Privilege for $200

It’s been a while since I’ve reflected on my experiences in my MFA program. One very significant figure, whom I’ve discussed in previous posts, was Professor Joseph K, who served as my early mentor, friend, boss, and later silent tormentor. This post is Part 21 of If You Want To Go To Grad School.

We’re at a party early on for the University’s MFA program and I mention working with Professor Joseph K. You ask me what he’s like and I’ll try to give you a sound byte answer. After all, this is a party, and the conversation’s not supposed to be too deep. So, here’s what I say: Joe’s a good guy and I work very well with him. I also enjoy his workshops a lot.

My answer would change much later, as I was only one year into my academic and professional relationship with Professor K. Being his secretary didn’t pay much, but I liked it better than working in the supermarket. There, I was paid better and I had benefits, but with Joe, I had keys to the mail room and his office, and I had a code for the English Department copier. I had a place to hang my coat, to read, to study, and even to write. I even had my own desk so I wouldn’t use his. What I had lost in practical terms, I gained in privilege. Which is essentially the case with anyone who goes into something arts or humanities related. I also harbored great hopes that my association with Joe would benefit me in the future. Perhaps I would become an editor or a professor, or even an editor-professor like Joe.

Continue reading “Privilege for $200”

Is It Over Yet?

I’m stealing the title of Chris’s post, but it’s appropriate.

This latter half of the year I returned to teaching. Over the summer, I took on a job teaching at a private language school. I liked the students and my coworkers (including the director), but it was also the most temp-like job I’ve ever had. I also taught a summer class at the urban community college and it was a good getting my feet wet. I had taught for two and a half years (one year as a TA in grad school and one and a half years as an adjunct teacher) before I had a stint as a mailroom manager. That only lasted for five months before I got fired and spent a few months looking for a job. During that time, I worked every community community college I knew of in the county to get classes for the fall.

While I didn’t succeed with every college and English department chair I lobbied, I wound up with a decent workload at the schools that took me on. Actually, I took on a lot. Five classes were overwhelming, but I was happy to be working again. Also, there were things such as Christmas and a new computer to think about.*

Of course, returning to the classroom had its share of challenges. Some of the students were one. I’ve vented about this in some posts. The flow of papers was never ending. The hours were crazy, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Driving to various schools and staying on top of all of them took a lot of time. God knows how much time I’ve spent in my car. I’ve found myself more and more fatigued as the semester comes to a close.

While I listed my cons first, it was not a bad experience overall. I liked most of the students I had this semester. That I could make grammar clearer for them (in some of my classes) was rewarding). Some of my students were fun, others were very interesting to talk, and some really got something out of it. I’ve given my headaches a lot of airtime, but I should have also taken the time to mention the great students as well.

I haven’t been a good blogger over the past few weeks. There would be a few days of blogging punctuated by a few more days of no posts. I have no plans to drop out of the blogosphere soon. August seemed to be month where there was a universal topic shortage. November, however, is not at all short of topics, yet it’s the worst month for me posting wise. That’s why I never put up the NaBloPoMo badge on my site. While NaNoWriMo sounds like fun, I haven’t had the time to crank out a shitty first draft of my great American novel. I even filmed a video log this past weekend, but I haven’t had the time nor energy to edit it. Wah, wah, wah.

It’ll all be over in a few weeks. Then, like the Pythian prophecy in BSG, it will all happen again in the spring.

Weekend Reading

I didn’t go anywhere on Friday and television didn’t appeal to me. Even What Not To Wear failed to get my attention (and I love to watch Clinton and Stacy cattily tear people down before they build them and their wardrobes up). There’s also a new show on TLC about a wedding dress shop, to which I utter the Valley Girl phrase “Gag me with a spoon.” There must be something missing in my gay genome, but how much of the bridezillas and their mothers can any sane person take? Instead of giving this unreality show and much more episodes of What Not To Wear any more ratings, I read a few a couple of books this weekend.1

Barbara Ehrenreich, Bait and Switch
I’ve been going over Nickel and Dimed with my students in two of my classes this sememster. Anyone familiar with the premise of Barbara Ehrenreich’s best selling work knows about her undercover, first hand look at low paying blue and pink collar labor. In Nickel and Dimed, she actually worked at the jobs she covers in the book and she also discusses her co-workers and her bosses. In Bait and Switch, Ehrenreich takes the same approach with white collar professionals looking for work. The prospects, as Ehrenreich finds through empirical research (the same kind employed in Nickel and Dimed), are grim for those who “did everything right.”

A job search in What Color Is Your Parachute is described as a “full time job,” and this is the job Ehrenreich takes on for a few months (along with a negative cashflow). She observes that the out of work are encouraged to think of their job search in this manner, and she also points out the absurdity of this mentality.

As Bait and Switch progresses, the author meets various people in her research. Ehrenreich skewers those who prey on the hapless jobseekers (career coaches/motivational speakers, resume editors, and ministries seeking to give hapless job seekers Jesus instead of better job leads). One of the more entertaining parts of the books is when she tries to turn the tables on a career guru. On the other hand, she is more sympathetic to the professionals having difficulty finding the jobs they’re qualified for, only to get caught up in self blame.2

That insightful documentary The Corporation characterizes the typical corporation as a psychopath. The way that they have routinely reduced redundancies over the years (cutting jobs to maintain profits) is one example of psychotic behavior. Bait and Switch also provides insights into the how irrational companies have become with the pop psychologies and philosophies they couple with their hiring practices.

Bait and Switch is a definite must read for our economically troubled times. Barbara Ehrenreich continues to follow up on labor issues on her blog. Since some of her recent posts have covered topics such as law temp agencies and adjunct teaching, I can only hope for such a book from her in the future.3

Mike Jones, I had To Say Something
My cue was not to say anything, unless I had to, and I never had to.
Mike Jones, pg. 88

Of course, we all know the story of how Ted Haggard, that great megachurch evangelist who was brought down by Mike Jones, a Denver based masseur and escort.4 Jones’ revelation seemed so quick and sudden when it hit the news, but the recently published I Had To Say Something shows it was anything but. The decision to reveal cost Jones in many ways, a highly emotional process chronicled in his very fresh memoir.

Mike Jones gives much insight into what is was like for him to be an escort. Without giving away much of what’s in the book, Jones gives us a compassionate look at clients such as Art, a conservative Mid-western religious type who comes to him out of desperation. We do know who Art turns out to be, but Jones effectively keeps the secret until it is time to reveal the surprise.

Jones also shows us his family life and how that shaped him growing up. He does it without resorting to blame (a religious right ex-gay writer, on the other hand, would blame being a homosexual and being anything else deviant on their families). If you want more, read about it in the book.

You’ll definitely laugh, cry, and feel righteous anger when reading I Had To Say Something. As for the question of Ted Haggard being “completely heterosexual”5, I think Mike Jones provides a very definitive answer for that.


Footnotes

  1. I did log in an hour to watch Property Ladder on Saturday, but watching house flippers make tragic mistakes never fails to entertain me.
  2. I already hate Dr. Phil and those of the “blame the victim” ilk, but Bait and Switch made me hate them even more.
  3. I should be careful of such suggestions. In making a suggestion to the editor of Harper’s that someone should investigate low wage working conditions, Barbara Ehrenreich wound taking on the article about Merry Maids.
  4. The news media called him a male prostitute. I agree with Mike Jones. It’s a dirty term and I’d rather not use it.
  5. Ted Haggard claimed to have discovered he was straight after three weeks of reparative therapy.

Bohemian Like You

I couldn’t resist the allusion to the Dandy Warhols in the title. I came across Jonathan Rauch’s “Caring for your Introvert” (Atlantic Monthly) through Brian’s entry on this article, so “Bohemian Like You” only seems appropriate.

Hi, I’m Shin and I’m an introvert. While I’m not aggressively antisocial, I find people best at small doses, whether they’re family, friends, lovers, or acquaintances.

It’s nice to know that introversion is an orientation, but this culture is run by extroverts who don’t understand people like me at all. People like me, however, have had plenty of time to observe them.

Given a choice between living with others or by myself, I will live alone. I am willing to pay a little more for this whenever possible. On the surface level with roommates, there’s a lot of bullshit I’d rather not deal with: messiness, personal tastes, sharing things, and bathrooms to name a few things. The bottom line, however, is that I can find other people intrusive in my home, especially if they are the type who thrive on company. I want to be left alone so I can read, write, watch my TV shows, or surf the net. Then, there are all the things I would rather do when no one is around, like have a footbath and give myself a pedicure.

I’m fond of daydreaming and conceiving characters, milieus, and stories in my mind. I’m happiest when I can get lost in my imagination and write or draw pictures. I wish I had more time to do this.

I find it interesting that Rauch says, “We tend to think before talking, whereas extroverts tend to think by talking, which is why their meetings never last less than six hours.” I typically think before saying something. I often feel like I’m editing my sentences in my head so I can coherently say something, and the delivery can be awkward at times. Though I have my moments of quick, witty remarks, I am often not good with the quick response. Answering people and participating in small talk are things that feel laborious to me. As an introvert, I have had the opportunity to observe extroverts, and they often talk about nothing most of the time. Often, when I’ve had conversations with people (especially an assertive extrovert), I find their responses lacking. In other words, I don’t think they’re listening, despite that they may be quicker and more confident in what they say. When someone listens, I’m truly impressed.

There’s nowhere where this becomes apparent more than parties. As much as I enjoy going to parties, participating in banter can be awkward. Some people “hold court” while people like me try to figure out how to get a word in edgewise. I guess I haven’t mastered the extrovert’s ability to detect the pause in conversation and quickly jump in.

Of course, parties are events where I don’t like to stay for long. Long enough to make an appearance, but short enough to limit my interactions with people. The issue is similar to what I encounter in teaching.

I often feel being an introvert is an occupational hazard. Teaching is an activity where I must interact with a group of people, and I find it tiresome. Even though I may spend one hour (minimum) per session with a group of students, I feel I need to unwind afterwards. Late afternoon and evening courses work the best for me, as I can go home and easily unwind in several different ways – TV, Internet, reading, music, or a nightcap. In my ideal schedule, I can easily take care of prep work and grading in the daytime, teach at night, and have my dose of solitude and unwinding after class. However, I often take classes I can get, so I teach some courses in the morning and the afternoon, which ruins me for the entire day.

Yes, teaching can make me feel like a whore. I could easily point to how I’d rather write or do art, but any job is whoredom in that case. Even though I am one of the nicest people in the world and am capable of friendliness, I really am not a people person. I am not fond of being emotionally or psychologically promiscuous. I prefer to interact with a few people than many. Given that, I don’t hate teaching. I enjoy it, especially when I have those teaching moments (those unexpected lessons that come up).

Overall, it is a matter of caring for my introvert. Part of it is managing my time so I can unwind from lessons and even to set aside time where I can sit down and prepare (and feel good about it). Another part is being able to say no to friends like Mr. Pushy, who thrives on dragging me along to adventures in crowded places. I’ll probably post more about being in introvert in the future, but thanks for tuning in.

Open Letter to an Ex-Boss

In publicly bringing closure to this whole bad job issue from last year, I post this open letter to the lovely woman who was my boss for six months.

—— ———
The Company
K&OM Ith Avenue
Ste. LMM
San Diego, CA 92JML

Dear Ms. ———,
Towards the end of my exit interview back in January, you expressed that you hoped I wouldn’t feel any bitterness towards the Company. I must say, though, that I have nothing but good feelings and joyful thoughts towards you and the Company that you represent. My experience with the Company has been one of the most positive in my working life.

First of all, I must commend you on your ability to spend the Company’s money. Some of your choices may be extravagant, but it’s definitely for the long term good. When we moved into our new office, state of the art appliances were installed. The refrigerator and the dishwasher did not match, so in your infinite wisdom, you had a perfectly good (and brand new) dishwasher yanked out and brought in another. You showed you can accessorize for the good of the shareholders and that you can prevail over the accountant, the ultimate corporate spoilsport.

I shall always remember your dazzling interpersonal skills. There are the times where you calmly instructed me on how I should do my job. You always had something very kind to say at the proverbial drop of a hat. I will always look back upon you as someone who treated me with a great deal of humanity. One of my most indelible encounters with you was an open door meeting when you exuberantly praised me in your office for a job well done so everyone can hear. Your smile was memorable as it demonstrated to me that the Company under your leadership was a happy and safe place to work. It also showed me your friendliness and how much you really liked me.

Thank you for the invaluable experience of working for the Company. I shall recommend it as a wonderful place with plenty of growth potential, especially under your guidance.

With very warm regards,

Shinichi Evans

Some Warning Signs You’re About To Be Terminated

This article is featured today in Helium‘s front page. I wrote about it a few months ago and forgot about it. Getting fired is never fun, even when it’s in a bad job situation, but it is fair game for material. It was approximately one year and a week ago when I was hired in that awful job with that awful boss, and I’ll have to see you next Tuesday if you want my opinion on her. It was my first and only time working in an office environment. I’m allergic to cubicles, among many things, as a result.

I have only been fired from one job in my life. It was my first time working in an office environment and I was not apparently a good fit. I went from teaching to running a mail room and a lot of mistakes were made. I tried to take it in stride as I was new to the job and the stress and the mistakes were a part of it. I went through a 90 day probation period and still had my job. However, my employer was not happy. There were a few signs, especially right towards the very end.

1. Delegation of responsibilities to others. Some of my responsibilities were taken away at an early stage and given to my boss’s administrative assistant. This occurred during the 90 day probation period, so I didn’t think much of it. However, this was definitely the first sign of doubt my employer had in me.

2. Someone screaming for termination. I had to make a rush order to the printer for an event. After the printing, it needed to be mailed out by a certain deadline by an outsourced mail house, which it wasn’t. The person in charge of the event was not happy with me at all and yelled at my boss to fire me. While they did not fire me at that moment, the incident certainly lingered in the mind of my boss and reinforced earlier doubts.

3. Management withholding resources. The company recently moved to another office, where new resources were needed. A security system for doors at the office’s entrance was installed, and a coded key to be scanned at the doors was required. The accountant, who was in charge of issuing the keys, refused to issue me one, saying “There are going to be some changes and some people are going to be fired.” While my name wasn’t mentioned and he even said “It’s not a reflection on you,” his roundabout phrasing indicated I was going to get fired.

4. Being isolated by others. The receptionist was one of the most popular people at the office. Whenever a co-worker was facing termination, the receptionist was instructed to keep her distance. I became good friends with her while working at the office, but a month before I was fired, I was instructed to keep my distance from her. A roundabout reason was given that didn’t seem to fit. However, I did feel very isolated from her and the people that now formed her clique.

5. Micromanagement. When I received an e-mail from my boss asking that I send her weekly reports, I knew I was in trouble. I was never required to keep a log detailing weekly activities before and the only logs I turned in before were those that recorded mailings. My boss’s request for a weekly report indicated I was being watched. At first, she said she needed it because she was out of the office a lot, but she bluntly told me some time later she did not know what I did with my time.

6. Unexplained changes in management’s behavior. At one point, I made a mistake in photocopying a document to be mailed out, resulting in a few thousand that could not be mailed out. My boss was furious and yelled at me without inviting me to close her office door when meeting with her. She was openly hostile. The next time I reported to work, she was extremely nice to me leading up to my firing two weeks later. Essentially, management had to cover their tracks and avoid a hostile firing.

7. Unofficial warning. A few of the other signs were in place when this occurred. However, this is one that hit me over the head. The accountant, a member of the management team, pulled me aside on day and issued me an unofficial warning that “some people” were not happy with me and wanted me fired. While he was not my direct supervisor, he essentially gave me an informal performance review, which was not good. I tried to improve my job performance; however, I knew I had to shop my resume out.

8. Changing of the locks. In my case, it was the locks on my cubicle file drawers and cabinets. I saw a new lock on my desk on termination day. While this should have been obvious, this went over my head until I was fired later in the day.

These warning signs are some of the things I observed before getting canned. You may experience some of these same things, or you may have a slightly different experience.

If you’re able to get another job lined up whenever the proverbial handwriting is on the wall, do it. Jumping ship before you get fired saves you from telling your new employer why you got fired. Unemployment takes a while to process, so the new job also saves you from this hassle. Work the resume. Use all the sites and resources you can within the time you have. Don’t just quit unless you have another job to go to.

Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty tells off management and wittily coerces them into giving him a nice severance package, but remember this is a fantasy scenario in a movie. If you are in a meeting about your firing, handle yourself in a civil manner and ask about what kind of reference they are going to give you. Severance may be in the discussion, though that is something you would want to take to an attorney.

Read the “handwriting,” so to speak. The time you’re getting clues about getting the axe is a good time to evaluate if this is the job you want. You may have taken the job, not because it’s your passion, but for the pay. Look into what you want to do and go after it. Getting fired has a way of making people examine their career choices; however, the examination should occur earlier.

It’s A Wrap!

The summer school session at the community college is over (for me, anways)! The course load was concentrated, but so are the paychecks. There were so many early mornings where the students and I were so not awake, but we made it.

Most of my students did well. I had those few students who wrote well at the freshman level and who intelligently chimed in to the class discussions. It was nice to see one student in particular get excited about the material covered in class.

However, I am concerned about a few, especially their future as college students. All one student did was go to sleep in the back of the classroom. I don’t think he ever participated in class or showed any embarrassment when I had to wake him up in an attempt to involve him in the class discussion. Interestingly enough, he was worried about his grade towards the end. I have yet to receive a term paper from another student, despite her promise to send it to me ASAP.

I have until next Thursday to turn in grades, most of which I already have done.

I learned a few lessons this summer, much of it reinforcement from previous lessons:

  1. Never get behind. Grade those papers the day I get them. In fact, I should grade them after class or when I get home from work that day. Also, be on point with the lessons and not play catch up on lesson plans.
  2. Don’t accept late work. I am not doing this to be a meanie, but it is a nightmare to backtrack, try to look at an assignment when the class and I have moved on to something else.
  3. Take care of myself. If I manage my time right, I get my work done, get some exercise, take care of what life asks of me, and get the rest I need in order to function for all of the above.
  4. Remember that it’s only a job. I should do it well (most excellently), but no job is worth taking over my life.

Next week, I go back to the language school for a couple of weeks. I am substituting for an instructor’s advanced level course and I got to meet the students this morning. They seem like a nice bunch of students, but the instructor told me it’s difficult to get them to do homework. Each group is different. They are mine next Monday.

I also got to see some familiar faces, such as Julius (Joo Seung AKA Ju Ju) and a few others. Perhaps once again, there’ll be a picture of me diagramming sentences.