Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Company Retreat

One time at a company retreat, we did personality tests and then separated into groups according to our personalities to accomplish a task. I was the only person in my group. That sounds sad, but that is exactly how I would prefer it most times (which is, of course, a function of my personality). When we were presenting our finished tasks to the group, the company accountant yelled at me and told me I did it all wrong. She vented her entire spleen (and I suspect part of her liver) about how creative people just thought they didn't have to follow any rules and they could do things however they wanted to and they made it hard for everyone else. It was fascinating.

You know how when someone is hollering at you and there's that point, that certain shift in perspective, where you realize they aren't really hollering at you. If you cross your eyes, you can maybe even see their own demons floating somewhere in the middle distance. Don't cross your eyes for real, though. They might think you are making faces at them. I thought the "life coach" who was leading the retreat was going to faint. I felt bad for her. I don't think she expected the accountant to flip out. I waited until the tirade was done and asked the accountant if I was turning in my billing late or wrong, was I making her life harder? It turns out I wasn't, so I was in the clear. She just didn't like me. Fair enough. We had to have a five minute break for the group facilitator to get herself together.

I just thought of this all of a sudden. It would explain my distaste for company retreats. Stuck in the woods with fellow employees and touching each other - trust games and whatnot - and having to watch them wear jeans and eat. Too intimate and strange. It also serves as a reminder that I annoy people with my methods from time to time. I'm not a Point A to Point B kind of person. I take detours and trip and fall into pits and check on Points W and ! and 6 while I'm at it. I get to Point B eventually, and usually on time. It requires a good bit of discipline and note-taking, list-making, heart-breaking along the way. Not really heart-breaking. I just liked the rhythm of that and three is stronger than two. I'm a good note-taker.

Somewhere in the bowels of a box are a couple of giant binders with all of my notes from college. Perhaps in the box that is labeled "Excess Chewbacca fur, fondue pot, & some things I forgot what they were". My literal little jBird is bothered excessively by that label. "Open it and look!" she tells me. "Maybe I will, but won't it be a nice surprise?" It drives her nuts. "But what if you need something in there?" she demands. She wonders how I ever did anything until eight and a half years ago. "Well, then I suppose I'll find it." This is a digression of sorts. Somewhere in one of those binders is a photocopy of a study that really stuck with me. I can't remember the specifics of the experiment, but I remember the outcome. It would seem that people who suffer from depression are actually more apt to see things as they really are.

I can hear all of the accountants and the Virgos yelling at me again. Apparently, though, depression sufferers can look at a situation and make a relatively objective assessment of what's happening. This is startling news. Because we all know depressed people and sometimes we want to strangle them because they seem so bleak about things: I am unattractive, I am useless, what's the point of all of this? and so on. What it would seem, though, is that non-depression sufferers have more mechanisms for window dressing the truth to make themselves feel better. This is not a bad thing, within reason. I'm thinking about this today because perspective is a persnickety thing.

I am currently working on a piece about the distant past. It's about a time that was powerful in my life. Do you have those times in your personal history? The ones where you look back and see the watershed? Where you maybe even felt it at the time? Those times may be brief and intense and mortifying, but they are like giant chisel-blows to your psyche and help shape who you are? I don't think I'm in a group by myself on this one. But then when you look back, you cannot help but have the layers of years and changing perspectives to see through. Those layers can cloud and obfuscate some things, they magnify others. And then you get to sit and sort out all the images like a dream and put them on paper. Maybe you don't. I do. I can't help it.

It's this kind of perspective shift that fascinates me today. No matter what kind of writer you are, you eventually have to dig into that box that's labeled "Some things I forgot what they were" and find something you desperately need. For fiction, it may be to get the dialogue just right, to understand how your character feels and would react to something. For non-fiction, it would seem more straightforward, but it's not really. Because really you're writing a character anyway. It's the character that your present self sees as your former self. Maybe you're not making it up, but you are not just reporting facts, either. So you do things like spend the morning listening to nostalgic music that brings your lizard brain right back into a certain time and then you walk around in there and listen to the conversations. Does that sound insane? Well, probably it is. Sometimes there's an accountant in there who is yelling at you and telling you're doing it all wrong. Maybe there's a depressed accountant in there who is tearing down the pretty displays of memories that you've constructed and screaming at you to get to the point. Certifiably insane.

It is a given that my perspective will be different from yours; that it will be different from the accountant's, that it will be different from my jBird's. It is a strange thing to examine how my perspective differs from my own. Noodle that around a bit. It might even start to make sense. I am wandering toward Point B. Bear with me, please. Sometimes you need those layers of intervening perspective to sort things out. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, everything is too raw and chaotic and new and unresolved to think clearly about it. Sometimes you need the safety of years to wrap around yourself like a HazMat suit to wade into particular moments in time and return unscathed. Sometimes by writing from a distance, you can really get up close to things that were too hot to touch before.

Point B was a mirage, it turns out. I've been re-writing this paragraph for an hour and I can't get to the point of it. One of my brilliant readers should do it for me. Show me how this works. I need to get my billing done on time and correctly. I don't want to unduly annoy people. I am interested in your perspectives. Just pretend we are at some kind of awful company retreat together, all up in each other's lunch and in our play clothes in the woods with the uncomfortable proximity to each other. How does your group accomplish the task? How do you label and unpack those boxes? 


  1. I am so so glad we don't have retreats here at our office. Ugh. There's no way I would go. You're right . . . way too intimate. I work so I can have a life - - - I don't want my work to be part of my life, if that makes sense. I need the separation.

  2. I think I maybe channeling my inner Lou, you got to point B all by yourself (or at least that is where I ended up): "Sometimes you need the safety of years to wrap around yourself like a HazMat suit to wade into particular moments in time and return unscathed. Sometimes by writing from a distance, you can really get up close to things that were too hot to touch before."

    If I look back on my life and the number of times my perspective has changed I know that these changes allow me to see that I was on the right path all along, even the potholes that threatened to swallow me whole needed to be there.

    PS, I too hate group bonding sessions, bah! I work to live not live to work.

    1. Thank you for keeping up. You probably deserve some kind of award for wading through all this and making sense of it.

    2. Yeah ... what Sleepy Joe said. Except I'm actually curious about company retreats. Curious in the same manner I am about other things I'd like to experience while gripping my car keys in my hand ready to make an escape if need be. Like getting braces.

  3. This post really needled something in me, in a good way.

    I always tell the truth, except when I lie. Sometimes the lie is just easier than the truth.

    Everything comes from people, for me. Every person has written the story for me, I just have to retell it. Anything good I've written is a character piece.

    Thank you for the needle. I am a Virgo. ENFJ. I love you anyway.

    1. We could never live together.

      Now your comment has needled something in me. You write character so well and it's something I aspire to do better. I am a people watcher and I love people and their stories (as long as I don't have to be near them or listen to them eat corn nuts) but sometimes find that difficult to translate into words on the page. Not like you do anyway, where you make us fall in love with random co-workers of yours or hate the lady down the street in less than 500 words.

      I'm curious as to what I've needled in you. You're welcome?

  4. Here is where the damned habit of keeping a spiral notebook since I was fifteen serves me fairly well. Depending on the space and time, I can see exactly who and what my perspective was--and it's often horribly appalling and completely different than my current perspective would prefer to remember. Worse, though, is that during the truly enormous, powerful times, I often put the pen down altogether for months at a time so what is recorded was stale and new-perspective-tainted by the time it hits the page.

    Like you, I have tried lots of different techniques to put myself back into that particular self I am trying to build for the page--including the immersing myself in the music of the time thing. (Perhaps the story of one of my experimentations with that can be my Spiral Notebook excerpt this Sunday...I love when I have Sunday's blog post figured out before, say, 11:43 p.m. Sunday.)

    And like you, I've come to suspect that the layers of perspective provided by years of distance are really less of a hindrance and more the point, both of the writing and life in general.

    1. That whole first paragraph there in your comment is why I've been mulling this stuff around lately. Sometimes it is almost as appalling to me to look back over things and realize that my perspective is exactly the same as when I was 20 about some things. And the putting the pen down, oh yes.

      I look forward to your experiments in music.

    2. I am beginning to wonder if perspective is what life is really about - you don't have it in the midst of life, only in looking in the rear view mirror. And learning.
      Me? I'm tired of riding my bike with an eye on the rear view mirror. Just move forward.

  5. I'm currently at Sea-Tac Airport and functioning on two hours of sleep. More like not functioning on two hours of sleep. All this to say that I will be back when I have something more substantial to say than ... "persnickety. persnickety. persnickety."

    1. I will shout "persnickety" really loud and see if you can hear me. Ready....NOW!

  6. I have never before heard that about depression. Now my whole early life makes sense. Every time someone helpfully tried to give me a worldview that wouldn't make me want to slit my wrists, it seemed like so much BS and I just felt like I'd rather have the truth than the make-believe happiness. I am still this way to enormous degree, although I wouldn't say I am depressed anymore. I have had to develop a really strong muscle for acceptance of reality. Thank you for sharing all of this. A lot to think on. I am very glad I have never had to go on a company retreat.

  7. Holy sh*t - I don't know how I missed this post last week, TL - yes, I do, - I was buried in the angst of the moment - but then MM posted about it this morning and I realized I'd missed it. Sucky times.
    Perspective - what a powerful thing. I have multiple bumps in the road of life that, at the time, were nothing but anger, uncertainty, bitterness, confusion - in short, life strangling times. Years later (and I do mean YEARS), it made more sense and I even thanked the cosmos for those times. GO figure.
    These days I am waiting to figure out how I am learning and growing from the current messiness of my life.
    This is the part that shouts at me:
    "Sometimes you need those layers of intervening perspective to sort things out. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, everything is too raw and chaotic and new and unresolved to think clearly about it. Sometimes you need the safety of years to wrap around yourself like a HazMat suit to wade into particular moments in time and return unscathed. Sometimes by writing from a distance, you can really get up close to things that were too hot to touch before."
    You nailed it, TL. Thanks!


Thanks for reading and taking the time to say hello!