Crying in the WeWork Bathroom

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WeWorks in New York City are their own special brand of late capitalist hell.

I moved to New York for my boyfriend, and got the WeWork job before arriving. It was never meant to be a long-term position (and the pay was abysmal), but I figured it would tide me over until I found something more meaningful. I also figured that at that payscale I would have time to study for the LSAT — they couldn’t pay horribly and request long hours, right? Needless to say, I had no real conception of what I was stepping into. Which is probably why my first two months in New York were largely characterized by me crying in a WeWork bathroom.

My WeWork was located in a 60-story Wall Street high rise, directly across the street from the Charging Bull sculpture — a tourist attraction that appeared to exclusively draw massive foreign tour groups and overweight toddlers. Every morning, after I would wade through the throngs outside the office building door, I was greeted by aggressive muscular guards, who made it very clear that this Impressive Building did not admit anybody without a fob in their wallet.

Upstairs, any romance that the ping pong table and bottomless cold brew initially held, rapidly faded into a never-ending dystopian loop of peppy pillow cases (one read “DISRUPT”), aggressively boring coworkers, and mediocre bathroom music. It didn’t help that the content agency I worked for was staffed by painfully dull failed writers and ex-academics who seemed bizarrely happy to work 10 hour days for midwestern agriculture clients on a lackluster salary.  

The vibe of the WeWork, and my company within it, was paradoxical: the decor and online presence of both seemed desperately hip, while the day-to-day was punishingly corporate.

I was micromanaged through a spreadsheet. Any time an anonymous porcupine popped up in the corner of my sheet, I got a spasm of anxiety: it meant the creepy head of ops (who, incidentally, loved to brag about his Masters in Organizational Psychology) was gathering intel on my daily output. At the end of each week, we would all pull up a bean bag and list our sad accomplishments (“Got a client published in Built Magazine — Yippee!”). Sometimes, if it was someone’s birthday, we would order a Fudgie The Whale cake.

My life felt pretty bleak: here I was, earning half the salary I’d gotten in California, writing about dust, and eating a revolting cake with a depressing moniker once a week.

About a month in, though, I discovered a lifehack: a small little cave within the WeWork. The office had around 20 little mini offices: tiny “telephone booths” with a small bench and table and — hallelujah — a door! They didn’t need to be reserved, and were somewhat soundproof. I bought a keyboard for my iPad, and began taking my days from the solitude of the mini-office. I would study for the LSAT in peace, pump out a few painfully pedestrian articles about alternative education or skin care, and aggressively text with my group chat. I fell into a nice little pattern of solitude, emerging only to get a small cold brew refill, or, after five, a sneaky half glass of beer in a mug.

While certainly prosaic, my life at the WeWork was never meant to be more than a quick tour of duty, so once I found my cave, I accepted it with indifference.

But corporate environments don’t do well with nonconformity, and soon I started to receive passive aggressive emails about my iPad not showing when I was on Slack or not. The anonymous porcupine began popping up with increasing frequency, highlighting text with its cursor for no apparent purpose. When I demurred at the chance to eat a bit of Fudgie, my coworkers made pointed “jokes” about me being too good for the whale.

It should have come as no surprise then, when the handlebar mustache ops guy knocked on my mini-office door to berate me for my crummy attitude. But I was taken aback: my tiny oasis had been stormed by enemy troops, and the only place I could retreat to was the bathroom, where I could cry along to the tinny speaker distortions of Drake. That’s how I came to a period of my life that I now call Crying in the WeWork Bathroom.

Most writers, creatives of all kinds, and perhaps even young people of all kinds, have had similar experiences to mine. The desire for security overtakes one’s knowledge of oneself. The creative facade of the WeWork momentarily obfuscates the necessarily corporate environment from which it comes. Some people adjust themselves to fit into the environment. Others quit in a cathartic rage after a particularly elucidating bawling session in the bathroom (no regrets). But eventually, most of us have to settle for an in-between, we have to find security without sacrificing our sense of selves. We have to build little caves within the workplace that allow for solitude and individuality within the most uniform of settings.

 

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