Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Death by a Thousand Cuts (or not)

"Death by a thousand cuts," "creeping normality," plus the apocryphal anecdote about the frog placed in a pot of lukewarm water that just sits there as the temperature is raised until it is boiled to death (whereas, if its INITIALLY placed in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out)...

I like my job so much at the moment. It is, truly, the best job I've ever had. I'm intellectually challenged by both the work that I'm doing and the very smart, rational people I'm around. The 2-1/2 hours of bus-commuting each day are draining as heck (not quite "hell"), but, after 6 months, I still wake up each morning excited about going to work.

Aside from being innately satisfied by the work I'm doing and the people I'm around, there's also the more shallow case of... After 7 years in what I had perceived as "the wilderness," I'm right now RIGHT BACK UP to the career point where I would have been had I simply stayed the course with the publishing company that I worked for from 1998 to 2006. That company was doing multiple rounds of layoffs at that time; I had been laid off, then brought back, twice. I finally left in late '06 of my own accord, thinking it quite the right time to Try New Things, given the utter instability of my then-current workplace. Despite my subsequent years of struggle, my decision to leave the company at that time was actually a good one: Within months of my own leaving out of pique, more than three-quarters of my co-workers were also laid off. I was a frog who jumped out of the pot.

In the 7 years that followed, though, I was not at all sure that I'd done the right thing. The utter randomness of employment in NYC was unnerving: Yes, the market crashed in September '08, a year-and-a-half after I'd arrived. I was taking legal proofing jobs (not the most desired) at shifts (midnight to 8am) that were also not the most desired... yet even these weren't enough for sustenance. In NYC, law firms would send cars to pick you up or take you home, if it was an odd hour. One of the drivers that I had told me that, years earlier, he'd be picking up over a dozen people a night. But as of '08-09, there were maybe 2 total. I heard the same thing from co-workers on the midnight shift at the law firms where I worked -- how just a couple of years earlier, there'd be 10 other people with them called in to edit, but now, just 1 or 2...

NYC was rough, and then, unexpectedly, Austin, upon my return, was rough. There just weren't editing jobs available. I was forced to secretarial-temp, which is not at all the same thing as temping as a proofreader. The former are psychologically treated like shit; the latter are pretty much left alone.

Once I was secretarial-temping in Austin, I was exposed to weird, often mildly sadistic, behavior from bosses. One job, entering subscription information for a newspaper, I was fired from after one day because I took too many notes during my training (which indicated to the supervisor that I just wasn't "getting it"). At another job, as a receptionist, which I held for a month, both my boss and her assistant constantly belittled me for things like (a) not finding a file in the cabinet fast enough (though I'd just been there a week and didn't know how things were filed), (b) not answering a shout from down the hall fast enough (though I RAN), (c) asking the best way to exit the building when there was an actual bomb threat ("I don't KNOW! I'm NOT your supervisor!"). At another temp job, I privately told the temp agency that I requested to leave after the end of the month because of the utter disorganization of the entire group; within a day, someone in said group complained that I wasn't answering the phones quickly enough and so wanted me gone that day. (I did not argue.)

At yet another temp job, my secretarial boss wanted me to lunch precisely from 12 to 1pm, and requested that I notify her when I left and came back. One day, our mutual boss, a professor, asked me to do something for him at, oh, 11:50am. I did it, and finished at 12:30 or so. When I told my secretarial boss at 12:30 that I was now going to lunch because I'd been working on a project for our mutual boss, she expressed her disapproval of my not leaving for lunch at precisely noon. That I'd been doing something for our mutual boss didn't matter to her.

All of this irrationality was nutty and disheartening, to say the least, especially knowing how organized and efficient and REALISTIC I am. I wasn't just a goofball unable to enter subscription info into a database or locate files or figure out the best exit strategy from a building or follow lunch directions... No, some bosses just either didn't like me and/or wanted to act like sadistic assholes because that's just how they were. And because I was poor and needed the money, I had to grin and bear it. The frog in the pot as it is slowly boiled to death.

I am REALLY lucky right now with the boss I have. ONE, for a stupidly simple thing like being "allowed" to go to lunch at whatever time I choose without having to inform anyone. And, more importantly, for her recognition and support of my editing work. The editor before me at this company had been there for over 20 years, so there were some shoes to fill... When people that I've worked with have complimented my editing skills, my boss has compiled their words and passed them on to the heads of the company. I appreciate that greatly. My boss makes me feel good about myself --- not in a phony way, but in a "recognition for ACTUAL accomplishments" way.

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