Posts Tagged ‘writing about work’

So much to not love, the taking care of kids, for one. Yes, I have kids now. Yes, I love them, I love them so much that I really understand for once those corny words to the Tina Turner song, Love Hurts. But man, it’s hard taking care of kids. I want to be alone, and kids are kind of easy to get away from. You set them up with a television and video, Beauty and the Beast, let’s say, and wa-la. You’re alone.

Even then, even at that early age I wanted solitude. I liked sitting in Mrs. B.’s sewing room. Mrs. B. was a precursor to Martha Stewart. If you think about it, the whole late 1970s was that time when women broke out of the kitchen and into crafts. It was a new kind of creative time for women. For suburban women, like Mrs. B.

She stayed home, cooked and brought up the kids. But she did it with a sewing room of her own. She had plastic bins, all the scissors of different sizes and with zig-zag blades and sharp straight blades and curvy blades, all in one of the bins. Fabrics and fabric scraps. Spools of thread. Those I loved the most. Looking at her spools of thread.

I liked being at her house during the day, the kids outside in the sandbox with pails and shovels. Sometimes I’d put on the sprinkler and just let them go. They had a little swimming pool. I wouldn’t even stay outside and watch them. I knew in the back of my mind I was being reckless, but still, the sewing room was too big a draw. It had powers, that room.

Sometimes I think there was a part of me that formed while I was in that house. It was shaped like a U with square edges. A modern home, glass windows all on the interior of the U facing a courtyard. Mr. B. was from Lebanon; he looked exactly like the main character in the sitcom Taxi. One time I asked my parents if the B.’s were lesbian. My brother burst out laughing. Do you mean Lebanese?

You spend time, alone time in a house, a small child really, waif-like. I was so skinny I was like vapor, and vapor I seemed, steaming in and out of this room and that room. Lifting lids, letting secrets escape. It’s funny. My last write I talked all about what I didn’t love about babysitting. This one I seem to have found something that made it all OK.

-from Topic post, Job! What Job?; companion writing practice to this one

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I didn’t love babysitting. I dreaded it each time Mrs. H. called or Mrs. B, especially Mrs. B. Her kids were brats. I was a kid myself, I wanted to be a brat. I needed the money.

There were sunflower seeds and watermelon sticks to buy at Circle K on a hot middle-of-the-summer day. And earrings, I loved my little turquoise posts. I collected glass figurines that I bought from a glass shop in Old Town. Carmen and I took the city bus there, age 13, and shopped all day long like tourists on a vacation. We didn’t have anything else to do.

I hated being alone at night in those big houses after the kids went to sleep. The B.’s house had too much glass. I could see my reflection against the dark night. Skinny legs, brown, brown skin from being outside all the time. I was obsessed with all things scary – murders and sharks and airplane crashes and ghosts – yet I was scared to death. Still am. Still hate being in a big house by myself.

I loved nothing about babysitting, not the way Mrs. B. would tell me to feed Armin his peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich by pretending each bite was a plane. BRRRRRRR comes the plane in for a landing in your mouth. Not the way I felt compelled to look in bathroom drawers, looking for condoms or girly magazines, any evidence sex went on in that house. Not the way it made me jump when the phone rang or how the kids always fell asleep so soundly and so fast. Not even the money. Twenty-five cents an hour in some cases. But what else could I do?

-from Topic post Job! What Job?; writing practice on one of the jobs from this list

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I made a list of all the jobs I’ve loved before…who’ve traveled in and out my door…um, I mean, all the jobs in my life, which is the first step in this week’s topic post (Job! What Job?). I thought I had a lot more jobs than this. I guess I’m more stable than I care to admit.

July 13, 1974 summer diary, all rights reserved, ybonesy 20071. Babysitter: Starting at about age 13. From my Summer Diary of 1974, a few excerpts on babysitting: 

  • June 7: Dear Diary, Well, school’s out. I’m glad. I got st. A’s. Gonna babysit tonight. After school we went to Alvarado. I got my yearbook signed some more. Lisa wrote me today. I babysat the H.’s. I made $2.50. I went at 7:30 and came back about 11:45. Got to go. Bye.
  • June 10: Dear Diary, Well, I went to swimming lessons. My instructors name is Mark. We mostly just got organized. We did do some of the back float and front float. At first it was scary but it was fun too. I babysat A. and A. Got $2.25.
  • June 14: Dear Diary: Today in swimming lessons I got to dive. Michelle didn’t go. The Brody’s moved today. I babysat the B. kids from 2:00 to 12:00. Boy, were they BRATS!!! Bye.
  • June 18: Dear Diary: In swimming lessons we dived some more. Not off the high board! Mark says that this guy is a baby! He is! I like Mark. He’s nice! Also funny! I forgot to tell you yesterday but my guppy died. I babysat the B. kids. They weren’t real brats. I met their reletives. Boy, some more weirdos. Now I have about $25.00. Bye!

2. Dentist Office File Clerk: The next summer, age 14, I went to work with my sister at a dentist’s office. We drove in her brand new red MG convertible. I filed all day long while she worked the reception desk. It was the most boring job ever. After the first day of standing in front of the giant set of file cabinets pulling out identical manila folders and filing dental x-rays and insurance papers, I knew I never wanted to have anything to do with teeth again.

3. Retail clerk, Hallmark shop, age 15, where I stole something almost every day. I think the owner was on to me.

4. Banquet waitress, Albuquerque Convention Center, age 17. Got fired, along with all my friends, the night after we dropped water on debutantes and their escorts and essentially did a lousy job working the Senorita Ball

5. Hostess, age 17-18, at a restaurant housed in an old haunted building. I got to drink in the saloon after work each night even though I was under-aged.

6. Picture framer, age 19, for two different frame shops. From the second one I quit and got fired in the same instant. Good news is I can cut my own mats, and if I had the equipment, I could do my own framing. Given the cost of framing today, I ought to splurge and buy myself the tools.

7. Researcher for the Vargas Project, age 20ish. Beautiful flourishy hand-writing of the Spaniards who entered New Mexico. Otherwise showed me that I wanted nothing to do ever again with historical research.

8. Waitress for a university-area restaurant, early 20s. I never wanted to go back to waitressing, but then I discovered I needed tips to survive.

9. Account Executive for a Santa Fe advertising agency, mid 20s. Learned it’s all about image. Also learned I’m not.

10. A bum in Spain.

11. Research Assistant for a handsome Brazilian graduate professor who unlike other professors didn’t even make me grade papers (and I didn’t even sleep with him! He was just a nice guy.). I guess I was lateish 20s.

12. Program manager for a university program that did internet publishing related to Latin America. This was a cool job–got to travel all over Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean. Went to Cuba. Salary sucked. Started at age 29, quit at 35.

13. Internet trainer. Attempt to supplement my university salary. The role took me to Mexico a bunch of times. I learned how to say “mouse” and “click” and “ftp” and “telnet” and all sorts of early-internet words in Spanish.

14. Corporate sell-out, age 35. By then primary breadwinner for my family. I’ve had about six or seven different jobs in my almost eleven years with the company.

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Do you want to know something strange? For three years I worked on the fourth floor of my company’s five-story building and never saw the guy who sat in the cubicle next to me.

I heard him on the phone almost every day. I knew when he was talking to his ex-wife by the way he’d cut her off: “Sheila, Sheila, SHEE-LA, I’m in a meeting…” I knew he wasn’t really in a meeting, but when he was, then he used his smooth salesman voice.

I knew his first name, Tim, and I even remember his last name (although I won’t reveal it here). Tim. Three years next to Tim, and I wouldn’t know him from Adam if I saw him today.

I’ll say this about work. Everyone has a story, which is easy to forget when everyone also has a badge with a photo and an ID number. At my company there are nearly 100,000 people worldwide; a couple or so thousand at the site where I work. People always ask me if I know this person or that person. I rarely know the name, much less the person. And, then, in unison, me and the person doing the asking: “It’s a big place.”

There was a time when I was both bothered and fascinated by my work environment. It seemed so impersonal. As an experiment I decided to count the number of faces at work I was seeing for the first time. I divided the people I saw each day into three categories: Never Seen Before, Seen But Don’t Know, and Know. I found that most people fell into Never Seen Before.

I would get into the elevator and look around at the people standing in there with me. It was awkward, those doors closing and then my peeking at the faces of fellow riders, trying to recall if I’d seen this face or that one. Staring at people in an elevator is bad elevator etiquette, so I had to do it discreetly. On a given day, I’d see six or so Seen But Don’t Know faces but I’d see maybe 20 or more Never Seen Befores.

I was amazed I could work at a place that long (when I was doing this I’d been there about seven years) yet bump into more strange faces than familiar ones. It was odd this notion of moving among strangers year after year, never saying much more than “Fourth, please.”

There were exceptions, of course. There was Mario, from Valley High School. He reintroduced himself to me one day in a stairwell. I couldn’t place him at first; after more than 20 years his hair was gone. There was Andy, who had been a high school hunk and who all the girls, including me, had a crush on. Andy lost most his hair, too. And the class clown, Lorenzo, I discovered worked there.

On my very first day of work, the New Employee Orientation trainer exclaimed to me as I picked up my course packet, “You look exactly the same!” I peered into her round face as she said, “Don’t you remember me?? I’m Ana! Remember?? We had Mrs. Wood for first and Mrs. Salisbury for second.” I smiled one of those mouth half open smiles that said, “I think I remember who you are, but give me a minute to really get it.”

I remembered the teachers, but who wouldn’t remember Mrs. Wood? She looked like Marilyn Monroe; at least, she did in my memory. Most the kids at Armijo Elementary had brown hair and olive skin and surnames like Chavez, Garcia, Martinez, Ulibarri. Mrs. Wood was totally different, which I guess meant we liked her all the more. Mrs. Salisbury also stood out. She was a lot older than Mrs. Wood and more maternal. I remember she hugged me more than even my own mother did. She was Black, probably the first Black person that I’d ever known and certainly the only Black teacher I had until I reached high school. She wore her shoulder length hair in an old-fashioned flip, and she wore tortoise-framed glasses.

Ana the trainer had hair so thin on top I could see her scalp. She was short and shaped like a marshmallow on a stick. “I can’t quite place you,” I admitted, squinting my eyes as if that might give me x-ray vision into 1967.

In the end, I never did pull the six-year-old Ana from the adult Ana’s face. My one chance of connecting with someone who’d known me before almost anyone else (minus my parents)…and at a huge company, no less.

I know a lot of people would refuse to work in the place I work. Not even factoring in what the company does nor that it’s for-profit, the very environs would be a turn-off for most creative types. The carpet is bland. The walls are white. There are no curves, only angles. And then rows and rows of square spaces with people sitting in them working on computers or talking on phones. I once described it as a “cubicle farm – people in cubes like calves in cages.”

I’d like to say the structure of the place serves the function that structure often serves, which is to let wild mind run free. I’m not sure this is the case. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Instead, I look at it this way: I like many of the people I work with, I’m paid well, and I’m challenged. I’ve stopped questioning whether I should accept my career and my company. There is no such thing as job security, but there is another kind of security. It has to do with showing up for the things you’re signed up to do.

This is what I signed up for. Here I am.

-from Topic post, A Place To Stand.

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Help Wanted Sign from printfree.com

Make a list of all the jobs you’ve had, from allowance to adulthood. Reach as far back as you can remember. How long did each job last, how much did you make? What age were you? What were the spaces, smells, and textures like in your work environment.

Is there a job you’ve always wanted to try and never have? Astronaut? Physicist? Teacher? Electrician? Backhoe operator? Whose job would you love to steal.

Tell me the weirdest job, the most fun, the strangest, the one that paid you the most. If you had the opportunity not to work, would you stop altogether and write or do your art? What’s keeping you from pursuing your creative dreams?

Are you or were you ever a workaholic? How do you strive for balance? When you have time off, what do you do? Did you have to work to put yourself through school? Or did your parents take care of that.

Our work history tells us a lot about our relationship to money, work, scarcity, and abundance. How have these relationships changed for you as you’ve gotten older or matured? How have they stayed the same?

  • Do a post of your Job List
  • Grab a couple of jobs, and do a 10 minute Writing Practice on one of these:

                  What I loved about this job…
                  What I hated about this job…

  • Mold any emotional, intellectual, and social information you glean from the Job List and Practices into a short post.

Have fun with it. Let it be wild.

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

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I got up early this morning–quarter to six. I had scheduled a phone meeting with one of my colleagues in the U.K. It turns out, though, that he declined the meeting some time while I was asleep. Rescheduled it for 12:30p my time, which cuts into his Friday night. But that’s the way he is. Works around the clock.

I thought people in their 30s were supposed to be less inclined to be workaholics than people in their 40s and 50s. Yet, the folks I work with who are in their 30s are pretty intense. Like this guy in Swindon who regularly works evenings, even Fridays. It’s confounding.

I mean, it’s true that in a global economy people end up working irregular hours. In the U.S. we often meet late afternoons and evenings with our colleagues in China, and we get up early to catch the Europeans. And the people in those parts of the world often have to be on hand during their own 8-5 day for local customers plus be available off-hours to call into meetings that are scheduled according to U.S.-friendly times. But still, why don’t people flex their hours when work cuts into personal time? Sleep in late or leave early if you start early. Have a life, a rich life (and I’m not talking money). Be present for your kids.

Maybe I spent too many years burning the candle at both ends, but I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to give all of me to my company. I have too many other passions to blow my wad at one place. That’s not to say I’m not a great employee. I am! I’m intelligent and unafraid to speak up. I see the big picture yet carry through on the details. I know process and deliver results. But, I refuse to make work my universe.

I don’t know if my colleague in the U.K. is as much of a workaholic as I suspect he is. Maybe he is flexing his days and I just don’t see it. But come 7:30 tonight, he should be with his family, not on the phone with me.

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Very mouselike, me, sitting in my cubicle at work.
I choose to break in this space
but timid and all
I place a package of Saltines
on the floor and with the heel of my boot
I stomp.
There is a crackling, not quite a crunch.
If I hold the package by a corner and jiggle I can hear a
crumbs against plastic.
But even so
there is something tame about smashing crackers.
I want to break out
break free
of corporate hell hole
my cubicle
Where has work taken me?
On a train from Agra to New Delhi
India, 2006
Second-class section in a cabin with five other people
We stop to pack on more passengers
They fill every nook
Stand in the aisle so it feels like we are all suffocatingsweatingshittingpuking
Only a small tiny window with bars
outside hands offering chai in small earthenware cups
the indians closest to the windows drink
and then as the train moves throw the cups to the ground smashing on train tracks
car-a-a-a goes the cups
car-e-e-e goes the train
Children wearing no bottoms beg at my side and get swooshed away
Traveling circus family that got on last stop
boy and girl linked together at legs and arms does human wheel act down the center of the aisle
smash-smash-smash go their faces-chests-tummies
A boy of six pretending to be Michael Jackson
hand behind one head
other on pelvis
with his lips as he thrusts-thrusts his little pisser at me
And I sit scared but trying
to be brave
How my work world has shielded me from life
real life.
And now
a break in my day
Reap the benefits
Reap the harvest
Reap the seams, man!
Break fast
Break falls
Break away
Break habits
Break screens
Break a nail
Break a leg
Break neck
Freak break
Work’s a dick
Frick off
Sign off.

-from Topic post, Shiva

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