I’ve decided to get personal about Issues in the Modern Workplace for my first diary.
I became unemployed December 31, 1999, in a happy ending to the story of The Little Company That Could. There were only three of us, and Best Boss Ever smiled when we said we were totally spoiled for any other job. I figured I could work a few more years and then reduce my hours and be semiretired.
Here’s what really happened.
I had been a freelance editor for 15 years before helping to start The Little Company in 1990, so I Got Back Out There. Little did I know, to coin a phrase.
I'll start with the Dept of Health and Human Services job in 2001 or 2002. The Bushevik political thumb was already on the HHS community mental health programs. It crushed the earnest employees and their programs and finally crushed me too, causing me to behave irrationally and get fired. This has nothing to do with your work, my boss said. You're a very good editor and I'll give you a good reference. I soon recovered from the digestive problems I hadn’t realized were job-related.
An overview of interviews and temp jobs follows.
There was a translation firm that paid freelance translators 20% below the normal hourly rate for little-known languages. My job was to search out freelancers online to work on projects. When they accepted, they would email This is a one-time thing. I normally don't work for this rate. Then they’d come back for more work.
I spent some time at a small medical research foundation that received $$$$ at Christmas from poor widows, rich families, and lawyers in a hurry for a write-off. The executive director had her husband and her son on the payroll. At their Board luncheon I heard her say We're going to try to fund more research next year to improve our public image. I couldn't work fast enough and I got tangled up in their kludgy software. I became mildly hysterical on frequent occasions and was eventually let go for not following the dress code. The data clerks wore heels to enter the widows' donations into the system. (I looked up the foundation online. They're way down the list of admin funds vs. research funds.)
The "information research firm" sounded intriguing; I looked forward to the interview. I was greeted by The Guy in the Polo Shirt (Why do arrogant young men who run little companies always wear polo shirts?) and we sat down at a table surrounded by file cabinets and earnest women in tiny cubes. He leaned back in his chair, laced his fingers behind his head and said You spelled copyeditor two different ways in your resume.
After that I just looked around at the hardworking women who were either entering data or scurrying around, sometimes asking Polo Shirt Guy a question and then disappearing into their cubbies again. It turned out the firm gathered government data through FOIA and sold it to pharmaceutical companies.
The transcription company said they were a "sweatshop for editors." I should have taken them at their word, especially when I saw boxes and boxes of output labeled with deadlines that were times of day instead of dates. We had to listen to tapes and proofread transcripts, with deadlines at 11 am, 2 pm, 4 pm. On the third day I had to listen to a trial that centered on the grisly murder of a man in his 20s by a local teenager. The guy had made a move on the teenager's girlfriend. I freaked, ran outside, called my therapist, and quit.
I've had good jobs too.
I loved working at Target. While I was there they sometimes shouted Jill! when I came in the door, I was so smiley all the time. I loved my stint at the local chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness; I ended up volunteering there. Both those jobs ended in a positive way, and there have been great temp jobs. I can't say enough good things about Sparks Temps.
I've been on Social Security for about a year now, and it keeps a roof over my head and my computer connected. Still, I want the Senate to pass the farm bill so I can get food stamps. The new version doesn't include retirement accounts as assets. I still have a little money left. And I have a line on a freelance job that looks really, really good . . .