The Unintentional Rebel

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about rebellion. Specifically, times when you’ve tried to stick it to “the man” or whatever the terminology is these days. I should preface this by saying that I don’t consider myself a rebel. I really don’t. As long as everything is working fine and beneficially, I’m perfectly fine. If anything, I’m usually the one who ends up in positions of authority; for whatever reason, people seem to defer to me as a leader. I still don’t understand why, and my therapist says it’s a quality that I need to further explore. I think it’s partly because I treat those who are supposedly of a higher status than me as real people; rankings and titles mean little when compared to actual skill and capability. I have zero interest in politics. No amount of catchphrases and glad-handing will win me over. The reactions to this attitude are usually either appreciative candor, or resentful fear. Those who’ve tried to lord their position over me learned quickly that, despite being quiet and shy, I’m made of sterner stuff. And those who’ve tried to physically threaten me…well, let’s just say I’m not always quiet and shy. In the end, we’re all just human beings. Mortals. Fallible. Nothing more, nothing less. I’ve long lost the patience for people arrogant enough to believe themselves otherwise.

And yeah, you’d better believe it’s gotten me in trouble before. I’ve already written about my decision to grow out my hair, and the consequences that came with it. Still worth it, though. Some clashes aren’t limited to family life; when you question things while working in a corporate environment, conflict is inevitable. I lasted a dozen years in banking. I’ve dealt with bosses mishandling records, screwing up procedures, and attempting to cover it up to make themselves look better. Since these problems typically involved audits and logistics, they usually came at the expense of my time and effort. You know what’s worse than having inept management? Having inept management that knows it’s inept and refuses to admit it, then pushing the blame on others. If I catch something like that happening, I will point it out. If the higher-ups won’t listen, then I’ll just go higher and get HR involved. I can’t go into any details without getting personal, but I developed a reputation for being all-business.

Even early on as part-timer, I had that kind of thing going on. Without going too deep into it, there was a time in which smart phones were just starting to become popular. Some of my coworkers used them too much, causing the management to decide to confiscate them and leave them in our lunch room. If we didn’t comply, we’d have to resign on the spot. That was a big problem for me, as I had an old-fashioned flip phone that I kept for (highly likely) family emergencies. I rarely used it, but as a caretaker, I needed to have it on hand. The assistant manager tried to round up the phones – a few workers quit immediately – and came over to me. The following exchange happened:

Manager: Okay, your turn.

Me: No. I’m not giving you my phone.

Manager: Why?

Me: I need this on hand for my family. It’s strictly for emergencies. You know that.

Manager: …Yeah. But it’ll be in the lunch room. They can call the office.

Me: You know how terrible our incoming call menu is. The time it’ll take for a call to actually get through could mean life and death. Also, leaving it in the open lunch room? Where it could be easily stolen or looked through for important information? You really think I trust you or anyone else on this staff that much? No. Not happening. I’ll have it right here in my pocket, out of sight, and hopefully never used.

Manager: Give me your phone, or you’ll be terminated for breaking company policy. We can fire you anytime, you know.

Me: And private property laws supersede company policy. There’s no way you can legally confiscate my personal belongings. (Back then, there wasn’t…) You’d better do some reading before you lose any more of the staff.

Manager: This isn’t a debate!

Me: No, it’s not. We can agree on that, at least. I’m going on break.

I went to the lunch room, fuming and mentally preparing myself to walk out. One of the workers came back there in tears, apologizing profusely for letting the situation get out of hand. I just gave her a calm look and told her not to worry. I came back from my break to find that management had given up and punished the individuals actually responsible for the whole debacle. The management eventually gave me a halfhearted apology, but I think it had more to do with the fact that about 3/4 of the staff was willing to quit. I might’ve just triggered the others’ desire to stand their ground, and management decided to stop being foolish. If it happened today, I’d probably be fired on the spot. Either way, I was glad to do it. It wouldn’t be the last time.

Maybe I’ve been a rebel all along, even if I never intended to be.

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Summertime, Coming Soon

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about summer. As in, what you’re looking forward to about the upcoming summer months. I’m more of an autumn type, but I won’t pass up the chance to enjoy the heat. Especially this year; for the first time in my adult life, I might still be unemployed this summer. I’m not hoping I’ll end up like that, of course. I recently applied for a community manager position at a major website. There’s a good chance I’ll be hired. If that happens, then I’ll be carrying around my laptop a lot in the foreseeable future. If I don’t, then I’ll enter UC Berkeley’s open-enrollment technical writing program and further develop a practical skill set. I could get the pursuit of my M.A. going, but that’s a whole other mountain of problems. I’ll also be delving deeper into the No Excuse List and doing independent studies while looking for another position.

…Doesn’t sound very fun, huh?

I’ve also been invited on a trip to Rome tentatively scheduled sometime in May. The itinerary is still up in the air – it might even be postponed until October – but I’ll take full advantage of the rail system to see more of Europe. The last time I was in that part of the world, I managed to visit Spain, Morocco, and Gibraltar in a single week. Let’s see if I can do better this time around! I’ll also be equipped with a better camera; before, my old camera malfunctioned on the first day, and I had to resort to my iPod. I’ll be sure to take tons of awesome photos for you guys!

That’s a best-case scenario, of course. If I’m stuck here in the Bay Area, I’m going to make the most of it. I spent a considerable amount of 2013 exploring San Francisco on foot, and I’d love to do it a second time. Those long, sunny afternoons wandering off of Market Street, climbing Lombard Street, and walking through Chinatown all the way Fisherman’s Wharf were some of my most cherished moments. I only stopped exploring the city because of winter’s onset; now that the days are getting longer again, I have more hours of sunlight to use. I live in a bad neighborhood of a terrible city, so traveling to San Francisco is like a brief, but lovely escape. I can’t wait to do it again.

Somewhere Between X and Y

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about generations. Specifically, what you don’t understand or possibly learn from the generations that come before or after you. I have the unfortunate privilege of falling into the oft-maligned Millennial generation, and thus get to deal with all the little assumptions that come with it. I loathe being scrutinized and stereotyped based upon my age; you’re defined by your actions and experiences, not just decade in which you were born. No one ever gave me a trophy just for showing up. No one cared when I was being bullied. My parents were divorced and rarely around, so all those other happy, supportive families seemed unreal. You want to really teach a kid responsibility? Make them earn it. I paid for my college education the old-fashioned way: getting jobs and saving every last penny, barely scraping by until I earned my B.A. No parents or student loans to back me up, either. Yeah, it was miserable and rife with anxiety, but I got it done. I held a job for over a decade, and rarely bought anything extravagant. At 29, I’m still saving up for my eventual M.A. People think I’m insane for not owning a smart phone, tablet, e-reader, or any of that stuff. I get the most out of what little I have, and I’m not fueled by desire to constantly spend.

…Unless I’m in a bookstore. You know how that goes.

And for a long while, that was good enough. But now that I’m unemployed for literally the first time in my adult life, I’ve realized that everything has changed. I’m in this weird social limbo where my values, efforts, and independence have lost meaning. There’s an overbearing sense of shame and guilt in not going to work every day, simply because I know I can do so much more. I’m nowhere near starving, but I can’t idle around and eat into my savings. I’m not content with just sitting here reading; it’s very comfortable, but devoid of any real effort or personal development. And worst part? A lot of people out there think it’s normal. But I don’t. I’ve learned and experienced too much from the previous generation to just forget about things like being a breadwinner or the importance of interpersonal, non-computerized communication.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn new things.

While no Skype screen will ever trump a one-on-one conversation, the Internet and and its fast-paced technologies are undeniably helpful. I remember studying in a physical library, and (if I was lucky) with Encarta 95 at home. Encarta 95! Grade-schoolers like me would’ve killed for something like Wikipedia, JSTOR, or iTunes. There’s so much more stuff to learn, and it’s only within the last couple of years that education has caught up with the medium. We’ve got dedicated YouTube channels for all educational matters; the best I ever got as a kid was the Discovery Channel, National Geographic magazines, and Bill Nye.

However, not everything you learn comes from an educational program. Social media, for better and worse, has allowed people to become closer. Not necessarily in an emotional context, but through the communication of ideas. A lot of what we see in mainstream popularity is mindless drivel, but occasionally something clever or interesting shines through. Stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Stanley Parable would’ve been impossible 30 years ago. Not just due to the development of technology, but because now it’s much easier to blend concepts, influence each other, and question expectations.The younger generations have it far easier in terms of collaborating and quickly sharing opinions, but seem to be losing out when it comes to real world experience. These days, there’s this huge emphasis on safe and utterly, ridiculously politically correct topics. You know, how we as a culture supposedly abhor sex and violence yet revel in their fictional portrayals? Yeah, that’s not hypocritical at all. Despite all our new communication tools, conversations about some issues – particularly sexuality, gender roles, and mental health – are swept aside. Because not talking about problems makes them go away.

Wouldn’t want to offend anyone, right?

Ugh, this generational thing is complicated. What’s a guy stuck between two extremes supposed to do?

A Dozen Years: The Rise And Fall Of The Boss Man

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about loss. That one’s really relevant to me because I lost my job not too long ago. Without getting into specifics, I worked for a dozen years for major company. It started as a summer internship, then a part-time position during college, then a full-time thing after I got my degree. I had the unfortunate timing of graduating just before the recession hit. As in, weeks. Since the employment market was terrible, I fell back on my old standby position and dug myself in. I loathed the thought of going back to my former job, but it was the safe, logical choice. I developed more on a professional level, using my experience to transition from an aloof part-timer into a leadership role. I was very good at it. It didn’t pay much, but I was earning enough to recover what I’d spent on my education and save for retirement.

And it drove me nuts.

Aesop once wrote that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s very true, and it goes both ways. I learned a ton about leadership, procedures, and on-site training, but I loathed how dehumanized and empty I felt every single workday. The younger staff respected me for my years of service, insight, and refusal to play office politics, but eventually they took my responsibility and competence for granted. Even though I was still in my late 20s, I was nicknamed the Boss Man. I even mentored some of my higher-ups! I didn’t fit in with this newer generation of corporate worker; what they teach in seminars is what I learned the hard way, through hands-on experience and patience. Good work ethics had been watered down into statistics. I had too much pride to just phone it in for the sake of meeting quotas. You can’t quantify the human connection with a pie chart. I voiced contempt for the new corporate atmosphere several times.

Too many times.

When I got the call at home, I wasn’t entirely surprised. I had an inkling I was going to be replaced; why keep a mouthy old-timer when they could just hire and train someone new for a fraction of the pay? The possibility of transferring to another position was dangled in front of me like a carrot on a stick, and I played along for months. But at some point, someone decided I was more trouble than I was worth. So it ended with little fanfare. A simple, impersonal telephone call from HR stating that I’d been terminated and that the necessary paperwork would be sent to me. Twelve years of service, and that was that. I jotted down the notes, thanked the HR representative for informing me, and hung up the phone. I sat there quietly for about a minute. Some of my family was in the room. I said, quite clearly:

“It’s over. They cut me loose. I can’t go back now. But it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m just trying not to panic. I’m trying…not to panic. I’m trying not to panic. I’m trying not-

Then I started crying. Hard.

I’m not the emotional type at all. I’m the clever one, the one people go to for insight and advice. But in that moment? I was in free-fall. I’d read about panic attacks when I studied psychology. Never thought I’d have one. But within seconds I went from sobbing to gasping for air. My arms went numb, and my head was in agony. My heart felt like it had aged a decade, and the room was spinning. But about all else, it hurt. Regardless of how much I hated my job, a dozen years is a long time. It felt like a chunk of my body had been ripped away. I had put so much of myself and my life into it, and now it was gone. It wasn’t just a place to work, it was a place to go, to meet new people. Now all I had were the memories and skills I had developed. After all those years of service, I’d be nothing more than a footnote, someone quickly forgotten and replaced. It felt like a betrayal, even though I’d practically walked right into it.

Eventually, I stopped crying and focused. I’m great at looking things from a critical, logistical perspective, and this was nothing different. Looking at the calendar, I realized that my health insurance would end in a week and a half. Thanks, HR! I scrambled to get appointments for both my dental and vision care. You think fitting a check-up into your schedule is hard? Try getting an appointment during Thanksgiving week. It’s even harder than you’d expect. With a lot of searching and phone calls, I managed to squeeze in both appointments before the month ended. Now my teeth are all sparkly, and a new pair of nerdy-but-hopefully-attractive glasses will be on my face next week.

I might even post pictures.

After that, it’s more basic stuff. There’s filing for unemployment, and taking care of the arrangements for my 401K. I’m getting the paperwork organized. I’m going to be doing a résumé for the first time, and it’s going to look pretty weird. I don’t think employers expect to see someone holding a single job for a dozen years. There’s health insurance to consider too; now that my safety net has been burned away, I’ve got to find some to tide me over. I’ve heard the phrase, “Everyone has to have health coverage in 2014!” so many times, it’s annoying. It’s like a survival mantra or something. Of course, not everyone’s going to get it; try saying that to the next homeless dude you see. Go on, try. He’d probably laugh in your face. As for me, I already know I need it; I just need to figure out out which one. I’m holding off until January, because paying premiums twice is something I’d rather avoid.

After that? It’s…murky. I don’t know what other job I’d be suited for. Just have to take these uncharted waters one day at a time. I’ve come close to failure and managed to overcome it before. I intend to do so again.

Fighting The Fire Within

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about anxiety. Now that’s a subject I’m all too familiar with. It’s really weird with me, because I don’t panic in the face of direct danger. When one of my neighbor’s houses caught fire a few winters ago, I went into full-on confrontation mode, rallied as many people and extinguishers as we could find, and fought the fire. Granted, the firefighters showed up like three minutes later, but I kind of surprised myself looking back. I was so focused that it took me an hour to realize that I was outside wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts in subfreezing temperature.

Adrenaline is funny like that.

That situation just serves as a contrast to what I’m really anxious about: the future. Not dying, but living. This is my first winter in a dozen years (and in my adult life) that I’m unemployed, and it’s surreal in the worst way. I had to literally ask people what to do, because this is entirely uncharted water for me. There’s this underlying sense of guilt and shame. I don’t want to leave the house, I don’t want to spend anything, I don’t want to be a burden. I try to avoid turning on lights because I don’t want to cause a huge spike in the electric bill. Christmas – what little remnants of the tradition remain in my family – has been canceled. From an objective standpoint, I know I’m doing okay. I’ve been in worse situations. I’ve always been the type to save up and only rarely splurge, so it’s not like I’m going to starve.

And yet.

Late at night, there’s always that sense of dread, those vague little whispers that seep into the cracks of my foundation and try to topple me from the inside out. The fires of doubt and self-contempt burn within and try to consume me. Notions that I’m a failure, that I’ll never get anywhere, that my writing skills are useless, that I’ll be reduced to eating out of cans like I was in college, that my tastes and proclivities make me too unconventional for others, that I’ll never find a well-paying job that makes me happy, that I’ll end up alone and destitute, that the old concept of the American Dream – that family and house – might as well be from another planet. That I’m completely lost. That what little I do have is slipping away from me, just one day at a time…That maybe it’s not worth it after all.

But I will not give up.