Saturday, 6 April 2013

Catching Up: Post #1

(I promised you transcripts of the handwritten posts I created during January, so here's the first of them. I didn't date it, but I must have written it somewhere around the 18th(3) of the month.)

The big room was, well, a warehouse: huge, open, industrial, echoing. The occasional forklift rolled down the wide central aisle that divided the two groupings of workers. While I waited for something to do, for something to happen (what a day not to bring a book!), I counted the rows and the number of workstations. Seven rows per side, with an average of nine workstations per row, equaled approximately 125 worker-bees easing back into the workforce.

Deliberate eavesdropping was unnecessary. The wide-open floorplan and lack of privacy meant that all conversations were fair game for the casual listener. One woman near me was returning to (redacted) after nearly a year's furlough from her previous assignment. (The concept of these potential, unexpected layoffs filled me with dread.) A man down the row was talking of his coworker in a previous department, a woman with a degree in Physics who was nonetheless doing the same clerical job as his non-degreed self. Everyone, it seemed, was an exile, a nomad, a person displaced from somewhere else--some other career, some other life--who'd landed here out of some combination of choice and necessity, desire and despair. Around me I could hear other new hires weighing aloud the pros and cons of this next phase of their working lives:

* It's like a warehouse!
* This is nothing like where we were for orientation.
* The pay is good, though.
* How long do you think it'll last?
* I really wish I could find something permanent.
* I was out of work for (insert frightening and soul-destroying length of time here)

Because I'd expected to be busy from the start, I'd brought neither Nook nor book, and thus turned to contemplation to keep my fatigued self conscious until something work-related started happening. My ruminations brought me, very shortly, to the realization that, after my own lengthy time in unemployed exile, I was now simultaneously very fortunate and very stupid. Sitting there, bored and anticipatory and mildly desperate, I realized that I had something that the people around me did not, something probably most of them would have metaphorically killed for:

A choice.

Just days before I'd found myself in the unique position of having to entertain two possibilities for employment. I'd had two interviews with a place that looked very interested in me, but I was hesitant, unsure that I was interested in them. At the same time, I had an offer--this place--that got me out of my crappy low-paying late-night short-term temporary position and into, well, a potentially longer-term (up to a year, though I later discovered it wouldn't necessarily last) and far-better-paying temporary position, and one which would potentially lead to rehire or even something permanent someday. I jumped on it, because it seemed the better move--maybe more interesting, certainly better money, and there was no guarantee the other place would actually want me. I jumped on it, because up to a year seemed more secure than 2-3 months, and $13.50/hr made it easier to pay the rent and eat than did $9.50/hr.

(Sitting idle in the warehouse caused a certain shift in my perceptions.)

The day before, I'd gotten the call from the other place; they wanted me, but at a dollar and a half less an hour than what my newly-accepted place would pay me. I balked. I stalled. I told them I'd had this offer, and what it paid. The HR person said she'd see if the Vice President would let her match it.

What the what? I'd heard stories--little more than fairy tales to me, and with about as much real-world relevance--of people negotiating for higher pay, but I'd never done it. For that matter, I'd never successfully competed for a singular position, either. I'd almost always gotten placed by staffing agencies, and then usually as one of a number of people going in, cattle-herd fashion, to an assignment. Here in the warehouse was no different from that old pattern--me, among the masses--and yet, I was being shown a different way, a new paradigm. It genuinely threw me, was so odd and off-putting that I instinctively grasped for what seemed familiar without giving due consideration to what was really being put before me.

I'd sent a company my resume, which ended up being one of about a thousand. Of those, 20 were selected for an initial interview. Of those, eight were selected for a second interview. And of those, they wanted me. For a girl who'd grown accustomed to perpetually being the last one picked, that scenario was literally inconceivable, on a winning-the-lottery kind of scale. Perhaps it was the shock of even being given the offer that made me bold and unthinking enough to express the desire for more money; that they wanted me enough to accede to that desire, to meet me more than halfway, just floored me.

I balked. I stalled. I asked to be let to think it over. And in the end, I accepted the offer, even with my faint misgivings--what if I don't like it? What if it's grim and joyless and boring? But I accepted, because money and benefits and permanent and maybe, just maybe, if I beat out all those other people(1) then maybe there was a chance that I was the right person and it was the right place, at least for now. So I accepted, but since I'd already accepted the first offer, I had that to do until I gave notice; offer number two came literally during lunch hour of my orientation day.

And then came the warehouse, and the conversations of my fellow travelers, and the realization that I had what the vast majority of them likely did not: a choice. I could walk away secure in the knowledge that I had somewhere else to go. I could even have a gap of some days between this and that and know that I wouldn't starve, the rent would still be paid, no bills would end up late. And if that ended up being no more to my liking than this, there were possible options then, too.

I don't pretend to know the "nature of the gods," or even if such things have any existence or agency beyond the confines of our own minds; nor do I have much belief in "magic" as it is commonly spoken of, beyond acknowledging the utility of certain psychological tricks that are aided by the use of atmosphere and props. Looking back now, seeing the way this has played out from the panic-fueled freefall of early December to landing here unscathed (more or less) a month and a half later, I know many people of faith would be singing praises to their gods for seeing them safely through. I'm torn. I'm entirely willing to concede that the gods (which I'm fairly certain I perceive rather differently than do many or most) worked for/with/on me in all of this. Did invoking Anubis as guardian and guide open the way within me to see the right way to go, even if I questioned it? Did invoking Thoth as patron of scribes give me a confidence and assurance in my interviews that I might not otherwise have conveyed? I don't know, and I probably never will, and that's OK; that's a kind of uncertainty I can live with.

And at any rate, it certainly won't hurt to give them offerings in thanks. Just in case.


Addendum: I wrote the entirety of the previous post while on-site at the warehouse in question, along with anotherr short chapter of a story I'd let languish since back before becoming unemployed (you can read that here, if you're so inclined). There was no work for us, no access to the computers, and no training until those things were available, so rather than sit idle all day listening to my poor brain devour itself from boredom, I got out the notebook I'd prudently tossed in my bag this morning and began to write. My hand is sore and cramped now, but the exercise actually had a salutary effect on my handwriting, which these days is rarely used, and perhaps upon my imagination as well. With no other tasks to occupy me, and no access to the internet, I turned to writing to entertain myself, and I'm pleased by the result. In so doing, I took stock of my current situation, analyzed it, and came to better understand it; and to be more at peace with the decision I made, which I now feel more assured was the right one. The increased familiarity with handwriting, and the improved legibility of it, was a pleasant surprise. I no longer have the same ambition of creating a beautifully handwritten BoS(2), but it's still a useful skill, and a dying art in the modern world. Legible--let alone aesthetically pleasing--handwriting will be a standout feature in times to come, I think. Not to mention that I would like to use my pretty blank books as "commonplace books," repositories of interesting bits of information (like a Tumblr on paper, perhaps).

Also, the fact that I'm writing anything is reassuring; I had so few words for so long, and most of them were so dark and hopeless I didn't even feel like inflicting them upon anyone else, or even letting them see the light of day in print. It was depressing me further to even think about writing about the situation! I had written no stories of any kind since the previous installment of the one I linked above, "Breaking the News," which I published back around August of 2011, right before the company closed and everything got weird. (BtN is a humorous tale of Brennan and Booth telling various people about her pregnancy, and how those people respond. It was an amusement to pass the time during the summer hiatus between seasons five and six; we're now into season eight and that fictional fetus is now almost a toddler.) I was glad to revisit it, and I hope the people who still occasionally come upon it and comment on it will be pleased with a new chapter. It feels a little short, a little rough, and yet maybe a little better than I had any reason to expect it to be. That's encouraging in itself. That part of me--the writing part--is one I miss a lot. I'm glad it's still there and accessible.

As I write this, I'm still at my desk in the middle of this buzzing hive, but not for much longer. It's approaching 2:30, and I get off at 3. At this point, I've covered almost 25 5x7 pages, which probably nearly equates to a dozen 8x10 sheets. I've been paid a fairly high wage to write fanfiction and blog posts all day, so boredom aside I can hardly complain; it's a level of productivity I'm quite sure I wouldn't have achieved at home, where the internet's siren call would've had me posting Grumpy Cat memes to Facebook and scrolling through 70 pages of fandom-related gifsets on Tumblr. (Discipline, I has none.) When I leave here, I'm stopping off at my soon-to-be employer's to go over their offer package, and I suppose to finalize my acceptance; it's all being done in a manner to which I am unaccustomed, so I don't know quite what to expect. If all goes well, I'm not sure what to do after that...except to call HR here and tender my resignation.

(1) Assuming that what I was told was true, and not just HR hyperbole designed to serve the employer's purpose. 
(2) But never say never...
(3) I just checked; based on clues in the narrative itself, along with notes on my calendar, I can date this to January 17th, which (coincidentally) was the day on which I was supposed to be born.

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