Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Being angry

A friend of mine lives in the southeast and her friend is currently in Phoenix for a workshop. She wrote me about a short trip her friend took which reminded me of the nearly five years I spent in Arizona and the big desert rivers northwest of Phoenix on the highway to Williams. I had that area for field work for a year, the standard time after which trips are rotated.

My friend wrote that she was sorry about the painful memories, and I had to think they weren't painful, as I've said the experience there was professionally very rewarding but personally sucked. Not because of the rivers, although there were times I hated the work, but because of living in Phoenix, and one other thing that haunted my entire time there. Having to go there and having to be there after promises by management about my future there.

At the time I was sent there I only had four years in the USGS, all in the Eugene, Oregon office with four other people, an office chief, a secretary and two other field technicians. The office chief and one technician had their minimum 30 years in the USGS and were eligible to retire. But the senior management in Portland had decided they were immune from pressure to retire.

Then the news came down the (Oregon) District wouldn't balance its budget if it didn't lose people. And so employees on a list of people who were single and didn't own homes, meaning could transfer soon and cheaply, were selected and offered to other Districts. The Arizona District which had a problem recruiting people accepted two on what's call forced transfers.

A forced transfer is where your "ticket", meaning your personnel slot - every federal employee has an assigned slot to meet personnel requirements for staffing and quotas - is transferred elsewhere and you either accept the transfer or "be resigned", meaning your resignation will be submitted in your place. That's the deal, keep your job there or you're fired.

Doing some homework, these are technically illegal and the requirements for the list of names is discrimination. In addition, more money is saved forcing a retirement that forcing a transfer, generally two or three to one, based on salary and benefits. So the forced transfers weren't about money or people. So what then? Beats me as I've never understood it.

Anyway, the technician, who like me was new to the USGS, was given the choice of Flagstaff or Phoenix, you can guess which he took, and I got the other one. And so I went to Arizona. I was angry in Eugene getting ready to leave, on the trip there and the whole five years there. It changed my career and life, and I still haven't gotten over the anger at the management in Portland about the decision.

And worst of all is the anger I had there. It shaped my whole attitude there. I was promised a short time and a transfer back within 3 years, except I kept seeing vacancy announcements for the Portland field office for the jobs they sent us here for. But it took applying for two of those vacancies to learn I wasn't even being considered to return. The management had made the decision to forget I ever worked there.

I eventually got a conversion from a technician to a professional hydrologist in Phoenix and some project work with reports which I never got to write after doing most to nearly all of the work on them. I also got the chance to learn a new facet of the USGS, real-time data systems and get the opportunity to transfer to Tacoma, Washington. It's as is always said, "And the rest of the story...."

My friend reminded me of my anger. During our exchange of e-mails I used Google Earth and Map to check out the some of the desert gages I serviced and see how much my anger inhibited me from being open to the desert environment and learning more than I did there. And while I worked in and learned about five of the seven desert zones of the Southwest (California to New Mexico and Nevada into Mexico), I could have learned and enjoyed more.

I wore my anger like a shirt (you don't need coats in Phoenix) and never took it off the whole time. I did a greater variety of field work there than I did in Oregon or Washington combined, and much of it in the desert and moutain backcountry. It's beautiful country and I let my anger prevent me from seeing all I could see.

The moral of the story is that anger never helps you and only hurts. Not just you from having new experiences and becoming a better person, but the people around you who see and feel your anger. You don't hide it, it's as obvious as they say, the nose on your face. It's always there in your body, your manner, your words, your tone and tune, etc. You hand it out every time you work or talk with someone else.

And setting it aside isn't the answer. You have to get through it and forget it. And despite hating your situation, it's all you got at the moment. It's your reality, and that's the one thing you can control. It's your choice, and from experience I can say anger isn't worth the trip and baggage.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Day

This last three years I've let Mother's Day slide. Mom passed away St. Patrick's Day 2006 after a stroke a few days earlier (at age 87). Although I was kicked out of the house at 19, my Dad's famous word, "Son, I want you to have a life, just don't have it here.", and joined the military (Vietnam era), I kept in touch with letters and phone calls. I only went home for reunions and funerals. Suffice it to say I wasn't their favorite child (of 3), and as I learned later in life I wasn't planned and left to my own devices for life and learning.

My Mom was a socialite when she was young, and after marrying Dad, became an officer's wife. She revelled in the social scene. She's a people person who wants and needs friends, and her children were just that, children. We had nannies until we came back from England and once we were in school, she showed us everything we needed to get ready for school, how to fix our own breakfast, make our own lunch, get cleaned and dressed, and schedule our time to meet the bus.

She also showed us how to get through life, from cleaning our room and helping around the house with chores. Although she did the work wifes are expected to do, she only liked it when she was preparing for parties, and when Dad retired from his first career to start another, she went to work for her own career, becoming his equal in the terms of position and pay. She also put the rest of life learning on us to become self-sufficient.

When Mom retired, and after Dad retired for the second time, she became a social person again, joining clubs and doing volunteer work. Simply to be around people and enjoy friends. She even left Dad to his own devices. When Dad passed away, and after the estate was settled, she moved into a condominuim to simplify life and be around people. Until my sister and her family moved back to Montana, where she moved.

And can't know the details of her life there, but I gathered from the calls it wasn't what she wanted nor liked, but accepted as my sister was the last of her family, except me who wasn't around and didn't like travelling anymore. She suffered a stroke March 14th and lapsed into a semi-conscious state, and according to my sister, never fully regained consciousness. She passed away quietly the morning of the 17th, was cremated and then buried two months later next to Dad.

When my sister, being the executor of the estate, settled everything she sent me a copy of the will, because I wondered why all I got was the small life insurance. The will explicitly stated that I was to recieve nothing of the family estate. It turned out that since my sister (and parents in the mix) and I have issues with each other, I didn't attend her son's funeral (suicide). Mom never let me know she was hurt and she never understood why my sister and I disagreed throughout our lives on almost every issue.

Anyway, parents are an interesting mix of people and parents. I saw them as people and they wanted me to see them as parents. But how can you when they made your life lonely and miserable? And then come home when they want you to and show your love? For all the guilt they piled on? I know a lot is my own doing, but I'm not entirely to blame, everyone else in the family can stand in line and take some of it to balance it between them and me.

So, in the end, Mother's Day has always been a day of mixed feelings. While I celebrated what she did for me, what she taught me, even though some of it wasn't intentional, and for what she gave me, I can't help but still find my love for her has reservations. The old adage, "I love you (pause), but..."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My first jobs

I was reading an article recently about the prospects of summer jobs for young people. The news didn't sound good since it said the unemployment rate of 16-19 year olds for the summer of 2007 was 35% and most of the new jobs are the obvious entry level, minimum wage jobs. Well, I guess while the minimum wage hasn't increased at the rate of inflation over the years, it made me think of my first jobs.

I graduated from high school in June 1967 (when I was 17) and since I worked the previous summer doing landscaping work for the family and neighbors it really wasn't a real job. So I had the choice before I began college in September of that, which I hated, or find a job on my own. Well, I had applied for the civil service and hadn't heard anything by Memorial Day. But then I got a call for an interview, after which I was hired.

My first job was with testing center for the now Office of Personnel Management. The government in the 1960's used a central test distribution center for all government tests for government and military jobs. All tests were printed, stored and distributed from the one facility in Denver. I would be a sorter and packer at the entry level of a GS-2 step 1, about $1.60 an hour. Really.

My job was to take orders for tests from offices throughout the government, go around the warehouse to collect all the materials needed, such as booklets, forms, pencils, etc. for the number of people requested. We used several long tables where one person would get and spread out all the materials, a second person would check the number and materials, and a third would put all the materials in to boxes.

The first person would then prepare the package(s) so that no tape end seam showed and the last end seam was covered by the shipping label. This would ensure than anyone opening the package in transit would leave a cut or end seam that would be evident when received. We also checked all materials which were returned from offices to ensure all the tests were accounted for by the testing office to us.

That was the whole job. Every day doing basically the same thing, packaging tests and checking the returned tests. Our supervisor did the work if the numbers of returned test didn't match those sent. By late August I had my fill of filling new order and checking return orders, so I quit. They wouldn't let me work part-time or other than normal hours to go to college, so it was the choice of the job or college.

Well, college won but Dad told me I had to continue working. I never understood that logic since neither my older brother and sister didn't have to work while in college. But then I was told that there wasn't any money left for my college. After my brother's five years, his transfer to Oklahoma and return, his marriage and first house, and after my sister's junior college (in western Colorado), Dad was nearly broke.

To pay for my college my Dad, my brother and I split the tuition. In addition I had to pay for my books and car. So I needed a new job. Well, it took a few months into college but driving home one day I passed a small shopping center. One of the stores was a Gold Bond (stamp) redemption store. In the 1960's stores gave stamps as incentive to buyers. The stamps were collected into books and the books could be exchanged for merchandise at their stores.

In the window of the store was a sign, "Help Wanted: Warehouseman". I stopped by talked with the manager a few minutes and about 20 minutes later I was hired. I was their only warehouseman (small store) and the job was to unload truck, usually filled with pallets of merchandise, check it against the shipment inventory, put it all into their warehouse, and then help customers out with the merchandise to their cars.

It too was a $1.60 an hour job. The same rules with my Dad applied for paying for college, but during the next summer I worked extra hours and days to earn money. This included working in other stores, a larger one where I later transferred because it was closer to college with more hours, and the main warehouse in north Denver. I worked there until I left for basic training in the Air Force in March 1969.

Looking back, it wasn't a well paying job, but I liked it. I was in charge of a warehouse, and kept all the merchandise in place and the warehouse clean. And in 1967 and 68, everything else was the greater world I would eventually wander into in my life.