Monday, December 10, 2012

Writing to Survive

I'm not supposed to be writing this.

Technically, I'm at work. I say "technically" because for the past year I've been a temp, taking on two-week or two-month or one-day assignments with companies to which I don't belong. I'm on loan to them as a quick fix, a substitute receptionist, an extra set of hands during an office move, a data-entry clerk when there's a ton of information that needs to get dumped into a database in a short period of time. I do all the piddly tasks that the "real" employees would rather not do, or that they're too busy to do. I Scotch-tape receipts from the Cheesecake Factory to blank sheets of paper to go into expense-report folders. I carefully cut out little name tags to go into plastic slots affixed to cubicles at the new office everyone is moving into. I put a packet of detergent powder into the little nook inside the dishwasher door, close the door, turn the dial to "Normal Load," and get the water going, cleansing the day's coffee mugs. 

I show up for my first day, and there's no welcome lunch or companywide e-mail from the CEO. It's a gamble whether a given employee will even bother to learn my name. There's no professional development, no going to the fancier-than-McDonald's burger joint with my boss to discuss whether I'm happy here. And unless I take it upon myself to browse the company's website, there's no mention of where I fit into the larger context, no acknowledgment that the company does anything at all beyond the HR tasks, the phone calls that need to be transferred, the FedEx packages that need to be signed for, the e-blast lists that need to be streamlined... the Cheesecake Factory meals that need to be accounted for. 

Not all temps are like me, of course. I have friends who go for the long-term, temp-to-hire gigs. For them, the assignment is somewhere between an actual job and a very long job interview. And of course I have an agency -- the rep who will call me up, "Charlie's Angels"-style, to give me an assignment, sometimes for that very day -- and they sometimes like to know how it's going at a particular job. But I never meant to do this for very long, so I let it be known early on that I would be the tempest of temps, a temporary temp, a concept that is either redundant or an oxymoron. 

And so I've grown used to using a lot of quotation marks, to avoiding common terms such as "work" and "job," even though technically what I'm doing is both. Oh yeah, and I've started saying "technically" a lot more. 

I used to be a writer. Am a writer. I mean, technically I am writing this right now. Technically, I write all the time; I just don't always get paid for it. I was a newspaper reporter for about five years, an editor with a national trade association for two more, a highly paid corporate-communications manager for yet another two... and then the bottom dropped out of my life when most of my department got laid off in July 2008. Since then, I've scrambled. I'd lived all my life in Virginia; after the layoff, I took my severance pay and moved to San Diego, craving a change and not wanting to feel powerless. 

I actually found a writing job out there -- in desperation I had contacted every business on my street in downtown's Little Italy, asking if anyone needed a retail clerk, a waitress, a dishwasher, anything... and one of my e-mails landed in the inbox of a woman who managed marketing for a respected restaurant and nightspot two blocks from where I lived; she also had several local and national clients, mostly in the arts world (local theaters, a national guitar company). What do you know -- she needed an assistant, someone to write things. I worked for her until it became clear that she really didn't know how to run a small business and could not afford to pay all of her burgeoning staff on time. 

I drove home (for that and other reasons that aren't relevant here). I worked in the cafe section of the Barnes & Noble in Georgetown. (I told myself that working in retail wouldn't be such a career curveball if I worked at a bookstore, because books are things that are written.) I landed a job as an editor with a national nonprofit patient-education organization. Then the bottom fell out again. But this time, I left of my own volition -- after two and a half years I could no longer tolerate the zany-dictator-style, capricious, blood-pressure-spiking, bipolar antics of the president of the organization. 

I'm aware that having quit my job is likely to convey the impression that I'm a diva or a flake. I assure you that I'm not. On the contrary, I'm a freaking paragon of empathy, and longsuffering to a fault. I'm someone who prides myself on working well with hard-to-work-with bosses. One newspaper editor of mine went on something of a firing spree shortly after he assumed power over my department. Not only did I survive -- he's the one who hand-picked me for the highly paid corporate-communications job I had years later. I'm not a quitter, either. I had never left a job before without having a better-paying or more prestigious one to slot right into. I didn't go out in a "blaze of glory" when I quit -- I dutifully gave a good two-weeks' notice upon leaving, and I still work for them on a freelance basis, a nice arrangement because I do the work and get paid without having to cross paths with the company president.

So yeah, I quit. It was a "Life is too short" thing. I didn't want to put up with her disrespectful treatment of my co-workers and me for any longer, and I felt that I didn't have to put up with it any longer. My decision was based on this soup of stuff, received ideas such as "There are other fish in the sea!" and "I live in America! This is a free country! I'm not being forced to work here; I have choices!" And if I'm being honest, it was also based on the fact that I was (and still am) living with a wonderfully supportive boyfriend who wouldn't exactly put me out on the streets if I were ever unable to pay my share of rent for a few months. (I've made a point of paying my share every single month since I quit, though. Somehow, through a cobbled-together patchwork of freelance and temping gigs, I have been able to do that.) 

In February I signed on with a temp agency recommended to me by a friend, thinking I'd do it for a few weeks or months, just to help pay the bills -- while at the same time actively pursuing other full-time jobs. I did do that some, and I've been on a couple of interviews, and well, I'm still temping, so you can see how that turned out. 

Temping's had its highs and lows. I'll write more about those in upcoming posts, but for now I just had to start this blog. I had to remind myself that I'm a writer, that I do something else besides double-check phone numbers of state legislators for a company that provides that information in a database for its clients. I'm writing this to remind myself that I have an identity that's more than just this temp gig. I'm writing for my spiritual survival.

No comments:

Post a Comment