Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pieces

My last day on the job was October 13, 2014.

And there are days when I feel like I'm still picking up the pieces.

Have you ever worked somewhere that was run by a bunch of hypocrites? Crisp business suits. Specific job descriptions. And the inability to sincerely thank those making them look good. You are never good enough. And you are told so every time you don't meet their unrealistic expectations. And to make it even better, you work for the church.

It will destroy you, from the inside out.
Each little word. 
Each little reminder that you aren't good enough. 
Each tiny mistake enlarged for all to see.

And you try. You try so hard not to let it get to you. You try to have that "tougher shell" that those who inflict the pain insist you need to have to survive. Except it doesn't work.

Because you are a sponge. You take in your surroundings. You put your heart and soul into what you create. So when your superiors find fault with your work—it hurts. But if they just critiqued your work without making it personalyou would be tough enough.

And because you are a woman, you are continually passed over for raises. Because you are a woman you are shamed in meetings. Because you are a woman, if you do stand up for yourself—you'll wish by the end of the day that you hadn't.

In college I chose art as a career. There weren't many girls in that career path when I was in college. Which made it a delightful challenge that many of us embraced. Looking back if I knew what I know now—would I have still chosen that career?

Quite likely.

The work loads got bigger, and those left to keep things running began to crack under the pressure. The church politics loomed over our heads and things became less business and more personal. It became a game of survival—church style.

Each little word would end up cutting a little deeper—a bit more personal.
Each little reminder would cost you a bit more of your soul.
Each tiny mistake would be used as blackmail—until you yourself began to doubt your abilities.

And those are the pieces I'm sifting through.

Which words were a product of a bad day.
Which reminders had more to do with church politics and less to do with the job.
Which tiny mistakes were just a reason to get even.

There are a lot of pieces. I worked there for five years. It will likely take awhile to sort through them all.  

The pieces that were a product of a bad day are easy.
You just toss them out and forget about them. 

The pieces that dealt with church politics are more difficult.
You can't just toss them out. As much as I wish you could, you can't. Each piece contains too much of your soul. It may take weeks, months, or even years before you can remove one piece from the pile.

The pieces that were used as blackmail revenge are both difficult and easy.
The use of blackmail worked when status actually mattered. And now that it doesn't, you can be cheerful around them without being thrown under a bus for mistakes that weren't your own. And the best part isit annoys them. At which point you pitch the pieces. They weren't worth keeping anyway. 

The healing process is still in progress. Five years is a long time. But maybe when I am done with the sorting, the pile will look more like this:



Pavement Fractals, 2009 by Cynthia Fisher

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Stereotypes


We rely on stereotypes. We prejudge people with our preconceived ideas—and "people watching" is a classic example of this. Especially when you are stuck in a waiting room at the Social Security office and your phone is out of commission.

I took the room in at a glance. If needed, I could probably describe the room in detail from the number of chairs to the limited artwork on the walls.

The first human interaction I had was with the security guard. Who directed me to a computer to sign in with. He didn't smile. He was clearly of Asian decent, with a stocky build and weathered face. He sat behind a desk and the most you could see of him at any given time were his eyes and balding head. He reminded me of our head copy editor—an Asian version of Gerald. His face was encased by wrinkles, with a hint of merriment in his eyes. I liked him.

We each received a stern reminder from the security guard. Turn off your phone. Which is stated on a sign taped to his desk as well. I marveled at the inability some people had with that simple task. There were two in particular who stood out. One was an African-American woman and the other was a youngish white guy.

The woman sat in the chair closest to the man in the booth. She had braided hair that tastefully wound around her head. Her attire was casual and her phone case was pink. She looked to be in her mid to late 50's and was not overly interested in staying off her phone. She kept to herself and left with a printout.

The youngish white guy was likely in his 30s—he wore black shorts (with red on the seams) and a baggy red shirt. He had black sneakers and slouched. His hair was messy and he was overweight—very overweight. It looked like moving probably hurt. He was likely on disability. His mother sat next to him. She clutched papers and seemed to be a bit frazzled. At one point she even pointed out the sign and the request of the security guard, but her son merely grunted.

There was an older couple sitting in the back. The man had the sniffles and I wasn't able to see his wife until they left. My first thought was Ebola—oh no! and then reminded myself that he was likely a farmer, probably wasn't in the habit of eating bats or monkeys and like myself, has never been to Africa. He wore a baseball cap, it was red—with that weird red plastic netting in the back. He respectfully took it off when his number was called. As he left, he asked his wife if she had a number too—"no, of course not" was her response. I thought they were cute.

The couple who entered right after me had their daughter with them. She was at least 2 and had short blonde hair, with two gold earrings—one in each ear. She wanted to touch everything and was a little chatterbox. Her parents wore jeans and baggy sweatshirts. Her dad had a beard, but it was nicely trimmed. He was also very respectful of the security guard and used "yes, Sir" and "thank you" often. Apparently potty training was a hot topic in their family because when her mom went to use the bathroom, her response was—"oh, mommy is being a good girl." And her daddy agreed.

A young Asian woman, who looked to be about my age, arrived with daughter in tow. She was petite with straight brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was well put together, wearing skinny jeans, cute flats, a gray form fitting sweat shirt and carried a dark pink clutch. Her daughter was dressed in pink with adorable grey and pink hiking boots. she toddled past me to "talk" with the other little girl—listening to mommy wasn't on her agenda either. What a cutie.

The last to arrive was a "gangster"—his attire made me feel uneasy as I watched him sign in. The security guard gruffly told him to turn off his phone (if he had one). He was polite in his response of "yes, Sire"—he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. It's odd, but you can tell a lot about someone by their cell phone. It was an ancient thing. Perhaps you remember them—a classic flip phone. That detail pricked my conscious and I silently chided myself for my earlier reaction. Immediately I began to study him. African American, at least 6'2", muscular build, likely played basketball at one time, and then I saw his shoes. Work boots to be more exact. I know what work boots look like, my husband wears work boots everyday. And they are costly. My respect for him grew—he was a blue collar, like my husband. There was nothing "gangster" about this one.

Soon my number was called. As I left the building a few minutes later, I began to process what I had seen. Stereotypes—why do we let them matter so much?