Tag Archives: Work

Sick Oh

Friday morning I woke up sick.

Or I should say woke up sicker than usual as it’s been many years, decades, since I’ve been what I would consider truly healthy in any tangible sense of the word; if there had ever been such a mythical time and not just some fanciful memory.

But that particular morning was sickness of a specific sort that encouraged me to call out at work, something I rarely do.

I had gotten up to take Jack out. I started to change out of my robe into something more socially acceptable to wear outside. My fingers touched something unpleasantly wet and, upon examination, dark.

As if to emphasize its origin, I sat on the commode and proceeded to defecate in a splattering fashion that sounded more like urination. Over the next fifteen minutes I tried three times to make it from the bathroom, but ended up instead back in that rather helpless position of waiting for my body to do what it was going to do with or without my consent.

The fourth time I escaped the bathroom, got dressed, and took Jack out, like I originally had planned. Likewise, I thought I would continue with my routine and go to work, being stoic with matters of illness. But a few more attacks disabused me of such a notion along with the realization that the constant physical strain my current job entails would exacerbate such issues; especially since it already does so on a regular basis, just to a lesser degree.

So I called out and ended up spending most of the day and night in bed, dwelling on sickness, pending death – for it is always pending – and my relentless lack of means that makes the former harder to combat and the latter not as unwelcome, not as rage against the dying of the light, as it should be.

Relentless insomuch as my best efforts seem to no avail, with me frequently left an outlier to the world and feeling much like Equality 7-2521.

It is taxing not doing what you were born to do. It makes being born at all taxing.

Sickness bleeds the turnip.

Yet…

The next morning, not feeling great but not feeling as bad, I got up, took Jack out, and drove to Burlington for a board meeting. For I don’t know what to do when efforts are thwarted except put forth more effort.

I’m sick in that way too.

Interview Blues

How do you parse your life in marketable packets?

Coming home from a botched interview for a job I really wanted, I navigated the ensuing snowstorm without incident until I got home. Going up the steep drive to our apartment I couldn’t quite crest the hill. It ended up being a drawn-out ordeal with getting stuck and all the fun that comes with such situations.

But I ended up learning two things from a neighbor who helped me out.

  • If your car has front wheel drive and you’re stuck, try putting on the emergency brake and hit the accelerator. Emergency brakes are usually connected to the back wheels, so doing thus should whip you around and out of that situation. I didn’t have to do this, but I filed this information away as a last resort.
  • I always had previously thought salt with ice and snow. But my neighbor suggested – and that night effectively used – dirt. I filed this information away as well.

These snippets of data are retained and will be recalled in future snow incidents. However, if I went to a job interview the next day and was asked something general like “When have you tried a new solution to a problem?”, I’m not certain I would think to bring up this incident.

Data in my head doesn’t get organized in such nicely sellable chunks. It gets absorbed, recalled and used when needed, modified if necessary, then becomes reabsorbed. This ultimately makes me a heck of an effective worker who is able to accomplish much, but makes me altogether lousy at showcasing ability during interview time.

Once I learn something or accomplish something, either trivial or major, it becomes so integrated into the already existing and constantly evolving chunks of what I know and what I can do, I am hard-pressed to chisel them out again for the presentation successful job hunting requires.

In a probably futile effort to salvage this latest job search disaster, I wrote a letter to my interviewer, pressing myself hard to isolate a look at this rock of ability. Here is the letter, without names of course:

Dear __,

I gave a rather anemic answer to your question about when I have used creativity. So I thought I would provide this additional thought.

Creativity by its very nature is fluid. It flows daily and throughout the day enhancing activities in both minor and major ways. It is so ubiquitous I take it for granted and do not typically “record” specific instances of use. Its immediate output is ad hoc; its mechanism overshadowed by the results it fosters.

That said, here’s a concrete example of my solution-generating creativity at work:

I created a queer history display for Pride Vermont. My original vision featured a center panel with a collage of pictures from prides throughout the decades; a visual history. I diligently copied materials from the Vermont Historical Society.

The problem: As I put the display together, it became apparent that a collage would necessitate not including some years, which would subtract from the larger goal of infusing the display with a sense of time. Indeed, the space itself seemed too small to encompass the trove of wonderful information I had unearthed and wished to share. Even paring it down to one or two pages per year presented logistical issues for such limited surface area. There were too many years…

My creative solution: Instead of a standard mounting, I chronologically overlapped the documents, thereby allowing an easy view of year-by-year via a simple lift of one page to see the page – in its entirety – that it overlapped. Through this approach, no years were omitted and I did not have to compromise my aesthetic sensibility; form, function, and beauty coexisted.

Creation of the display involved other assorted creative bursts, which I discuss in some detail here on my website:

http://jdfoxpresents.com/queer-history-on-display/

Focused as I am on the present and the future, I am not good at heralding past accomplishments; an interview weakness for sure.

I reiterate here my impassioned interest in working for ______ and hope that this missive adds favorably to its articulation.

Respectfully,

JD Fox

Things blur inside me, not just creatively but analytically as well. I help Gary with formatting an excel spreadsheet, then that knowledge too goes back inside me until needed. Which is a very minor example of analytical, for sure, but it happened just yesterday and is what I am able to chisel out at the moment, other incidents currently being irretrievable.

Though I know they – both creative and analytical skills — are there for me to use when I need them; or someone else needs me to use them. I just need to find a way to prove it during the allotted 30 minutes of question and answer showtime.

Life outside the Rose Garden

So keep your eyes set on the horizon
On the line where blue meets blue

Life outside the Rose Garden

Sick at Thanksgiving, it’s hard to be thankful
for fever, fatigue, and loss of productivity.
At times like this, I feel the virus
mutating my immune system cell by cell.

The next day, today, same bills still to pay
make staying home a pretend thought
stolen from others with sufficient means;
possessors of dreams that do not stay frozen.

How do you keep your eyes on the horizon
when fog banks keep rolling in?
I drink coffee, write bad poetry, and try
to keep things in a less jaundiced perspective:

I have my spouse of nineteen years
plus our dog, two cats, and a fish.

Invisible Me

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?

I’ve never been popular. And I don’t expect to be.

Most of my thoughts are probably too esoteric for the Viral Video population while at the same time being far too simplistic for Great Thinkers. My stories are a little too subversive for mainstream consumption while being too ordinary for postpunkalyptical digestion. In conversation, I’m frequently only half-understood, and usually it’s the wrong half.

I would never be described by:

Whoa oh, it’s out at night he goes
He slips easily into conversation

That’s okay, though. Or more okay than not. For one doesn’t have to have everyone read you or understand you or like you for a pleasant life to be obtained. A carved-out social niche could be quite comfy enough for such purposes.

But how does one make such a space? A place where you are welcomed and accepted? Or at the very least one where you are acknowledged?

Such questions become doubly difficult to answer when something happens that indicates you’re going about it all wrong or, worse, that maybe there’s just something fundamentally wrong about you that keeps such a place always over there and out of reach.

I had such a recent experience with being turned down for a job.

Now it should be noted I am used to rejection. Don’t like it, of course. But I am used to it. Competition in both the writing and the job market is fierce. Submitted stories frequently get replies of Does Not Meet Our Current Needs and the same is true with employers who are Pursuing Other Candidates At This Time.

But this particular not-getting-the-job was special. Or rather not special, which is what made it all the more troubling to me.

For the employer knows me and I’ve done non-paid work for them. Still will do so, in fact, as I believe in their mission. All in all, I had always thought I was reasonably well-liked there.

They have a small staff of paid folks and when an opening came up I applied. As it was something I truly wanted to do and something I was impassioned about, I spent a lot of time on crafting cover letter and resume.

Still, I tried to keep my hopes at minimal. For like I said, the market is fierce and I know they had received a staggering number of resumes. With so many applicants vying for the same position, and with probably a great many of them also well-liked and also having done work for them, it would be unwise to have Great Expectations.

It turned out, though, that my low expectations were apparently not low enough.

For I not only didn’t get the job, I received a form letter rejection that gave no indication that the employer knew me from any other applicant on their desk. That impersonal missive hurt far more than just the “No.”

Emily Dickinson goes on to write:

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

Yet I can’t help but think how dreary it also is – to be – Nobody! Especially when I thought that I was finally becoming something else; something visible.

What Do You Meana Sestina?

I had a wonderful conversation at La Brioche with Rick Winston yesterday about art, movies and the Sestina, which is his first choice for writing poetry. I also groused about my current underemployment, where I am neither earning enough to live on nor using my skills. Here I don’t mean my poetic skills, although that would be really cool if it ever came to pass that I actually earned money with them, but I mean my more job marketable skills like Microsoft Office proficiency, records and information management, and administrative capacities.

He suggested that in the meantime I could write a poem about stocking shelves at the grocery store. So I went home and did so, using his preferred poetic form. What I thought I would do is share what I wrote, and then follow it with some notes on its formation and where I will go with revising from there.

—————————————————

Grocery Store Lament
JD Fox

My features blank, I am nothing
as I open boxes all day to stock
the shelves. There is so little time
to spend outside of it trying to create
a decent piece of art, a memorable work;
the great American novel or perfect story.

It all makes for a sad story.
Sure I started out from nothing
making life seem like a divine work
but as I take middle-age stock
of my life, I think, what did he create
and why the hell did he spend the time?

Surely no god would waste their time
on such a run of the mill, same old story.
After all, he’d have the means to create
something brilliant from that nothing.
But at the end of the day I just stock
grocery items for the masses; mindless work

that makes it very difficult to work
up the desire to continue my time
here on Earth. I think if I were a stock
I would have crashed long ago, my story
done, the selling price reduced to nothing
with no shareholder value left to create.

Am I doomed to watch others create
while I’m forever stuck performing work
that at the end of life amounts to nothing
but a squandering of this limited time
to give a happy ending to my story?
Am I blood from a turnip: vegetable stock

for the soup of someone else? My stock
in trade compels me to create
as if I might write a breakout story
that would allow me the luxury to work
on my art in something resembling full time
before my American Dream reduces to nothing.

But if this nothing is the lock, stock
and barrel of my time, I hope others create
this epigraph of my work: end of story

————————

The sestina can be an intimidating form. End words of the stanzas are repeated in a specific pattern that at first glance may seem incomprehensible. Even second glance. Hell, even after third glance and reading the Wikipedia entry on it, with its tables and algorithmic charts outlining the intentionally complex form, I’m not sure I truly grasp the mathematics behind its design. But that’s okay, as like electricity, one doesn’t need to fully understand it in order to use it.

I planned on using a table to keep track of my end words, but then I found this helpful Writer’s Digest article on the Sestina. The author, Robert Lee Brewer, mapped out the structure by line numbers, identifying the end words he used and providing a convenient skeleton of the form.

I first picked my six words, ones that seemed to go together thematically for me: stone, stock, time, create, work, and writing. My original first line was I’m a blank state, I am stone, with the thought that I would use later Am I fated to be crumbling stone or maybe Am I slated to be crumbing stone to have a dual meaning of slate. I toyed around with this, even writing a first couple of lines, but decided stone wouldn’t work (nor would writing), and changed them to nothing and story.

Here it should be said that since you will be repeating words, the most useful ones are those having multiple meanings and can be used as different parts of speech (noun, verb, etc). Doing so opens up more creative possibilities and minimizes the chance that you will write yourself into a corner where the line becomes forced by the demands of the form rather than supported by it.

And yeah, admittedly, nothing and story may not seem like much better choices than my original words, having limited definitions and parts of speech themselves. You can use story as a verb, but it is not common. However, the new words felt right, which is sometimes the best gauge for such things, so I went with them.

I Copy/Pasted the poem skeleton into word. Then I used Find/Replace to put my six chosen words into that skeleton. This allowed me the freedom to construct line by line, knowing readily what end word I needed without having to leave the poem to refer to a table. I wrote each line next to its guide:

Line 1-nothing (A) My features blank, I am nothing
Line 2-stock (B) as I open boxes all day to stock
etc.

Then when I finished, I simply deleted the guides, which might be akin to erasing initial sketch lines in a drawing. And voila: sestina!

During revision I will likely change the title to Grocery Clerk Lament, making the title more specific and accurate. I dislike that in this first draft I have both reduced to nothing and reduces to nothing, the repetition here seeming lackluster. Maybe for the first instance I should change it to something like fallen to nothing, or closing at nothing, which seem to go more with stock prices anyway.

Or I could instead change the second instance to crumbles to nothing, or maybe rewrite the line so I can use the verb form crumbling. Both crumbles and crumbling seem to go with American Dream, so either one should work.

I will definitely go through and tighten the lines, though I have read different thoughts on the rules for the form regarding this.

One guide has said the initial line in each stanza should be seven syllables and the other lines ten syllables. Even more specifically, the ten syllables should ideally be in Iambic Pentameter. For those who don’t know, Iambic Pentameter is just a highbrow way of saying each line of ten syllables should sound like da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM.

I’m not much of a counter and probably won’t be that anal. I’ll go with the school of thought that contemporary sestinas do not have to strictly adhere to that specificity of meter and syllable. But nevertheless, there can be a fine line between intentionally not adhering and just being lazy.

Is the line off meter because it really is the best way the line can be written? That is, to write it any other way would do a disservice to the poem.

For such determination, counting and meter manipulation can be extremely useful even if they do not result in a line meeting such specification. Such focus often reveals weak phrasing in the initially composed line. But one can also achieve that end sans counting just by playing around with the line, reading it aloud, and so on, which is more my tendency.

A tendency I would love to indulge more. So if there are any patrons of the arts out there reading this, please consider making a karmic donation to me.

Spark of Gratitude

Today kicked off Montpelier Poem City, a month-long celebration of poetry.

Part of that celebration includes poems posted for the duration at various businesses and part of that posted includes two of my efforts: “Father and Son” at Kellogg Hubbard Library and “My Personal Town” at Heney Realtors.

Normally I would be excited. And I am excited. Of course I am. How could I not be?

Writing is my passion and is something that I do on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not any of that daily makes its way to readers. And here are all kinds of fun-sounding, writing-related things happening that should-would fuel my excitement. And they do.

But.

It’s been a difficult year. Is a difficult year.

When adding no results
Times a shallow digging through the mud

The kind of difficult where the time demands of eking out something falling far short of a living will make it impossible to attend many of the events. The kind of difficult that makes the non-eking time spent in a funk of despair that is an obstacle all its own to attendance. The kind of difficult that leads to large gaps of time between blogs; time that is filled with being stressed, overwhelmed, and otherwise not in a good frame of mind.

And sure, I know that is when I probably should be creating the most, turning that difficult into art; god knows there are many things therein to write about.

And I think about writing – blogging in particular — about such things, but then I get too depressed about such things to put word one on the page; it being a fine line between adversity firing up one’s creativity and its burning one alive.

I felt pretty burned up today after working all day; like a walking pile of ash.

But I stoked the coals of my soul enough to get me to tonight’s event, where David Budbill spoke about poetry and read some poems, both components worth listening to. Enough so, I ended up purchasing one of his books. Enough so, his remarks should be blogged about.

However, this particular blog isn’t about that. It’s about after that.

A reception followed the kickoff.

I have always admired sculptors who install their work in the public square for anyone to view. Art should be shared; is meant to be shared. The displayed poems are a vast literary installation that is pretty darn nifty.

So I went over to thank Rachel Senechal for putting on the event and say my little sculpture comparison remark. She called me by name, remembering me from the spelling bee. As if this didn’t surprise the hell out of me enough, she mentioned the poem I wrote also by name (Father and Son).

This touched me more than anyone could possibly know, happening at a time when I’m feeling fairly hollowed out most of the time.

I can’t say my soul is fully reconstituted.

But, upon that touching, its ashes have coalesced enough for me to write this, which I will now put up as a blog, thus ending the most recent large time gap.

I should probably thank her for that.

And I hope this blog does so.

So-so It Goes

I had a job interview today and the last question threw me a bit. He asked:

What in your current or previous jobs are you hoping to avoid in your next job?

I paused a long time to answer. For one thing, “avoiding” doesn’t sound like it typically would be a good employee quality to have. Especially not with “and other duties as assigned” being a common catchall — or maybe a common gotcha — in job descriptions. But also, I don’t tend to think in terms of avoidance. I mean, I would like to avoid the usual; hunger, homelessness, illness, etc. But tasks are what they are and if something needs to be done, avoidance doesn’t take away that need.

I paused for a long time, a maybe interview-crippling long time. But I think the answer I ended up giving was a good one and was actually more true than the interviewer might ever realize.

I said I hoped to avoid stagnation.

In context of work, it means striving to learn new things, pick up new skills, advance one’s career, and so on building upon et cetera ad infinitum. But I meant it moving beyond a work maxim, though, and into a Weltanschauung where life far too often seems like one giant, twisted mass of averaged-out stagnation: the distance between birth and death divided by the giganormity of the universe times all the moments before and after that you weren’t, aren’t and won’t be.

It’s a tad overwhelming. Underwhelming, too, from a different point of view.

But despite the absurdist-friendly math, growth is the only thing we have to combat the absurdity of it all; for the alternative to growth will eventually happen of its own accord, making actively choosing such an option redundant.

I try to avoid redundancy, too, which is stagnation’s sister.

I didn’t mention her in the job interview and now I’m no longer thinking about the job interview anyway and thinking more about my life as it is right now.

Earlier in the week, I had a better job interview; that is, for a better job. The kind of better, quasi-writing-but-still-writing job I got excited about when someone gave me a lead on it and became even more excited when that lead-turned-live-contact gave me a chance to prove myself worthy of that opportunity with a test of sorts.

But the excitement couldn’t be shared as at that exact same point in time, other, less pleasant circumstances manifested and dominated. That was okay, though, as I reckoned there would still be excitement enough left afterwards to make such insensitive-to-the-events-at-hand expression unnecessary.

But I ended up mucking the test up.

So that excitement moment disintegrated unshared under the weight of the subsequent dismal moment. Both those moments are gone now, as is the one in which you read this sentence.

I feel like I’m in a maddening holding pattern that is a first cousin of stagnation and redundancy; dull isotopes of decaying moments.

Like this one.

More Time Here than at Home

I often here this phrase — more time here than at home — at work. Usually it is nested in some variant form of an extended Joe Workforce maxim:

Best to keep a good attitude at work and do what you can to make things pleasant. After all, we spend more time here than at home.

I’ve even said it myself.

And I usually nod if someone else says it, offer verbal consent, or in some other way affirm the validity of it. But of late I have started thinking about it and have come to realize it is not only wrong-minded but perverse.

Oh, not the making things pleasant part. Such an attempt should be made in any situation, work or otherwise, as life on its own can already be quite difficult for all concerned without heaping unnecessary conflict upon it.

I mean the more time here than at home part.

People recite this disturbing line in a matter-of-fact fashion, take it as a given, and otherwise accept it as being the way of the world. But if it is the way of the world, it seems to be a strange one indeed if family is as important a value as people often claim it is.

I mean it is strange one where we are not horrified at such a thought.

Think of it another way. Say 100,000 heartbeats were left In your life. That’s about a day, maybe less. Would that last beat sound out joy at having spent 90,000 of them filing documents in the right place or making sure all phone calls were returned in a “timely” manner?

And yeah, I know about having a strong work ethic. I have a strong one myself, so don’t even go there. For If you go there, you’re totally missing the point. And yeah, yeah, I know work has to be done for a society to function, so don’t go there either as that’s missing the point too.

We have this false, somewhat iconic image of the hard-working “high-level” executive who is so swamped with work that they miss Bobby’s little league game or Susie’s dance recital. Such an image stays in our subconscious so we dogmatically accept faulty notions of “job-creators” and how the wealthy deserve what they have because of all their industrious sacrifice to society.

But the truth is, if you really are powerful and wealthy, you have the ability to flex your schedule so you can attend whatever function you choose. You have the resources to base your decisions on personal values rather than need. You have the luxury of spending — or not spending — more of your time with family.

Do you think people like Mitt Romney fret about whether they can get time off for a PTA meeting or worry about not being able to get it up for their spouses because work has left them so exhausted?

Hell, Don Marsh had so much of all three — ability, resources and luxury — he had enough to squander it on whores he had strewn across the country.

The people who truly miss out on spending time with family are the time-clock punchers funding the Don Marshes and the Mitt Romneys of the world.

They are the 99% who have such little ability to make their own family-prioritizing schedules that they have to make due with an obscene work model dressed up as a work ethic. I know this because I am one of those 99% and I am currently making due.

But as I grow older and ever closer to that last heartbeat, the absurdity of this twisted way of life gets to me.

Especially as I can hear the 1% laughing.

Can’t you?