"Do you ever feel like you're floating not connected to anybody or anything?" a feisty temporary office worker asks one of her co-workers in this funny, poignant, scary, and outrageous drama about the work-a-day world. It's easy to feel like a temp in an economic milieu where job security has vanished and young workers face the prospect of many different career paths in a lifetime. Director Jill Sprecher, who cowrote the screenplay with her sister Karen, takes us to a place where few American films ever venture into the everyday working lives of women. The questions and exercises in this Values & Visions Guide zero in on some important and universal themes including the obsession with time, dealing with co-workers, the art of ennobling repetitive and tiresome work, combatting boredom, fears about losing a job, the little things that can lead to personal transformation, and remembering magic moments.
Sherlock Holmes once said: "It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important." The Sprecher sisters know that to be true, and they have made a movie that stays with the little things that happen in offices around the world. To see our review of the film and a plot synopsis, click here. Clockwatchers runs 96 minutes and is rated PG-13 for brief language.
1. Don't Let Your Life Be Ruled by Captain Clock
"Clocks and watches often dilute power and make us believe there is something going on which is not part of now. Clocks make us worry and split us into pieces. They conflict with biological time. Algonquin people used to call this device 'Captain Clock' because it seemed to rule the white missionaries with an iron hand, or perhaps brass," Evan T. Pritchard writes in No Word for Time, a book about Native American spirituality.
- In the first scene, Iris shows up early for her new temp job and is forced to wait until exactly nine o'clock when the office opens. Then two hours pass before the woman who supervises the temps spots her and takes her to a desk for her first assignment. What other scenes in the drama illustrate ways in which the workers are enslaved to Captain Clock?
- Do you wear a watch? Would you say that you are a clockwatcher at work? Spiritual writers from many traditions point out that there is a difference between clock time (chronos) and qualitative time (kairos) the right time, the perfect time to do something that is important. What are the kairos moments in this drama for Iris?
2. Dealing with Co-Workers
In In Take This Job and Love It: How to Find Fulfillment in Any Job You Do, Matthew Gilbert writes: "Unfortunately, it's easy to forget that in the course of performing our various responsibilities, we are dealing with real people, individuals with their own inner worlds of complex emotions and life experience. In transforming our jobs from drudgery to sacred ground, however, we must begin to acknowledge the essential humanity and goodness in everyone we come in contact with, 'no matter what they may be presenting to us.' It's easy to be attentive when the people you are dealing with are kind and respectful. But what if they aren't?”
- How would you characterize the complex emotions and life experience of Iris? Margaret? Paula? Jane? Art? Cleo? Eddie? Lasky?
- What spiritual practices have you used at your workplace to help you acknowledge the humanity and goodness in your co-workers? What practices have proved helpful in dealing with difficult people on the job? Share a story of what happened in each situation.
3. Making the Best of Repetition
"Repetition is the essence of monasticism," writes Sister Joan Chittister in Listen with the Heart. She reframes routine tasks as opportunities for contemplating what the work is all about: "We repeat our daily schedule. In the first place, it frees the mind for greater thoughts. In the second place, it sensitizes the soul to the sacred poetry of the present moment. When the day is really routine we get to think awhile about what we're doing and why we're doing it and how we are doing it. It is a well from which we draw our reasons to go on."
- Margaret is angry about the kind of work she has to do but especially because she is treated like a nobody when she is doing it. Do you identify with how she feels? Give a reason for your answer. What character qualities make Iris a good worker in comparison to those around her?
- What attitudes or spiritual practices have you used to find meaning in your work and reasons to go on?
4. Combatting Boredom
"The source of boredom is ourselves, combined with expectation that the world and others must keep us entertained. The world is not a boring place. Our minds and imaginations are rich enough resources to keep us interested, and interesting. It is we who fail to tap that resource from time to time," Rabbi Terry Bookman has written in The Busy Soul: Ten Minute Spiritual Workouts Drawn from Jewish Tradition.
- Clockwatchers contains some very funny scenes of odd office moments, such as Eddie sniffing a magic marker, Paula painting her nails with Liquid Paper, and Art linking marker tops together. Which of the characters has come up with the best means of combatting boredom?
- Are you easily bored? Do you expect the world to be entertaining all the time? What spiritual practice have you used to keep yourself interested and interesting on the job?
5. Your Present Job is Going Away
In Awake at Work: Facing the Challenges of Life on the Job, Michael Carroll uses slogans based on Buddhist wisdom to address workplace issues. One is "Your present job is going away." Carroll writes that it "reminds us that we can stop expecting security and guarantees from work. We can drop the struggle to hold on. We can be honest with ourselves about what our jobs can and cannot do for our lives. Much at work is unruly, unreasonable, at times unfair, and never, ever secure. While this may be an unpleasant fact, it does not require us to struggle or deceive ourselves. The facts may be stark, but we need not be afraid of them. . . . The efforts we spend worrying about holding on to our jobs can be freed up and applied to living our lives courageously. Just like everything else in life, our jobs are not permanent, and there is nothing to hold on to, which actually might be good news."
- The temporary office workers in Clockwatchers feel very insecure about themselves and their positions. They are looked down upon by those who have "permanent" jobs, and they cannot even call their desks their own. They have no benefits, and they can be fired on the slightest pretext. Take a few minutes and find something that connects you to these four women.
- Do you worry about the ephemeral nature of work and the fact that there is little job security anywhere? What attitudes help you deal with these feelings? Meditate on the slogan "Your present job is going away" for a few days and see how that realization colors your labors and your feelings about losing your job.
6. Transformation Turns on the Smallest of Things
"When people share a memory of some small gesture that healed them, it is always someone who listened, someone who was present and attentive, someone who simply saw them as they were. The keys of heaven turn on the smallest of things. An hour in a greenhouse, a kind letter, a teddy bear, a picture of angels," Wayne Muller has written in Learning to Pray: How We Find Heaven on Earth.
- What part does the incident of someone stealing things at the office play in the transformation of Iris's life? How does this incident affect the relationships of the four temps? Discuss the significance of Iris's swizzle-stick souvenir. What does Iris see in Cleo that sheds light on her own personal life?
- What small things at work have played a part in a personal transformation for you? Share a story about something that turned things around for you in some meaningful way.
7. Magic Moments to Remember
"Nothing is permanent and most things that reflect profound experiences occur spontaneously and last only seconds in a lifetime. Can you think of moments in your life that you tried to hold on to? Moments of laughter, joy, ecstasy, or moments of deep mystical encounters and spiritual awakenings. Moments that you thought would last forever have become fleeting moments of the past. Yet in that one second you were transformed into a new way of being," Shoni Labowitz has written in Miraculous Living.
- Share your feelings about the impact that Margaret, Paula, Jane, and Cleo have upon Iris's eventual turnaround. What moment would she hold on to as the magic turning point in her life at work?
- What magic moments have taken place in your work life that proved to be transformative? What has this intimate and low-key movie taught you about work and the strange and outrageous things that happen in offices?
This guide is one in a series of more than 200 Values & Visions Guides written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Text copyright 2004 by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. This guide is posted as a service to visitors to www.SpiritualityandPractice.com. It may not be photocopied, reprinted, or distributed electronically without permission from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. For this permission and for a list of other guides in the Values & Visions series and ordering information, email your name and mailing address to: email@example.com.