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Sunday, August 31, 2003
If You'd Like to Speak to a Customer Representative...
I have discovered something more annoying than automated phone trees. You know, the things that ask you to press "1" or "2" or whatever until presumably you get your task done. It is online customer service sites that allow one to make changes to one's policy, etc. -- except for the changes you need to make.
Unfortunately for me, I seem to have a knack for having problems not easily dealt with by automatic services and asking questions which never show up on FAQs lists.
Today I was trying to use online services for various insurance, telephone, etc. companies in the hopes that I could make needed changes without having to figure out how to call them during work hours. For every single one, I ran into an insurmountable snag. For one insurance company, my having moved out of state meant that I couldn't alter the policy online. Another company insisted on mailing me a physical confirmation of my online registration before I can make any changes, including to my address (so that confirmation must go to my old address and get forwarded here before I can update my address online). For the phone company my address apparently does not exist; I entered everything correctly, I get mail there, and the company does recognize other addresses in the immediate vicinity -- but not that one number belonging to me. Feh.
It's very strange not being scheduled or required to do something. I keep feeling, this weekend, like there are things I ought to be doing -- and indeed there are, but they are not anything that can be done today, or tomorrow, and probably not next week (since I'll be working). It's very strange.
But I've written about this before, haven't I?
It's one thing to spend unclaimed time in enjoyable or productive tasks, like knitting or bicycling; it's another to find oneself feeling anxious to get certain tasks taken care of, but unable to complete them. Today, for example, D. and I were going to bring some stuff out of storage to my apartment (taking advantage of the unscheduled weekend) but problems apparently arose with the window replacements, so there was a lot of drilling and painting still going on there. (I am very much hoping that this apartment will not prove to be in the process of continual renovation!) Plus there are things waiting on my having time during the week and working hours to get done (like getting a new driver's license) and on being reassured as to the steadiness of my paycheck (deciding whether to continue my existing health insurance at $350 a month or find something cheaper, for example).
Money and time -- it's not entirely a matter of both being in short supply, but more that they are distributed in a way that is out of sync with my needs.
I don't think there's much I can do about that, however.
Today was relaxing and pleasant. After listening to NPR this morning, D. and I went to pick up my apartment key. We then walked around my new neighborhood. There are so many cool little shops, all nestled in small corner clusters among lovely residential neighborhoods with lots of trees, that I feel quite lucky to have found the place I did. There are lots of pets in the area, notably many front-porch cats who just adore being petted. Indeed, there is one fat black and white beast in my own courtyard that has lumbered to its feet for pats each time I've encountered it.
Later, after lunch, we went bookstore cruising -- of course we bought some books -- and are now resting. How nice to have an unscheduled day!
Not much to report today, workwise -- things went much like they did yesterday. I did a few small tasks (and one larger one -- checking graduating students' having met the requirements for various degrees). I ate lunch. I came home and dropped off my timesheet.
On the other hand, I had a delightful evening with D. and my friend J. from grad school -- we were laughing nearly constantly (lots of catching up, too) -- and stuffed ourselves to repletion at an all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet. (I can eat a lot of tuna and eel, it turns out. LOTS of tuna and eel.)
Tomorrow I get to pick up the key for my new apartment!
As I said there, I've never been able to pull off tweed. My normal inclinations are to follow the herd of slight women with glasses and short dark slightly funky hair and short dark slightly funky suits and chunky heels, though I try to deviate from the norm by wearing camel to interviews. (I recall once going to an AHA conference and thinking, wow, look -- it's a bunch of me's!). And then there was the time I was wearing black skirt, black turtleneck, black tights and the aforesaid black chunky shoes, and had a friend remark, "All you need is a cigarette to look just like a lit major!" *grin*
Perhaps some of my interest stems from the fact that I am having real problems wearing a suit every day for work -- though largely, I will admit, because most of my dress shirts are in storage. (I did save out one funky dark suit and my camel suit, so it's not like I'm going to work in jeans. Still, it's good that no one pays much attention to my clothing there.)
Yes, I am still suffering from culture shock and will no doubt keep whining about it. This is a surprise?
Another thing I'm starting to wonder about is how I am going to manage to get various personal chores done while working. I used to think it was a nifty thing to go home at 5ish and leave work at work. But the flip side is that the entire time I'm there I have to stay focused on work, and I have to be there -- no matter how little needs to be done -- to get paid. (I'd forgotten about this nasty little aspect of the 8-5 job.)
What this means in practice is that I am obliged to stay there during the time when the places I need to visit -- shoe repair stores, DMV, hair salons, etc. -- are open, and when I'm finally off work, they're closed. Even dropping off my timesheet is a conundrum of logistics: I have to be at work around 8-9am (when I come in determines when I get to leave) but the temp agency only opens around 7:30, and the college is a half-hour drive away. I can't turn in my timesheet after work, either, because it closes at 5pm. I thought about asking D. to drop it off for me, but I'll need to pick up a new timesheet and he can't do that for me.
I suppose the answer is to go in later, or to ask for time off without pay -- how lame. How do people with more complicated lives manage to function?
If a temp spends all day working hard, does she accomplish a day's worth of work?
If today's experience was anything to go by, the answer is no. When I looked back over what I did today -- and what I needed to do -- I realized that I only really did three -- count them, three -- real things today. I entered grades for one class. I dropped a student. I called a bunch of students on leave to confirm that they were returning tomorrow. And that's it! The third task took the most time, but even that was under half an hour.
So it would be reasonable to assume that I spent the day admiring my fingernails or reading tawdry novels while popping gum and swinging my foot, wouldn't it? In truth, I did do more than that, but it was basically the clerical equivalent of being a maid -- sorting piles of stuff into tidier piles, trying to determine what those piles were (I may never know, I'm coming to realize), and coping with various people making bustling forays in search of files. I have now made nice lists of the contents of each pile, very clearly written, but the Burrower is still doubtful as to their veracity and digs away fruitlessly regardless. I've also made nice "OUT" cards for all the files I know about, but it's an on-going struggle to be aware of the actions of various swoopers who make off with files and don't fill out the cards (or, worse, cheerily ask me to fill out the card as they bounce out with a file, even though I'm not always entirely sure about which file was taken). I've also been working on a "Registrar's Guide" for the poor soul who next inherits this job; I was told when I accepted this position that "training" was going to occur -- it hasn't -- and dearly wished for such a thing myself!
No wonder I spent much of today thinking it was Friday.
I suppose part of learning to cope with this is a matter of attitude adjustment on my part. The first day was chaos, as noted -- I didn't know my tasks, or how to do them. Yesterday I'd figured out the rudiments of both, but people were less forthcoming with explanations than before. Today, there were no explanations (just questions -- "Do you know how to do this? No? Well, okay, I'll do it myself." -- even though I'd be happy to learn how to do these things) and few assignments. It's like everyone's judged my ability to do things based on that first very confusing day and can't imagine that I'd have actually learned much of anything since then. It's rather frustrating, which is why I think I need to be more zen about all of this. I'm too hyper to be truly lazy but I think I'll try being more relaxed about the whole thing. I used to be worried about being thrown into the thick of things and being responsible for too much; I'm beginning to realize (and hopefully accept) that no one wants to give me much responsibility for anything at all.
I have to say that I find this lack of responsibility -- not irresponsibility, mind you -- rather odd.
We'll see what happens tomorrow; the first classes of the new term start then. I may have to eat my words (again?).
Today at work was less frenzied but more exasperating. I'm getting the hang of the system, both formal and informal, but am finding it hard to play nicely with other people.
There are about two people I genuinely respect among the group I work directly with. One woman doesn't know how to do many of the things I'm responsible for, but she understands the flow of paper from person to person and is orderly and tidy. (Such a relief!) The big boss gains my respect by staying out of my way except when he has a specific task for me to do; having given it to me, he goes away and lets me do it, and so far nothing he's asked me to do has been impossible to figure out logically. His only quirk that's slightly annoying is dropping by occasionally to play with the thermostat in my office (our two offices are on the same system) and make it colder than I'd like. Small annoyance, easily dealt with.
Then there are two women who are very frustrating to work with and with whom I'm required to have regular encounters. One woman I'm starting to think of as the Burrower, because she was driving me mad on her endless hunts for Joe Blow's and Jane's Smith's files. There are two file cabinets, and three small piles of files in my office. I have been through all the piles by now and know more-or-less which students' folders are in them. Ms. B. comes in at the beginning of the day desperately needing Bob Frank's file, and asks me if I've seen it. Nope. Not believing me, she digs through each pile. Not there. Next she goes to the main file. Also not there. Then the secondary file for students on leave. Not there either. I express sympathy, she annoyance, and she bustles out of the office on her quest for Bob Frank's file. Annoying, but I can deal with this. However. Two hours later she's back (and later still, her gofer, who is apologetic), still looking for Bob Frank's file. This is repeated throughout the day AGAIN and AGAIN.
Unfortunately, the Burrower knows a lot about the students' files and about the various requirements and caveats governing things like attendance, leaves, etc., so I can't avoid her however much I'd like to.
Then there is the Bait-and-Switch woman. She also knows a lot, and is therefore useful to ask questions of. Unfortunately, this question-asking on my part has so far failed to register in her mind as "Hey, this person has never worked with our system before and is therefore unlikely to grok things that we all take for granted." What BandS does is to give me something to do (such as drop Jill Kirky from Course B this term and sign her up for Course B in the next term. Okay. Dropping Jill from the course was easy, but then I discover that there is no Course B offered next term (or at least during the dates BandS gave me for when the new course should be). After much fussing about I manage to create a new slot of Course B (on Bait's advice, as she told me that they always offer Course B every term) and duly sign up Jill for the course. But wait! Later in the day I am informed by Ms. Switch that the dates for the new Course B are wrong (though they are the ones she gave me) and that I was not supposed to drop the course from the student's record but instead delete it. So I go back and change all of this stuff, again, and now (?) she seems satisfied. ARRGHGH!
What I wish for is a really big clue stick and the authority needed to apply it forcefully, and hard. I did content myself with thinking that today represents about another $80 in the pocket, and consoled myself with a visit to the used bookstore across the street during lunch.
And when I came home, D. was baking a pie. Fresh peach pie. With a flaky butter crust. *sighhhhh*
Well! Today's foray into the world of registrar-dom was quite interesting! It turns out that the previous registrar had left basically without notice (and with little or no thought for those who would have to leap into the gap) and the person filling in before me seems to have primarily spent her time making big stacks of papers and files without telling anyone (let alone the next temp) what they were. Now add in the fact that classes begin on Friday, and you begin to get a sense of what my first encounters with this place were like!
This would have been daunting enough for an experienced registrar, let alone someone like me who's only encountered the office from the other side of the desk. However, after about an hour of orienting myself with the computer, the abbreviations and the filing system, I was feeling much more comfortable with the mechanics of the job. Much, much of it involves inputting or editing or viewing data entered in a somewhat cumbersome menu-driven PC-based program; I've basically figured out the program now -- no big deal. On the other hand, I'm still terribly in the dark as to things like timeframes for various activities, the class schedules, who gets the green form when, etc. In other words, if I had to do the job all by myself as isolated tasks, I'd be golden; it's having to integrate my own activities with those of everyone else that have been insanely complicated.
And practically no one, beyond the student workers (who didn't know much themselves), appreciated this. Half of the people kept assuming that I was too new to understand the system and thus tended to swoop in on me to explain things I'd figured out hours ago or to whisk off a project I was in the middle of completing. The other half assumed that I was a registrar sprung full-blown from the head of Athena or something and kept asking me complicated questions about files or credits or where Student Joe Blow's file had gotten to, etc.
What I wouldn't have given for a simple training manual!
The closest I got was three typed pages of semi-random highly abbreviated codes and notes the previous registrar had written to herself. So I was able to learn that transcripts require two stamps to mail, but not where the special paper was or who had to sign off on the forms first, or what to do when the transcripts were so old they'd been shipped out to a special service (for which, of course, no one had the phone number). Talk about learning on the fly!
(It was with this experience behind me that I read Dorothea's post on credentialing (which links to others on the same topic) today -- it seemed terribly apropos.)
In other news, I've signed the lease for my new apartment -- an airy second-story place with an "ocean" view (over roofs, if you crane your neck) only 6 blocks from a yoga studio and abutting a park! The landlady is cat-friendly and a former history major to boot, if you can believe it. Paying the equivalent of a month's pay in rent, deposit, etc. was more than a little scary, though!
(Can I do a happy-happy joy-joy dance now without jinxing myself?)
Amanda, over at Household Opera, must have had a lot of creative insight locked up in her dissertation, because it is now just gushing out all over the place. Start with Academe as action movie, move on to It's still summer, dammit, and keep going. You'll learn about Jackie Chan, PhD, in Tenure Denied, Harry Potter in Latin, and other cool stuff.
Dang, girl, you should defend your diss more often. *smile*
Starting tomorrow, I will be working as a registrar for a small private college in the area. Yay!
The position is a temporary one while they are looking for a permanent hire, but they will train and the starting pay is not bad. In fact, while discussing this with my Associate at the temp agency, I became aware of a nifty little advantage to working through such an agency. Since the agency gets its cut based on what its employees make at the client institution, it has a vested interest in making sure that its temps get the best pay available. Therefore, if, as I go along, I can make the case to them that I warrant a salary increase, it will be my Associate, not me, who will do the negotiations for my raise. Cool, isn't it?
I will admit here that I'm slightly daunted by the position and am hoping that my trainer will be forgiving of mistakes. From the description my Associate read me, many many eyes will be on me, as everyone from the dean to the students is likely to have some work go through the registrar. Yipes.
This piece by Kristen Kennedy addresses the general differences between working for academia and working professionally outside it; unlike many of the Beyond the Ivory Tower articles, it is remarkably lacking in fluff. It still does not address the means of initially making the leap from one field to another, but it does offer good advice on how to begin the acculturation process.
I'm feeling less anxious today. I believe it is because I have been knitting a sock and went to a farmer's market this morning. Here's why: making the sock gives me an outlet for my nervous energy while simultaneously satisfying my desire to get something positive done. (It's a rather attractive "Turkish" sock, with a swirling pattern of subtle orange and purple design; it may make a good lounge-around-the-house sort of sock.) Going to the farmer's market combined exercise, interesting things to see and smell, and the opportunity to do a small amount of paying my way. (I feel self-conscious about essentially bumming off D.; his income is not much more reliable than my own, so it feels good to help out with the groceries at least.)
All in all, though, the main benefit was the feeling of purposeful activity resulting in clear outcomes -- something in short supply these days. I should brainstorm about more such activities, though I very much hope that this sort of time-filling will not be necessary.
I wonder if the library down the block is open on Sundays?
One of the more annoying things about my current situation (perhaps I should say my ongoing situation) is my great desire to get things DONE while being forced to wait on circumstances beyond my control. There's the housing issue, which is hanging on both the availability of desirable places and my monthly income. Then there's the employment issue, which hangs on so many little variables that it doesn't bear trying to enumerate them. So I have all this energy wanting to be directed somewhere, with little or no outlet. It's a wonder I haven't exploded!
I did achieve some small accomplishments on both fronts today. First, I went and viewed some apartments and left an application with one of them. If things work out, it's an airy place with a view of a park, pleasant neighbors and landlady, and only a short bike ride away from a nearby neighborhood with dog washers, candle-n-soap store, used music shop and soon-to-arrive books-n-yarn store. Fingers crossed! (The other places were okay, but fell short in many regards, like busy streets, lack of storage space and weird landlady.)
On the job front, I discovered an entry-level editorial assistant position at my alma mater and have posted a resume with them. It would be a good job and would definitely make use of all my skills and give me some useful experience in publishing. Again, fingers crossed!
(I hope my fingers don't get cramped from all this wishing.)
Today was one of those days which feels productive in that the day was spent doing useful things, and unproductive because the useful things have yet to result in anything definite.
I began the morning with my appointment with the temp agency. I was all togged up in full interview mode (after a hasty dash to the nearby K-Mart to purchase -- shudder -- pantyhose) with ID, resumes, etc. and a full half-hour early. After this it was mostly filling out forms (some for background checks -- at least I didn't have to pee in a cup!) and watching an informational and safety video. It was fairly boring, though I was amused by the founding CEO's appearance (he seemed to be wearing lip liner!) and the oh-so-obvious safety information ("Hold the handrail when walking up or down stairs." "Do not pick up anything weighing over 50 pounds." "Adjust your chair and computer monitor before beginning work.").
My meeting with my "Associate" was much better; she was very helpful and seemed genuinely interested in finding work that I would enjoy and do well at. I did feel a bit like I was hunting with an elephant gun, however; she seemed somewhat at a loss as to how exactly I'd fit into their administrative schema while being appreciative of the skills I could bring to the table. No positions were immediately forthcoming, either; the two openings were for specialists in things like benefits and accounting.
(The problem of hunting with an elephant gun is that you're as likely to obliterate your prey as nail it, so it's not like you're going to be much better at collecting squirrels for the pot than someone with a BB gun.)
After this I drove around looking at apartments and neighborhoods. In my usual way, I found that the places and buildings I most liked were all out of my price budget or not vacant. I made the mistake of stopping at one "showing" in a lovely little community; I adored the apartment on sight, but have not been able to get through the phone line to find out how much it might cost. Now I am spoiled for just about anything else I might encounter. *sigh*
Here's where that ol' chicken and egg dilemma pops up again, too -- if I knew how much I'm likely to make each month, I'd have more freedom to be picky. I don't, so I'm having to look at potential apartments in terms of non-grottiness rather than in terms of desirability. (In a sense, I'm betting on my earning potential, with my home happiness and credit at stake.) Oddly, within my price range, there is surprisingly less correlation between price and ickiness than one might think. That is, within a $100 spread, you can have quite nice at the low end and rather dubious at the high, as well as the expected reverse.
I wish I was more enthusiastic about the whole process; I usually am when it comes to envisioning new places to live, but with that one exception, I have not felt inspired as yet. *sigh* Back to the classifieds...
I've been a bundle of nerves the past few days, not that this is at all surprising. A long drive down from the Pacific Northwest (including rush hour L.A. at the end of a long day) will do that to a person, even if the trip goes smoothly. Add in the anxiety that comes from not having a settled home or job, and I think that some twitchiness is justifiable.
My yoga has also been sorely neglected, compounding the problem. I practiced this morning in the kitchen (itself awkward and not exactly soothing) and I was stiff, stiff, stiff! I can only imagine how stiff and antsy I would have been if I hadn't done it!
My current preoccupations are finding a job and finding an apartment. Unfortunately, there's a bit of the chicken-and-the-egg about this; ideally I'd like to not have to change all of my contact information with the temp agencies et al., but renting an apartment without a clear sense of one's income seems foolish. I have arranged one temp interview for tomorrow and hopefully the other place will get back to me soon.
I have to say that selecting a temp agency is a bit like selecting a college to attend. There's the dream agency that doesn't seem to have any openings (but if it did, they would be very cool ones), there's the national one that's a good fit (it helps place "Talent" in the "Creative" industry) but for the best jobs I'd have to relocate to Los Angeles or Texas (!), and there are the local "safety" agencies which will find you dull, but reliable work.
I finished filling out an online application for one of the last just before this; how is it possible for one process to make you feel simultaneously extremely over- and under-qualified? There are long lists of skills I don't have (like touch 10-key entry) and the "what jobs have you interviewed for and how did you do this?" questions are farcical from an academic's perspective. For one, there are only three slots for prior interviews or applications, so how they will be able to determine my job search abilities from that is unclear. For another, being asked why you did or did not get interviews, and how those interviews did or did not result in offers, is unenlightening or grossly misleading. "I was splendid in the interview and everyone liked me and my qualifications were excellent, but I didn't get an offer" is very hard to interpret properly outside the weird world of academic job searches!
Well, we'll see how this goes tomorrow, when I have my first appointment/interview with one of the agencies. At some point I will also write about the apartment hunting experience. Expect postings on a more frequent basis, but I cannot promise the regularity, as I am sharing this phone line with D. Between his hours online, our calls to friends and the need to keep the line fairly open for job contacts, I feel uncomfortable taking up too much online time.
We survived the move with sanity and health intact -- barely. The trip itself went quite well despite occasional thunderstorms and the slowness that is U-Haul; moving into the storage place was an exercise in patience. Note to self -- do not attempt tricky spatial arrangements while tired and hungry in the presence of family. Crabbiness will ensue.
However, now that most of my possessions have been squeezed in successfully, I've had a day to rest and I won't have to think about housing-related things for a couple of weeks, I'm feeling more calm and sane. I've also been given a lead on some adjunct work on the local military base (interesting!) so I may return to employment -- a nice thought.
The laden U-Haul
Creaks slowly along the road
(When I get a chance I'll try again to respond to the comments you've left; enetation was not -- unsurprisingly -- working.)