Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In this world, it's hard to get a leg up

There seems to be an epidemic of bird parts strewn about Greenpoint. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had found a perfectly intact bird's head sitting on the ground. Well, perfectly intact except for the fact that it wasn't attached to the rest of the bird anymore. Then yesterday, I come across the little gem seen at left. If it was just dead birds, I wouldn't feel surprised, but bird parts? Curious. But I have a theory! Two theories! The first theory is that there's a Mr. Potato-bird on the loose, and it's little storage compartment is loose, letting appendages fall hither and thither while he unwittingly flies through the air. My other theory, which may be a little more "plausible" if you're into that sort of thing, is that the hawk that I mentioned in my last post has been discarding his trash on our fair streets. It makes sense right? What use would the hawk have for the leg or the head? I do believe I'm onto something.

As for the census, it's going ok. I don't remember if I've already explained the address canvassing operation, but basically all we're doing right now is going structure by structure, block by block, and making sure that all the addresses we see on the ground are in the system, so that every household can receive a census form next year. For example, if I come to 123 Main St., and see that it is multi-family building with apartments 1R, 1L, 2R, 2L, etc., I have to make sure that I have each seperate apartment listed in my computer. This week has been spent largely scouting my area, which means walking street by street, taking note of anything that may give my listers trouble. I've been making note of where this is new construction, demolished buildings, blocks with no residential structures, etc. It's actually been more interesting and helpful than I thought it would be. I feel like I've covered a lot of ground in Greenpoint before, but it's a whole other thing to literally walk up and down every single street. It takes longer than one might expect. And it makes my footsies hurt.

I recently, by accident, came upon the Newtown Creek Nature Walk. I had heard about it a while ago on New York Shitty, (whose picture I'm using to the left,) but completely forgot about it. Then I stumbled upon it and decided to take a short jaunt. It's a pretty surreal experience. The entrance is right next to the Time Warner building in Greenpoint, and it runs along the huge Sewer Treatment Plant as well as what appears to be a gravel company of some sort, judging by the large piles of gravel. The actual path goes along Newtown Creek with views of industrial Long Island City on the other side. To be fair, there are also views of Manhattan, and it's neat to be able to walk along the creek, but I feel like Nature Walk is kind of a misnomer. The path is mostly cement, and lots of the structures are very modern. I think something along the lines of the Newtown Creek Experience would be more appropriate.

This is turning into a nice long post, but I would like to share one thought of struggle that's been coming up for me lately. My stint at the census supposedly lasts for period of eight weeks, maybe even into June or July, but it is definitely temporary. I've got the potential of putting together a couple of part-time jobs come mid-May that would almost certainly be more personally rewarding and lower-paying than the census job. I'm worrying about what I'll do if I find myself at a point where I have lower-paying part-time jobs on the table and staying on at the census. I guess this kind of an eternal problem anywhere, but especially in New York, that the jobs that make us happier often leave us without the means to enjoy our lives in the way that we want to. I think I'm just realizing that my whole life and lifestyle so far in New York has been based around the fact that I've had a decent paying salaried job, from where I live to what I eat to the activities I partake in. But I can't have my cake and eat it too, if I'm going to change my workstyle, I'm going to have to change my lifestyle. (That last sentence reminds me of my favorite line from the Metallica movie: "Some Kind of Monster." There having a group lyric writing session, and Kirk Hammett says, "I got it guys: My lifestyle determines my deathstyle!")

And what I'm struggling with is the realization that New York may just be the wrong place for me to have both the workstyle and lifestyle (hopefully no deathstyle) that will make me happy. It's not a question of not wanting to work or not liking to work, but I refuse to give up the faith that I can both feel satisfied by what I'm doing for employment live my life in the way that I want.

But then I have my moments of remembering that I like living in New York, there are people that I love here, and I can make anything work anywhere if I really try at it. Or I am just setting myself up for failure. Step 1 for me is just sitting down and writing out what I want out of life, work, etc. This is something that I've been meaning to do since I quit my job, and I keep managing to avoid. I think that I subconsciously know that it's a lot easier to talk about what I don't want than to define what I do want, but it's time for me to quit futzing around and get to it!

Monday, March 23, 2009

I've definitely been slacking on this, but I'm trying to at least keep it going a little bit, if for no other reason than to keep myself processing and reviewing. The working for the census has been vaguely interesting, but also a lot of tediousness. The "address canvassing" operation, of which I am a part, doesn't actually start for another two weeks. I had my training the week before last, then the crew leader assistants have their training this week, and the listers have their training the following week, meaning there's a nice long gap in between my training and when I actually start working. I'm learning that a large part of working for the federal government involves a lot of waiting around and trying to fill hours with what amounts to busy work while things are getting rearranged all over the place and no one really knows what's going on. It's especially accentuated with something like the census which only happens once every ten years, so it's not like anyone's in a good rhythm for doing this. I've been trying to keep myself in the mindset that I'm getting paid,. even if I'm not really doing anything some of the time, but I can't help but feel that if I'm doing nothing, I'd rather be doing nothing in the comfort of my own home. It's ok though, because in a couple of weeks, everything will begin going bananas.

Today as I was walking around my district I saw a hawk by McGlorick Park in greenpoint. I was walking by the park and saw a group of pigeons flee from where they were all gathered in the park, almost hitting an old man in the head. I then looked up and saw a hawk sitting in the tree. Here's an article from the Brooklyn Paper about a hawk moving into McCarren Park a couple of years ago: Also here's a Youtube clip of a hawk in McGlorick Park around the same time the article was written. It's not really all that interesting, but you do get to see the hawk playing with something it recently killed if you're into that sorta thing:

It could be the same hawk, but would a hawk stray that far from its nest to go hunting? I'm sure there are plenty of pigeons and what not at McCarren. Maybe he just wanted to sample the McGlorick pigeons for a change of scenery, or maybe he's been forced further into Greenpoint due to Williamsburg gentrification spill-over. Perhaps it could be a relative who's moved into the neighborhood or even a child, moving out on its own, trying to stake out a park of its own. The possibilites are endless!

I think my favorite part of the article is: "like some humans, they are serially monogamous and form longstanding mating pairs." I'm not sure what the author is getting at by having the "some" in there. Does he think that we wouldn't get the connection he was making if he hadn't explained that some humans were also monogamous? Is he hinting that he wishes humans were more (or less) like hawks in their commitment to monogamy? Or is he just acknowledging that the decisions one makes in regards to monogamy vs. polyamory are vast and wide-rangning for all species of animal? Again, endless possiblities!

Another interesting thing I noticed today was a block where every house has an American flag on its front gate. I imagine it must be some coordinated effort by a homeowner's association or something, but it creates kind of an eerie sensation. I didn't even realize that something was off until I was halfway along the block and it hit me that I felt like I was on my own private parade rout marching down a red, white, and blue-lined corridor. Maybe they were honoring the census.

I'm hungry for dinner now, but soon I'll write more about how I'm feeling about job stuff and what I want to with my life, as well as more past jobs, because I think that's fun.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Fancy Computers and Bird Heads Have Entered My Life

I almost gave up on doing this, once I started training for my census job, but a park-bench conversation led me to get back to the blog. My thought had been that now that I'm working, I don't need this to fill my time/needing-something-to-do gap. But this weekend I was drinking my coffee in the park, watching the volleyball game, and talking with Sloane about how I respect/envy people who are able to commit to projects for the sake of committing to projects. I talked about how we live in a society where if what we're doing isn't "productive" in a very specific sense, it's not considered valuable. While I think this is true, I'm pretty sure I've used this as an excuse for not being productive in various stages of my life. Sloane made the point that all a project needs is to make time to do it every day. You just tell yourself that you're going to do it for ten minutes, and then bam, you're making good progress. I can blame society's lack of emphasis on non-"productive" projects, but really it's just about me getting off my ass and doing something that will make me feel good about myself, so here I go again!

Last week, I officially started working for the census. Here are the tools of my trade:
I get a fancy hand-held computer, or HHC, in census speak. I have to scan my fingerprint to log-in, and it allows me to check on the progress of my crew as they do their work, going around the neighborhood making sure that addresses that were there 10 years ago still are there, and entering those that are new. My technology-is-ruining-the-world inclinations thing it's a little bit creepy, but I do have to admit that there's something fun about it. The same thing goes for my census bag and my census badge. I definitely have a little bit of shame and misgivings about working for the federal government, but I have to say that I kind of get a kick out of being official and carrying out a task that is, at least in theory, something that is very embedded in this country's tradition (again, in theory) of doing what it can to represent the populace. The census has been taken every ten years since 1790, as mandated by federal law. The data collected (in theory X3) is used to determine where funding for schools, roads, etc. are directed. Maybe I'll do a bit of a census history report some time.

I'm hungry, and I need to make myself some dinner. I was going to leave you with a photo I took on my phone while checking out my assigned census district this morning, but I can't seem to figure out how to put it onto my computer, so I'll just share it with you. I came across a decapitated bird head on the sidewalk as I was walking along. It was just resting there, looking as though it was carefully placed. Is it an omen? What does it portend?


Friday, March 6, 2009

Don't take your razorblades to town

If you've never been to 625 Fulton St in downtown Brooklyn, I really recommend a visit as it's a pretty amazing monument to bureaucratic madness. It houses the Brooklyn offices of the Social Security Administration, the IRS, a branch of the Department of Labor, and the census to name a few. I had actually been there a few months ago to order a new social security card for the dual purposes of getting a NYS driver's license and getting my merchant mariner documentation (guess which one I've followed up on.) At the time I felt the potential for madness, but it hadn't yet become the kinetic force I encountered on Thursday.

When I arrived, there were two signs outside directing you to one door for the IRS and one door for Social Security. The SSA line wasn't quite out the door yet, so I decided to try my luck over there first. I asked the security guard where to go for the census, and he told me to go talk to the security guard next door. I talked to the security guard next door, and she grouped me with a bunch of people also waiting to go up to the census office. She said that someone was on their way down for us. I waited for about twenty minutes as people going to various other offices were shuttled through the metal detectors and into the elevators. When someone finally came down, she seemed to have absolutely no idea why so many people were waiting for her. She eventually figured out that there were three of us (including myself) who were waiting for our appointments to get our paperwork filled out, and we were brought upstairs. Sadly, my box of razor blades which I happened to have in my backpack was confiscated.

As you may expect, filling out the paperwork wasn't too exciting, except for the beginning where we were each handed folders with our names on them and the information for each of our training sites. It felt like I was receiving my dossier for my next secret agent mission, of which I have many. After everything was filled out, we had to get fingerprinted. One of the ladies who was there with me mentioned that she didn't have to get fingerprinted when she did the census ten years ago, and the fingerprinter said that it's new homeland security regulations. This brought up two things: 1)creepy feelings that now that I'm employed (albeit temporarily) by the federal government and homeland security has my fingerprints, I'm forever traceable. Even though I almost certainly already was, this pretty much cements it. And 2)what does the lady who worked for the census ten years ago do in the intervening decades between censuses? While I'm sure that similarly to myself, she just needed work both times and the census pays really well, I like to think that maybe she is fabulously wealthy with no need to work, but feels so passionately about the census that she signs up to do it every ten years. That would be fun, right?

The fingerprinting was a little trickier than one might have thought. I had to get two sets taken, and my second set kept smudging and I was scolded by the woman doing it for not relaxing my arm and wrist so she could apply the proper amount of pressure. She was nice enough about it, but I couldn't help flashing back to my little league coach yelling at me from the dugout to just relax while I was standing in the batter's box. If anyone reading this does or ever plans to coach little league, here's a tip: yelling at a ten year old to loosen up in front of a crowd of parents and other kids doesn't produce the desired effect. I think at one point I actually turned to him and yelled something along the lines of, "I am relaxed, this is just how my shoulders are!" I wasn't planning on writing about that at all, but it just came out. I guess that must have been more traumatic than I realized. Dang.

Training starts on Monday, so I will soon know exactly what I'm going to be doing, and I will certainly share that information, don't you worry. Also, my most recent career epiphany was that I should be a doctor. Too bad I haven't taken a science class since I was 16, and that was marine biology.


ps Did you hear about the new biopic coming out about the world's foremost criminal fingerptiner?
It's called Robin Hood: Prints of Thieves

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The building of an immaculate resume, Pt. 1

I've worked quite a few jobs, and in this time of transition, I thought I might reflect on what I've done, just for fun. Here's the first few that span from age 16-18. These are nothing really out of the ordinary, with no profound realizations really coming from them, but I figure I might as well start at the beginning. This may be real boring to read, but it's fun for me to write, so there.

My first job was at a CVS. I only worked there for a few months, and I don't have too many clear memories of it. I remember when kids from my high school started to realize that I would sell them cigarettes, and I remember that when I quit, the manager said something along the lines of, "where are you gonna find a better job than this? McDonald's?"

My next job was at a kosher pizza place called Pizza Cave. I worked there my senior year of high school, and I had dreads most of the time I worked there. I used to sneak into the walk-in fridge and grab handfuls of shredded mozzarella from the tubs it was stored in. And there was this one family I delivered to at least four times, and each time they sent out a different child to answer the door and pay me in exact change and shut the door right away. Jerks!

My next couple of jobs were at summer camps. The first one was called Deerkill, and it was in Suffern, NY. I was assistant counselor for a group of 8-year-olds. The kids seemed to all be from pretty rich families, and this was the first times I was ever really introduced to the crazy prevalence of behavioral drugs. At my orientation, we were being told that after lunch we would take all the campers that needed medication to the nurse. The vast majority of the medication was Ritalin. "Trust me," someone said, "Ritalin is a counselor's best friend."

At the end of the summer, there was a night-time party for the counselors. There was a keg, and I'm pretty sure this was the first time I ever puked from drinking. The weird thing is that I was puking all over the place, right in the middle of conversations, and no-one really seemed to pay me much mind. I think I even vomited next to the pool, and someone stepped in it.

The next year I worked at Teaneck Sports and Arts, the last time I would ever live in my hometown. This job basically consisted of sitting around doing very little and every once in a while getting up to play basketball or dodgeball with the campers. That's really all I remember from it. That and beating Ezra in basketball while the rest of the staff watched. Sorry, ez.

That's all for now.


"So what do you do?" "Who me? I write blog posts about how I don't like being asked what I do."

I had a conversation last night about what I wrote about in my previous post. We talked about the struggle I have with the "what do you do?" question, and in the context of the discussion I was having, it came across as some combination of arrogant, privileged, and idealistic. This was coming from someone who grew up without many resources and has been career-driven from an early age in order to make a better life for herself. From her point of view, I totally see why what I was saying could come across negatively. It's easy (in a way) for a person like myself who grew up in a financially stable environment to say, "well, a career just isn't for me." I can also see it being offensive for me to say that I don't like it when people automatically give or expect an explanation of their job when people ask them what they do when your career is something you are proud of and have worked very hard to achieve.

This conversation was kind of a slap in the face for me, but I also appreciated it. I appreciate being called out when I say something ignorant or not fully thought through. I think that through this conversation, I was able to refine a little bit how I express what I'm feeling. First of all, none of what I'm saying has to do with anyone else other than me. Maybe you relate, maybe you don't, but what I'm writing about are the things that I'm struggling with and navigating. I'm trying to figure out what's right for me, and I'm not trying to judge the path anyone else chooses to take.

Second, what I have qualms with is not strictly being identified by your job or profession. As was pointed out to me last night, people's last names used to be given to them based on their profession. This has been going on for a long time. What I'm questioning is the belief that by eschewing the traditional career trajectory, you're writing yourself a one-way ticket to shitsville. I know it's easy to question that when you've never lived in shitsville, but I guess I've never been that good at taking other people's word for things. If tomorrow morning I wake up with the revelation that I want to go to med school, then I'll go to med school and begin my career as a doctor, but whatever I want to do, I want to do because it's what I want, not because it's what's expected of me. Having this choice is a crazy privilegd choice to have, but I don't know if I can do it any other way.

Third, a lot of this is my shit. I want my family and freinds to respect what I do, and I want to get cool-kid ponts for what I do, but when it comes down to it, I'm not going to be happy with anything I do if I don't feel confident in my decision to do it. Also, no job, or life for that matter, is all sunshine and roses, and sometimes you just have to pick something and stick with it and make that work for you until a better opportunity presents itself. I think that I have a fear of commitment stemming from the worry that once committed to something, I'm in it forever, and I blind myself to the potential opportunities for growth. And I worry that I'm just mediocre in general and if I act like I'm "searching for my path," I'll be able to avoid coming face to face with my own mediocrity. But that's a topic for another post. (sorry to end on a bummer-note)


Monday, March 2, 2009

Maybe I thought it was opposite day?

This past December, fully aware that we were in a massive recession, I quit the non-profit job I had been at for a little over two years. I don't really feel like getting into the details of the job or the reasons I quit, but I basically just felt continuously uninspired and disinterested, and I felt that I wasn't providing the best attention I could to my clients. So, I quit.

At the time it felt a little scary, but ultimately liberating. Now, about two and a half months later, I'll be starting a new job in a week working for the 2010 census. (at left, a census-taker in 1930)

While I started to get real worried as my savings dwindled, I didn't regret quitting my job. I felt like an idiot for doing it, but I didn't regret it. I was half-heartedly searching for jobs in my "field," but honestly, if I wanted to stay in my field I wouldn't have quit my job.

The jobs that I feel most qualified for, at least the professional ones, are jobs in the non-profit sector at organizations with some aspect of social justice in their mission. But something feels off to me about making a career out of working in an industry that, on a certain level, is based on there always being problems. The auto industry is based on the premise that people will continue to buy cars, the clothing industry is based on the premise that people will always by clothes, and the non-profit industry is based on the premise that there will always be these issues that need to be dealt with. Of course, there always will be issues that need to be dealt with, but to make a career out of it feels wrong to me in some way. This isn't to discount the amazing work that a lot people do, but I don't know if it's for me.

And then there's the larger issue that I chafe at the idea of having a career or a field at all, but I also feel like I should and want to commit myself to something. I never want to stop acquiring new skills and having new experiences, but I also want to be rooted in a place and develop an expertise in something.

I want to impress people when they ask me what I do, but I don't want my employment to be inextricably tied to my work, to what I do with my life. Until I moved to New York, I would always try to answer that ever-present question with something other than what I do to make money. Until then, I never considered what I did to be synonymous with my job. In fact, I made damn sure that it wasn't. Then I moved to New York, and for two years I was able to answer the what-do-you-do's with a respectable profession that often elicited responses of "that's great, it must be really rewarding," or at the very least, "that sounds really interesting." And while it was rewarding and interesting, it didn't feel any more rewarding or interesting than when I was living in Olympia, working odd jobs, volunteering with different groups all around town, and still having plenty of free time to experience life. I felt like a fraud, like I was lying to myself and to the people around me. There were a lot of positives that I took from that job, but by the end I wanted to yell, "this isn't me! I'm sick of pretending to be a goddamn young professional!"

I know the grass is always greener, and I fully remember that a big part of why I moved to New York in the first place was because my life felt so scattered in Olympia, and I wanted something to focus on. Also, worrying about making rent sucks. alot. But after my two-plus year experiment of respectable employment, I've come to the conclusion that that shit ain't me. At least not for now. I don't want to work random meaningless jobs for the rest of my life, and I don't want to always be just scraping by, but I'd rather get my hands a little dirty and have to hustle a bit more and feel alive than be comfortable while feeling my soul get sucked out of me.

I know that these sentiments aren't ground-breaking by any means. I know that it's a privilege to have the choice to choose your profession, let alone whether or not you even want to have one. But this is where I'm coming from right now, and it's what colors the way I'm thinking about work and my future. Who knows? Maybe I'll fall in love with the census, and become a statistician or a career-man at the Department of Commerce. Or maybe I'll go crazy and spend the rest of my days wandering the streets, counting everyone I pass.

Next Time: A review of jobs I've had: the good, the bad, and the geo (pronounced gooey)


Post #1!

So. This is my first ever attempt at blogging. The idea of having a blog has vaguely interested me in the past, but I've never really felt that compelled to do it. One of the goals of my recent (and soon to be ended) unemployment was to do some writing, which I have not really gotten around to doing much of. I thought it might be a good idea to start a blog, to give myself a forum to write and maybe make me stick to something. Of course, I didn't really do anything with this thought. But I was talking to my sister the other day telling her about my immanent employment working for the 2010 census, and she (maybe jokingly?) suggested that I do a photo-journalism project about it, and I thought that it might be fun to start a blog about it.

From there, I started thinking that I have quite a bit of thoughts around work, and that, especially in this time of rampant unemployment/under-employment, it might be something worth writing about. Topics to cover include: Jobs I've had, jobs I currently have, jobs I might have in the future, my/society's relationship to work and employment, and the difference between work and employment. I might branch out from these themes or I might quit after one post.

Also, I feel far from committed to this title. If anyone has any ideas, please tell me them.