I just finished Elle Boca’s Weeia on My Mind. Excellent read. I found myself turning pages quickly to see how it all got resolved. But what really struck me about the book was Ms. Boca’s remarkable attention to detail and her close, totally on-point observations. Particularly with respect to a topic I thought I’d forgotten, but which came rushing back like the tide at full moon when I was reading this novel. Ms. Boca has perfectly captured the ins and outs of office life. I’m not sure if it’s depressing or inspiring to know that even a race of superhumans struggles with the office two-step, dancing quickly to climb the corporate ladder, keep others from flinging us down and avoid getting stepped on.
Weeia on My Mind is written from the perspective of young Danni Metreaux, a Weeia law enforcement officer recently transferred to Paris, her requested posting. Once she gets there, however, she is confronted with several familiar figures in offices across the globe and across time: the long-standing, do-nothing bureaucrat who resents the presence of personnel who actually want to work and the obstructionist assistant/secretary/office manger who makes life as difficult as possible for those same folk who are just trying to get shit done. Anyone who’s ever worked in an office knows who I’m taking about. These characters and the situations they create were drawn so faithfully that the lines between truth and fantasy were very blurred, as they often are in my beloved genre.
In the book, Danni desperately wants to seem professional and knowledgeable. She wants to make her mark. Like all of us who’ve been newbies in a corporate environment, we know, like Danni, that appearances count, that our behavior is being scrutinized and commented on, and that everything we do is being analyzed by an electron microscope. All of which makes it brutally difficult to fit in while simultaneously standing out. Which is the name of the game in The Office, no matter where it is or what it does or makes.
Like the rest of us, Danni struggles to juggle the requirements, explicit and implicit, of the chain of command. We need to make our bosses look good. But we can’t show them up. We need to ensure that we’re asking for permission before we go off half cocked, thinking we know what to do, but we need to demonstrate independent thinking and initiative. We need to first, do no harm, but also do what needs to be done. It’s exhausting.
Then there is the problem of our place in the hierarchy. Offices are the most structured, hierarchical environments in the universe. Submarines have nothing on a well-established office. With this hierarchy comes a need to understand how to behave with superiors, subordinates and colleagues alike. Forgetting our place is a mortal sin in The Office. We’re expected to be graciously subservient to those above us; firm but fair with those below us; and we need to be overtly friendly while hiding the sub rosa machinations going on as we try to outshine our competitors, otherwise known as our peers. Totally draining.
And what about what happens when work relationships become personal–as in friendships and romances? If we’re working 60-70 hours a week, we’re spending more time with our fellow workers than with anyone else. Relationships happen, whether we want them to or not, and whether they are permitted or not. I was frankly shocked that Danni didn’t develop a more-than-professional interest in her new protégé. Sebastian is smart, hot, and rich. They do become friends, which is nice, and predictable insofar as the real world is concerned. It could have gone the other way, which leads to all sorts of contortions while people try to hide their forbidden office romances. I’ve kept more of these kinds of secrets than any other. And I worked in a classified environment for twenty years.
And finally, Danni has to deal with the “We-Be’s,” a particularly nasty sub-species of office dwellers who will screw you up every time. These are the folks with the lovely attitude that says, “We be here when you come and we be here when you go. Ain’t nothing you can do to us or for us, so fuck off.” I’m pretty sure that is a direct quote. These troglodytes are in the trenches, and it’s almost impossible to extricate them. And they can make our lives a living hell, if they so desire. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
There are others from Satan’s headquarters who can make life fairly toasty as well. I’m talking about bosses from hell, including the ragers, the gropers, the mouth-breathers and the tyrants. There is nothing worse than a bad boss. I’ve been blessed in my professional life; mostly, I’ve had bosses from Heaven. The only one from Down Under eventually came around and joined the side of the angels—and we became good friends. I would have lost that bet.
And all of these memories of my corporate life as a national security contractor came pouring in as I read Elle Boca’s latest offering. These are bittersweet memories, as I don’t really miss office life, but I do sometimes miss the intensity, the structure, the shared sense of purpose and responsibility and the camaraderie of working in an office environment. But I think I will stroll down memory lane with my beloved books, rather than in real life. Truth is sometimes more palatable in fantasy than in reality. Thanks, Elle Boca, for the great read and the fun ride.