Tess Vigeland: Fifteen years ago, writer Daniel Orozco published the short story “Orientation.” All about life in an office, the politics, the back-stabbing, the pointless rules.
Daniel Orozco escaped the drudgery of the cubicle. Nowadays, he teaches creative writing at the University of Idaho. And “Orientation” is the title story in his debut collection of short stories. Daniel Orozco, thanks for joining us.
Daniel Orozco: Great to be here. Thank you.
Vigeland: You address the reader directly in “Orientation.” And it’s a guided tour of a new office, filled with all kinds of salacious tidbits about the co-workers. Could you read that opening paragraph for us?
Those are the offices and these are the cubicles. That’s my cubicle there, and this is your cubicle. This is your phone. Never answer your phone. Let the Voicemail System answer it. This is your Voicemail System Manual. There are no personal phone calls allowed. We do, however, allow for emergencies. If you must make an emergency phone call, ask your supervisor first. If you can’t find your supervisor, ask Phillip Spiers, who sits over there. He’ll check with Clarissa Nicks, who sits over there. If you make an emergency phone call without asking, you may be let go.
Vigeland: What kinds of jobs were you working when you wrote that story?
Orozco: I was working office jobs. I worked for years in a human resources office. I worked for the state of California. I was a specialist in a particular employment form that was used statewide, and if you knew how to manipulate, fill out, revise the actual form, apparently you had a job for life.
Vigeland: Well, as we mentioned, this story came out 15, 16 years ago. So has your view work changed much since then?
Orozco: Well, my job has certainly changed a lot. I teach in university now. I think the office environment that I wrote about and I experienced was very much different from what I’m experiencing now. I don’t know how telling this is about my past history in offices, but I try to avoid administrative stuff as much as possible.
Vigeland: The question might be obvious, but why do you write about work? It’s characters, right?
Orozco: Yeah. I have this weird notion that you find out more about somebody at work than you do anywhere else. The office to me is a very unique dramatic environment. I mean, I’ve never worked in an office that had less than 20 people in it. And that’s a lot of people, that’s a lot of dramas. The office is filled with many many petty and mean, arduous tests. I think when you are tested that’s when you reveal who you are. As a writer, I think those are the most interesting characters, the ones that are under duress.
Vigeland: Did you plan for work to be this connecting thing for your debut collection?
Orozco: I didn’t plan anything about this debut collection. It has been in the works for so long that it seems to have come together in a sense on its own, simply because all of the stories are coming out of me. So there really was no intention making some sort of a commentary about the workplace. I like to think about it perhaps as a commentary about people. And for me, one of the most interesting places to observe people is when they’re at work.
Vigeland: That certainly comes through because there’s such a humanity in your depiction of these characters. Despite the fact they’re in a place that I think a lot of people think is a dehumanizing place.
Orozco: Yeah. I don’t know how I did that, how I worked at that. But I do… There is a lot of comedy, there are comic elements, even while things are very sad. But I never want to be making fun of these people. There can be cruelty in these worlds, but I don’t want to be cruel about it. My mom and dad worked in factories for years. My mom packed licorice for over 20 years. This is the job that she did to raise me and my brother. And I marvel at that. She could still come home, take a long bus ride home, come home and be kinda human and nice. I’ve never forgotten that, and there is dignity in any work, no matter how dehumanizing it may be.
Vigeland: Daniel Orozco, his debut collection of fiction is called “Orientation.” You can read the title story on our Big Book blog. Daniel Orozco, thanks so much for joining us.
Orozco: Great to be here. Thank you.
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