesitant to show their true colors.

If I was in charge, I’d instate a Bring-Your-Double-Life-to-Work Day at least once a month. We’d have trombone  soloists, dolphin trainers, track stars, and underwater basket weaving demonstrators, and coming to work would be 400 times as interesting, if even for a day. One of these days, in a calculated move, I’m going to burst into song with my ukulele (which I actually have stashed away in my desk) and serenade the entire office suite with jazz songs from the 1920s.

This can result in one of two things: (1) I get fired. (2) My fellow office monkeys are so thrilled with my performance that they proclaim me their new leader and carry me on their shoulders out to the parking lot, where we’ll resupply our bodies with melanin. Then, they reward me with a lifetime supply of non-dairy coffee creamer.

My point is this: individuality doesn’t die out. In the office world, we simply learn to conceal it. We slip it in between stacks of memos and  lose it behind layers of post-it notes. But it is imperative that we remember: there’s more to life than the copy room. We were made to produce, not to be reproduced (some biologists and stem-cell researchers may disagree…but you get my point).

Until that fateful day when I take over and demand that my fellow office monkeys rejoice in each other’s singular talents, I’ll have one hand on the telephone receiver and the other tenderly fondling the strings of my ukulele – carefully tucked away for now –  just in case.

“You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.” –John Mason

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One thought on “Copycat: An Ode to Individuality

  1. Oh my God Lilian!! Do your talents and gifts EVER end ? Your writing just blows me away. You have GOT to explore the possibility of doing this more and earning from it. Really !! Your amazing aptitude MUST get out there in the world !! I’m writing a book as you know. Can I hire (?) you as a “prettier-upper” of my text ? That would seem the clever thing for me to do !!

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