losing

fortune cookie reading "I learn by going where I have to go"

So I lost that job I was sort of excited about. And when I say lost I mean I was summarily fired last Friday afternoon with a vague collection of reasons after working there eleven days. I’m not even mad so much as “Wow, I guess that was a terrible fit, huh?” I own my part in it. Here’s the story anyhow. This is not intended to be a call-out, so I’m leaving some things vague.

This company, or rather, one person at this company who I had worked with elsewhere, had been asking if I was interested in work since last January. I had a Skype interview that I thought went well, where they said “We’ll call you” and then didn’t. Contacted me again later in the year and we slowly started putting together a gig for me there. I have a lot of requirements, but I also work my ass off. I think I’m a good employee but it depends what you’re looking for. Eventually we settled on ten hours a week contracting (temporary but maybe an option to extend) at a rate of pay that made it worth it. I’d be doing spam fighting. Not glamorous, but necessary, and really interesting in a puzzle sort of way. This company uses an agency to do all the hiring for their part-timers, so I’d technically be an employee of the agency, but this was seen as a mere hurdle. I started the process in June.

Onboarding was a serious pain in the ass. You can read the set of tweets about it here. Being publicly grousey about this may have been part of the issue, but who knows? My future manager saw my tweets. Heck, he listened to the MetaFilter podcast where I talked about the job. I presumed he knew what he was getting into. I had to e-sign fifteen different documents, read dozens of curiously formatted URGENT emails, get logins to four different portals and a new Outlook email address, and drive to a service center to show someone my passport, all before I got any credentials at the job. There’s a longer discussion about how the tech industry treats contractors generally, I just figured this was a temporary hassle, a one-time gauntlet. My soon-to-be manager was with me sympathizing every step of the way. I had a STAFF badge on my profile page.

All the documents requiring signatures could be signed by checking a box, or you could draw something in a signature box. There was no room for discussing the terms of the contracts, one of which was a loyalty oath. I won’t lie, I had fun with this. Signing my NDA “ABOLISH ICE” was probably something I’d do again, but it was also something that got called out as “unprofessional” and I can’t argue with that. That said, the agency approved all my signatures and everything else and cleared me to work on the 5th of July. I thanked them and told them about the typos I’d found in their documents.

My job start was delayed due to the difficulty of getting my work laptop to me as I was traveling for the holidays, rural package delivery is always a challenge. I wasn’t expecting to be given a work laptop, so I got to add “learn Chrome OS” to my todo list which wasn’t that difficult but did take some time. The regular workers at the company mostly use Macs. On July 11th I got all my credentials, set up various two-factor authentications, and did a little training. I worked every day from then until the 20th, sometimes just a little, sometimes a few hours. The work was fun, the people were nice. I really liked being on a team. I really enjoyed having a boss who was good at being a manager and seemed to like the work I was doing.

Friday the 20th I got a phone call from my manager at 5 pm saying the agency could not extend an employment contract to me. He had received an email from one of his superiors and was asking me if I could think of why that might be. I could think of a few possibilities but was pretty confused. Then I got a call from the agency saying my “assignment was wrapping up” which I knew wasn’t true. I asked for some clarification and the woman from the agency–I rag on the process a little, but the people who worked there were pleasant and professional across the board–made a few phone calls and said there were two issues:

  • my NDA signature was unprofessional (truth)
  • I had used a computer other than my work laptop to do work (my manager had said this was ok and apparently it was not)

My manager had no idea, this had happened without his input. A spam fighting job is technically a security job, my title was Platform Health Security Analyst. Security jobs are more SRS BSNS than other jobs. I am not SRS BSNS, but I am pretty good at following rules. By the time I got back to my computer, all my credentials were revoked, my STAFF badge was gone. My manager said he’d check in with the big boss on Monday but he was pretty sure this was a done deal. I was told I could keep the laptop which had a list price of around two weeks of work. I talked it out with my sister. “Dude, I work for state government and we fire people all the time, this seems like a weird firing.” That said, it was a done deal and so I’ve sort of made my peace with it. I’m even a little hesitant to write about it because of my concern that someone will tell me that the real reason I was fired was because I am awful, or an idiot, or something. I can’t help feeling that there is more to the story, it’s tough to settle with the idea that I’ll probably never know.

My sister and I had Chinese food that Friday and I waited to open my fortune cookie until I’d gotten the final word on Monday that I wouldn’t be coming back. I got the final word. My fortune said “I learn by going where I have to go.” I don’t know if all Chinese food eaters are readers of Roethke, but I was, and I knew this poem. I’d written a report on it in high school. And I could make all sorts of hand-wavey interpretations of it within this context, but it felt good to see something familiar.

I’ve got no wrap-up here except that writing this down is my symbolic “OK now that’s over with.” I wasn’t even there long enough to put it on a resumé. I have some vague concerns that maybe I am secretly unemployable, but they’re pretty low key. My dad had a Bob Dylan song he liked to sing a lot, more than anything parts of it are running through my head, and not always the same part.

P.S. I’m giving the laptop to my Drop-In Time intern. His parents said it’s ok.

winning

image of letter and check I received from Equifax

So I won my case against Equifax and received my check at the end of last month. There was some media attention and my photograph (taken by my mom, in my favorite library) was in the New York Times. I find this all delightful. At the same time, like all good activism work, the struggle continues.

This has always been the hardest thing about being occasionally and intermittently ambitious: once you get the thing, really all you do is go figure out what other thing you might want to get. I remember this from when I finally visited the last town in Vermont that I hadn’t been to, Somerset. Jim and I celebrated with a beer and took some photographs and then the question was “Well what do you do for an encore?” (answer: go back and photograph them all, which I am in the process of doing). My dad had a few quotes he was known for, from Soul of a New Machine. One of my favorite ones was the concept of pinball: the reward for doing a thing you love well is getting to go do it again. Here’s a quote from Wired in December of 2000.

An engineer’s essential desire, after all, is to design and build a machine and see it through to completion, but completion itself is therefore not the ultimate reward. In the Eagle days, West called this paradox “pinball.” In pinball, he reasoned, the prize for winning is getting to play again.

This resonates strongly with me. What I am doing now–besides trying to have a summer full of books and outdoor activities and not full of grief–is starting a new super-part-time job–doing “product health” over at GitHub a few hours a week–and pinballing myself into some other interesting tech environment where I can offer constructive feedback about improving systems to make them more useful for everyone. Oh, and playing Scrabble.

Jim and I are entering our ninth season of head to head Scrabble matches. We’ve played 623 matches and I am up by eight games overall. He led last season’s 109 game run by one game. Our average has been 405 points per game. I often look at my Scrabble performance (and my internet trivia league performance) to gauge how I’m doing mentally. Spacey and forgetful = worse on trivia. Distractable and dopey = worse on Scrabble. I am doing okay on things. I get to keep playing. This is good.

more of the same, or is it

maroon screen saying "Hi I'm jessamyn,. I'm a Vermont Librarian. I can teach anyone to use a computer"

I was chatting with someone on Twitter the other day, as one does, and I checked out her website. It had the lovely spareness that I had been hoping to use on my own website. Better yet, it was in HTML which meant I could copy, alter, and use it (after asking, of course). So I redesigned the entryway to jessamyn.com and I’m pleased with it.

I’ve also been recommitting to my VT 183 project, wanting to visit all of Vermont’s libraries. I got jazzed and re-energized by the Vermont Library Conference (which is exactly what it’s supposed to do!) and went to five new libraries this week.

I’ve done a lot of legal stuff, from my day in court with Equifax which you can read about, to visiting the Vermont Attorney General’s office to talk about suing the recent managers of the local drive-in for defrauding the people in the town via Kickstarter, to updating my will. People who know me may know that I almost went to law school instead of library school. The structure of legal theory and thought appeals to me.

I’ve been able to get a lot of this stuff done because my teaching, public speaking, and related travel are wrapping up. And, for the rest of 2018, I am planning to not do much more of it. Not for any bad reason but for a few good reasons:

  • I’ve been overdoing it. I’ve been stressed out and for whatever reason (maybe grief, Jessamyn!) this same-old combination of things has not been allowing me to thrive.
  • I don’t have to, right now. I’ve got a stable, if low, income and I’m going to make that work for now.
  • I’ve had my head in the sand about global warming but the biggest thing I figured I could change in my life was not getting on any more airplanes. This isn’t a total overhaul, just a reminder to be more mindful about when I decide to travel and maybe doing it more for fun and less for work.
  • I’m throwing myself in to my hobbies and my neighborhood. This includes visiting more libraries, stepping up my work with the Vermont Library Association, joining the town’s Conservation Commission, and (my new announcement) joining the board of the Vermont Humanities Council

More to the point, I think my definition of “thriving” is going to include more community work and less get-money-for-Jessamyn work. I’m really lucky to be able to make this choice for a few months (or longer) and gosh is it lovely outside.

Hawai’i How Were Ya?

me wearing two separate leis

I am still waking up at 10 am. Which is not too terrible but still outside the range of normal for me. Was sort of waiting until I could write “Hey I am over my jetlag!” but figure I’ll just say “Hey!” The trip was a combination of good things and… less good things. The good things are probably obvious but you can also see my photos. Hawai’i is beautiful, fascinatingly different from New England, and as I said in the previous post, I didn’t realize how much it was good to be somewhere that wasn’t icy. My colleagues are gracious and warm people who deeply care about LIS education (as I do) and their hospitality was touching as well as enjoyable. There were all new birds which were a constant surprise and delight. I gave two talks (one in NYC on the way out to HI and one in HI) and they were well-received.

The less-good things were mostly a combination of my poor suitability for tropical living (both personality-wise and biological-wise: allergies and paleness and being a night owl) crossed with some environmental issues (noisy room, did I mention allergies?) that made the last part of my trip mostly happen in a groggy sudafed haze. I have only myself to blame for my inability to pack properly–“Oh it will be in the 70s there, that is jeans and t-shirt weather right?” (No, it is shorts and tank top weather)–but I made it work for the most part. I did bring my sandals to wear everywhere and it was great to have Sudden Birkenstock Weather. Thank you UH Manoa LIS breakroom white elephant sale and faculty thrift store donations for keeping me cool-feeling!

The parts that I thought might be hellish, long flights and one really long travel day, were not so bad. I like being in motion and I’m becoming a lot better at just staring out the window. Now that I can breathe through my nose again I’d like to go do it again with proper clothing, timing, and medicines. I wish I’d taken more photographs. In their absence, I’ll include this set of pictures from the last time I went, in 2006, where I met Drew, the LIS professor who would eventually become the person who would recommend me for the job I have now. Mahalo.

Hawai’i

moss growing in a cemetery wall

It’s amusing that I have come halfway around the world just to get some writing done but that’s what the trip to Hawai’i has been like so far and I am happy for it. I am here to meet my students and talk about library stuff and learn about local libraries. It’s been a busy few weeks (or months) at home and I have been stoically enduring it without really even noticing I was doing that. Being somewhere where the ambient culture is a little more chill and a little less wintery has led to the relaxation of muscles I didn’t even know were tense. I stepped in the ocean yesterday and got great tours of the local area, buildings, food, and people from two of my University of Hawai’i colleagues, one of whom I had never met before (but who was born in the same hospital as me… HOW).

So I’ve been catching up on some non-Hawai’i stuff (hello blog) because there is time and space to do more than just endure. More photos coming when I get home.

A story for mom

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 75. This is also the first week I’ve gotten a media mention where I thought “Oh hey mom would like that” (which she almost always did) but also “Oh hey I like that” (which I rarely do, photos of me don’t look like me TO me, I am aggravated by typos and almost-right facts) so the usual bummed-outedness is exacerbated a bit by that very small “Awwww, she would have loved this.” feeling. So, here’s the picture from the back page of this month’s Vermont Life magazine. It’s good, right?

an image of me in my librarian outfit looking decently good alongside an interview for which there is no online version.

I’ve been at home this week catching up on deferred life maintenance including whipping my filing system into shape. I’m the owner, now, of my files, my dad’s files, and (some of) my mom’s files. They were a little all over the place and causing me low-level psychic stress as we round the corner into tax season. Last month I got a new filing cabinet–one of those cute ones on wheels that opens from the top and locks on the bottom–and yesterday I decided to handle this. I dug out all my files from various cabinets and drawers, piled them all on the day bed, and just went at them with an eye towards ditching every single thing I couldn’t make an argument to keep. Loved my mom, but I swear she never threw a thing away. This is fine, right up until it’s not.

I had a nice sprint through the last two decades. Bills for houses and cars I no longer own. Thank you cards from speaking engagements I no longer remember. Manuals for stuff that broke a long time ago. I have two folders, one called I AM IMPORTANT (for “don’t lose this” stuff) and one called I AM AWESOME (for stuff like that VT Life article) and I enjoyed poking through them. My SAT scores. A letter from my kindergarten teacher basically calling me spacey. Along the way, I opened up some recent mail and found a recall notice for my car’s air conditioning, air conditioning which had failed at the peak of summer last year. In fact, it was worse than that, it literally died within the same 24 hours as my mom. I don’t look for meanings in coincidences, this just was what it was–an expensive and ultimately fixable side irritant when I had other things going on.

But! According to the recall notice, I could get that expense reimbursed. If I could find the mechanic’s bill and my payment receipts. Which, since I was already knee-deep in paperwork, I totally could. And I had all the envelopes and stamps at the ready. And I had this “Ha HA, gotcha!” moment which I heard in my mom’s voice. And I wrote Honda an only-slightly-bitchy letter about the hassle this caused me. And then let it go. But I did think “Man, mom would have loved this.”

I have long hair because I am afraid of the barber

image of a braid as seen from the back

I got my hair pinked up a few weeks ago. I like how it turned out. It’s fun having long hair, for the most part, but I get tired of hair being in everything all over my house. It’s not something that is well-known about me, but I don’t have long hair because it’s my perfect style choice (I think this one might be), and I don’t have long hair because I am lazy, I basically have long hair because the get-a-haircut? decision tree is too complex and fraught with peril for me, so it’s easier just to grow it out. I live my life with intention in so many ways, but not this one.

I’m sure everyone has these little quirks about some part of their personality, this one is mine. I manage my anxiety pretty well most of the time. I decided that since this haircut decision paralysis is true about me, I may as well rock the long hair I have stuck myself with. Even that took almost a year of planning and preparation. Not preparation like psyching myself up, more like finding the right place, making sure it didn’t cost too much, making an actual appointment (thank you Bliss Salon for letting me do this over Facebook) and then getting my ass there, describing what I wanted (this is close, I was looking for something more orangey, they didn’t have that and I am still a little bent out of shape about it) and sitting in a chair talking to a (very nice!) stranger for hours.

When I used to do the MetaFilter Podcast with both Josh and Matt, we’d often spend the first five or ten minutes of every pre-tape session just bullshitting about either how much we hated Skype or how much we hated getting haircuts. It’s a thing I weirdly miss about the three of us getting together, feeling like the normative state of at least one community was “Oh yeah, haircuts amirite??”

I do have a few other internet friends who feel like I do, one of them encouraged me to write this.