Thieves!

Grocery stockers are well-familiar with the sight:  random empty boxes that are the hidden leftovers to stolen goods.  Cold medicine.  Hair coloring.  Condoms.  Diapers. Candy.

A couple days ago I found a different wrapper stuffed behind the tidy stacks of soap bars, a small cylinder of fish food, with the plastic lid missing and the foil seal compromised.  About a teaspoon of flakes were gone.

I showed it off to my coworker, Becky.  “Don’t you just hate it when those damn goldfish come into the store and steal things?!”

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The Catch

I’ve been having intermittent bouts of vertigo (some severe), along with worsening tinnitus and resulting difficulty understanding what people are saying. My GP said I got poor results on the tympanogram, and is sending me to an ENT, whom I see next week.  I’m no longer driving on the highway, and take extra care if I’m carrying my grandson.

Meanwhile, someone at school told the principal that I was “doing the wall thing”, meaning touching the wall to steady myself as I passed down a hallway.  This resulted in being called up for a Official Meeting.  By the time I left, I was feeling queasy and light-headed for entirely different reasons:

  • Being a couple hours late to phone in my absences due to migraine and due to a Emergency Room visit for vertigo, had previously earned me a stern warning for procedural lapses.
  • Going to or staying at work if feeling dizzy is prohibited because an educator with vertigo is a liability.
  • Leaving work 30 minutes early for a doctor’s appointment must be taken as sick time.
  • No “flex time” is allowed for appointments (i.e. leaving a bit early and making up that time by staying later another day).
  • Thirty minutes, half a day or a whole day all count equally as an incident of using a sick day.
  • Taking 19 sick-day events by October due to viruses, migraines, vertigo or doctor appointments is excessive, and any further such absences can result in termination of employment.
  • Which specific number is unmentioned, but up to the Powers That Be in the Human Resources department.
  • Any employee who is feverish with a virus must stay home.

Alas, this is all legal, and there seems to be a large limbo of being disabled by irregularly re-occuring conditions without actually being Disabled enough for some kind of accommodation.

Even if I somehow negotiated with H.R., the interpersonal climate with the school admin is too prickly to stay.  This is a shame, because I have a great relationship with my classroom staff/faculty.

I’m looking for a different job, hopefully something full-time that also pays well enough so I can have just ONE job in my life.  But everything I’ve seen pays fast-food wages, or else is so technically specific that my skills profile is a mis-match.

The free-floating anxiety is just HELL.

Role-Playing

I’ve role-played in various capacities over the years, from the “acting-out student” in a staff safety seminar, to the novice thief in a D&D game.  But the other week I was asked to try out a far different rôle:

“If you were Melba Toast, where would you be hiding?”

Melba Toast … gee, were I a small box of cardboardy toast slivers, where would I be hiding?  Hmn …

Such queries fill chunks of my life now, as I am working two and three jobs for 65-70 hours a week, which should explain the general lack of bloggery.  It’s not a lack of interest, nor a lack of subjects worthy of blathering about.  (The sad part is that I still have plants sitting around in pots that I bought back in June. That, and another goal is to finish my grandson’s quilt before winter sets in; he’s nearly three months old already!)

These oddball encounters always hit me out of the blue, when I’m otherwise preoccupied with squinting at the shelf tag UPCs to figure out which peg the -48699 fancy chandelier light bulbs should hang upon, or am trying to line up a stack of shiny toothpaste boxes without knocking over its companion rows.  (Why do we have to stack all those wobbly boxes three tiers high?  Because the boss like them that way, that’s why.  But hell if I’m going to try stacking up some of those styles of maxipads, because even single packs don’t want to stand upright.)

Melba Toast … The problem of course, is that every store has a set of random products that are difficult for customers to find.  So there we are, grocery stocker blinking and trying to remember to smile and make eye contact and parse the unexpected conversation from the background noise, and customer trying to find the right person for help.

“Do you work here?”

[No,] says the tired-and-cranky part of my brain, [I just like standing around the local market wearing a dress shirt with the corporate logo, knee pads, compression gloves for my arthritis & Raynaud’s, and a box knife holstered to my waistband.  I sure as hell better work here, because I’m getting so nearly OCD about “facing” groceries that I’m starting to pull forward and straighten out merchandise even when I’m just shopping for my own groceries.]  Working two shifts a day doesn’t make me as cranky as going two weeks at a stretch without a full day off.  Damnit, I want a life.

Savvy customers ask me, “Do you work for the store?” because they’ve learned that the burly guy stocking cola works for the cola-distribution company, or the little old lady giving out food samples works for a food conglomerate or a temp agency, and neither of these people knows where our market stocks the sun-dried tomatoes, oat bran, or tiki-torch oil. Actually, we don’t stock tiki-torch oil, which is why that customer couldn’t find it.  You’re shocked, I’m sure.  Or maybe not; we get all kinds of crazy-ass seasonal shit to sell.  Maybe we did have tiki-torch oil once-upon-a-time.  By my 13th work-hour of the day, tiki-torch oil sounds perfectly reasonable, and I can just about hallucinate bottles of sunset-gold tiki-torch oil by the tins of cigarette-lighter butane or the blister packs of Tropical Paradise air freshener candles.  Blarrrg.

Sometimes the senseless placements are simply accidents of history, like the display of snack cakes that migrated inward from and aisle “end cap” and are now juxtaposed to the tinned soups for no particular reason other than some space existed there once, and no one’s since bothered to move them over to the sweets aisle.

Sometimes the senseless placements are just that, like the forlorn bags of barley that are slumped against the soup powders, instead of with the rest of the dry grains and beans. (Well yeah, people put barley in soup, but people put damn near everything else in soups, too; so what?)

Customers are usually so apologetic when they can’t find something;  they don’t want to “be a bother”. 

“Oh, now I’m messing up your nice display,” frets the gentleman as he fumbles to remove two packs of liquorices.

“No, no, that’s okay!  If you don’t buy it, then I can’t re-stock it, and what would I do for a job?  You’re keeping the economy running!”  Seriously.

They worry that I’m going to think less of them because they can’t find something that’s staring right back at both of us, which is also silly, because sometimes we’re both staring at the shelf, leaving me mumbling,

“I know I saw it right around here the other day, unless it got moved the day I was off …” 

“Oh, here it is!” exclaims the customer, who actually has a “search image” for a product, unlike this store employee who neither stocks the item nor buys it.

“Ayup, I remembered seeing it around here … is there anything else for which you are looking?”

Of course, there’s the person stalking up and down an aisle because they too have that feeling of it’s-right-in-front-of-me, and they finally break down to ask me as I’m passing by with a trolley artfully crammed full of cartons of chocolate bars and thirteen flavors and sizes of toothpaste, or a handtruck heaped high with bags of charcoal. (Nothing says, “Working Hard” like having coal schmutz on your cheek.)

“Um, have you seen the — Oh!  Here it is.  Sorry,”

“No worries — we do that at home all the time:  ‘Hey Mom, where’s-the-nevermind’.”

My canned joke, with its carefully-honed wee bit of wry camaraderie, usually prompts a reciprocating expression of familiarity.  Small talk is hard for me, so after I’ve had the same type of experience a few times, I make myself up some scripts to add to my standard lists of “Grocery Stocker Small Talk” or “Grocery Cashier Small Talk”.

But of course, there’s the inevitable ad-libbing.

“Melba Toast … you know, I don’t think I’ve ever role-played bread before,” I replied.  Fortunately, my off-beat attempt at levity worked, which bought me some time as I stood there, staring up into space to access my mental store map.  “Well, let’s go check Aisle 5,”

We get there, cruising past the peanut butter and jelly selections, in our grocery manager’s dual homage to cheap sandwiches and suggestive product placement.  “I already looked in the bread aisle,” volunteers the customer, but we’re both familiar with scenario of missing something right in front of us, so we give it a look-through just to be sure.

“Okay, another likely place would be in the cracker aisle,” I offer, as we pass the end-cap display for the other brand of snack cakes (located in another part of the store, naturally) and make a U-turn to cruise fruitlessly past the chips and crackers.  Before my customer gets too dispirited (or embarrassed),  I offer an explanation, “The problem is, there are some things for which there are several perfectly logical places to keep them … and every store has its quirks.  Well, if it’s not down here, we’ll look in the Import Foods section by the Dutch rusks,”

“I already checked there,” says the unusually diligent shopper.

“Wow, most people usually miss — ah-HA!  Here they are, next to cereal and the toaster pastries.”  Hooray, this mystery is solved, and I can go back to fighting with the Halloween bags of Twizzlers candies, which are refusing to stack neatly and have taken to suddenly slumping off the shelf and slithering onto the floor as I get halfway down the aisle.  It would take no less than five episodes of this before I finally got the heaps stabilised.  Such repeated incidents of fruit-carting would be funny later, but there are only so many ways you can stack and re-stack and re-stack and re-stack and re-stack bags of individually-wrapped cherry-flavored twists before getting utterly twisted, too.

12 Days

Man, but July just oozed by in a protracted mental fog.  One of the huge blocks to regular bloggery was the incredible 12-Day Headache.  It got slightly better at times, and it got worse at times, but the “Ten Kilos of Lead Atop Me Head” pain just would NOT go away!

It made working the three jobs worse, despite my adamant determination to not miss more than a day’s work from the para or grocery jobs.  I couldn’t even consider missing a day from the professor job, because summer semester runs at twice the speed, and we had no wiggle-room in our schedule for covering everything that needed to be covered.

As before, putting thoughts together was like stringing beads while wearing heavy ski mittens.  But this time I didn’t have a handy excuse, other than, “I’ve had a headache for over a week now,”  Being in pain means not sleeping well, and increases stress, and all three of these factors combine into a viscous circle.

  • I tried acetominophen (paracetamol), in addition to my daily naproxen sodium that I take for arthralgia.
  • I tried soaking in a hot bath in a dim room.
  • I stood under a strong shower and let it beat upon my head.
  • I laid down with cold compresses.
  • I took two-hour afternoon naps because I could not keep my eyes open.
  • I took a vigourous 1-mile walk and gardened, and avoided afternoon naps in hopes of getting better sleep.
  • I had a hot toddy at bedtime.
  • I ate cold ice cream to the point of “brain-freeze”.
  • I massaged my head.
  • I vigorously brushed my hair.
  • I took Imitrex, my migraine medication.
  • I did Tai Chi Chih-like stretches.
  • I layed with my feet higher than my head.
  • I massaged my feet.

I thought to myself, “This can’t keep going on!  I can’t live like this.”  But of course it can, and people do.

Initially, I kept saying, “I’ll do that tomorrow when I feel better.”  But the mañana list kept getting longer and longer.  After a week, I finally came to the grips that for whatever reason, I was going to have to deal with The Damn Leaden Burden of Pain as a chronic issue, whether long-term or short-term. It forced me to pare down my Daily To Do lists to the merest essentials:

  1. This morning I will shower and shampoo.
  2. After a nap, I must write at last 75% of an exam.
  3. I will eat something nutritious for dinner before working tonight.
  4. I will set out a complete change of clothes before I go to bed.

What hellish demands upon my time and energy!  That was of course, a day when I wasn’t teaching a class, just doing the morning para job and a few hours of stocking groceries after tea.

Oh crap, I forgot one:

5.  I will refill my daily pill minder.

You know you’re exhausted when dosing out a few bedtime pills is too much of a bother.

Finally I gave up and went to my GP.  “I’m exhausted.  I’m even falling asleep at work, and at dinner, even though I’m sleeping seven to ten hours a night, with two hours naps during the day.  My joints and muscles ache.  I keep getting bruises, and cuts heal slowly, and my gums bleed when I brush my teeth.  My hands and feet are cold.  I’m sensitive to light, my ears ring most of the time, and I’m having dizzy spots.  I get disoriented, and have the worst mental fogginess, despite taking my ADHD meds. I have dry mouth, and am thirsty all the time and drinking two or more liters of water a day.  AND I’VE HAD THIS HORRIBLE HEADACHE FOR TWELVE DAYS.”

I mentioned a family history of diabetes.  The doc sent me down to the lab for blood draws, also checking my thyroid and some other factors.  Additionally, he gave me a heavy-duty pain reliever that I took when I went to bed.  The next day was much better, although I could still feel headache lurking around the edges, so I took another pill the next night.

The Damn Leaden Burden of Pain finally went away.  My blood tests all came back normal, thankfully.  I don’t know what caused such an intractible headache, but I sure hope it doesn’t return.  Or if it does, I’ll smack it down a lot quicker with the pain med.  The pain-exhausted-stress cycle gets so hard to break.

Where P = 0

Where P is the momentum, and P = mvv = velocity, naturally.  But the m = inertial mass.  As in, if something doesn’t act upon and force the m, then there is no v and no P, and certainly no W of work!

I’ve not been blogging much lately due to the Jobs, but even after the education-related Job #1 and Job #2 finished a couple weeks ago, I’m still finding it hard to get back into the blogging groove.  I’m still working Job #3, which is only part-time, but grocery stocking is giving me the most inconsistent hours and days, ever. It’s getting to the point where I’m having trouble remembering what day of the week it is.

The Geekling has yet to sleep through the night; I’m not feeding him at nights, but apparently Grandma Ears are the same as Mom Ears, and hunger cries in another part of the house will still awaken me.

Furthermore, my watch battery died, so I can’t even tell when I am, aside from night and day.

But most of all, I have a bad case of Inertia.  I have a bazillion things to do, but struggle to complete the most time-sensitive ones.  I am working on some posts, but stringing thoughts together is like watching syrup ooze down the bottle.

What do you do to get over Inertia?

But what’s it good for?

A recent article in the New York Times briefly discusses the utility of cats, and asserts that their lack of usefulness is attributed to the theory that in contrast to other domesticated animals, the cats have domesticated humans, and generally do not let the humans determine their breeding.

Compared to sheepdogs, cats are generally less useful.  But most people don’t acquire cats for their utility.  We acquire them for their independent nature, for their companionship, for their snuggliness (even for their ease of litter-training).

Of course, there are some cats that are more useful than others — Thunder is my “Alarm-Cat”, an almost-service animal who will diligently nose-bump me as many times as is necessary to get me up on time for work.  She’ll even give me a wake-up call when I take a nap.  The hard part of course, is convincing her about Daylight Savings Time.

Aside from that, Thunder’s “utility” is limited to lap-warming.  Like our other cats, she sheds, sometimes shreds, complains about household arrangements, and consumes kibble.

I own an alarm clock.  It’s great for telling time.  But I prefer my alarm-cat, whose persistence is much more pleasurable that a mechanical blaaaat.

Do you have a cat for a service animal?

Cartfuls of Spoons

They’re out.  Or, Out.  We have the exquisite “Privilege of Being Clouted By Cabbage” and are navigating the hazards of the supermarket.  When things are done the way they’re supposed to be, going to pick up a few groceries is just as boring, or as Dave discovered, lonely, for disabled people as much as it is for everyone else.  But sometimes it isn’t, such as when Wheelchair Dancer finds herself navigating the hazards of anonymous donors that leave awkward brochures under her windshield wiper, and then dealing with the even more awkward social fallout with the clerk who’s assisting her.

People with a variety of disabilities come to the store to get groceries, movies, dry cleaning, take-out food, postage stamps, floral arrangements, and because it’s this time of year, garden plants, which is why I am working there.  I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am bemused to report that I realised that people with physical ailments are shopping at the store alla time!  After all, that is why we have some of those electric carts, in addition to automatic doors, ramped paving, lower check-writing stands, supposedly-accessible bathrooms*, et cetera.

Most of the time I just interact with the public as a “normal” garden center employee, but sometimes we are also interacting with that subtle overlay of disability, which entertains the social scientist part of my brain.

Being the token horticulturalist, I answer questions, help customers plan flower beds and suggest suitable plants for locations.  In addition to working the register, watering, deadheading and “facing” the stock (moving pots towards the fronts of the benches to fill in holes left by customers), I work with the others to come up with æsthetically-pleasing displays of the plants.  (Although there is no way of hiding the fact that the corporate HQ plagued us with a plethora of Pelargonium, a visual red tide of geraniums.)

I’ve seen plenty of plant displays at a variety of other stores, and have found their long lines of benches to be annoying.  It’s not just that endless tracts of pink & purple Petunias, orange & yellow Marigolds, and red Geraniums are mind-numbingly dull to the point of dampening any sort of inspiration for coming up with container or bedding combinations.  It’s that the long lines of “benches” block traffic flow.  You feel like you’re trudging up and down the maze of a ticket queue, unable to grab some pots of more-interesting Corkscrew Rush or Calibrachoa tha are hidden over there two aisles over.  It’s hard to break out of the march to exit stage left to the register (till), or even quit to go over to the entrance into the store.  The long lines of benches are especially boring for children, who have little more than a view of the edges of the benches and the pots, with little respite in sight.  (I’ve taken to offering children cups of the cold water from our water cooler barrel, as hot, thirsty children are cranky children.)

Worst, when at these other stores run out of available bench space, a lot of the pallets of potted plants just end up dropped by the pallet jack where-ever there’s room on the ground.  This means that the aisles are not really planned, so sometimes there are narrow dead-ends, or aisles blocked by broken bags of mulch, or the plants are simply hard to reach because they are way down on the ground or are way deep in the center of the pallet.  They are not accessible.

For a few days, we too of a dozen pallets lined up at the edge of our lot, albeit with sufficient aisle space.  It really “made my brain hurt”, because the plants had been shipped all higgedy-piggedy, with shrubs, grasses, annuals and perennials all mixed together.  There were Daylilies in four different places around our lot!  The flats of shade-loving Wax Begonias and Impatiens and sun-loving Verbena and Vinca were all jumbled by species and color!  (And OMG, still more Geraniums.  And Creeping Phlox, which only looks nice when it’s blooming, and now we have enough to landscape a highway interchange.)

But thankfully, I’m not the only one who has a strong interest in making the endless flats of plants look more interesting, and be more accessible. We’ve been stacking pallets or propping them up on cinderblocks to put the plants into easier view and reach.  (Plus, they’re also easier for us to clean and water — ergonomics, w00t!)  We’ve been making sure that the aisles are frequently broken up into side-paths, and we try to keep the aisles 3-4 feet wide so carts, strollers and wheelchairs can get through.  It seems to be working well; every day we get compliments about how good the plants look.

But what makes this place pleasant to work for is the concern for helping our customers.  Sure, it’s store policy to be helpful (doesn’t every business flog that slogan?), but we are glad to break from running the register or watering to carry things out to the car, or load up bags of mulch and rock, or show you where the Verbena is, or explain the differences between the four varieties of white Petunias.  When someone has their hands full, we grab some empty flats, and pull carts (buggies, trolleys) over to make things easier.

It’s this “serve everyone” approach that makes helping people with various disabilities so much easier.  One of the other clerks knows American Sign Language, so Deaf customers are sure to look for her (my ASL is rather limited).  When the gentleman in the power chair thanked a coworker for carrying stuff out to his van, I was tickled to overhear him say, “No problem!  We do that for everyone.”  Because we do.

Sometimes the “disabled community” moments are colored in large brush strokes.  An older man in a wheelchair came by in search of some herb seeds, accompanied by two women who were of the “care-taker” rather than “personal assistant” mentality.  Although neither said anything obviously untoward, there was still a patronizing aura, that his desire to go shopping was being honored but that they were still “humoring” him.  It made me uncomfortable, and I kept trying to scan the interactions in the triad to figure out what was going on.

But the women were intent on asking me questions of their own, even as they were simultaneously going through the motions of helping him.  “Here’s someone who can help you.  He’s looking for some seeds.  Tell her what you’re looking for.  Do you have any seeds?  Do you remember what it was he wanted?  Ooh, don’t you just love those pink flowers?  Isn’t that what you got on your desk?”

“Well I dunno, but it’s not flowering any more.  Was you looking for parsley?  He was wanting to grow some stuff from seed.  You sure gots a lot of plants out here.”

Trying to track all this verbiage flying by was making me dizzy, and I just wanted to focus on finding out what the man came to get.  The customer himself was having some expressive difficulties. (Who wouldn’t have, being around those two all day!)  I knelt down on a knee so I could speak with him face to face.  I had to.  I had to disengage myself from the chatty care-takers who were now trying to ask me random questions unrelated to the needs of my primary customer.  I had to be able to focus on what he was asking for, which meant watching him speak.  And I had to honor him personally as the customer, not as some second-class accessory.

My knees cracked noisily, and I knelt down on one knee, and we conversed, just the garden center clerk and the customer who wanted parsley seeds, and who considered and then decided against the Doubled-Curled or Flat Italian Parsley seedlings.

After that moment, I stood back up and we were sucked back into the vortex of the chatty care-givers, who asked me some confused questions about houseplants, and then led/followed him over to the main store entrance.  I hoped he would be getting the things that he wanted this evening.

Sometimes the community moments come by quietly.  I was checking out a couple flats of annuals and several perennials for a woman, cleaning off some old leaves and blossoms and chatting as the register processed her credit card in its own slow time.

“This is going to take me several days to get it all planted,” she offered.

“Well, that’s always a good thing to do anyway,” I offered, affirming her wisdom.  “It’s those marathon gardening sessions that break our backs.”  The register finally finished hiccoughing through the electronic transmission and spat out her receipt.  I picked up her potted rose bush, rested it on a hip, and then deftly tipped up the flat of annuals to balance them on my other hand.  (It only sounds tricky; in reality the flats are just boxy grates, and I can curl my fingers into them.)  “Here, I’ll carry these out for you,” I said, leaving her to handle her purse and a couple quart pots of perennials, then added,  “I can’t garden for ten hours solid since I got arthritis.”

“Thanks.  I have RA and can only do so much at a time.”

“Ah, yeah,” I commiserated.  “You have to make dinners ahead, because the next day you’re too exhausted from gardening.”  She nodded, already tired from just the idea of the ordeal ahead.  “It’s fun, but you just run out of ‘spoons’!”   And then I loaded things into her car and we swapped the mutual thanks.  My attention turned to the gardening work of my own, left uncompleted or never even started.  Oh, and errands.  Here I was at the market nearly every day, but I kept forgetting to get my arthritis medicationn refilled!

“Hey Andrea,”  piped up one of my coworkers, “it’s nearly time for you to go on break.”  This clerk is a good guy; he’ll remind me when something is coming up, he’ll remind me when it’s time to start, and even after I’ve forgotten it.  He asks me if I remembered to clock in, and reminds me (several times) to copy down the next week’s schedule before leaving.  It sure is wonderful to have garden center clerks who are so helpful, especially when you when you’re having seriously distracted & forgetful AD/HD days!

* I’ve never navigated the women’s restroom in a wheelchair, but there are still the stupid doors to wrangle …

“All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Sergeant Joe Friday of the old American cop show, Dragnet, was famous for asking witnesses — in characteristic deadpan delivery, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Sounds good to me.  Not just facts (albeit they’re tremendously useful, especially when you have them in variety), but also the focus upon transmitting information, without a lot of accessory fluff.

“I don’t know how to put this,” my ex-husband would hedge.  He was always loathe to break negative news, and would put off doing so for long stretches of time before tiptoeing around the subject and throwing up paragraphs of waffling pseudonyms.

“Then just say it.  Spit it out already!”

Bluntness when it’s simply being straight-forward is not a social crime in my world.

Furthermore, I don’t go inventing insults where none are intended. Unless you are calling me (as some of my students with behavior disorders do) a “fucking bitch” or something equally blatant, I’m not going to assume that speaking plainly is meant to be an affront.

I will confess that (even into my late 40’s) I am still sorting out the reasons why people say the things they do:

  • There’s the “social noise” that is meant as non-confrontational space-time filler, to promote social ease in a sort of verbal grooming behavior or stress-displacement behavior.
  • There’s the exchange of opinions and veiled insults meant to establish or maintain odd social status arrangements. (I understand what those are, but I really don’t understand why they exist, aside from the practical necessities of organisational status for allocating responsibilities.)
  • There are the jokes, compliments, and stories meant to promote inclusion and establish group identity by creating a culture of common experiences, affirmation of values, and recognition of effort.
  • There’s the philosophical or creative exchange of ideas, including word play, humor, and problem solving.

Then there are the murkier forms of communication that I have trouble fathoming, even when I can (after a few minutes or days’ consideration), identify what is going on.  These include the more oblique types of flirting, the affective persuasion of political campaigning (including the sort that happens at work and other organisations), and other mysterious interchanges that involve even less emphasis on word choice, and more upon paraverbal and nonverbal delivery.  (“Paraverbal” is how the words are said, the inflections; “nonverbal” is the accompanying body language.)  I’m actually not sure what these are, but sometimes I can sense that something more is going on, and I’m not sure just what it is that I am missing.

At school, I spend all day surrounded by people who are constantly negotiating with each other to get what they want or feel they need at the moment (what in Functional Behavioral Analysis is described in the dichotomy of providing a means to Get/Obtain or Protest/Escape/Avoid).  A lot of the interpersonal transactions are fairly simple to understand, as most of the students lack subtlety.  At the garden center, the focus of my interactions revolve around the transmission of factual information, and the curious scripts of commerce that combine both “cheerful servant” and “autocratic cashier”.  The latter set is usually easier, and I’m even beginning to pick up on the “Thank you,” that really means, “I don’t need any more information now”.

But after interacting with people for twelve hours a day, I find that my brain turns to mush from the burdens of doing my physical jobs with focusing lots of working memory on perceiving, analysing, and replying to all the heavily-coded and loaded talktalktalk.

Sometimes I miss the simplicity of working in a lab, where one could spend their day simply transmitting facts.

Of course, I later found that even that was a misperception.  There was all the office politics going on just at the edge of my radar, and there was the inevitable problem of others assigning meanings to my para/nonverbals that I was not really intending to transmit, and there was the third problem of others being annoyed or dissappointed because I had not picked up on their para/nonverbals and thus missed a large chunk of what they “really meant”.

Life would be so much simpler if people would just mean what they say, and say what they mean!

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.

Gone Bananas

A few weeks ago …

“4011 !” I exclaimed to my daughter.

She looked up from her Mac where she was composing her latest essay. “What?” she asked in confusion.

“They started me on cashiering today at the grocery.  4011 !”

And then we both broke out laughing.

“4011” of course being the PLU (Price Look Up) code for bananas.

shipping cartons full of bananas

shipping cartons full of bananas

When she started as a grocery cashier the other year, my daughter had commented in amazement at how many people came through with bananas.  So many in fact, that she too had learned that number the first night, just from sheer force of repetition.

I would have thought that apples would be the most-commonly purchased fruit.  But no, endless bunches of bananas came through.

Not only bunches of bananas, but also bunches of people with similar behavioral patterns, which I found to be rather interesting:

  • People with a large bunch of greenish bananas.  (I wondered if they were feeding a lot of people, or simply don’t care about the stage of ripeness when eating them.)
  • Customers trying to balance their fruit bowl with a couple each of greenish and yellow bananas.
  • Parents herding several small children, with bunches of bananas that had the requisite number of stickers for each child to have one. These were difficult checking assignments — not because of the parents, but because as a cashier I was also trying to keep track of the assorted tots with regards to alerting their adult to their safety, or asking their adult if the candy or toy items coming down the conveyor belt were approved purchases.
  • People with bunches of the organically-grown bananas (PLU 94011; all the organic produce starts with a 9).
  • Tired working folks picking up a sandwich from the deli, a banana, and an energy drink for their meal.
  • Frazzled parents rushing through with bananas, applesauce and bread. ( = “BRAT diet”: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, a menu for dealing with diarrhea via dietary intervention.)
  • Frequent shoppers with just a few yellow bananas — I heard a lot of apologetic explanations about not being able to plan ahead for weekly menus and shopping lists, and wondered why some people felt the need to explain their purchase choices, unbidden.
  • A few elderly shoppers who explained that they couldn’t carry many grocery bags, or used frequent shopping as a means of getting out of the house.  After a while, I realised that such explanations were probably a curious form of chit-chat.

Although I began to develop my own “scripts” for appropriate cashier dialogs, I found that cashiering is a more challenging position than I had anticipated.  This is because there are a number of different kinds of simultaneous cognitive demands, involving spatial handling, operational sequencing, data entry, calculations, communicating in a noisy environment despite my auditory processing issues, struggling to identify numerous coworkers despite faceblindness, and socialising with the appropriate amount of eye contact and proscribed chit-chat.

Cashiering doesn’t just mean scanning groceries and making change.  I am not only trying to scan accurately and quickly, but also:

  • performing subtle security checks to make sure that no one is walking off with unchecked goods on the bottoms of their carts or pocketing the candy and other small goods near the register racks;
  • sorting the goods as I move it down towards the bagger courtesy clerk in whatever organisational method that person prefers;
  • querying the customer about coupons and whether they wanted the gallon milks bagged and if they want candy and greeting cards handed to them instead of bagged
  • explaining discounts and how gift cards work;
  • looking up endless PLU codes for the numerous types of untagged produce;
  • watching out for children’s safety;
  • greeting the next customer in line so they didn’t feel neglected during the wait;
  • trying to remember who the manager is that night for when I need to call them to void a mis-scan;
  • and of course, bagging while I check when the regular courtesy clerk has switched from my lane to another with greater need.

When bagging, bananas are a tricky item.  I can put vulnerable loaves of bread atop the fragile egg cartons, but aside from soft packs of sugar, toilet paper or maxi-pads, there are few items that will co-exist happily with bananas when packed in limp plastic bags.

Given that bananas are nutritious, don’t require refrigeration or heating, and can be eaten quickly, they have recently filled my lunchbox, er, meals-box that carries both my lunch and third meal.  I drive directly from one job to the next, with just 10-15 minutes for a snack to tide me over between 11 a.m. lunch and clocking out again at 8 p.m.  (I usually have a fourth meal when I get home; call these breakfast-lunch-tea/supper-dinner or whatever, but the third meal is usually rather minimal.)  So what’s the best way to transport a banana safely?  I drop it into a tall plastic drink cup.

Thankfully, I spend most of my time at the garden center end, rather than endless hours of checking. But in this latest addition to my repertoir of work roles, I have literally gone bananas.

Nicely Non-verbal

One of the things I like about garden center work is being able to help people select plants for their different needs, and discuss how to care for them.  There are few things more pleasant than being able to share information about one of your special interests with other enthused people.

But the other day there was a storm heading in, and customers at the garden center were few and far between.  Until it was time to put things away for the night, there wasn’t a whole lot of sales work to do.  So the other clerk and I contentedly tended the plants.

Free from the heavy cognitive demands of dealing with fractious students, or of trying to make chit-chat while running a cash register, I peacefully filled in the gaps on the benches with fresh stock, and groomed the plants by removing the old flowers and leaves.

My coworker was in another area watering the the endless flats of geraniums.  When I came by to empty my debris bucket, she commented that it was a nice break from the intensity of her other job as an interpreter.  “I like being able to just ‘veg out’ with the plants,” she sighed happily.

After a few seconds’ delay to shift back into conversational gear, I replied, “Yes!  It is nice to be non-verbal for a while.”  And then I went back to silently puttering around with plants.

And then she said,

“This one is my ‘Insurance Job’.”

She is one of my coworkers, this on job #3.  Yes, I have three jobs, one almost full time, one seasonal evenings & weekends, and the other seasonal and weekends.  Hence the general lack of regular bloggery due to 10- and 12-hour work days, 6-7 days per week.  I am one of the many over-worked and underemployed, or perhaps that’s underpaid, but certainly unable to make a living from one job, in any regards.  I can’t really complain all that much, given how many people lack sufficient, if any, employment at all, and how many other people are in the same overworked shoes.

That was the first time I’d heard the pair of words as a specific phrase, but I knew what she meant instantly.

For those of us with multiple jobs, we have a specific job that we must at all costs keep, for it provides us with the terribly necessary medical insurance.  Without such we could not afford to see our doctors for even mundane issues, nor afford many medications, nor, [insert your favorite misfortune-averting phrase] be able to pay for emergency or hospital care.

Without medical insurance (and horribly, sometiems even with medical insurance!) anyone in the US is a mere emergency-room visit away from bankruptcy.

I would love to write a long post citing all sorts of statistics about the numbers of uninsured, under-insured, the perils of trying to go without and self-medicating or second-guessing, and all sorts of issues.

But I can’t.  I got about four hours of sleep last night. (I’ve not slept well because I’m out of analgesics; I’ve not been able to get to the pharmacy when they’re open because I’ve been AT WORK and AT OTHER WORK, and it’s not like I can just send a family member down to pick up a bottle of tablets, because even with insurance my assorted monthly meds cost $90 and that’s not pocket-change.)  Then I taught classes for some 6 hours, and then cashiered for 4 hours, and oy my feet hurt.  But I gotta get to sleep, because tomorrow morning is my only free time this week before I go to work again at noon.

Polysyllabic expletive!

But hey, even though I’m overworked, I have an “Insurance Job”.  Thank goodness.

The very model of a social disability

BayDisability has begun blogging about prosopagnosia, and how it affects her life.  Because hers is an acquired case, it has affected her profoundly.  (Amazingly, it’s not some strange story she came up with to create “lesbian drama”! Oy.)

I have to say that from the self-reports I’ve read, faceblindness due to injury is much more disabling than the developmental (genetic) sort, such as I have.  I think this is probably due to the fact that for those of us who have always been this way, our brains have adapted to using auxiliary clues from the start.

We don’t know any other way of identifying people than through their overall physical shape, gait, voice, hair style, mannerisms, and favorite articles of clothing.  We do however, spend our lives in a perpetual state of background free-floating anxiety due to either not knowing why we have problems, or being aware of our problems and then trying to consciously apply what coping methods we can.

This is not to say that despite our limited coping abilities, we don’t have the typical long litanies of embarrassing moments of not recognising people, of mis-recognising people (thinking a person is someone else), of “twinning” two similar people into one, of “losing” familiar people (even family members!) in crowds, of misunderstanding movie plots, of being totally clueless about celebrities, of being stressed to the gills with learning new job tasks as well as trying to reliably identify a couple of key people, of …

However, the person who acquires prosopagnosia has a much harder time with the socially disabling aspects.  And with faceblindness, it’s all socially disabling, and the “social model of disability” is apparent to a degree that warrants billboard-size attention.  The “social model of disability” refers to Read the rest of this entry »

Sleep Bends

Maybe you’ve heard of “diver’s bends”: decompression sickness that affects divers (or fliers), resulting from gas molecules that collect into bubbles in the body, much like the carbonation that results when you pop the top on a container of soda.

Waking up lately has been similar to the bends, albeit not for the same reasons, nor as deadly (I’m not making light of a serious medical issue).  But for whatever reason, many of the symptoms are quite similar:  joint pain, headaches, nausea, dizziness, muscle fatigue, seeing spots, and sometimes numb or tingling fingers.

Not surprisingly, it’s hard to get out of bed.  I lay there, hoping it passes quickly.  Rarely does the dizzy-nauseous aspect does abate after 15-30 minutes, and sometimes the extreme nausea lingers all day and then I’m taking meclizine because the school hallways remind me of an unpleasant trip on the English Channel ferry.  Not only does this make it hard to get to work on time*, but it also makes it difficult to get downstairs and eat some breakfast so I can then take my regular morning meds for pain and such.  (Yes, irony, and the not-so-terribly-humorous sort.)

The last time I had a particularly hideous vertigo attack that landed me in the ER (A&E), my GP later decided it was an effect of the previous day’s migraine.  I don’t know if there’s such a thing as “chronic migraine-related sleep bends”, but I sure as hell wish it would go away, ditto the tinnitus that’s been particularly obnoxious lately.  It’s making it difficult to get to job #1 on weekdays, or temporary job #2 on Saturdays, and by evening I’m so exhausted I don’t know how I’m going to do potential job #3 (for which I’m interviewing on Wednesday).

Maybe I should check back with my GP, so see if there’s anything he can recommend besides, “Have you tried nibbling on some saltines … okay, some gluten-free crackers?”

* My record for morning hygiene, dressing, packing lunch and getting into my car is just 20 minutes, but that only happens if the night before I have parcelled bits of food into wee plastic boxes, and also done up all but the top two shirt buttons (to reduce arthritic fumbles), and tracked down and laid out all of the components for my change of clothes.  For some reason, choosing clothes or lunch food is way too mentally taxing and manually difficult in the morning, compared to something “easy” like driving in traffic.  Don’t ask me why.

Smaller than a breadbox

Some Day,

Some day, some blessed day, when we have a departmental staff meeting or a district staff-development event, I hope there is something to eat besides  doughnuts-bagels-pastries-muffins-cinnamon rolls-deli sandwiches-pizza-pretzels-cake-cookies-brownies or pie.  Oh sure, when the school had a holiday luncheon for the staff, the caterer also brought a green salad in addition to the lasagne, spaghetti, breadsticks and cake. But gluten-intolerant woman cannot live on iceberg lettuce and a bottle of flavored water.

If I’m lucky on the days of these communal-noshing events, Read the rest of this entry »

Piques and Valleys

So, I’ve been rather absent from bloggery lately due to spending evenings sorting through vast boxes of paper archives, moving books, applying for jobs to keep a roof over our heads, or attempting to sleep off this virus. I now have removed a cubic meter of paperness from our house, and transferred a few hundred books from one room to another. I still have the virus (or maybe a second one, as our students have not the best hygiene), but not the second job.

(Now, if anyone is looking for an experienced secondary or college tutor or after-school care for special-needs children, let me know via andreasbuzzing care of my gmail account.)

But aside from all that, there have been some thought-provoking ups and downs in the news that I don’t want to let pass before they become “olds”:

In an brief article in the New York Times, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied some 11,000 third-grade students, and found that Read the rest of this entry »

Comfort-able

For the first time in months and months — far longer than it should have been, but there we are with the insane busyness of life — a friend and I got together at her house for dinner.

“You look like you’re finally relaxing,” she said after I’d been there a little while, and we decided to not wait in conversational limbo for the third person (who never did show).  “You were so stiff when you came in,” and she made reference by some expression (that now escapes memory) of how I was indicating being relaxed by behaving more normally.

Not “normally” in the er, Normal (neurotypical) sense, but me-normal, where I felt comfortable enough to sit and rock slightly, to not worry about making eye contact, to get a bit flappy at funny events or when agitated, to shed the pent-up motor tics.  To just be me. To “let my hair down” and to set aside unnecessarily restrictive social norms.  To eat my chicken and rice with a fork, and the still-crisp cooked green beans neatly with my fingers (as one does with fries or asparagus), because her table was Nicely Set for our aesthetic enjoyment and yet we weren’t standing on formality.

We talked about typical stuff, like the foibles of spouses, the concerns for college-age kids, the drudgery of eternal home repairs, the quirks of cats, of temperamental computers and the thrills of new mobile phones, of career changes, and the vicissitudes of economic times.

We also talked about atypical stuff, like the difficulties of college education and employment when dealing with various educational/neurological disabilities, of managing arthritis pain and joint issues, of the wonders of TMJ bite blocks, of dealing with the profound cluelessness of the general public for the extreme pain of migraines and how hospital Emergency (A&E) is a horrid place to physically be when in the throes of gut-wrenching-head-splitting pain and the snarkiness of some medics therein.

Crip chicks like we don’t diss on our disabilities, we diss from our disabilities.  It’s not poor-pitiful-me whining but the healthy pitch-a-bitch whining from someone who understands, even when our respective glitches are not all issues shared in common.

I need more social life, but there’s so much of ordinary socialising that I find enervating.

I’m not antisocial; the interest in socialising is not a binary form, where one either does it or doesn’t do it.  But over the years I have learned what I actually enjoy (as opposed to what one is “supposed to” enjoy).  My intro/extroversion levels vary wildly because some kinds of social interaction are nothing but draining, while others leave me (if not physically) at least spiritually recharged.

I’m not fond of socialising by large quantities of people all chattering with each other in the same room, where the conversations get all blenderized from my Auditory Processing Disorder, to where I end up trying to tease apart sequential fragments of half a dozen unrelated conversations, fruitlessly trying to follow just one voice or two, and reasoning out from fractured context what some of the mis-heard words could possibly be.

I’m not fond of socialising where the content gets watered down to less-consequential subjects of chit-chat, by dint of less privacy and some unwritten code of how long one is “supposed” to entertain time with another guest before moving on, and by the other unwritten rules of conversational quid pro quo, where my monologuing to fully deliver a story complete with back-explanations and thesis statements delivered at the end is discouraged in favor of witty repartee.

I like the time to mutually share and analyse our respective news, and the real, content-laden answers to our mutual questions of, “How are you?”  The real “How are you?” question, not the fluff of “How-are-you?” or “How-was-your-day?” that is the social minefield trying to distinguish between polite interested query of acquaintances and polite disinterested query of associates (that latter social coin that is all form and no content), or the mental quagmire of trying to answer “How-was-your-day?” when the question is so vague and our answers are so experientially linear and tangential instead of whatever the hell others were expecting.

I was comfortable — we both were comfortable — because together we had created a social environment that enabled our mutual comfort.  It was an agreement that had been developed by long familiarity and by various conscious decisions over decades, to create a friendship that fulfilled our individual needs over the culturally-proscribed forms.  True friendship enables positive interactions, and supports needs and affirms and enriches our lives.

Here’s a toast to real friendships!

Excuses, excuses

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS CUSSING.

If such righteous indignation will damage your precious shell-like ears,
then ye’d best hie off somewhere else.

“Who they hell are you to complain?”

“Everyone else is thrilled to have such crap circumstances.”

“But that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

“We’re treating everyone ‘fairly’ by giving everyone the same crappy environment.”

“Everyone else just sucks up and copes with the crappy environment, or doesn’t use it. You’re just being whiny and asking for special favors if you don’t, too.”

“If you try to modify your crappy environment to make it more usable, then everyone else will want to do that, too, and we can’t have that kind of thing going on.”

Okay, in real life the stupid excuses we get are not phrased so blatantly.  There’s usually some kind of artificially-flavoured-and-colored fluffy nonsense-phrasing hiding the real meaning.  That, or the excuses aren’t even given directly, but phrased indirectly with dismissive facial expressions, gestures, trite homilies, or vague references to (sometimes nonexistent) business regulations.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Or, perhaps not.  Not amazing, because Read the rest of this entry »

Want!

Check out this small meeting room (one of a number of diverse, really cool nooks) at the Google offices in Zurich. Unseen in the first shot is the firefighter’s pole to slide down from the floor above! It sure beats the hell outta the industrial-grey cube-farm where I did tech writing. But what’s fabulous about these offices (and other Google buildings) is not just the physical environment, but also the social and business culture that values play and creativity, rather than viewing them as frivolous distractions from “real” work.

There is a world of creative people out there actually making living wages in different businesses, using their knowledge in imaginative, useful and positive ways, and I want in. I feel like a moth beating against the window pane … it’s enough to make one cry.

(But what kind of job does a worker bee with degrees in science, a teaching/special education background — but not a secondary-school teaching certification, and skills in art and communication do?)

Wanted: Planet with longer rotational period

It’s not just me. A lot of people whom I know in person or via the internet have complained about near-futility of trying to get to sleep earlier at a “reasonable” time, meaning one that would give a person enough hours of sleep before having to rise for the next day.

My children and I can’t get to sleep before 11 p.m. unless we’ve been hit by dire viruses, or else have simply stayed up the entire night. In contrast, hubby can retire early and then go from laying down to snoring in less than five minutes, and we’re all mystified at how he manages this! Obviously, such a somnolent physiology was not something our children inherited from dad.

While our young adults have endeavoured to find college classes that start later in the morning (not unlike the majority of college students out there), I myself do not have the luxury of that option. I’m expected to be at the school at 7:30, which means leaving at 7:00. (In reality, I need to leave by 7:10, but I keep aiming for 7:00 to give me the necessary buffer in my nutz ADHD distractedness.)  Given the zombie-like staggering arthritic stiffness and mental sluggishness of my morning routine, I need to roll out of bed at 6. Now that really isn’t an unusual time for working folks to get up, but my problem is that for most of my life I’ve not been able to get to sleep until midnight, even when I’ve put myself to bed by 10 p.m.

Part of that delay was due to the fact that Read the rest of this entry »

Dark, stormy days

It’s not just the weather.

Christschool’s recent post, “Fleeting Innocence, Captured Before It’s Gone” got me thinking and connecting distant points, much in the manner of the orb-weaver spider that connects a broadening spiral of nodes across our back door each night.

We slide further into a scarier world.  It is not just a world where there is less freedom and diversity plus more violence and hate-crime, but rather a world that not only publicly accepts and condones, but even demands the necessity of violence.

It’s there in the realm of education, where the requirements for instruction and inclusion have created new opportunities for some spiteful people to create long-lasting terror for those forcibly obliged to attend.  When children are harassed and bullied and tormented in school to the point they finally react, their persecutors (and those who allow such events to continue) strike back and complain, “We must be allowed to forcibly control and harm those misbehaving children so we can ‘protect’ everyone.”

It’s there in the realm of employment, where the openness of accommodations and efforts of ordinary people to use them for work, shopping and leisure has provided some people with new bases for the discrimination and harassment of their coworkers, employees, and customers.  “They shouldn’t be there if they don’t want to deal with the problems they’re going to create by existing in the public sphere.  It’s too much money or trouble, or uses up resources that Real People need.  They should just stay at home or be gotten rid of.”

It’s there in the realm of national security, where anyone who is suspected of activity can be detained for years without legal process, and tortured as well.  Even ordinary, law-abiding citizens cannot expect to have the same safeguards for rights and liberties that they used to.  “Freedom isn’t free.”

Whereas violence was previously ignored, or dismissed as unimportant, or officially diminished (downgraded) as being less severe than it was, now we have an increasing number of situations where violence is seen as not only inevitable, but also as excusable, desirable, beneficial and even necessary.

Freedom and safety are obverse and reverse of the same coin; when we seek to increase one, we lose more of the other.

Sadly, as economic and political times get more anxious, groups of people withdraw back to their tribal units in paranoia.  The backward, rigid end of conservatism or tribalism reacts to uncertainty and fear by enforcing greater controls.  To some, eliminating tolerance for the Other and superstitiously making sacrifices to appease divine forces seems to be the only way to ward off Bad Things from happening.  Somebody has to pay.  It must be Somebody’s fault.  If Somebody who isn’t behaving exactly as the codes specify is punished, then divine pleasure might be gained.  If Somebody can be blamed for causing our problems, then swift and great revenge is appropriate and balance will be restored.

But scapegoating and harming the few of the outgroup does nothing to ensure that all are safe.  Hardly anyone in the larger public will even listen, and most don’t even want to hear what’s really happening.  We are sinking in insidious evil that is frosted-over in colourful “truthiness” sugar-coating, and is obscured by galas of newslessness about celebrity foibles and the nonsense over manufactroversies.  The bits that do get reported are so shouted-over with “spin” that great chunks of the public can’t even hear them, much less realise the cognitive dissonance.  Such platitudes are just the 21st-century version of Orwellian Newspeak, where we are being sold the terrifying message that

“PAIN IS SAFETY”

Don’t you believe it.  Be careful when there seems to be a break in the clouds; sometimes it’s just the eye of the hurricane.

21,059

Holy Shit.

(And no, I’m not going to apologise for taking Shit’s name in vain…)

Normally I love technology.  When human beings mystify me in their endless capacity to engage in rudeness and biases and cognitive fallacies, I know that I can trust machinery to perform sensibly.  Sure, things break down, and sometimes they frustrate us because our mental models are incomplete, or the design is too poor to provide the right information for us to build accurate models. But once you understand how a system works, you can rely upon it to be predictable.

But sometimes the hardware is crappy, and sometimes the software is crappy, and sometimes it’s the “wet-ware” (me) that’s introducing errors, and when things get bad, it’s all of those.  And then I spend literally hours trying to get the simplest of tasks done.  Even ordinary things, like … getting messages.

1.

I have voice-mail messages to listen to during my brief lunch not-hour.  I’m sitting in a desk by the window, hoping that the signal doesn’t break up due to Invisible Wireless Velociraptors or whatever the hell makes the signal erratic from one minute to the next.

The first time around I miss half the message because I’m having trouble punching the mobile button and then getting it back to my ear quick enough to catch the beginning of the message.

The second time I dial back into my voice-mail, all I can understand is that there’s an Important Message from someone.

The third time around all I can understand is that someone whose name sounds like “Spencer Wallace” is calling me, and then two people in the room begin chatting and Mr Wallace’s message gets blenderized with their words.

I clap the phone shut in annoyance and go outside to redial my voice-mail a fourth time, and finally hear enough to realise that this is (A) a recorded message and (B) punching “1” will connect me to a live body … hopefully.

(Granted I have a lot of trouble understanding voice-mail messages because of my auditory processing problems, but you would think that a major mobile phone company could at least make sure their automated recordings were clearer.)

Yes, it’s a live body!  She informs me that No, it’s not Spencer Wallace, but Sprint Wireless. Damn, Live Body is mumbly or has an accent or is required to stick to scripts that aren’t helpful for me right now.  Rather than spend the rest of my break time trying to muddle out the situation, I thank her and return inside to bolt down the rest of my lunch before it gets disgustingly congealed. (The sad part is that microwaved fries/chips with leftover chile and cheese is the best lunch I’ve had all week.)

In addition to needing clearer messages, getting phone service inside of the school buildings where I work would also be a good thing — on one campus, I have to leave the building and walk across the open-air plaza and try facing cardinal directions in hopes of securing a signal.  Sometimes I have to pull up the antenna, hold the phone up to the sky, and stroll halfway to the next building to get signal.  Mind you, I am at a college in a heavily-populated area, not the intersection of Cornfield and Bob’s Road in the hinterlands.  [Name that movie reference!]

2.

Another voice mail was from the department secretary.  Plus, apparently I missed some e-mails from her as well.  Oh heavens, that’s right — I have a staff e-mail account in addition to the other e-mail account I use at the college. I had totally forgotten about getting the password set up a couple of weeks ago, because I was starting two jobs at the same time and both jobs required lots of paperwork and setting up user ID’s and passwords for various and sundry programs.

Yes, I have two e-mail accounts provided by the college.  Not just two e-mail addresses, but two separate systems that run on two different programs.  The secretary kindly reminds me of the URL to access my other account program.

Unfortunately, that is just the sign-in page for the second account.  It runs on Microsoft Outlook, and there are no helpful user links to click for “I forgot my password”.  (Insert Mac user’s rant about Microsoftware.)  An hour later, I have finally noodled through enough of the college’s Web site to have found where to set/re-set my password (and received no less than five unwanted pdf’s that automatically downloaded after clicking on an internal search-engine result).  Finally I can go back to that sign-in page.

Polysyllabic Expletive!

I have 21,059 e-mails.

I shit thee not; apparently the account was set up for me back in September of 2003. I had no idea it was there. I assumed that my other account was “the” account, because that was the address that all of the links and documents contained.

Obviously any e-mails before this year can be deleted.  There are so many because 99.9% of them seem to be list-serve messages sent to everyone at the college.

But Techies, GET A CLUE: it would be a good idea to set up a small routine to flag when you have users who have more than a couple hundred unread e-mails AND who have never sent any e-mails, so you can send them an alert by some means other than their e-mail account.

Crap, do I have some housekeeping to do. I have to read through the past month’s e-mails to make sure I’m not missing anything critical.  Anything else that’s critical, because I already missed something.

Then I have to figure out how to set one of the college’s e-mail systems to automatically forward to the other system.

Of course, that’s in addition to other little things this weekend, like teaching my Saturday class, writing the next three exams, figuring out how to use the grade-keeping program, grading the last two exams, and entering the two-week-point attendance (which information the secretary needs to drop anyone who hasn’t shown up).

3.

Now that I’m at home, I also have to listen to the household voice-mails on the land line.

Oh, and I ALSO need to slog through setting up my voice-mail account with the college as well!

  • Voice-mails on my mobile.
  • Voice mails at the house.
  • Voice mails at the college.
  • E-mails at home.
  • E-mails at the school.
  • E-mails at the college.
  • The other e-mails at the college.
  • The e-mails within class-access program for the two classes I teach (Blackboard, which has its own special set of glitches).

My inner child is now whining, “Do I gotta?”

I could just cry. Were I the prayin’ sort, I would be praying.  But I’m not. Were I the drinkin’ sort, I would be drinking.  But I’m not.  I’m the rocking sort. So I am going to sit here and rock, because that’s what I do when I’m stressed.  At this rate, I’m going to be walking around in circles and flapping too, before the night’s out.

Twenty-one thousand and fifty-nine.  Ye gods and little fishes!

Odd places where Insanely Busy Woman

squeezes in catnaps:

  • Patient bench under the CT scanner (today’s choice, which most delightfully came with a blanket that more than made up for the repeated, “Breathe in; hold your breath,” commands)
  • Slumped against the wall behind a folding partition and faux Ficus tree in the corner of an unoccupied hotel “ballroom” during a convention (I had the flu and wasn’t presenting until an hour later)
  • Dentist’s chair (N.B. to dentist: don’t dwaddle, as the local anæsthesia wears off me faster than anyone thinks it ought to)
  • Toilet stalls (micronaps were not always intentional but due to jetlag, and I have to say that the Dutch closet-like stalls are fab)
  • Sitting upon a gently-used Turkish newspaper on the floor of the Frankfurt railstation (newspapers in languages you cannot read are still useful for a surprising number of things beyond blotting fish-and-chips or flooring bird cages, and whatever shall we use when the news is no longer printed on dead tree pulp?)
  • Sandwiched between two cats solarizing on the carpeted stair landing (warmth, purring cats, zzzZZZzzz)
  • University library stacks, while seated upon a step stool in the corner of the QL461 research journals (napping at a uni library isn’t odd, just that normal people do so in the plush club chairs that the sympathetic librarians add into their budgets)
  • Inside a section of new concrete sewer pipe stored with similar construction supplies at the edge of a county park (it was pouring and pouring down rain so my wee daughter and I just waited the storm out)
  • In a mostly-empty moving box of towels (there were no surfaces empty of moving boxes)
  • On a poolside chaise longue that someone had moved to outside the safety gate of a hotel pool — I wasn’t staying at that hotel, but did have my trusty towel draped over my face for sunburn protection and reduced apparency as an interloper, Thank You Douglas Adams
  • On a bench in a glasshouse at Royal Botanic Garden, Kew (heat, plants, zzzZZZzzz)

Depiling

That is, de-pile-ing*.

* Not to be confused with depilling, which is trimming off those annoying “pills” that form on knitted garments. Presumably those wee balls of fuzz form due to the blasted orneryness of the universe, especially with regards to the cosmos’ dreaded knack for providing supplemental stress to anyone with OCD tendencies.

Depiling means to systematically remove piles of clutter.  On my desk, that means not just the usual bills, statements and paperwork, but also:

  • documents to be scanned,
  • Copy Center requisition forms,
  • old appointment cards and unnecessary receipts unloaded from my pockets and other ephemera,
  • 35mm slides to be scanned,
  • an empty postage-stamp strip,
  • wire twist-ties,
  • caps to ball-point pens I don’t even use,
  • hort industry infomercials masquerading as press releases or “educational materials”,
  • spare tins of lip balm and cuticle salve,
  • important receipts to file,
  • a really cool concave rock to use as a water dish when I refresh Rosie’s habitat,
  • the booklet on Inservice courses for Job #2 that I cannot attend because of Job #1,
  • beads that are still surfacing from when the curtain tie-back snapped last month, Read the rest of this entry »

The Crystal Ball Crack’d

The Kid recently took the ACT test, which like the SAT, is frequently used by colleges to determine scholastic abilities, and in his case helped place him for which college writing class he needed.  He had to ask his sister what the test was like, and her impressions about its difficulty level.  I could not personally provide any opinions, because I had never taken the ACT or SAT.

I never took them because no one thought I would go to college.

They made massive assumptions about my abilities and my future. So here’s what happened, and something to think about. I welcome you to please post comments, and more links to other positive blogs and sites.

My grades in secondary school grew worse over the years, and I had to re-take a semester in one class (English of all things, which in later years proved to be ironic when I became a freelance writer, with hundreds of items in print).

By this time in my life, my parents had divorced.  My dad lived in another state, and was even more of a non-player in my life.  Alas, my mother had spent years futilely trying to make me more “normal”, from requiring me to learn right-handed penmanship, enrolling me in a “charm school” at the local Sears & Roebucks to improve my feminine graces, and so on.  But as the years wore on, my faults (problems) became more and more apparent.  She no longer described me as “very bright”, but was quick to list all my failures and describe them in damning detail, until I was ready to vomit or pass out from the stress (though I never did, even though either would have been a relief).

By 9th grade it was apparent to all that I was not gifted scholastically, and the general consensus was that I was lazy, stupid at math, not trying hard enough, and acting up just to make her life difficult.  When she was drunk, my failures and interests and personality traits would be compared to her ex-husband’s, “you’re just like your father, the bastard”.  Even as much of a socially-clueless 14 year old that I was, I knew that these kinds of comments were untrue and inappropriate, and the problem was with her attitudes and her drinking.  But they still hurt, terribly.

I would not be diagnosed with ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorder, and Prosopagnosia until I was in my 40’s.  Such diagnosis hardly existed in those days; certainly my difficulties were not considered to be due to anything but my own personal failings.

No way, my family and school officials decided, could I be college material.  I could not keep track of my assignments, I still struggled to learn and remember my multiplication facts into 8th grade, and I flunked or barely passed classes.

Given my social difficulties and subsequent lack of dating, and even my utter lack of domestic abilities (mom warned me off taking a sewing class because doing so would “ruin my GPA” – grade point average), I was obviously not highly marriageable. This was the 1970s, and most people still thought along those lines — an astonishing number of girls went to college to “get their MRS”.

The goal then was to get me some kind of minimal trade training, so I would, as she fiercely reminded me many times, not be a burden on the family. It was made plain to me that once I graduated high school, and then later turned 18, I was to be out on my own.  I should not expect financial assistance from her.

So I was enrolled in typing, which was a miserable experience beyond the whole ordinary ordeal of learning to type on manual typewriters.  The room was a cacophony of noise.  The instructor was adamant about constant attention to task, proper posture, and graded with the intent on us producing perfection — as soon as a student produced a typographical error, then the score was made. (Additionally, the students’ pages were  held up to the light against her perfect copies to check centering and spacing). There were many days when I would produce an entire page that was otherwise perfect but for a typo in the second line, and my grade would be an F because I had such a low word-count.  Given my problems with developing manual speed, tracking text (near-point copying), attention, and transposing letters and numbers, I struggled to get a C grade.

But the clerical work that was deemed best for me also required taking bookkeeping.  Not surprisingly, this was also a very difficult class for me.  My aptitudes and interests were not really taken into consideration, because after all, even if writing and science and art were what I liked best, I had not done well in those classes, now had I?  Besides, clerical work was what my mother knew, so like many parents she expected me to follow occupational suit.

Unlike many such students, my story has a relatively happy ending.  I did manage to graduate high school, to everyone’s relief.  A year later, I even enrolled in an evening class at the local community college.  College classes were not easy, partly from my intrinsic difficulties, partly from not having the necessary study skills, and partly from not having a solid academic background.

But the glory of the American system is that such colleges provide opportunities for adults of all ages to acquire the these things, and to gain higher education. I worked hard, and slowly figuring out how I learned, which was not always in the ways that others thought I should study.  Sometimes I had to drop a class and re-try it later on, to finish it successfully. Later on in my 40’s I was to also get some of my issues diagnosed.

I now have a Master’s of Science. I teach college students.  No one would have expected this based upon my previous performance. (Employers who place near-complete trust in Behavioral-Based Interviewing, please note!)  And this point, amongst all the others about the perils of attribution errors, and learning disabilities, and dysfunctional families, this point is crucial:

A child’s future abilities cannot always be predicted,

when based upon their current abilities.

Many parents of children who have developmental disorders worry that their children will never be able to attend school, or finish school, or go on to college, or hold a job, or live on their own, or be loved by a partner, or have a family, or talk, or be potty-trained, or any number of milestones.  Just because the child cannot do the same things that their age peers can do, or are expected to do.

This is one of the biggest points of contention or discussion between the “autism community” (parents of autistic children) and the “autistic community” (children, teens and adults who are autistic, and many of whom are parents as well).  Even beyond the farcical assumptions that either community is monolithic with regards to attitudes and knowledge and politics et cetera, there are inherent issues that need to be mutually addressed.

One of the best resources for the autism communities are the autistic communities.  If parents go around just talking to other parents, especially those other parents who are consumed by the “Terrible Tragedy and Selfless Suffering Families” world-views, they may fall prey to this easy assumption:  If my child can’t do it now, he’ll never be able to do it, and our lives will be ruined.

Sure, not everyone takes it to that extreme.  Sure, there are a few children who do not achieve many of those life-goals.  But those lack of achievements does NOT automatically mean that their lives are ruined, or their families’ lives are ruined. They do NOT automatically mean that people cannot live relatively happy, healthy, and productive lives.

Please do NOT assume that not being able to use speech as a reliable means of communication is the same as not being able to think, or not being able to communicate, or not having anything to communicate.

Please do not assume that because a child does not learn in a traditional manner that they are learning “the wrong way”, or that they cannot learn at all, or that they must be taught “remedial learning lessons”.

Please do know that even when children have problems, and are slower to acquire skills, they are not doomed.

Please do not give up on them.

“Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot.”

~First words (at age 35) of an autistic man [quote source]

I welcome you to please post comments, and more links to other positive blogs and sites. Kindly see the newly-updated “NOTES TO COMMENTERS” box in the top of the left sidebar for important information. Read the rest of this entry »

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