Creativity Outside the Cubicle

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.?

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at

3 thoughts on “Creativity Outside the Cubicle

  1. Frank Palahniuk, the author of FightClub, Choke, Haunting, etc. (one of my favorite authors), writes most of his work at nightclubs and bars.

  2. Creativity-wise, my home office is best — but when it’s not cluttered with other stuff. My biggest failure is to let my desk pile up with other unfinished stuff that distracts. But, if I had a cleaner space, with my nice me-chosen desk chair that is comfortable for sitting, writing, leaning back and reading, and slouching in, I tend to get more work done.
    At my day-job, however, my cubicle is nice for my uncreative, statistical work. Nothing on the walls, whine from my computer to keep me entertained, no window to stare out of — it requires more concentration. I do, however, think taking down the cubicle walls for my employees would be better — upper management thinks it’ll encourage talking, but the workers talk anyway and that usually means they stopped working to peek around the cubicle walls. Unfortunately, I don’t get to make the final decisions on that.

  3. I’ve worked in an office only once, just after I finished university. It was a publishing company. I continued working in edition, fact checking and so, now as a freelance. I think that the office provides at least, alongside with the feeling of stress and work pression, the feeling of security, not only because of the benefits of regular payments and future pension, but because of the fact of being someone, someone that you can explain simply by offering a personal card in a meeting. Working alone -at home, at the coffe, at the bar, wherever you prefer- puts you in the territory of incertitude, of income fragility. In other words, in the territory of liberty. In the obligation of decide who (or what) you are rather than what you do. As far as I can say, it’s a pretty hard task, which I expect to accomplish before I die. I’d love to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: