porcelainandporcupines

Archive for the ‘working life’ Category

I’ve always considered it poor form to brag about things that don’t make me look stupid. Probably this stems in part from the same natural humility that leads me to write about myself online in the hopes that strangers will read it and adore me. However, I also like to believe that another root of my tremendous self-deprecation lies in a firm, and completely well-grounded, belief in my own competence; because I am a capable and intelligent person, expected, in addition to poor form, seems uninteresting to me, and, more importantly, seems like it would be uninteresting to you. Which is why, then, instead of a stream of unending mundanities, I try to share only the truly exceptional, such as the occasional profoundly stupid things I’ve said or done (which, interestingly enough, are very often related to transportation).

This, I’ve learned over the years, is not a guiding principal for how everyone operates. Indeed, it seems that there are many people for whom the everyday is a constant source of amazement, and a potential source of wonder and inspiration for others. And while I would be the first to agree that the very basic fact of existence is, perhaps, the most remarkable thing that could possibly have happened, I would also be quick to point out that the basic details of that existence are not so remarkable that they must be constantly remarked upon. Which is, of course, what I am in the very process of pointing out.

Despite the at least two episodes of Frontline and multitude of articles detailing how they’re just the worst, this behavior is not limited to the young people of today. If commercials are any indication of societal mores, and they obviously are, this behavior – at least, in the workplace; did I mention that’s what we’re discussing? – can be traced back to no later than the year 2000.

(I’m going to be honest here – this next part would be a lot more effective if I’d been able to find a video of the commercial I’m about to discuss online. Alas, despite this failure, the blog must go on, particularly since the stats on this site show that very few of you actually follow the links I painstakingly cultivate for your entertainment. Regardless: please trust me that this commercial did indeed exist, and also happened to be very funny. )

Inspired by the tidal wave of Dilbert’s success, marketing executives believed, if but for a moment, that the most effective way to sell soup was through trenchant workplace commentary. This spot, lost to both internet and history, revealed the many techniques that the coworker who appears utterly overwhelmed and far too busy to have any lunch other than soup you can drink directly from the can employs to convince everyone of that state of busy-ness, when, in actuality, said coworker who is always carrying a folder and responding to your statements louder and in the form of a question has very little to do.

There were a lot of really good things about this commercial, not the least of which was that, although no one had to actually work with this particular buffoon, anyone who’s ever had any job, anywhere, has worked with that guy. However, to make the commercial at least moderately successful in its profit-driven efforts, the coworker who would be irritating in real life had to be likeable; to achieve this end, the character of the coworker had to undergo two key changes: 1. He never actually says what he’s working on; and 2. He knows that he’s completely full of it.

It’s possible those two points are actually related; after all, someone who knows how full of hot air they are would, theoretically, at least, be unlikely to provide substantial detail of the efforts that in turns out they’re not actually involved in. But I say “theoretical” because, to date, I have found no evidence of this person existing in the workplace. On the contrary, what I have encountered manifests in one of two ways: abundant details about nothing, or – as mentioned at the outset, when this whole mess got started – a self-administered pat on the back or expression of amazement that work was done in the workplace.

As is probably self-explanatory, the abundant detailer will provide unnecessarily detail about everything they do. This often presents as a running commentary, as though to themselves, of all the things they have to do in the day, “all of the things” being, literally, all of the things. Such activities as going to their office, and carrying this upstairs will be listed separately despite the redundancy that their office is upstairs, and thus anyone could have intuited that by carrying that upstairs, they would be going to their office. While most things are of equal weight, the utmost importance is, obviously, given to somehow working in the walk they’ve got to find time for, although I’m sure that if they could manage without sounding ridiculous even to themselves to mention their need to breathe while speaking, that would shoot right to the top of the list.

What never, ever get mentions, however, is anything substantially related to work.  I suppose, if one were feeling generous, one could assume that the speaker believes it is implied that they will also be doing the tasks for which they are being paid, and that the litany of the mechanics of their day is simply to demonstrate how much other stuff they have to do, on top of the mountain of work they’re obviously doing. But, as we all know, the internet is no place for generosity, and so I call bullshit on that idea, that I myself just suggested, because if a person is genuinely believes their excruciating minutia of their own life to be fascinating, they probably have neither the time nor the mental energy to devote to anything else.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the person who finds the simple fact of doing work at their job to be astounding. Rather than an endless stream of tasks, this person will not only find it remarkable that they were called upon to perform a work-related task, but will also express a great deal of amazement that they managed to accomplish it. And, in some cases, this might very well be justified. There are certainly jobs where heroics are called for on a regular basis. And while some of these heroics might very well take place in an office type setting, it’s very difficult to take someone who emerges from a 90-minute meeting wherein they sat in front of a computer and discussed the layout of 1 individual web page that has zero life-altering implications for anyone anywhere in the world proclaiming that they were just working so hard seriously.

Which, I suppose, again, if one were to be generous, perhaps these things are challenging to these people. Perhaps a competency baseline can be located at different levels, and it should take a long time to write up a summary of a 10-minute interaction. In fact, you’d think I’d be on board with that example, what with this particular entry, which granted, is a summary of multiple interactions, took several days of writing, and several days of breaks, to complete.

I am not on board with that.  Which is what makes these people unbearable in real life, as they do regularly expect accolades for their accomplishments, unlike our charming fellow in the soup commercials who just wants to get through the day without anyone noticing that he’s doing nothing. Worse though, is that, as in the soup commercial, it seems like it works. And that is the trenchant workplace commentary no one expected.

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There is no polite way to ask someone if they’re about to eat an unreasonable amount of hot dogs. That’s not specific to hot dogs, actually; no matter what a person is eating, a comment on the quantity is going to be a judgement. Many is the time I heard “Wow, you sure do eat a lot of salad,” as though having eaten an entire bowl of lettuce that was not topped which chicken was remarkable in comparison to the half a bowl of lettuce left over by those who had also eaten several chickens worth of tenders. That the relative insubstantiality of lettuce plays no factor at all in deeming the quantity of consumed lettuce excessive underscores how very impolite a similar judgement regarding hot dogs – whose substantiality is well-established even as the actual substance of which they are composed remain a mystery – would be. To question someone on the number of hot dogs they’re eating is to question their judgement, and questioning their judgement is akin to questioning their worth as a human being.

This question of what constitutes a reasonable serving of hot dogs came to mind around lunch time, when I was struck by an aroma as I entered the break room and, upon further investigation, discovered 6 hot dogs quietly baking in the toaster oven. There was only one other person in the break room, but her office is also in the break room, so there was an outside chance that the hot dogs were not hers at all, much less entirely hers. I could not, however, ignore the possibility that all 6 hot dogs were intended for just that one person. Which, frankly*, seemed like a lot.

But, as previously stated, there was really no way to determine this. “Wow, that’s a lot of hot dogs,” is maybe appropriate talk if you work in a carnival hosting a hot-dog-eating contest, but a carnie I am not. I did note a lack of buns in the break room, and so considered that the seemingly excessive number of hot dogs was a purposeful counterbalance to the lack of buns. I almost considered that the excessive number of hot dogs compensating for the lack of buns might be indicative that someone was on the Atkins diet, but then I remembered that it’s not 2003 anymore and everyone loves carbs now, just so long as they’re whole grain, local, and gluten-free. Unless they’re following the Paleo diet, but I don’t want to think of what the world might be like if I knew people who followed the Paleo diet, even if just casually through work, so I abandoned that line of thought pretty quickly and returned to a slightly modified version of the original line, that, even without buns, 6 hot dogs is a lot of hot dogs.

Even determining ownership of the hot dogs was tricky. “Are these your hot dogs?” could go a lot of ways, depending on inflection, and I wouldn’t trust myself to sound non-judgmental on an inherently judgmental issue. Without ever considering that I was putting far too much thought into an ultimately trivial matter, I finally settled on “Hot dogs for lunch?”, believing that the statement-in-the-form-of-a-question was my best hope for neutrality, even if it left the greater issue, that of the Ideal Number of Hot Dogs and How it is Most Likely Less Than 6, unanswered.

The answer, it turns out, was yes. And this is how I discovered that there are some people who consider 6 hot dogs to be a perfectly reasonable lunch. However, instead of focusing  how myself and this person differ dramatically in our approaches to diet, I focused rather on the tremendously inane question I had just asked, how little it contributed to a genuine exchange of knowledge, and how very happy I was about it.

Because, as I’m sure you can imagine if you’ve ever found yourself in a situation that involves coworkers, the Hot Dog Situation was not my first interaction with this person, nor was it my first awkward interaction with this person. On one previous occasion, she had gone in to quite a bit of detail on the excellent rapport between herself and her chiropractor, ending with “My chiropractor thinks I’m hilarious; she said I should be a stand-up comedian;” and while I did intrinsically understand that “Oh, are you funny?” would not be the right thing to say, how to respond to a person extolling qualities that I’ve never seen manifest has always eluded me. In this situation, I responded with a couple of my favorite sounds that can pass for language, the tried-and-true “Ah. Huh.” Another time, I remarked on the temperature in the room, which caused her to launch into a lengthy discussion of an attempt to get tickets to an event that required costumes but was not Halloween, and although she was generous enough to pause occasionally to allow me to speak, I was thoroughly confused about how this talk of costumed adventure was going to swing back around to be about the temperature, which was noticeably colder than it should have been, and so could only fill the silence with quizzical looks and more silence.

From her perspective, I’m sure that looked like a failure to hold up my end of the conversation. But for me, in between not understanding that there was no connection between temperature and costumes, and that none would be forthcoming, I was looking across a generational divide, steep and glorious as the Grand Canyon.

For her, these are the years to spend swearing your life will be free of workplace banalities like “Hot dogs for lunch?” Your life will be meaningful, it will involve costumes and hard to get tickets, and you’ll stupidly fall in love with guys who refuse to wear watches because they refuse to live their lives by someone else’s schedule, and not because they’re an inconsiderate asshole who’s always late. You will be someone who has something to say.

For me, though, what I understand is that sometimes, I’d rather politely end a conversation than engage in one that doesn’t interest me. That having something to say is quite a bit different than wanting to hear myself talk. And that, while the meaningless inanities could certainly indicate that the person talking is not interesting, there’s a greater chance it means they’re not interested in talking to me. Just as it took me an unfortunately long time to cotton to the dude without the watch, I did eventually come to realize that the true and lovely meaning of utterly mindless chit-chat is that we find ourselves together at this place and time, so why don’t we just leave it at that.

(*Pun intentional and without apology.)

While it makes sense to me that people might start a relationship with a co-worker, I’ve always been somewhat amazed by couples who work together. I’m at least partially aware that working together would not entail literally spending the entire work day together, yet the idea of spending that much time with any one person is, frankly, exhausting. One of the very few things I still enjoy about working on Saturdays is that it’s an entire day that I have to myself; if I had to share that day with someone, and then had to go and spend even more time with them later? They’d already know how amazing my Saturday was, which would really limit my conversational options.

Of course, in addition to bringing your relationship into the workplace, you’re also bringing the workplace into your relationship. By which I mean coworkers; and, though it is undoubtedly wonderful to be able to bask in the reflected glow of admiration in the eyes of your coworkers because of the purity of your love, nothing travels through a workplace like word of romantic woes that are none of anyone’s business. This was something I learned many years ago, when Vanessa sleeping with Sharon’s boyfriend rocked the call center where we all worked.

I should clarify that Vanessa and Sharon’s boyfriend did not actually sleep together. But this is a family blog, and to accurately describe the activities in which they engaged might pose a risk to my PG-13 rating.  Euphemistically, it could be said that they engaged in some adult conversation, wherein Sharon’s boyfriend was on the receiving end of quite a lecture.

How all of this came about, I can’t exactly say. The talk itself happened at a function that was work-adjacent. I myself wasn’t present for the event, in either the macro or micro sense, but instead found out about through my roommate, who was also a coworker, and was both at said function and was somehow present enough to overhear the conversation between Jordan and Vanessa. Although I am, unfortunately, unable to forget how impressed he was with Jordan’s capacity for listening (Jordan being Sharon’s boyfriend,) even at the time of the telling, I did not quite understand how it all happened to come about, and so cannot share that with you now.

What I do remember is how carefully eager everyone at work was to share what they knew. I very clearly recollect smoking with Tracey in the parking lot behind the building, me sitting on the fire escape and her standing not quite beside it, each of us trying to delicately figure out what the other person knew, each fairly certain that what we knew was worse, and, realizing that we both knew, finally unburdening ourselves of the secret we had kept for less than 24 hours.

What I also remember is that, despite this being an oft-mentioned secret in the call center, we never actually shared that we knew what we knew with the people we knew it about. This was a decision I was not entirely comfortable with: on the one hand, it seemed like Sharon might benefit from knowing that, not only was her boyfriend a titanic sack of crap, he also did not have the basic good sense of even the dumbest animal who knows not to shit where it eats; on the other hand, as the supervisor, it seemed inappropriate to involve myself in any kind of personal shenanigan that happened outside the workplace, adulterous or otherwise. No matter how often it might come up in conversation.

(I was going to include a link to a description of “subtweet” in that last sentence, but it turns out I didn’t actually know what a subtweet is. Man, the lingo today; it is so fetch.)

And it only grew more difficult not to blurt out what I knew as time went on. Although Jordan was not someone with whom I’d generally ever socialized; and Vanessa had been widely shunned even prior to her talk with Jordan, what with her seemingly below-average intelligence, her weird walk like she always breaking in a new pair of shoes, and the fact that she never, ever, ever pushed in her chair when she got up from her desk; Sharon had a sociability that her perfidious paramour lacked, and quickly became a regular part of the workplace social scene.

Which was awkward. Because a lot of Sharon’s conversation was devoted to things that Jordan did and things that Jordan said. And under the barrage of her evidently boundless admiration for Jordan and the way he lived his life, it grew increasingly difficult not to point out that, in addition to his manly feats of strength, or whatever it was that she was going on about, he had also slept with Vanessa.

After one particularly lengthy conversation with Sharon, in which I’d heroically bitten my tongue for no less than 45 minutes, I confided to the closest thing our group had to an adult – DS – the trouble I was having. DS understood; he cared about Sharon too, and it was getting harder for him not to tell her as well. I nodded quietly; DS was wise.

Except, secretly, DS did not understand. Although he was wise – let there be no confusion about that. It’s just that, through talking to him, what I realized was is that, secretly, deep down, I’m a terrible person. I didn’t want to tell Sharon because I cared about her; what I wanted was for her to shut up. Because it was annoying, how wrong she was about Jordan, and it was annoying to have to take part in an endless conversation that was a lie, and it seemed like the most effective way to put a stop to it was to tell her about the time Vanessa blew Jordan’s trumpet, and then stand back as the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

Even considering that I didn’t actually do it, I’m still not terribly proud of that impulse. Fortunately for me, Sharon and Jordan eventually moved to California, and I did not have to unleash any WMDs just to change the subject. Of course, on the down side, I never did find out what is the limit of annoyance I can take; there’s still a chance that, someday, I might crack.

(And I apologize for that trumpet comment; I just couldn’t find a good video for “talked his ear off.”)

We had a tiny television on the table in the kitchen in my house in Pennsylvania. There was a special shelf we built into the wall, close enough to the ceiling that you had to stand on a chair to reach it, where the tv was placed when everyone was home for dinner, or if you wanted to see it more easily while you were at the sink, washing the dishes. But mostly the tv, which was actually a combination tv/am/fm radio, lived on the table; it was in front of this tv that I would sit and watch G.I. Joe and The Transformers while doing my homework, and it was on this tv, several years later (although fewer than I would want to detail), that my mother and I watched the 2nd to last episode ever of Twin Peaks, featuring the long-mentioned Miss Twin Peaks pageant (winner gets a free trip to the Black Lodge!), for which the contestants had been rehearsing for weeks, and which, once it finally arrived, moved my mother to proclaim boy, that David Lynch must really hate women.

I doubt there was any follow-up to this comment. In part because, as a senior in high school who had already been accepted to college, this fell squarely into the time frame where everything your parents say is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened. Particularly in a situation like this, where there exists the horrifying possibility that the ensuing conversation might be tangentially related to sex. But also all the time, and particularly in a situation like this, because it’s just so awful how they’re always wrong.

The error in this case was not that there might have been anything hateful about the Miss Twin Peaks pageant; obviously, a show that used the murder of the prom queen as the jumping off point to explore the secrets kept in a small town – including that said prom queen was a prostitute, and, in the immortal words of the lovely Audrey Horne, “had a sweet tooth for nose candy” – is not going to have a problem with women. The error was in thinking that, in that day and age – 1991, Saturdays, 9pm, suburban Pennsylvania – anyone might hate women.

Because that sort of thing didn’t happen; not anymore. Certainly, it had been a problem in the past, but so had polio. Feminism & Women’s Lib had been a powerful vaccine, spreading equality and understanding throughout society. My mother was a doctor, for pete’s sake; if, when she went to buy a new car accompanied by her husband, the salesman referred to the lighted mirror on the passenger-side visor as a “standard feature for the lady of the house,” well, that one salesman was an antiquated buffoon,  a decomposing carp buried in silt, occasionally giving off gas that would bubble up to momentarily disturb the still pond of sisters are doin’ it for themselves, and nothing more; certainly, it was no indication of a continuing societal norm to belittle and condescend to women. No.

And it didn’t change the fact that, over on the #1 show on television (which Twin Peaks, sadly, was not), charming as Cliff was, it was still Claire Huxtable who wore the pants in that relationship. And if I occasionally found her to be a bit strident, it wasn’t because she was overreacting to things or overly emotional, but because there was no need to yell; you’re a woman, Claire Huxtable : you have a right to be heard. It wasn’t until later that I discovered how much my right to be heard depended on who was doing the listening.

Recently, I received an email from a male coworker in which he stated that I was definitely “the superstar” of a group assigned to work on a particular project. This group – which consisted of myself and two other people, both male – had, even before that email, sparked unpleasant flashbacks to group projects in library school : meetings were difficult to schedule and constantly postponed; people didn’t have ideas, and most of the meetings that were held were spent silently marveling and how people were not using any of their time to work on this project. It was amazingly frustrating to see a fairly straightforward project, which, generously, should have taken no more than 3.5 hours, stretch over 5 months.

However, eventually, as it had to, work on the project concluded. And, even though I was not the lead, I can tell you confidently and completely without boasting that 98% of our conclusions had been entirely my idea. The proposal that we submitted was written entirely by me, even though at one point another of the other group members, stating that he felt like he wasn’t doing anything (which, I refrained from pointing out, might have been because he wasn’t), offered to take a pass at it; but, after a week it remained unchanged, so I finished it up. To be fair, he did create the images for the document, although he wasn’t able to go so far as to insert them into the document, so I took care of that. And the presentation that we did was a word-for-word recitation of the document I had written detailing my ideas.

I understand that being part of a group means that credit goes to the whole, regardless of how much might have been done by each individual person. And, I don’t even necessarily mind being the only person in the group doing any work; I do love to get my own way, after all, so if no one else is doing anything, then there’s a pretty good chance I’ll get what I want.

But the ‘superstar’ email made me angry. Because my first thought on reading it was boy, I bet he never would have said that to me if I were a man. I mean, yes, it’s unlikely that one man would call another a superstar in most professional settings. But even apart from that, had I been a man, the sender would probably not have felt the need to obscure the fact that he hadn’t done shit on the project behind a feeble compliment, or to charmingly suggest that I might not have noticed that I was the only one doing anything.

It made me angry too because, after all these years, I know there’s no way to respond to a comment meant to appease the little lady. If I point out that the bar for superstardom is exceedingly low, then I’m ungrateful and kind of a bitch. Or, worse, I’m reacting emotionally rather than rationally. If I suggest that other members of the group might contribute a little more, I get either excuses for why they’re busy, or some Eddie Haskell-grade faux-feminist nonsense about how I was doing such a good job they didn’t think I needed their help. Yet, if I accept the compliment, I reinforce the idea that, as long as you tell a woman she’s pretty, you can get away with anything.

But mostly it made me angry because it reminded me of the Miss Twin Peaks pageant. Because if I go back and watch Twin Peaks and discover that David Lynch hates women after all? I am going to be pissed.

(Warning : portions of this blog have appeared elsewhere. Like on Facebook. Yesterday.)

I had a weirdly aggressive encounter with a patron yesterday. Although a recent arrival, she has quickly become a frequent visitor to the library; while it’s difficult to make assumptions about people, I would guess, based on her behavior, that she is neither Illustrious student nor faculty nor staff, but instead is of the sort of person who eschews the public library despite being the sort of person one imagines when coming up with reasons to eschew the public library.

Or, I suppose the difficulty lies in accurately judging a person about whom you have already made assumptions. Whatever the case, my very first interaction with this particular woman resulted with her thinking that my answer to her very bizarre question about my bracelet (which I no longer remember, except that it was off-putting) was an invitation to grab said bracelet which, having an elastic band, she then snapped against my wrist. And, while we may go into detail on physical contact in the library another time, the short explanation is : No. Even the great Colonel Mustache, who stole my heart by being the answer to the question “What would Yosemite Sam look like if his great-grandparents on his mother’s side had been Norwegian alcoholics, and his paternal great-great-great-grandfather had been a Lorax, who spoke not for trees but for mustaches?” was invited to remove his hand from my arm as I demonstrated how to use the scanner; there are no exceptions to this rule.

Subsequent interactions with this woman – who so far has not exhibited enough personality to earn a nickname, although perhaps we should start working on something tissue-based – have, now that I think of it, been fairly limited. At least on my watch, her pattern seems to be to establish herself in front of one of the computers, do whatever it is that she needs to do, and then leave, without requesting assistance from the staff. However, before heading over to the computers, she likes to stop by the desk to stock up on tissues. And, to her credit, unlike many library users, she does seem to realize that the tissues are kept on the desk not because we want to be a part of your nose-blowing experience, but so that they’ll be easy to find.

However, unlike most – if not all – of our other library users, when she stopped by the desk yesterday she glared steadily at me as she pulled tissues singly out of the box, as though daring me to stop her. One after another, it seemed like her whole purpose in coming to the library was to prove that she could remove as many tissues from the box on the desk as she wanted. It seems weird to describe anything involving tissues as defiant, but there doesn’t seem to be any other word for it.

And I almost took up her challenge. When she got to 4 and showed no signs of stopping, I inhaled, preparing to say Ok, lady – that’s enough with the tissues. And then I exhaled, wondering if that was really the life I want for myself? Do I want to be a person who restricts access to tissues? Kind of, but under the guise of wanting to ensure adequate tissue availability for all of our library users at all times.

However, that’s not a realistic goal – no matter how many or how few tissues an individual person takes, it is inevitable that the library will one day run out of tissues. On the other hand, there is no shortage of tissues in the world. And as long as there *are* tissues, the library will get more.

It may be, though, that her aggression yesterday was a result to regain some face after the tissue-related ordeal of last weekend. The difficulty then was not because of the tissues themselves, but because she was attempting to take all of the tissues. At once. Using only one hand. I don’t know why she had set this unusual challenge for herself, but I worried for a bit that she was not quite up to the task. As she struggled, unable to get her hand fully inside the box, and then unable to get it out, I wondered whether I should intervene – should I try to help her? She was having difficulty, but then she was trying to take all of our tissues – I didn’t want to encourage that. On the other hand, what she was going through was so very fascinating that it didn’t seem right to try to stop her either.

Fortunately, my conundrum was easily solved by realizing that this very moment illustrated the guiding principle behind the Prime Directive, and since anything good enough for Jean-Luc Picard is good enough for me, I decided to let events unfold as they may. Eventually, as I watched with a rapt expression upon my face, she did manage successfully to extract all of the tissues from the box. It was quite a moment, and I quietly enjoyed her victory even though her face betrayed no recognition of her achievement.

This week, I had momentarily forgotten that Directive, but fortunately, I remembered it in time. Since I did, it is my hope that in the course of proving yesterday that she can take as many tissues as she wants, she noticed that I made no effort to stop her. Because it’s interesting for two weeks, but I am kind of hoping for an end to the tissue-related drama in my life. Unless it’s new life forms coming in to the library – I’m always ready for that.

One question I was asked over and over again the last time I was interviewing for a job was “What made you decide to become a librarian?” I did not at the time realize that the interviewers were likely looking to account for my sudden career shift as a way to buttress my limited library experience, but even if I had, I don’t think that would have altered by response in any way : that I was not happy with the direction my career was headed and, one day, on investigating the jobs on the B.U. website, the first 3 that popped up were in the library. And suddenly I realized “Oh, the library; I should be a librarian.” And then the interview would move on to my meagre library experience, the first part of my answer completely forgotten.

However, it cannot be overstated just how unhappy I was with where my career was headed : I hated the job that I had at the time. Although I very much enjoyed the way the lobby looked like The Movie Theater of the Future, as designed in 1950, I wanted to cry every day when I walked into the building. And, in addition to my job striking me as particularly useless – both in the sense of how it might benefit society in general (it wouldn’t, ever), as well as in a local sense of the value it presented to the company (none) – I was also incredibly bad at it. I’m sure the fact that I did not want to be good at it played a part, but, in fairness to myself, the skill set required of that position is completely outside the realm of things at which I am good : a Sweet Valley High reference would land just about as well as that plane Olivia’s flight instructor crashed, killing himself and paralyzing her and thus wrenching her plan to break up with Roger, who she no longer loved regardless of his newfound place in the Patman family, and the fact that I just mixed up plots and characters from several different books would have gone completely unnoticed.

Yet, despite my vast unhappiness, there were actually several positives to that job. For one thing, I made a lot of money; a lot. Upon receipt of the job offer, I may have exclaimed “Oh my god, I can buy everything I’ve ever wanted and a pony!” aloud, to an otherwise empty room, although several years having passed since the potential incident renders positive confirmation difficult.

In addition to elevating my lifestyle to an extravagance I can no longer afford, that job also provided a very interesting view into an organization that believes they can actually achieve a goal. Or, actually, that’s not entirely correct; most companies probably think that can achieve goals; otherwise, they wouldn’t exist. What was different about this place was that their goal was 100%.

And they took it seriously. There were reports about which I can provide absolutely no detail of systems running at 99.486% accuracy, and it was stunning not only that they would investigate into the decimals following the 99, which I think in and of itself would be enough of a measure for most organizations (at least the ones that are not Ivory soap), but also that that number, decimal and all, still represented room for improvement.

The most amazing thing about that was how quickly I got used to it. I mean, I was never going to be one of the people getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning for a software release, and I found it completely baffling that the people who were would follow up that release by coming in to work for a full 9+ hour day, a practice in which I also did not participate, despite the frequent urgings of my boss. Yet, however much I might have questioned their passion for a product that I thought ridiculous, I had come from an environment where we frequently set the bar at about 60 and were perfectly content to miss it most of the time. Working with these people was inspiring – their intensity, devotion and focus to their job was like watching Olympians. Of work, but still; it was impressive.

So, even though I was extremely happy to leave that job, yea the entire corporate world, behind, I did have within me a small glimmer of hope that, doing something I was devoted to, something I had actually chosen rather than happened into by default, I might one day be a finalist of some sort; perhaps even the winner of the work bronze.

Were I the sort of person who cottoned to things a bit faster, I might have noticed that this attitude did not especially pervade library school. Which : is strange. Librarians for the most part like to tout themselves as busy and engaged, up on what’s going on and passionate about connecting people and information. But the loudest voices in library school are the ones that stay with you, and so what rings in my ears is a refrain I heard from several instructors, who would follow up the description of any particular Librarian’s task with a put-upon “Which you’ll do in all of your free time”.

Of course, budget cuts have left libraries understaffed, and that is a very real issue, but this self-image of the Librarian who is just too busy to actually do her job bothers the hell out of me. For one thing, it often results in an Ur-Millenial need for praise whenever something gets done, which offends my latch-key Generation X sensibilities to such an extent that it might lead to a rumble if I weren’t so desperately in need of a nap.

More serious is the frequency with which this attitude affects users. Obviously, an underfunded library does not have the same resources to divert toward a problem as does a large multi-national profit-driven entity. However, the number of times I have received a response of “We know,” to a report of a problem is extremely discouraging. That’s a difficult message to pass on to a user who points out that our system is confusing – yes, it certainly is confusing. No, we’re not going to anything about it. Because we’ve gotten to a point where something works well enough; there’s no need to push it to actually working well.

Although a terrible breach of etiquette, I thought it appropriate that the call offering me the position at the Illustrious Institute came while I was in a library. It was the day before Thanksgiving; I’d picked up my niece after school and, in keeping with the tradition established when I picked her up from camp over the summer, we stopped by the local library on the way home and she ate the banana I’d brought along as a snack for myself.

Her mother had just joined us in the Children’s Room when my phone rang. I had a pretty good inkling who it would be : my references had reported back to me that they received calls checking up on me from a gentleman who sounded nice but awkwardly lacking in humor. I had met only one such person recently (who was somewhat smoother in person than on the phone), so when the call came in from an area code I recognized but a number I didn’t, I hoped that it would be following up on that meeting.

And it was. Hanging up, I received congratulations not just from my sister and niece, but from another woman who was in Children’s Room with us as well, who, it turned out, had also received a job offer that day after several months of unemployment. Which, I think, is one of the most unintentionally lovely uses of technology of my entire life : my having a phone in the library (and being rude enough to answer it) had created an opportunity for a stranger to share her good news with us, which I in turn shared along with my own, with everyone I could think of once my sister, niece and I returned to their house.

What I did not share was that, on the way to their house, we made a small detour to a local pharmacy. Through an interesting and/or bizarre quirk of scheduling, every time over the past 5 years that I’ve gone to my sister’s house  has turned out to be Special Lady Time, and, despite that consistency, I have never once arrived prepared with the proper tools to deal with the fallout of that particular situation. It’s practically a family joke at this point, albeit one we typically don’t share with outsiders. (Ooops.)

In any event, my phone rang again as we stood in our aisle at the pharmacy and, as I now recognized the entire number since the last call hadn’t come in that long before, I answered it with a bit of trepidation; it has rarely been my experience that people call back to follow up on good news with more good news. This call proved no exception : although I had been offered the correct job, through a paperwork snafu (so understandable on the day before a long long weekend), I had been offered the wrong salary; the position actually paid about 10% less than I had originally accepted. Remember : in this case, “originally” means “10 minutes before”.

I could, if I chose, take my time to consider this new offer. But, really, there was nothing to think about. The original offer had struck me as exceedingly generous – I’d had no idea what the salary range for the position was, as I had never applied for it; rather, my application for another position had actually been kept on file, so I was called when this position opened up, even though I had never seen it advertised. The actual offer that I got on that second call was in line with what I had been expecting. Plus, I was unemployed; the new wage, though less than the theoretical salary I had entertained thoughts of for 10 minutes, was much, much more than the actual salary I had been earning for the past 6 months, which was nothing. Of course I said yes.

Still, I was disappointed. Even though I knew that was irrational: I hadn’t lost anything, after all; I still had gotten the job, and the actual salary was perfectly reasonable and in line with my expectations. But, for a moment, a brief and shining 10 minutes, my expectations had been exceeded; I was excited at the prospect that things were going to be great. Now, I had to reconcile myself to the reality that they would merely be good, even as I knew I would have believed that goodness to be greatness had I never been offered and thus not considered anything else.

As I said, I kept that to myself. For the most part. I shared the news of my good fortune without caveat and enjoyed the reflected joy of friends at my success as though it had not been diluted for me either. But I’ve had occasion to think back to that second phone call several times over the past two years, as cracks have appeared and the gradual falling out of love increases in velocity as we get nearer and nearer to the earth. (I don’t, you know, know anything about physics. Although I would love to, if I didn’t have to learn it first.) Most recently when, after expressing what I thought was not an unreasonable concern that recent changes will negatively impact my career goals and desired timeline for the achievement of said goals, it was suggested to me that I could pretend to be happy. Which struck me as kind of funny. Because, for so much of the time, I thought I was.


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