A Luxury

Being bored is a luxury I do not have.

Not the boredom that is the enforced tedium from being exhausted by illness, or from waiting and waiting for indeterminate periods of time without diversions. But rather, the boredom that comes from choosing to be disinterested at work.

Sure, some jobs are seriously duller than others, such as data entry or assembly.  But retail is considerably more interesting than such rote perfectionism.

And yet, the other week one of my coworkers was complaining that he found the work at the garden center to be so BORING.  It wasn’t related to his chosen degree program or career.

Certainly, I don’t expect everyone else to be as entertained as I am by “facing” the plant stock, meaning filling more pots into the gaps shoppers have left in the flats.  I really like lining up four-packs or pots, or bringing forwards pots from the back of the benches up to the front so they are more accessible to the buyers.  The quick detail makes everything neat and tidy and complete.  Even shuffling pots from a nearly-empty flat (tray) to fill another is satisfying, because then we have that flat available for a shopper to use as they are selecting their plants.  (Not only does handing out flats free up people’s over-burdened hands, but there’s also a bit of sales psychology, where buyers are more likely to buy a few extra pots to complete the flat.)

And to be sure, there are a number of people who find “grooming” the plants (removing old flowers and dying leaves) to be just too utterly nit-picky and grubby a past-time.  But I enjoy this because I know that removing the dead material will help ensure that the plants keep blooming, will lesson the chance of disease and insect problems, and simply makes everything look better.  (A lot of novice gardeners will mistake the natural “senescence” or shedding of yellowing old leaves as a symptom of disease.)

And of course, most of the garden center cashiers are not horticulturalists; they are cashiers with some basic training in how to water and what the difference is between annuals and perennials.  But that’s what I’m there for, to provide the expertise in answering questions, and helping customers select plants for different sites.

So despite the varying levels of intrinsic reward in some of the activities, and the vast differences in personal expertise, all of the cashiers can still gain the same kinds of satisfaction in their work.  There’s still the basic premise of serving others, even if we’re just loading bags of mulch into someone’s car.

Because that’s what we’re there for.

So when my coworker complains of being bored, and spends most of his time hidden behind the cash register (checking something on his mobile phone) or wandering around aimlessly listening to his music or chatting with a girlfriend, well, I am mystified.  And a bit annoyed.

Because like, dude, “fun” is something you make, not something that happens to you.

If you’re bored, then get involved.  Help me come up with better ways of displaying the new stock that is more aesthetically appealling and more accessible, like the other evening cashier does.  Go out and actively assist the customers, like the other cashiers do.

If the custom is slow during that lull before people get off work, then make a point to do some of the things that are on the To Do list.  That’s why I’m not bored — I not only do when I have been asked to do as an employee, but I also look for other things to do.

If I’m knee-deep in cleaning the spent blossoms from the hanging baskets and watering the stock, then don’t hide out behind the register.  I shouldn’t have to mention, “Hey, that lady over there has her hands full — go get her a shopping cart.” [buggy, trolley]

It’s awkward when your coworker is slacking off, but you’re not a supervisor.  I’ve tried stating, “X, Y and Z need doing,” but that cue was apparently too subtle.  I’ve tried offering, “I’ll do W and X if you don’t mind doing Y and Z,” but that produced nothing more than a half-hearted attempt at Y and Z disappeared somewhere along the way.

There’s no reason to be bored at a job like this.  There are too many different things to do, whether it’s tending the plant stock or chit-chatting with the customers while you ring up their purchases.

And you know what?  Working in a half-assed way and complaining of being “bored” does not help ensure employability, especially in these economic times.

I’m not working two jobs just for the fun of it; I work because I need the income.  But despite that, despite that some days I’m cold and wet and stiff and sore due to the exertion and the weather and my health issues, despite that, I still find ways of enjoying my work.

I can’t afford to be bored.


The other night we were holding vigil in the ER (A&E) waiting rooms while a family member was being treated.  Having spent plenty of hours in the waiting places of life, I had brought with me my latest amusement, a sorting box containing a bunch of old necklaces that I was dismantling for salvageable parts.  Aside from the whole reason for being in the waiting room, it was a pleasant experience, and I sat there rocking slightly, filled with the delight of organising bits into rainbow order.

I parked myself in an empty waiting area down the hall from the seats by the ER entrance, free of drafts from the automatic doors, the distractions of anxious people bursting in, and germ-laden sneezes.  I sat there snipping strings, slipping off beads where they rattled into a tray, sorting them, scooping the pieces into small containers, and carefully snapping lids shut.

So I was sitting there at a table where I could keep an eye on the hallway, when a guy shuffled into my airspace.  The first thing I noticed about him was that he reeked of old cigarette smoke and looked disheveled, which I discounted slightly as no one spiffs up for ER visits.  As he began talking to me, I noticed that his speech and comprehension were a bit off, and quickly realised this wasn’t likely a manifestation of an intrinsic impairment — the grungy bloke was drunk.

Oh, joys ( /sarcasm).  I don’t like chit-chat*, and here I was being engaged by a garrulous drunkard.  We then had the most incredible conversation, which he began by asking me,

“Are you counting pills for the pharmacy?”

(Yeah, this was my first clue that the guy was drunk.) Read the rest of this entry »

A sucker for patterns

Grab mental stick and–

A white picket fence with some daylilies growing near the end

A white picket fence with some daylilies growing near the end

Forms Most Beautiful

It’s A System For Tubes

Fun with lining things up

Amidst all the shopping and cooking and driving out to fetch people and trips to the market and other sundry holiday activities, there are a few quiet spots in my holidays. I recently made a Clove-Orange, a sweet-smelling object sometimes used to scent closets or wardrobes. The fruit eventually dries out, leaving the cloves stuck in a leathery-hard sphere. If kept someplace dry, it will remain in this fragrant condition for months on end.

It’s a simple task to stick whole spice cloves into an orange (or in this case, a Clementine) if first one uses a thin tool to pierce the skin of the fruit. I usually use a pointy Japanese chopstick (hashi, pictured) but one could also use a darning needle. The purpose is to just pierce the skin, not impale the fruit, to more easily plug in the cloves without them crumbling. Naturally, I like to line up my cloves, but they may be placed in any pattern. The finished orange can be tied up with a ribbon to be hung up, if desired.

I find the activity to be very calming, and a lovely sensory experience. I’ve done it as a horticulture-therapy activity with students as well. It’s one of the few crafts that doesn’t worsen for having been forgotten in a locker for a few days. They do not, however, survive being dumped in backpacks with textbooks, so plan ahead by having some small cartons for transporting them home.

All In A Row

One of the “soft signs” for identifying autistics is the predilection for lining things up. Like anything else, this isn’t an exclusive activity, but rather something that is done in more pronounced frequency than the average population. Meaning, it’s not that neurotypical people don’t line things up, but rather, don’t do so with such intensity or such relish. What’s the big deal (the fascination) with lining things up, anyway? Why line things up?

There are a variety of inter-related reasons. For one, it makes it easier to find things without the “mental speedbumps” so I don’t get distracted and forget what I was doing in an ADHD moment. When pulling out four spice jars from the fifty others lined up on the pantry door racks I don’t even have to read the labels, just because the alphabetisation helps maintain the intrinsic order: cardamom is between caraway seed and cayenne pepper. This is good because quite a few of my (recycled) jars don’t even have labels.

Lining things up gives the hands something to do that isn’t mentally demanding, so the brain is free to relax and think about other stuff (some people describe knitting as being like that). This is like walking a labyrinth or meditating in its focused, relaxing qualities. Think of it as meditation for the ADHD person who can’t sit still!

Lining things up is not unlike ironing out wrinkles; the symmetry gets rid of the unevenness in the universe and gives one a happy, settled feeling. Objects seem relaxed and more likely to stay where they belong when they are comfortable – they won’t unfathomably “disappear” from where they were last left! All is right in the world because they are where they are supposed to be, like when jigsaw pieces are fitted together. There’s a happy “zip” feeling from running the fingers along the picket-fence effect of objects in a perfect row. Lining things up makes the world less of a jumble – there’s a visual appeal to the evenness.

It can also be fun to manipulate the patterns and constantly be creating new ones, this being a process-oriented task rather than a results-oriented task because it’s the doing that is pleasing, rather than the finished product.

When I had more room (in another house), I lined up cans and boxes in the pantry, creating neat files of canned fruits and different tomato sauces that made preparing grocery lists easier. I got particular satisfaction pegging diapers on the clothes line in neat arrays, and also hanging up the clothes to dry with all the shirts in rainbow order. I’m constantly fixing the alignment of the houses on the Monopoly board, or facing and centering the chess pieces. If I pause in front of a library bookshelf for more than a minute, I leave behind me a section of books lined up along the shelf edge. (No, it’s not quite at the level of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; I don’t do it to ward off Bad Things from happening, and it doesn’t create problems for me.) I keep my hangers sorted by style; crayons in rainbow order; reference books on shelves by category and novels by author; music CDs neatly lined up alphabetic within genre; positively relished organising my collections of stamps sorted by country, rocks by type, and insects by family; and tidy my wrapped tea bags or seed packets in neat horizontal stacks. I have been doing these things all my life, and in my mid-forties am not likely to change — there’s really no need to!

So, why not? What’s the big deal (the problem) with lining things up, anyway?