Jumping Off a Cliff, Part 2

Grayness, coffee, Terry…so what–nothing’s perfect.

What was too much less than perfect, though, is this: There was a person, a long-standing employee, who had had my job for close to two decades. Last year he quit somewhat abruptly and escaped to Belarus with his gay lover, bringing with him years of institutional knowledge of which he was the sole proprietor. He’s now completely off the grid (as far as I can tell). Gradually, it was revealed that no one knew all of the things he used to do. Every so often, it would come to light that he was the one who used to make a certain thing happen. Everyone looked to me: you’re the new incumbent! So you should know how to do it! So go do it! Yeah, um, maybe if I had an engineering degree I could figure it out. I never heard of this system before or used anything like it. There was no training. There was no documentation. As these tasks were uncovered, also revealed was that no one could figure out how he did them.

Recently I overheard people talking about him, and one said “I don’t blame him at all.” My conjecture is, he’s not being blamed for leaving, because someone fucked him over in some way. That would explain him not providing any documentation of his work. Because he otherwise sounds like a meticulous worker. I had been puzzled by this, until I heard that snippet. Now I think it was his “right back atcha” to the company.

Every two or three of days, an email or Slack would from out of nowhere asking me to do something I had never heard of and would never have thought was included in the job. More importantly, it was always beyond my training and knowledge. It was something that would be more appropriate for a software developer, but even the actual software developers couldn’t figure out how to do it. There was one thing that took an actual seven weeks for someone to figure out how to set up. A technical engineer finally figured it out. Unfortunately, everything was like that. It was just the wrong job for me, and I was the wrong person for it. I walked into a giant trap. Possibly the people hiring didn’t know what a mess it was. Possibly they did. Either way, sooner or later there was going to be a huge, red, neon, pulsating arrow pointing at me. Please include an ear-splitting, buzzing alarm along with this visual.

I want to add that I’m not the person who says “It’s not my job.” I am scornful of that attitude. However, there are boundaries, there is sanity, there is efficiency and common sense; and this job is not within the scope of those.

~~~update~~~

Ha ha ha, so I quit that job! I found another job, and I quit! I am crazy now, quite obviously. I have gone around the bend. A new job every two or three months? Why not? I have now had four jobs within the past eight months. And, of course, I’m getting ready to quit the one I have now, because I hate it!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Words with Strangers

I play Words With Friends (WWF) on my phone a lot. In some ways it’s an ideal game because each turn doesn’t take too long, and often, I have to wait until it’s my turn again. Even if I’m playing many games at once, it doesn’t suck up my time the way Carcasonne, Catan, or even Candy Crush do.

Sometimes, I play with strangers. People challenge me, or, more rarely, it’s not my turn and I want to play, so I find someone with great stats and challenge them.

I have some longstanding campaigns with some people I “met” this way. One such person, I’ll call him Mensch57, I’ve played against for years.

One day, I made a big mistake; or rather, two mistakes.

First, when it was my turn and my letters weren’t that great, I saw that I could play the word “sheenie.” A ridiculous, offensive word, but it fit in with one of my strategies, which is:

  • If you have crappy letters, make the longest word possible, no matter how few points it gets. This is like exchanging letters, except that you at least get a few points rather than none.

Of course, also figuring into the strategy is:

  • Don’t set your opponent up for a triple letter score or other plum spot
  • f there are no longish words to be made, it might be better to exchange letters. Especially if the the letters are so bad that you might not be able to unload them at all, and they might just take up space and prevent you from ever making good plays.

“Sheenie” fit my strategy perfectly (note that some of the letters were already on the board–it wasn’t a bingo). However, it’s an offensive and inherently dumb word. But I plays to win, so I slapped the letters down half-hoping WWF would reject the racial epithet, as it sometimes does.

No such luck this time. It accepted the letters and there it stood, my play of shame.

My second mistake was to express my regret and embarrassment in the chat. I said, “ugh.”

Note that never before had I chatted with Mensch57.

One problem with the WWF chat is that you can’t tell what word (if any) a chat is related to. Sometimes, people say “nice one” in reference to a good word, and I’m not sure I saw the chat right way, so don’t know which word they mean. So, unsurprisingly, Mensch57 responded somewhat later with “???”

I then explained that I was referring to my dashed hope that WWF would reject the word and save me from mentioning a word I dislike.

And here let me stress that in WWF, I am always mentioning, not using words. If I play the word “gay” or”idiot,” I am no more commenting on my opponent than if I play “genius” or “sexy.” I’m just trying to get the highest score–that’s it.

Nonetheless, I am a self-conscious and self-centered person.

Mensch57 responded with a comment about “a shameful period in our country’s history.” I’m glad he thinks it’s shameful, but does he really think it’s over??

He then started asking me questions about where I live, what my name is, what I do, and telling me about himself.

I was bummed, because, quite frankly, I don’t care. If my anonymous opponent happened to be an author, artist, or musician I like, I’d want to know; but otherwise, I don’t need to know any personal details. I grudgingly responded, my heart sinking.

My worst fears were confirmed the next morning when I opened the game and he had chatted “Good morning, pretty Brenda”*

I did not respond. My profile picture shows me standing in front of a famous building in a beautiful country, smiling. Somewhat obviously on a trip. I look OK, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not playing to meet people, just to play.

I didn’t answer or take my turn. Ever. Eventually, the game timed out.

I am sorrowful that a remark about a word, for chrissakes, is interpreted as a come-on. Come on, Men! Get it together. Please, don’t say “Oh, he was only being friendly!” You know he wanted to meet in a sleazy motel somewhere midpoint between our two states (which are actually within driving distance), if I was willing.

There are thousands of other opponents; I don’t need him. I always beat him anyway. But it’s too bad.

*Not really my name

A strange way of doing it

I wanted to commit suicide. I don’t remember feeling desperate or helpless; it was simply something I had decided to do. The way I was going to do it was this:

  1. Find a beach-front motel very close to the water with a porch facing the ocean. The porch had to have a sturdy metal railing like the heavy, thick, gray, smooth-rough pipe that they used to make playground equipment with in the ’60s and ’70s.
  2. Rent a room in this motel for three nights. The room had to have a door that opened to the ocean-facing side of the motel. It could not have a door that on the side or back; only onto the ocean-facing porch.
  3. Pretend to be trying to jump over the porch railing into the ocean, but instead, accidentally-on-purpose bash my head on the railing, hard enough to kill myself.

I found the perfect motel with the perfect railing, but initially it seemed that the perfect room wouldn’t be available. But then I found that there was a very small room, squashed into the corner of the porch. Technically, the door was facing the ocean at an angle, but it still counted. Because the room was so small, it was only $40 a night, which overjoyed me.

The next part of the dream is tainted. I moved into a different zone of sleepscape, one in which events are partly influenced by consciousness. I wasn’t awake, but I was less asleep.

Some people, a large party, had thought that they had rented all the ocean-facing rooms in the motel, and were thus planning to monopolize the ocean-facing porch and essentially conduct a 24-7 party there. They had overlooked the tiny corner room, however. They were angry that I was there, sitting in an old caned chair, but could not deny that my room faced the ocean at least in part, thus entitling at least to a tiny portion of the porch. They determined that they would carry on and ignore me.

I think the dream ended before I had a chance to enact my plan.

Questions I have for myself, that will never be answered:

  1. Why this method? This is a terrible method. It doesn’t make any sense and seems unlikely to work. I’ll give it a few points for originality, though.
  2. Why three nights? I guess I wanted to give myself plenty of time for multiple tries?
  3. $40/night is undoubtedly a great rate for a beachfront motel, but in this situation, who cares?
  4. Why does it matter whether you are “entitled” to the use of a porch if you aren’t going to be around to experience any repercussions resulting from a lack of said entitlement? I didn’t even have to rent a room at all; I could have just identified the right porch and did my thing.

 

why is it so hard to leave

…and you can’t help but wonder if you called and said wait! I changed my mind! would they let you back in? or would they smile ruefully, shaking their heads. No, you have ruined everything. You can never come back again.

when you first start a job, you are a foreign body. you don’t understand the flavor, the context. you are not part of it yet, not truly, even if technically. you are an undissolved grain of salt in a pot of stew

after a time, you are absorbed. you become part of the flavor. you are an intrinsic part, no matter now small. even if you do nothing, even if you do everything. your aura merges with the other auras. your chord harmonizes with the song. your frequency is assimilated in to the buzzing life-of-its-own aggregate of energies

when you leave, it cannot but be painful. for them, it is a hole. something missing. an excision. for you, bloody threads cling, it aches. even if it was voluntary, you miss the chord, the vibe, the language, the aura. you learned things that now resonate hollowly in your mind. you will never have those conversations again. never with such perfect understanding

hey buddy, give me a hug, i said to the guy who always reminded me of the king in a deck of cards. in the last moments. many an hour we had griped together. he had cried out in sorrow when i had broken the news. we hugged. he rubbed my back. we parted. no matter how long i might wish to prolong the embrace, it had to end. and i felt that the only happy thing about leaving; that you can hug people you want to hug

and why am i sad? here i am going to company x, where i have wanted to go. where my frequency will harmonize with their frequencies. where i will find kindred spirits and people who are a delight. i will also find the asshole, there’s one in every crowd. but they don’t matter, they are like flecks of dust

driving home, in the middle of a beautiful spring day, listening to a melancholy guitar, feeling bereft. it’s a feeling that won’t last but i am on the verge of tears

Jumping Off a Cliff, Part 1

So, to recap.

I left a somewhat cushy job I’d held for close to two decades. My friends and family were chagrined; it had a high salary and great benefits. It was relatively easy. I know it seemed like a crazy move, but I didn’t feel good about staying there any longer. Over time, I had increasingly lost respect for the company, its inept decision-making process, and its dishonesty (not illegal, just hypocritical and delusional). It felt like I’d been there too long. I wanted to prove to myself that I had value in the big world.

Too, I had long been aware that at my advanced age, the longer I waited to leave, the harder it would be to find a new position. In fact, it took 18 months of sustained effort.

I finally got a job with a mature startup that turned out to have an “exploitative, bootlicking culture,” to quote an unnamed person whom I love dearly. According to said unnamed person, in startups this is common; but I didn’t know that going in. I got fired and I am someone who’s never been reprimanded, spoken to, reminded, etc. So I’m giving myself a pass on this one. I think it was subconsciously intentional; I would never have quit without another job lined up. That’s not how I roll. The commute was unbearable, and I couldn’t stomach the obsequiousness, much less participate. The CEO believed he was godlike. But, he was not. I was out of there in 10 weeks. The really sad thing is, most of the time I found the work to be interesting and stimulating. I learned new things. I liked some of the people quite a bit.

Though I was the oldest person there, what set me apart was more the commute problem. I wanted to start early and leave early to avoid traffic. That didn’t fly there. I wanted to get home to cook dinner; I have kids. My coworkers mostly didn’t have similar concerns. I was doomed from the start.

In less than a month, I successfully found and started a new job. I was proud of myself; that’s unheard of! Truth be told, I had started looking a few weeks earlier. I read the writing on the wall. Misread it to some degree, it seems, but I got the overall gist.   The new job seemed like a great opportunity! It was much closer. The benefits were far better and started immediately, none of this three-month-wait shit. No startup this, it was, in fact an enormous global company. The job title and description sounded like something I had always wanted to get into. I was so happy! But.

There were problems. For example:

  1. I tried not to let it bother me, but the new office was almost ludicrously drab. It reminds me a bit of the scene in the beginning of the movie The Rapture, when the Mimi Rogers character is working in the call center and the camera pulls back to reveal hundreds of workers in identical gray cubicles. I read somewhere that it’s supposed to respresent hell (i.e., Hell), and I think that’s true. Anyway, this place has somewhat bigger cubicles, a lot of them, all gray, everything gray, row after row after row of gray cubicles. It’s depressing. It also seems absurd. How could someone have been allowed to make such bad design choices? Some days when I get to work, the monotonous grayness seems like a sadistic joke and I’m afraid I’ll start laughing hysterically and not be able to stop.
  2. I tried not to let it bother me, but the free coffee was awful. Worse than Keurig, which aspires to be mediocre. I think this coffee is even less environmentally friendly than Keurig; it comes in plastic sort of packets with more material than the K-cups. There are no decent coffee shops (or any coffee shops except for*) anywhere within walking distance. *There is a Dunkin Donuts on the main floor, but I don’t consider that worth the trip most days. Most days I make my own pour-over coffee in a risky and time-consuming process (risky because it would be so, so easy for me to knock my setup over and spill coffee all over the drab gray rug).

OK, so I care too much about coffee. Whatever. I like it and it doesn’t seem like too much to ask for! It helps me get through the day. It seems crazy to me not to provide good coffee. Like you wouldn’t intentionally buy your employees laptops that are known to die after a few months.

3. On the first day, a person appeared at my cubicle and told me he was going to help me get set up with all the various systems. I’ll call him Terry. Terry had a strangely formal way of speaking, and was immediately revealed himself to be a controlling asshole. I’ll give you an example. He told me he was going to show me how to make tea “so that it is possible to drink.” I like tea, and I thought he was going to show me that you first have to run water through the coffee machine to flush it out before making tea, or something along those lines. You know, the way you have to do with the Keurig. But no. There is a hot/cold water dispenser, and what he was showing me was how to add cold water to the tea to bring the temperature down. I could have come up with the add-cold-water method all by myself. But even more odd was the precise and jerkish way he gave directions:

“Start to add hot water. Keep going, keep going…Stop! OK, now add the cold water. More. Add more. Add some more. OK…Stop! That is how you make the tea drinkable.”

Gee, thanks. But in fact, I like to allow my tea to cool off on its own so that I can drink it when it’s at the hottest possible drinkable temperature. So no thanks.

Similarly, he showed me the key that locked all the gray furniture that came with my cubicle (filing cabinets and such), and directed me to keep it in my desk drawer.

Seriously? And, by the way, keeping the key in the unlocked desk drawer would defeat the purpose of a key, don’tcha think? I have to wonder if he was hoping to go through my things after hours.

Because…he had a hobby of prowling the office at night, when people were mostly gone, scavenging for office supplies in empty cubicles. He didn’t need these for himself, but wanted to use them for his onboarding activities. I didn’t understand why he seemed so proud of himself, that my desk had a stapler and scissors, but it must be because these were great “finds” of his.

At my longstanding job, there was a supply room stocked with many commonly used items; and one could also order supplies fairly easily. I had no idea that at this job, there was no such thing.

Sadly, without Terry I truly wouldn’t have been able to do any work. There were so many systems, so many calls to the two call centers that had to be made, so many confusing and redundant processes. Quite the mess. The company is in a state of flux, an nowhere is this more obvious than during the onboarding process.

For the first couple of weeks, every day Terry would appear at my desk with an agenda of the day’s activities, all related to being able to use the Internet and VPN, etc. (I am not kidding). After a few days, I had actual work to do, but he never seemed to want to leave. I didn’t want to get on his bad side, and it was tricky to send him away but not offend him.

I’m sure you’ll agree: WTF? Right? Most people have stuff to do at work, and even if they are willing to help others out, are happy enough to go back to their assigned tasks when they can. Not him, though.

One day he brought his laptop over to the empty cubicle behind me and worked there for a few hours. I wondered if he might be planning a stealth move into my cubicle, with me in it. I am a fat old woman (sad but true), but I suppose I must have seemed vulnerable to him (even sadder). It’s a story for another time, but he and I are no longer speaking. Which is just fine with me.

Those problems are minor. I wouldn’t quit over the likes of them. Even #3, which started to border on harassment, wasn’t that big of a problem in the end (I’m not as defenseless as I seem). But there was a problem, or constellation of problems, that isn’t so negligible. And that is, that no one agrees on what my job is and no one knows how to do it.

 

Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Job Offer

Below are some questions to ask before accepting a job. I truly wish I had asked some of these in particular before I started my last job.

  1. Will I receive any Medical insurance benefits?
    1. If so, when does eligibility begin?
      1. True horror story: At my last job benefits didn’t start for 3 months. Thus, I had to pay COBRA for three months. Three months of COBRA was well over $6000 and swallowed up the difference between the salary I was initially offered and the salary I had negotiated.
    2. If so, is anyone covered besides me (spouse, dependents)?
      1. True horror story: At my last job no one was covered but me. Not a family-friendly policy, and I had never conceived of such a thing before I started working there.
    3. How much will it cost to cover everyone?
      1. You can ask them for the health benefits information*–premiums, copay, deductible, what’s covered, name of insurance company–before you accept the job. You can do some estimates on how much you’ll have to pay, to ensure you can afford to work there.
  2. Will I receive any vision benefits?
    1. If so, when does eligibility begin?
    2. If so, is anyone covered besides me (spouse, dependents)?
    3. How much will it cost to cover everyone?
  3. Will I receive any dental benefits?
    1. If so, when does eligibility begin?
    2. If so, is anyone covered besides me (spouse, dependents)
    3. How much will it cost to cover everyone?
  4. If spouse and dependents are not covered for medical, vision, or dental, but I am, can I pay to have them covered?
    1. If so, what is the cost?
      1. You should avoid this if possible, since it is likely to be damned expensive. But if you have no choice, you should at least know what you’re getting into.
  5. Is there a noncompete agreement I will be required to sign?
    1. If so, may I see it?
      1. Make sure that, if you quit or are fired, it’s not so all-inclusive that it prohibits you from getting a job in your field. Ask your prospective employer if you can amend it if it’s too heavy-handed (make the changes you’d like and ask if they will accept them)
  6. How much PTO (including sick time) will I receive?
    1. How is PTO given (accrued, or given as lump amount at beginning of year)?
      1. If accrued, how often is it accrued? Every month, every 6 months?
    2. When am I eligible to start taking PTO?
    3. Does the amount of PTO ever increase, and if so, on what schedule?
  7. What are the company holidays?
  8. What are the core office hours?
  9. What is the dress code?
  10. How long is the work day?
    1. Does that include lunch?
    2. What do people typically do for lunch?
  11. Is there a possibility of working from home?
    1. On an ad-hoc basis, e.g., to wait for a repair person or stay home with a sick child
    2. On a scheduled basis, potentially after a probation period
  12. What is the review process?
  13. Is there a 401k or 403b, and, if so, is there any matching?

Questions to ask yourself

  1. How will I commute to this job?
    1. Drive or take public transportation?
    2. How much will it cost (fare, gas, and tolls)?
    3. How long will it take?
    4. Where will I park?
    5. How much will parking cost?
    6. How long does it take to get from where I’ve parked to walk to the office?
    7. Can I manage this commute?
      1. Drive the drive. In the rain. On a Monday morning. When there is no spring break or summer or other reason for the traffic to be light. Keep it real.

*I always get these things confused, so I am including my personal understanding here in an attempt to be helpful. These are rough, non-professional, non-legally binding definitions that do not take precedence over anything at all.

Premium = the amount you pay out of your paycheck every pay period. This will stay constant throughout the year unless you add or remove a dependent, or possibly unless your salary changes. Unfortunately, the premium is NOT included in the deductible.

Deductible = An amount that you must pay before insurance will pay for anything. For example, if you have a high-deductible plan and your deductible is $6000, you will pay astronomically high prices for everything, such as $235 for a prescription drug, until you have shelled out $6000. After that the drug will be $15 or whatever.  Sadly, putting off medical care because of the deductible is pointless. It won’t go away on its own.

Copay = The amount you pay for prescriptions and medical care. These payments ARE included in your deductible; or rather, they ARE your deductible (that is, they are the only way to pay off the deductible). They will vary depending on whether you have paid off your deductible as in the $235/$15 example above; also, sometimes the costs of drugs changes. The amount also varies depending on whether services are covered and whether doctors or facilities are in-network.

A Big Thank-You to My Ex-employer

There is a company where I want to work (I’ll call it Company E). Maybe I should say “wanted,” since Company E has lost all its cache lately. But in the recent past, I coveted a job there.

I have an unemployed, job-hunting friend (I’ll call her B) who has the same job title as me. She has more experience, but I have plenty. We’re both qualified; however, I have, or used to have, what she did not: a relationship with a recruiter who gets jobs at E.

Just before I was fired, but not long before, I was actively job hunting because of the horrible commute, mentioned excessively in previous posts. I contacted my recruiter pal just in case; and lo and behold, a shiny new position had opened at E.

Perhaps foolishly, I mentioned this to B, and she asked me to send her resume to the recruiter. I agreed to do this, even though a little voice was saying “Are you nuts? Why introduce competition? How stupid will you feel if she gets the job and you don’t?” Another voice, however, said “Don’t be greedy. Maybe you won’t get the job and would never have gotten it–why deprive her? We each only need one job.”

We each got to the phone screen phase, and mine went well. B’s phone screen, apparently, went better: she was called for an in-person interview at E and I wasn’t. I felt a little sad, but not devastated. I wished her luck.

Part of the reason I was being so magnanimous is that, since being fired, I’ve had to trust the universe a lot more than I usually do. Things suddenly spiraled out of control so thoroughly when I was given the axe, that I had to acknowledge that control is an illusion. And I also have realized that while it makes sense to work at finding a job, it doesn’t make sense to worry about it. To my amazement, the past week and a half have been relatively worry free. I can’t exactly say that I have faith that I’ll get a job, but more that I haven’t been spending as much time thinking about it as I would have expected. Sure, I’ve had a few moments of panic. But in general I’ve been feeling more relaxed and happy than I can remember feeling in many years. So strange!

When B asked for that favor, I realized how much she wanted that job. It’s not like she’s been lacking for interviews and leads. It’s a little humbling, I think, to ask for a big favor. Essentially, she was asking me potentially to sacrifice something that I wanted so that she could have it. Refusing would have felt wrong.

Not long after my unsuccessful phone screen, a different job I had been working on suddenly heated up like crazy. The HR person started emailing and calling. I had an in-person interview that went well, and that job suddenly started to seem like what I’ve been seeking for years. There is a very high chance that I will be offered that job tomorrow morning.

I feel optimistic but also surprisingly calm. I’d be delighted to get the job; but if I don’t, well, I’ll keep trying and life will continue.

What I’m trying to say is that somehow, being fired has turned out to be one of the best things that has happened to me. It has helped me enjoy life and accept what happens. Of course I haven’t suddenly become a different person, but the thoughts and attitudes that have inhabited my mind since I walked out that door are generally much different, and much better, than what’s usually in there. Go figure.