All around me it is silent, a wasteland of bland grey cubicles. Amid the silence, the only registerable sounds are empty, ambient noise, barely remarkable mouse clicks, the occasional typing, the hum of the air conditioning overhead.
Amidst the quiet drear, I am the misplaced intern. For eight hours, I am doomed to perpetual silence. My lack of human interaction? A product of the task I have been given. I am to move over 3000 out-of-print books by myself. If I’m lucky and the mail-room workers are available, I might be able to borrow one of their carts. But I’ve never been lucky, and I know better than to expect them to be available. They’re busy too, and they don’t have time for an intern who isn’t even part of their crew.
As I heft stack after stack of books from one end of the building to the opposite end, I can’t help but think that none of this would have happened if I had just settled on going to law school instead. I’d still be bored, but rather I’d be using the critical thinking skills I’ve been force-fed since grade school. But no, no, I love words, I love writing! Nevermind that editorial work has quite nothing to do with anything I’ve studied or practiced in my English classes. This is only an internship, I know. My work would be different if I had a different position. But I struggle to reconcile the tenderness of my arm muscles with the brevity of my position.
This is normal, I am told. This is important, I am told. My role here matters, I hear.
But I am supposed to be gaining corporate on-the-job experience. How do you work some sort of work education into this? Having moved books for over three weeks now, I have to wonder, if this is such an important job, why am I not being assisted by another worker, to ensure the job gets done faster and more efficiently? If I say I’m done and hide the rest of the books and ask for new work, will anyone notice? I can’t safely say yes to that, but I don’t think they would.
In between lifting books I check my email anxiously, having been warned of the dire consequences of leaving my email closed longer than five minutes. I know better of course–I haven’t had my email shut since they gave me a computer. But the lack of traffic in my inbox is a curious thing; if no one emails me, will my supervisor notice when I actually stop caring and purposely sign out of Outlook permanently?
The editorial assistants I work under weave in and out of cubicles, training the new temp worker who effectively replaces me as the trainee. I have five weeks left–and she has another five and a half months. She is now being taught to do the sort of monotonous, yet, mindful and altogether more interesting tasks that they haven’t thought to hoist on me yet. As my supervisor assures me, yes, you will eventually miss moving books, you’ll wish you could go back to this task, you’ll miss the mindlessness…and lack of human interaction, I’m count off in my head the number of weeks until my contract ends. At the rate I’m going, moving books is all I will have done, I think. I have done so little yet!
I want to learn, I want to work! My fingers twitch with nervous energy and I can’t stop my feet flicking back and forth. As long as I am occupied with thoughtful tasks, I am at ease. As long as I am being instructed on more and more new tasks, and receiving work of some importance, I feel fine. But when I consider my pile of books in the corner, waiting to be hauled to their final resting place, I have to suppress a groan of ennui and desolation. I can’t any longer be motivated to move these library letters, the remaining stacks that I have left to organize. I remember the advice I’ve been given by superiors, hoping it might stimulate what little faculty of mind I have left: Don’t feel self-righteous, everyone works hard and you have to work your way up. Keep your email open, pay attention to reminders, ask for more work when you finish a project. I have done these haven’t I? I search for logical fault lines. I do ask for work, my email is always open. I trudge on, exhausted. I have so little left to do, I just have to push through it I tell myself.
Yet, there is room for something new and enjoyable. While last week I finished the more notable side tasks and was left only book-moving projects, my supervisor has heard my cries of dissatisfaction. A small page-marking task to occupy me, and serve some small semblance of relief from my current long-winded chores. I remind myself how close I am to the finish line. One more month as a corporate intern–now, now, they don’t hate you. Maybe they just don’t realize how demoralizing some of these tasks are, once you’ve been at them for so long by yourself. One more day’s worth of books to hoist–after this, I’ll ask for something I can do with the marketing intern. What’s this? I should’ve just asked for a new project? I don’t need to rush this first one? Please allow me a moment to face-palm myself. The office air is getting to me, clearly. I nearly forgot! I’m supposed to be asking questions! I’m supposed to be learning about my coworkers’ jobs and how this relates to productivity and revenue raising and making interpersonal connections! I should be pressing them for information about the other departments! Do you suppose that nervous-looking women over there (the one madly typing away) would be too terribly disturbed if I just popped into her cubicle for a few questions?
Not that any one task is more interesting than the next, but… it’s always a relief to switch to some other project. I rejoice in the reprieve that comes from flipping through books as opposed to lifting them. I while away the minutes.
Oh look, it’s nearly 4:30! Time to head out for the day. I can’t wait to come back tomorrow! Who knows what new and exciting missions I will be assigned? Oh wait… I still haven’t finished moving that library. Oh well.