Saturday, January 19, 2013

What's New at the Honeycomb Hideout, Brought to You From the Big City

Thanks to the BOSS Group, my new temp agency that matches "creative-professional" folks (writers/editors, graphic designers) with companies and organizations that have a need for such "talent" (that's how BOSS refers to you, on its website and in all its forms -- you are "Talent"), I landed a new gig that should last until sometime in late March, I think. I'll be managing and posting content on an international organization's brand-new Intranet. Mainly, I'll post a weekly "Monday Update" of internal news, plus little employee bios and career milestones, for the organization's employees on a site that only they can see. It's like posting something on a clubhouse bulletin board, but online. "What's New at the Honeycomb Hideout?"
 
I'll also revise some recently created "documentation" (formal "how to use it" documents with handy li'l screen shots) and draft some new ones that will lay down, for posterity, how to do various things on this new-to-them Intranet. And after that, I'll be training the department heads so that they can post their own news on the internal site. In other words, I am probably doing a bunch of work to make myself obsolete. But hey, it pays almost twice per hour what I was making at the data-entry/calling-Congressional-offices gig ($24 an hour versus $13 an hour), and it is technically web-content work. Sort of. Except that I obviously can't post links here to anything I create or pretty up or publish there, because it's for members of the Honeycomb Gang only. Sorry, friend; it is nothing personal. 

For now at least, I'm going to be cautious and not name the organization I'm working for on this blog -- just in case they have some crazy technology that tracks mentions of them or logs any external links to their site. I mean, there's no using Facebook or even streaming media (YouTube etc.) in their office! (Although the girl training me kept a plugged-in smartphone nearby, encased in a geometric-patterned decorative shell and buzzing often to let her know when she had a Facebook notification, which she checked -- halting our training -- every time one came through.) 

And when I checked in on Thursday afternoon for my interview, I had to go to this Jetsons-tastic sign-in kiosk, whereupon I was prompted to press a big red touch-screen button so the mysterious machine could take my photo, and I had to slip in my driver's license like a credit card so it could retrieve my full legal name and print it on a sign-in-badge sticker. I don't know; it's just all very Big Brother and I feel uncharacteristically skittish about engaging in my usual open-to-a-fault online behavior (such as, oh, I don't know, starting blogs at work). 

...Now, I could end this post here, pretend that I am dutifully digging out of my titular hole, see?, and get some kudos, ho-hum. Pat on the head for me, have a Scooby snack. Or I could make good on my promise to never make my life seem better than it actually is. The truth is that I was initially a little misled, or my BOSS rep was a little misled, about the nature of this job. I hear "you would be writing web content and posting it using a CMS [content-management system]," and I think that means I'd be working on their website. You know, their homepage and all of its attendant virtual dendrites, the face they present to the world, viewable to anyone on the planet with an Internet connection, even a Bedouin, even an Australian aboriginal living in the Outback. That thing. 

So I spent the days prior to my interview poring over the organization's "outward-facing" (non-Honeycomb-Hideout-only) website, clicking on every link, making detailed notes full of nerdy ideas and suggestions, things I like and things that are obviously flawed or malfunctioning, places where the writing could be better. I looked at the websites of similar organizations, including the homepage of an association I used to work for, to see if those chumps had neat or relevant features on their websites. I thought of a few tricks 'n' tips that would make this organization's website so much better and cleaner and easier to navigate, without burying genuinely useful content. 

On the Metro ride out to Union Station, which is maybe one block from this organization's office, I took deep breaths and thought about the bigger picture, what this organization does, what role its website should play in people's lives and how the content can serve that purpose. I felt all inspired and shit, like when you go to some earnest conference at which you keep hearing the word "innovative" and go home with a sponsor-logo totebag that for all of five minutes you think you might actually use. But soon after I was ushered into the little Interview Room (it was actually labeled), sitting there with the VP of Marketing and someone high-up in HR, one of them mentioned matter-of-factly that the project would involve working on their IntRAnet -- not IntERnet -- site. Two little letters that make such a difference. And I'm not gonna lie -- my heart sank a little. 

I mean, not only had I spent all my prep time looking at their website -- the one that I could actually see. I'd also gone to Kinko's and printed out color screen shots of websites and web pages/sections whose content I had created and posted, that I had overseen from start to finish. I printed them out, then had to resize them, because the first print-outs looked wonky, all while the meter was ticking at the Kinko's "workstation" I was renting for a few minutes. 

Sitting in the Interview Room in my interview suit, I had to rearrange my brain, change course, switch languages. I mean, that stuff was sort of related to posting for-employees'-eyes-only Intranet stuff -- it's not as if, say, I brought in photos of people's pipes I had fixed as a plumber. But I now had to think of times when I had worked on content (internal e-blasts and employee e-newsletters) that was relevant to this assignment, which, I saw now, was pretty different (and, let's face it, less glamorous or prestigious, more cog-like) than what I'd thought I was coming in for. 

Of course I was happy that they chose me -- this is technically something between an advanced temp gig and a short-term contract job; my BOSS rep's e-mail to me was full of phrases such as "if they choose you" and "if they decide to move forward." In other words, if I'd come in drooling all over myself and spouting obscenities à la Tourette's, they could have not chosen me. I didn't walk in there as a sure thing, and again, we were sitting in the freaking Interview Room, a label that connotes uncertainty. So I still had to do the job-interview rigamarole, had to put on the stiff interview suit and bring three copies of my résumé and get all nervous and mainline breath mints. It was a relief when I realized that I had the gig. You know, it's nice to be wanted and all that. 

But the more we talked, the less likely it seemed that I would be writing or even editing very much at all (most of the content I'll be posting will come to me already prepared, in a Microsoft Word document), other than the documentation that will, if I do it well enough, render myself disposable and enable many other people in the organization to follow along step-by-step and do what I'll have been doing for a couple of months. 

And OK, there were other little annoyances, and the fact that I instantly registered them as annoyances made me feel that I was being ungrateful, but they were annoyances just the same. Apparently the girl I'm replacing is an office rock star who has thoroughly dazzled the VP of Marketing (he'll be my ultimate, but not immediate, boss during this project), and has dazzled everyone else, too, judging by what folks said while she gave me a little tiptoe-through-the-cubicles introduction tour. "You've got some big shoes to fill!" "I just don't know what we'll do without Stephanie! The whole place is likely to implode, ha ha!" Ah, great -- no pressure or anything.

There was a slight miscommunication regarding Stephanie as well -- I was sure that my BOSS rep had told me Stephanie was leaving this role that I'll be filling because she was offered a full-time job with the organization, but as it turns out she got an offer from a publishing house in DC, to produce webinars -- i.e. a job offer completely outside the organization and the BOSS temping/hiring framework. That's good for her, but I'd gone in there thinking this was a joint that brought on temps with the notion that real, permanent i.e. non-temp, full-time, honest-to-God, job-without-quotation-marks employment (with a decent salary and "benefits") might be on the horizon, as long as they're good little temps. Nope, this place might very well bid me adieu sometime in March. And then I'd be back to scrambling.   

Stephanie put me through some pretty intensive training on Thursday afternoon, which was double intense because I had to be out of town on Friday -- Stephanie's official last day -- to attend my boyfriend's grandfather's memorial service. The organization and my agency had hoped I'd be able to spend all day Friday doing tons more training and feeling comfortable using this new-to-me CMS, but sometimes the universe simply has other plans. It's also a three-day weekend, so I don't go back in there until Tuesday; I'll be working a full-time, Monday-through-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. schedule. 

The CMS they're using -- I think they might have developed it themselves, or at least customized it; they have this closet full of web dudes -- is kind of dreary-looking and not the most user-friendly, and the process for posting or editing content is about the most bureaucratic thing I've ever seen (an action has to move through something like five steps of reviews and approvals before you can so much as remove a comma or add a period, with e-mails sent to all involved along the way). I shall miss my beloved WordPress, and the mad-with-power editing privileges I've had at other jobs, so very much.

So things are off to a mildly glitchy start, due to the miscommunication about the exact nature of the work and having to miss what was supposed to be a key training day. But I'm determined to thoroughly read over the printed-out documentation drafts they've already done, learn what I can from them, make note of any directions I find confusing and how to improve them -- and then go in on Tuesday and make this project my bitch. I will revolutionize and Christie-ize it. I will make my shoes the big ones to fill; I will be the person who, upon my eventual departure, makes folks worry the building will implode (wait, no; not like that...). And I will pass along to the VP of Marketing my suggestions and ideas for improving their real, seen-by-the-world website, because what the heck? I already spent hours coming up with them. And maybe they'd let me work on their website during any lulls in my other work.

Overall I'm excited -- I'm getting paid more, for work that requires my particular brand of expertise and draws on some of my work experience. I'm maybe inordinately excited about what'll be my new, roughly hour-long (OK, a tiny bit longer) commute, mostly via Metro, to the gorgeously imperious and marmoreal Union Station. Having grown up in the Northern Virginia suburbs -- not to mention having been raised by parents from small-town Appalachia -- it doesn't take much to make me feel as if I'm Carrie Bradshaw walking along in Manhattan and smiling up at skyscrapers before my tutu gets splashed with a bus bearing my image. I stepped out of the station and into the cacophony of idling taxi cabs and homeless people selling newspapers and clicking high-heel-wearing girls who look like precocious attorneys with straightened hair, and I had the bumpkin-esque thought, "Oooh, wowwee -- I'm in the Big City!

Before the interview I had to dash into Union Station proper to use a restroom and grab some sort of lunch (a vending-machine Snickers), and even amid the rush and stress of being almost-not-15-minutes-early for my interview, I felt a heady surge of cosmopolitan exoticism. 

Outside, I struggled to find the correct street among the roads spoking out from the hub of the station, so I panicked and hustled into a taxi cab. "Um, I think I only have to go around the corner... Capitol Street?" The foreign driver, Indian or Middle Eastern or perhaps something else entirely, because I'm a white asshole and I didn't take the time to ask or even read his name on the "I'm a legal taxi driver" certification thingie, turned to me incredulously. "It's right there!" He pointed. "It's one block away!" He stared at me as if I'd just asked him to transform his cab into a magical dolphin and take me to Atlantis. I scooted shamefully out of his cab and hurried down the road, but I wasn't too flustered to think, "Hey, I've been in the city five minutes and I already have a funny little story!" 

I walked past the imposing and terribly archaic and official-looking red-brick Government Printing Office. I found my building and saw some twentysomething guys walking back from their lunch break who looked very "Portlandia," as if their version of grocery shopping is bicycling to the Farmer's Market. "Ooh, wowwee -- city folks!

My excitement about the Metro ride there and back will surely dwindle the more I have to do it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it on Thursday and didn't even bust out my book of essays or my iPod once -- instead, I looked out the window, at the official buildings of DC that were lent an extra gravitas by the about-to-snow sky, at graffiti, at the planes in transit at Reagan-National Airport, at the butt end of Old Town that lies at the end of King Street near the Masonic Temple, at the waterslides and a soaring fiberglass dolphin at some ghetto water park. 

And during the zooms through dark tunnels, I snuck glances at the other riders, faces I had never seen before and probably never would again, filing away microscopic details for future characters and short stories. It was nice to be staring (furtively, surreptitiously, possibly creepily) at people instead of license plates or Beltway-exit signs. Leaving the office at 4:30 wasn't so bad, and meant that my trains were largely uncrowded and I could take the special, rush-time-only Yellow Express train straight to my home station of Springfield-Franconia, just around the corner (OK, maybe a five-minute drive) from where I live. 

...I probably owe at least a few RIP paragraphs to my former temp agency, the one that's been giving me substitute-receptionist, admin-assistant, and data-entry gigs for the past year (and making it possible for me to pay my share of rent to my boyfriend every single month). When I went into DC for the interview on Thursday, I was smack-dab in the middle of a temp project that would probably have gone on for another month, maybe longer. (That's the $13-an-hour data-entry one, the same place where I was temping when I first started this blog.) 

I took the day off in order to prepare and journey into DC for the interview. As I said before, I went in not knowing for sure whether they'd want me -- and so I hadn't seen a reason to possibly alarm my old temp agency or the place where I was temping, to make them maybe start to see me as some opportunistic traitor willing to jump ship to wherever the pay was higher. You know -- the usual hand-wringing that people do when trying to sneak out to job interviews and wondering how to handle it when they get offered something. 

The DC joint did want me, so I stayed all afternoon for training -- no big deal, as I'd already taken the full day off. But then I had to tell both places (old temp agency, old data-entry joint) that I had sort of gotten a new job. I figured this was tantamount to a "good-bye forever." I am just... done with admin and data-entry stuff. I've felt done for a while, but now seemed like as good a time as any to make a clean break. I mean, I told them nicely. I sent an e-mail to the temp agency, which was probably cowardly but my rep there was very high-strung and persuasive and I almost worried she'd guilt-trip me back. I called the data-entry folks as soon as their workday started, so I could talk to a human being on the phone. An IT dude at the data-entry joint was laid-back, told me congratulations. 

My temp rep freaked the fuck out. 

I knee-jerk deleted her e-mail almost as soon as I'd read it, in my ever-so-healthy usual manner of pretending that especially unpleasant things don't exist. But it contained some conjugation of the verb "disappoint" twice ("I am so disappointed...", "that you would leave in this disappointing way..."), and contained not even a perfunctory or forced, strained note of congratulations. Turns out, my rep had wanted me to give her two weeks' notice if I were leaving either a particular assignment or signing off from her agency for good. I truly don't recall knowing this, although it's very possible that this courtesy wish was expressed in some agency materials I was supposed to have read when I first signed on a year ago. 

I gave them all maybe 10 hours' notice. Technically, maybe not even that, if some of them didn't receive my messages until they started their workdays. I had at least mentioned, a bit cryptically, to the data-entry folks that I might not be in on Friday. I hadn't wanted to lie, so I simply hadn't stated a reason. So at least they had a head's up. There were two other temps working on pretty much the same stuff I was at the data-entry place -- I figured the company could simply call my old temp agency up, request another temp, and she'd slot right in. (I say "she" because I have never, ever met a male temp in the year I've been taking on admin-type temp gigs.) 

And due to the immediate nature of temping -- due to the fact that my rep called me up many mornings at 8 a.m. or so, asking me to fill in for some receptionist or other that very day -- I let myself think that leaving them would and could be done in just as little-to-no-notice a manner. The whole ethos of that kind of temping always seemed so fast-paced and fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants that I had always figured it would probably be OK one day to just up and leave. 

I guess it'd have been one thing if I'd been offered some real, permanent, you-work-here-until-you-quit-or-we-fire-you job. Then I might have had the luxury of giving a start date that was two weeks in advance, had the luxury of tying up loose ends with my old temp people. But that was simply not the reality of the situation. 

The reality was that the new, content-management, better-paying job popped up all of a sudden, and I could take it then or leave it forever, and so I took it. So help me, I took it, and left the old temp agency, slash-and-burn-style, that particular bridge burned to the ground. I suppose I could have been extremely forthcoming and kept everyone in a big transparent loop; I suppose we could have all held hands and sung "Kumbaya" for world peace and harmony, but that is not what happened. 

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