Creativity Outside the Cubicle

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

After a brief hiatus, Word on the Street is back!

When I went home to Massachusetts, I made a couple of trips to Boston. I went to a cute independant bookstore on Newbury Street called Trident Booksellers and Cafe. Stacks of literary magazines and journals — a former English major’s haven — filled a small bookshelf across from the bookstore’s cafe. There, I found a copy of n + 1, a twice-yearly print journal. I bought a copy of it and read it during my flight back to Florida.

I found one article, “Birth of the Office” particularly interesting. The author of the piece, Nikil Saval, writes about the rise and fall of cubicles. He talks about how the size of cubicles has decreased from 90 square feet in 1999 to 75 square feet in 2006. Cubicles became flimsier, creating a kind of jail cell for workers, a stifling atmosphere that made it difficult to feel distinct when everyone else is surrounded by the same walls.

The walls aren’t so bad, as long as they don’t block your view of other people. Faces are doorways to creativity. People’s expressions, mannerisms, hand gestures, etc., often make me smile, wonder, and sympathize with the people I see. I want to know their stories, want to know why they’re acting the way they are. Because I’d rather be with people than sit in my room alone when I’m not at work, I often go to Panera to work or write on the weekends. Free Wifi is my new best friend. Panera and coffee shops are great places for writers, especially, because the people who frequent these places are often colorful, and make for good ideas for characters in books.

In his piece on offices/cubicles, Saval writes about the switch from working in an office to working in coffee shops, where he writes his freelance pieces: “Now I’m frequenting the cafes of New York City, enjoying my freedom. There are many like me — too many. I have to get up early in the morning to find a seat, which I claim with a valuable laptop. I’m afraid to get up and use the bathroom — the other freelancers might not steal my laptop, but they’ll certainly steal my seat. As a kind of rent paid to the cafe owners, I order a lot of expensive coffee and sun-dried tomato and mozzarella sandwiches on stale ciabatta. The usic is loud, arid through the day it seems to get louder, particularly when I ask the cafe owners to turn it down. Trying to read the words on the page in front of me, I find Im mentally repeating the chorus of the last song I played (I made a lot of mistakes/in my mind/in my mind.) The Internet access cuts out now and then.”

I like this passage because it’s true to my own experiences. And, I like the references to New York City, freedom, sun-dried tomato and mozzarella sandwiches on stale ciabatta and the reference to Sufjan Steven’s song, “Chicago.” I’m heading to Panera tomorrow to work on some stories. Too bad there isn’t a Trident Booksellers and Cafe with free Wifi in Florida.

Where do you work best? Do you like the confines of a cubicle, or would you rather work at a coffee shop, at the park, at your house, etc.?