Work Places in the Happy Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 9, There Are No Office Buildings

❥ At some point during his early elementary years, Lucien, my second boy, wanted to visit an office. You know, a real office, the kind of place that has an elevator and desks and chairs that spin and maybe free pens or little bowls of candy. Offices, like that, in big buildings, places where people—not just one or two, but the people—dress up for work, what about those places? We could not think of one.

Sure, we know lawyers and insurance people, doctors and dentists. Sure, his papa has an office. But his office is in an old mill building and he sells antiquarian books. There is no dress code at his workplace and while he’s got an alarm and there is an elevator that goes two floors in the building, it’s not the bustling work world a book might describe. It’s a quirky, somewhat esoteric office in a quirky, somewhat esoteric building. It’s a lovely place to work. When I visit, I get office envy. But it’s not “office,” the way the then-seven year-old wished to see.

I remember tucking away that notion: I live in a place where there are no actual offices of the housed in tall buildings variety. I remember thinking that I was extremely fortunate to live in a place like this, a place where old mill buildings house artists and artisans, movement studios and therapists, a place where lawyers and doctors can opt for niches rather than big, boxy buildings. I am fortunate to live near a passel of colleges, which do provide employment—much of it quite flexible, or flexible in comparison to many other kinds of places of employment—to so many. I’m fortunate to live three minutes by car to a hospital and just a few minutes by foot to a wonderful museum. I remember thinking that I live in the oddest little place.

I certainly think that the number of slashes between my friends’ work duties is rather astonishing. I have a therapist pal who arranges flowers on the side. I know a personal trainer turned housepainter, two woodworkers turned body workers. Psychologist, body worker, consultant or dancer slash yoga teacher is more common than simply yoga teacher. I know people who were social workers and now are other things and people who were other things and became social workers. Teachers morph to tutors. Ballet dancers become ballet instructors. A former lawyer recently opened a café with his wife. You get the idea. Even me: for no ostensible reason at all, I’m a writer who also marries people.

❥ It’s no surprise then that back when my big kids were young, I realized the stay-at-home dad phenomenon fits rather seamlessly into a community without a dominant corporate culture and where striking a balance between work and the rest of life is considered laudable. Even our new mayor took on the primary caregiver role for a number of years.

While I’m not sure how the “real world” looks to kids raised in a place that is so unconventional, given that the workplace and workforce seem to be changing in ways that require entrepreneurship, flexibility and creativity, I guess, perhaps, our odd little conglomeration of workplaces and the workforce that fills them is as good a launching pad as any.


Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

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