Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Putting away the PJs for workplace banter

I love Armistead Maupin: 'The hell of it is that you never, ever, rely on another person for your peace of mind. If you do, you're screwed but good.' Photo / APN
I love Armistead Maupin: 'The hell of it is that you never, ever, rely on another person for your peace of mind. If you do, you're screwed but good.' Photo / APN

Announcement: last week, after 10 years, I came out of solitary confinement. For the first time in a decade I went to work. Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, in a proper job, at a proper workplace that wasn't my couch.

It was weirdly ... nice. I actually got out of my pyjamas, commuted to a breeze-block bunker where I drank coffee and collaborated with other humans on a project. Awk-ward though. I hardly contributed anything.

It's been so long I need refresher lessons in workplace banter. The last time I had a desk, Facebook had not yet launched and Peter Andre was top of the charts.

I used to trot out my smug spiel about how uber lucky I was that I could freelance from home so I could fit work around my children. This is the future! All freewheelin', being your own dream boss, working when you want, where you want.

Case in point: as I write this I am sitting in my bed with my kids watching Adventure Time. Don't scoff; it is a very existential cartoon. (Sample: "Their brains are releasing adrenalin, dopamine, even dimetyltryptomine from the pineal gland. Thanatophobia is giving us euphoric altered awareness. Don't you see, Princess, we were all born to die?")

Oops, as you can see, easy to get distracted in your home "office" where life is one big mooshed-up blob of work and domesticity.

I've even been known to meet a deadline while making a zingy Balinese curry. But the lack of - hideous-word alert - "boundaries" when working at home is not the problem.

More recently, I have started to suspect that the odd feeling I have noticed of late - a restlessness, a growing attachment to the cat, a dawning realisation that Nine to Noon host Kathryn Ryan is not really my pal, a sneaky wish to actually meet my so-called Facebook friends - added up to something.

Could it be that I was actually ... lonely? That I, perish the thought, hunger for some interaction with other people, water-cooler chit chat, to be asked for annoying leaving-present contributions? How thigh-chaffingly embarrassing. I really do try to be self-reliant.

I love Armistead Maupin: "The hell of it is that you never, ever, rely on another person for your peace of mind. If you do, you're screwed but good."

Since my marriage ended, I have been on a campaign to banish my anxious attachment style - to stop being a Klingon. Trust me, as a single mother you become hypervigilant about pitying looks; one's mantra is all about being independent, paying your own way, trying not to be seen as tragically needy.

So this needing-people thing is bad. In most major modern psychological theories from Freud to Abraham, being dependent on others is considered to be a jolly bad show, which predisposes you to depression and misery.

There is no shame in being poor but there is in being dependent. "Being poor is often combined with considerable personal qualities; being dependent rarely so ... It is an incomplete state of life: normal in a child, abnormal in an adult."

And that quote came from Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Dependency is commonly defined as helplessness and weakness, while mental health is equated with dominant values of autonomy, independence, power and wealth. (You're right, that sounds very blokey).

Political theory, philosophy and Western cultural legends all worship the trope of the separate self - the lone cowboy, the warrior, the guy from the Speights ads (more blokiness).

The message is: we should not "need" relationships. They are valuable only to meet basic drives or needs. But there may be an intrinsic problem which makes this stink for those women who are not Warrior Princesses, which is probably most of us.

"The relational connected female self differs significantly from the autonomous bounded self described by Western psychology."

Let me translate: chicks dig relationships. Thus women feel ashamed of liking closeness, liking companionship, of needing other people. It's a steaming load of tosh, of course. We all need other people.

It might make splendid economic sense for us all to work in our individual hermetically sealed tele-conferencing bubbles at home, but we are not made to work alone, forever.

Even on Adventure Time, in the post-apocalyptic land of Ooo, Jake the dog and Finn the human have Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen for company. Trust me, I know; I need to get out more.

- NZ Herald

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