Hi everyone! How have you all been? Yeah, I know, it’s been a while. I’ve got plenty of excuses, and they’ll all figure prominently in the next few blog posts. But I know you’re less interested in hearing those and more interested in hearing what’s been going on with me the last… gosh, fifty-four days. (Well, as far as I know, anyhow. Maybe you all actually really love a good series of excuses. If that’s you, don’t worry, they’re coming.)
So let’s start this off with the number one question I seem to keep getting. “How’s work?” When I left you, I had just recently ditched my almost inexpressibly horrible call center job and started a new one. Trouble is that I never really clarified exactly what it is that I had just started doing, or who I was doing it for, or whether I liked it, or whether I was now an indentured servant, or what. Partly this is because it wasn’t entirely clear even to me for the first two or three weeks I was there. My job during that time was just to read stuff and learn about the gizmos that the company sells. But I guess also it was because instead of blogging about it, I put up a bunch of photos, and then my computer got stolen, and then I had a devil of a time getting a new computer that I could stand. (See, I’ve tossed in one free excuse for you here, though it’s a low-quality one that hasn’t been fully fleshed out.)
So without further ado: What I do is I work on marketing for a little company called O.E.M. Heaters. (We also go by several other names, depending on who we’re doing business with and what sort of business, but that’s not important.) As you’d expect, we sell heaters. We’re an electric heater distributor, but the way we aim to set ourselves apart is by providing really good engineering help to people who don’t really know exactly what kind of heater they need. It’s a complicated business, figuring out a heater. You have to figure out the size, the shape, the wattage, the material, and so on. Otherwise you might end up with a heater that burns out because you pumped too much power into it, or one that melts because you ordered an immersion heater for your tank full of sulfuric acid but got one with a sheath made of highly corrodible stainless steel.
Now, I’m not providing any of that technical assistance. My week and a half of reading a textbook about electric heaters did not transform me into a heater engineer. My job instead is to handle some of the complex task of running the website. And just some of it. I don’t know if you realized it, because I sure didn’t, but websites are complicated. We’ve got at least three people working on ours. Granted, that’s because we’re upgrading it, but that’s a lot of people for a company that consists of ten people. (One of the web guys is an outside consultant, though, so it’s not like there are three of us constantly hunkered in front of computers coding. Just two.) To be a little more specific about my job, what I do is mostly upkeep and refinements. And to be even more specific, because those are two pretty nebulous words, let me get into it.
So upkeep is basically making sure that all the products we have listed correspond to products we can actually deliver. It sometimes gets tricky because we’ve got like three thousand products and a lot of them differ only by an inch in length, 20 volts in supply power, or whether they’re 304 or 316 stainless steel. Also, the framework that we’re working with is a little glitchy and sometimes thinks it’ll be great fun to, say, take an entire category full of immersion heaters and move it to where we keep the thermostats, and then not let me move it back. But I keep on top of it.
Refinement is what I’m working on as we get ready to ditch the old version of our website and move to one that everyone can actually use, and that doesn’t unpredictably switch things around like the moving staircases at Hogwarts, and that we can have a little bit more control over by ourselves without having to cede all the power to a developer. Also, it means making the site more friendly and less clunky and more like it was made by a bunch of people who are just miles smarter than all the competition. So basically I’m in charge of making a bunch of little improvements that should be invisible but add up to an airtight website, or as close as you can get to making anything airtight with a computer.
Oh, and another thing I do is graphic design. Earlier this month there was a big trade show in Chicago and I made us a bunch of posters, and I also designed business cards for everyone. I even have one! So grown-up!
So! Sounds pretty enthralling, doesn’t it? I can just see all your skeptical expressions and subtly shaking heads. “He comes off of a lifestyle that lets him just, on a whim, go climb glaciated mountains in Montana or spend several days camping underneath redwoods, and this is what he finds to replace it? I expected he’d do something that aligned exactly with everything he’s always wanted in life—some job where he can get paid to learn both Ojibwe and Somali, and maybe Haitian Creole or something, and then gets to go out every week on a field trip teaching those languages to kids while canoeing and harvesting wild rice. And then during the winter he takes all the notes from those experiences and gets paid to sit in a yurt in a park somewhere in the city and write a novel about it all. And for good measure he proofreads the novel that was written by the last person who had the job.” Yeah, that sure would be lovely. And I suppose there are elements of that job that even exist in real life. But allow me to quote something I read just earlier today: “Choose a major you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life… because that field isn’t hiring.” There’s a smattering of nonprofits and stingily government-funded jobs where I could do those sorts of things. But my primary goal in the Cities isn’t to seek job satisfaction at all costs, including the cost of not making money and the cost of having no time. Actually my primary goal in the Cities doesn’t have a whole lot to do with jobs at all.
See, the thing is, at this point in my life I see a job as only one part of the whole that is my life, and even if it’s the biggest single time commitment, it’s not really the thing that I make my life revolve around. That honor belongs to a patchwork of other things like community, friends, long-term goals, and self-education. Now, before I get into all that, let me backtrack a minute and say that this doesn’t mean I at all dislike my job; it just means that it’s not the main thing that gets my motor running and makes me excited to live in the Twin Cities. It’s a great job, for several reasons. One is that, like I was saying a few posts ago, it’s an extremely human job, one with common sense. The company is small, and I know everyone who works there, and I more or less know what we all do and who to ask questions. I can work at my own speed and blaze my own trails. I’m in charge of figuring out what I need to do, and the folks have the confidence that I’ll be able to figure it out and wade through the complicated technical crap and get it done in the end. I’m not a cog; I’m someone who does useful stuff. Also, the company is just made up of good people. Rick is the foremost example. He’s the owner and the president, and he puts in a lot of hours keeping the place together, but he somehow, even miraculously, manages to do it all while being able to act like a real human being who just wants to enjoy life, rather than putting on an angry managerial face all day at work and telling everyone to keep their hours precisely logged and telling people they need to really step up their performance or they risk getting terminated. He gets deep enjoyment out of really good beer. He bikes to work when he can. He takes chances on people who don’t necessarily have years of background in the electric heating field—who does?—and hires people like me who feel like a hopeless jack of all trades but master of none, on the theory that they can master what he needs them for, because jacks of all trades like that are good at teaching themselves stuff, and that’s how you learn anything worth knowing anyhow. Oh, not to mention, I get enough time off each year that I’ll be able to spend time with my family even though it takes a full day to get to where they live, and another to get back. A couple weekends ago I took a day and a half off to go with housemates and friends to a cabin up north for a long weekend, and I didn’t have to stress about having just used a third of my annual vacation time. I’m allowed to have a real life.
Which gets me back to the other thing I was talking about—the fact that I’m not orienting my life around a job, at least not yet. The unaltered version of the thing I quoted earlier is, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” (I believe I heard this from Grandpa, but apparently it was originally said by a debatably even wiser man, Confucius.) The thing with me is, I’m not altogether convinced that it’s possible for me to do what Confucius is describing while I’m living in a city. I’m planning to set aside some time somewhere in the near future to sort of draft myself a several-year, malleable-but-hopeful life plan. So far what I’ve done toward making that plan is some extremely rudimentary brainstorming that mostly consists of me dreaming in a soft-focus way about what I’d be doing if I had no limitations, monetary or situational or otherwise. And one of the big things that I think will make it into the eventual final draft is that I want to move out to the country, somewhere with wild and productive land around me, and make friends with nature, and work with it day by day through permaculture.
That goal is an indeterminate number of years in the future and has many uncalculated variables, including pretty much all the big ones: where, when, what, who, how. But I can see some of the first few steps being illuminated from where I stand now. Here in the Twin Cities there’s a terrifically outsized proportion of young people who want to do the same thing I’ve just described. I was on my doorstep the other day talking with housemate Maddy and a neighbor named Seamus about how it feels so amazing to be out on the land and we all know so many people who would love to live there, but no one seems to be quite ready to actually do it, largely because we’re at an age where we all have hang-ups that keep us from leaving the safe womb of the city where we can be around all the young people and countercultural energy we need, and emerging into the real, rural world where there are (horror!) conservatives, and smaller numbers of people in our age group, and non-guaranteed access to organic food, and where (perhaps more significantly) the path forward isn’t as simple as inserting yourself into a job where you can work for a boss and fill a predetermined role and not have to blaze every inch of the trail yourself. We figure most of us will eventually make the leap, but we have to get to that right phase in our lives. So the city for us is a sort of incubation chamber. Combined with a crucible where we can all alloy ourselves together with the people we want to be around in the long term. Finding the right people is at the top of the list of those hang-ups I mentioned. Speaking for myself, I feel almost like there’s hardly any further in life I can go until I find someone to fall in love with; it seems somehow as if from there, nearly anything will be possible. Similar thought patterns must be plaguing a lot of the other twenty-somethings around me. Moving out to the land is practically a marriage without the certificate, and we all want to make sure we’ve got our other life commitments correct before we make that one.
So now that you’ve gotten more than you bargained for—on top of the answer to what the heck my job actually is, you get a bonus rambling, semi-inconclusive digression on life satisfaction—I’ll let you go, but with a promise to try to get the next of my many backlogged blog topics covered sometime within the next week. Tomorrow I’m going to a Halloween puppet show that’s supposed to be unexpectedly profound and draw somewhere over a thousand people, and then we get into the weekend, which is generally for being sociable, but there ought to be time soon. Especially now that I have a computer of my own again and it’s one that works well. But I’ll talk about the whole computer thing sometime that isn’t now.
File under: work