Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why The Long-Weekend Face?

The Globe's Focus piece this weekend was about the so-called leisure gap between how much we should work - not much, given how much technology we have at our disposal - and how much we do work - all the time. It made the case for the standard three-day weekend, a luxury that had me breaking out in goosebumps: since starting my job a few months ago, I've been asked to give up two Saturdays a month in the name of work. It's a sacrifice that shouldn't be that big a deal, but instead has turned me into a enraged, stressed-out asshole. One-day weekends are just horrible. But three-day weekends! They're amazing.

The article, which seems to run under different guises in national newspapers every few months as "breaking news" but in reality is one of the hoariest old saws in a journalist's notebook, is how technological and societal advances should be leaving us with more leisure time. Time for the kids, time for the stack of novels on my bedside table yet to be cracked. More time for home-cooked meals and gardening. More time for working on hobbies, making art, making the world a better place. Less time has to be spent running around in cars, staring at a computer screen, picking up meals-in-a-bowl to snarf during the lunch (half-)hour, and commuting.

The articles always argue that, by cutting the workweek down, people are healthier, more in tuned with their families, less stressed, and more productive when they are at their desks. Even doing 40 hours in four days - working nine to seven, say - gives people more time. It's hard to argue with that; if I'm commuting 45 minutes each way on transit or on the highway, cutting one day of commuting out gives me an hour and a half each week to do other it things. Not to mention that whole other day of not working. It gives me a day to go to the doctor, or talk to my landlord, or attend volunteer meetings, or cook for the week.

At this point, I am like, obsessed with the idea of a part-time job. I'm not really a frugal person - I spend too much on frozen yogurt and second-hand clothes for that kind of thing - but I'm also not terribly expensive in my tastes. I want a nice little 25/30 hour a week gig; somewhere were I still I have a desk, but I'm not chained to it. I don't want to make tacos or make beggy phonecalls to patrons of the Harbourfront Festival or fold clothes at American Apparel, but I thrive when I'm in a professional situation that allows for freedom. Like most people, I chafe under too much work and too many demands, and I can only imagine that, as I get older and my responsibilities increase, I'll be even more horrible if I also have to hold down a full-time gig. Some people like to work. They claim to go a little nuts without it. I'm the opposite. Without metric tons of down time, I become a twitchy, bitchy bag of neuroses, temper tantrums and meaningless fights with my boyfriend (sorry, baby!).

In any case. The Victoria Day long weekend is stuffed with barbeques and bike rides, a few rainy bursts, and a chance to scrub my apartment from top to bottom. I've also read a book, done my laundry, and eaten a grape leaf sandwich. In other words, it has afforded me with leisure time that is remarkable only it its uninterrupted amount. Next weekend promises a Saturday of work and then a Sunday for alltheotherstuffIneedtodo, so this three-day block of time is a luxury of time and happiness that knows few bounds. I feel refreshed, recharged, and ready for another full week of - sigh - work.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Work Attire(d)

Since starting work in an office, I've become hyperaware of what "conservative dress" really means. Let me tell you: this is a minefield. "Business casual" seems to mean different things to different people: one person's slutty tank top is another's Thursday morning outfit. The dudes have it easy. All they have to do is throw on a sweater that isn't covered in reindeer, pants that aren't dungarees, and get a half-way decent haircut, and they look professional. Women, on the other hand, have a range of styles to befuddle us. Pants? Skirts? Tights? Bare legs? Cover the shoulders? Are tee shirts okay? Cleavage? Accessories? And what about hairdos? Princess Leia buns, a staple of my civilian hair repertoire, tends to get disapproving looks from my supervisors. What is a girl to do?!

I can't vouch for any of y'all, but I never thought I'd fuck it up so badly. Oh, sure, I jam the photocopier on the regular and make idiotic mistakes with people's files, but I never feel quite as bad as when I get dinged for dressing inappropriately. During my first couple weeks on the job, I was pulled aside and told to bring my look up to a corporate standard; my boss acknowledged that I was fresh out of school and therefore might not have a wealth of office-ready clothes to fall back on, but it made me feel like I had been slapped. Criticisms of clothes, like comments on body or age, feel deeply personal. I felt as though she had dismissed me entirely based on the way I looked, not how I was doing my job or settling into the company.

Since then, I've tried to be more careful. I wear opaque tights and skirts to the knee, flats shoes and shirts than cover the elbow. If there was ever a staff meeting in an Orthodox shul, I could waltz right in and take my place without feeling stupid (I mean, aside from the fact that I've never been inside a synagogue and would, knowing me, knock over the torah or accidentally fall in the mikveh). But I still want to let loose a little. I feel like "business funky" is a look I strive for, like gallery owners and women who run children's clothing shops. Which is ridiculous - it means I'm modeling my style after middle aged gallery owners. Dudes. I am 27 years old. I have a slammin' bod and great hair. There is no reason to hide my light under a pashmina and arty glasses.

But the office mood is one of grave professionalism, so I cover up. My coworkers and I are a pretty bleak bunch; we all gravitate towards gray and black and navy, with nary a sequin in sight. I'm not saying that the business should be conducted in Caribana outfits, but the emphasis on looking professional rather than being professional is a little, well, weird. There is one chica who tries to spice it up, but her bralessness and miniskirts comes off as less "fun!" and more, like, "WTF?" There's a wide gulf between a fun tank top and letting your tatas hang out in the workplace, right? Besides, I'm sure she could work in the nude and still get her job done.

I understand the reason behind office gear: it makes things look clean and nice, even when they're actually harried and hectic. It takes some of the guesswork out of dressing in the a.m. - a suit is almost always appropriate, and women have whole departments dedicated to the art of professional dressing. But when it's used as just one more way to deny employees any sense of fun in the workplace, as another disciplinary measure used to instill a sense of bad-dog shame in the people in the company, then maybe it's time to bust out the protest feathers and sequins and get our work done with some style.