Jobs I’ve Had (and Headaches I’ve Endured)

After stumbling across this post from lazylauramaisey I started thinking about all the jobs I’ve had over the years and I thought, hey…why not share?

Papergirl for the Cape Breton Post
This was the first job I ever had and believe it or not I think it was one the longest ones I ever had. If I’m remembering correctly, I started the route in the eighth grade and didn’t quit it until I went to college. Sometimes my mother would drive me because the route was a few streets away from where we lived, but a lot of the time I walked as well. It wasn’t a bad job for the most part, and at Christmas I got some pretty nice tips, but there was this one family I spent five years wanting to strangle. They were as rich as any family can be in Cape Breton, and it was like pulling a crocodile’s teeth trying to get my payment out of them. They would actually look out the window – right at me – and then not answer the door. My first “customers are idiots” experience.

Cashier at Zellers
For those who might not know, Zellers was a Canadian department store, much like Walmart. When I was in high school I got a job there for the Christmas season, working cash. I absolutely hated it for two main reasons. One, I was still pretty shy in high school and the job forced me to talk to people all day. Two, there weren’t enough support staff. A major flaw at Zellers was that sales were rarely properly programed into the registers, which resulted in a lot of customers loudly proclaiming, “That’s not the right price!” as I scanned. The thing is, people would do this all the time whether the item was on sale or not to try and cheat the system, and the only way to combat it was to call a “floor-walker” to go find the item in the store and prove what the actual price was. During the holidays calling a “floor-walker” was tantamount to insanity…it was so busy that chances were they would never get to you. So when my line-ups started getting super-long and all the customers started getting super-agitated I just stopped calling for help all together and overrode any price the customer’s told me was wrong. I probably cost Zellers a lot of money that holiday season, but in my defense, they should have hired more damn people.

“Waitress” at the Marine Atlantic Ferry Terminal
I put quotation marks around waitress because I didn’t really serve the food, but I did sometimes serve ice cream. It wasn’t a bad job, but I had an idiot boss who would rather us wash down the same tables fifty times than stand still and do nothing for five minutes when there were no customers. I offset my annoyance by constantly filching Rice Krispie Square treats.
Also, once, my boss demanded that I stay late, even though legally I couldn’t drive that late (I was still a new driver with a restricted license). It was my first run-in with opposing an employer. I told her that I’d happily stay late if she paid my fine when I got it. She ended up sending me home.

“IT Specialist” at the Coast Guard College
This was a work term for my university program, and I can honestly say I didn’t learn a damn thing. The job mostly consisted of things like replacing the batteries in the TV remotes in the residents’ rooms. The one challenge I had was when the speaker at a meeting was having issues getting his computer to work with the overhead projector…that was the first time I’d ever seen a Mac computer, but damn it, I got it working.

“IT Specialist” at Cape Breton University
Another work term, and twice as useless as the first. This is the university that I actually attended, and they created the job just to have something available because they were having absolutely no luck finding work terms for the students in my program. I had almost nothing to do for this entire term. I spent most of my time transposing a huge map via this huge electronic drafting board, which wasn’t part of my job…it was just to pass the time.

“Floor Walker” at a different Zellers
This was the first job I got after my future husband and I moved in together, and I hated it so much worse than the first Zellers. I mostly wandered around replacing merchandise that people had moved, or straightening up clothes that people had unfolded, but those were the “good” parts. The bad parts were dealing with customers, who at this particular store seemed to be twice as idiotic as others I’d dealt with in the past. I remember this one particular lady brought in a flyer the day before the sales were to start, and absolutely demanded that we give her the sales prices that day because one of the graphics on the flyer said, “Come in and enjoy our great sales today!”

A-Little-Bit-of-Everything at a Nova Scotia Liquor Store
As far as customer service goes, this was one of the better ones. Everyone in the store did a bit of everything, so I’d be on cash one day and replacing stock another day, unloading new stock the day after that. But the best part was the drive-thru. Yes. I worked at a liquor store with a drive-thru. It was completely idiotic because legally the customer had to receive their liquor, pull forward, get out, and put the liquor in the trunk. It was just…foolish, honestly. But whatever. I enjoyed working the drive-thru. I particularly liked working it with this one other girl about my age. We would trade off on working the window/cash and actually running for the order. I enjoyed running for the order. It was also quite humorous because you can’t imagine how many customers we got who drove up to the drive-thru speaker with no idea as to what they actually wanted. I’ve gotten orders such as “uh…some kinda rum?” and “this thing in a blue bottle…I have no idea what kind of liquor it is”. I also had more than one traveler from another province beg me to let them take a picture of me handing their order out the drive-thru window. I don’t blame them. Leave it to Nova Scotia to have drive-thru liquor stores.

40035095A-Little-Bit-of-Everything at Walmart
Yes, I did eventually end up at a Walmart, only because the liquor store just kinda…stopped scheduling me in. Anyway, I started in an actual store, doing more floor work, but what I was really hired for was a large group that was set to “build” the new Walmart that was going up. We put the shelving together and arranged it properly, pieced the cash register area together, put up all the signage, and eventually stocked all the shelves. It wasn’t a bad gig for brain-dead work that you could zone out during, but I hated it for one reason: the manager. Never have a met such a stone-cold witch. The best example I have against her is when she refused to let my young coworker have the afternoon off to go to her cousin’s funeral. Apparently “a cousin isn’t a close enough relative”. I was so disgusted that when I got the girl alone I told her to take off and I’d cover for her. She didn’t because she needed the job to pay for school and was scared she’d lose it, which just made me that much more disgusted. When I finally left that job it was all I could do to keep myself from slugging that manager in the face on my way out.

Customer Service Rep for Sirius Satellite Radio
…which is a nicer way of saying, “call center punching bag”. I activated people’s radios, took payments, resolved issues with accounts, and helped them troubleshoot issues with their radios. By way of explaining what this job was like, I beg everyone this: if you ever get a Sirius Satellite Radio, listen to the rep who is activating it for you. I lost track of the number of times I asked, “Does your radio have a clear view of the sky?” and received a “Yes!” only to find out later when the radio wouldn’t work that they were really in a parking garage or in the middle of their apartment building. It was all I could do not to scream bloody murder at some people.
Also, occasionally, the Sirius system would screw up and double- or triple-charge people. This made for some very interesting conversations. One man with a trucking company had purchased three radios with lifetime subscriptions (approximately $500 each) and been triple-charged, making his bill jump from $1500 to $4500. He was extremely calm and polite while I fixed the issue. Meanwhile a few years later I got a customer who had been double-charged his $15 monthly bill and he completely lost his mind. I actually hung up on him three times because he wouldn’t stop swearing and calling me every name under the sun. Pleasant!

Instrumentation Maintenance Tech at the Paper Mill
My first “career” job, which is what I trained at university for. This job taught me first and foremost that I knew nothing. I may have spent four years and a crap-ton of money becoming a technologist, but my first few months at that mill taught me that school means absolutely bupkiss without experience. I really had no idea what I was doing, and my older and much-more-experienced coworkers didn’t let me forget it. Within my first six months I burned myself on several steam pipes and once managed to spray myself with hot condensate. It’s really quite amazing that I have any skin left. Oh yes, and lots and lots of 120 volt shocks. You’d think I would have learned to wear my gloves, but…no.
Maintenance is an interesting beast. You learn a lot – because you have to – but it can be very stressful because you have to keep the plant running. When the plant is down it’s losing money every minute, and that’s directly correlated to how fast you can fix something. I didn’t really realize just how stressed out this job made me until long after I’d lost it (when the mill shut down and was sold).

Commissioning Technician on the Kearl Lake Project
My first (and so far only) job out West turned out to be an excellent one. I had a good contract, good coworkers, good (for the most part) bosses, and good work. Sometimes it was hard work – particularly in the middle of winter when you’re outside in minus 40 degrees Celsius – but it was interesting work with very little stress. Since we were still building the plant there was no big scary rush to get things going like right goddamn now!!! I also got to experience the job both from the field and from the control room, which I think taught me a lot. All in all I can’t complain about this one. It was a good job with good people and I made a lot of money to pay off lots of debts and bills. Yes, after ten other jobs, I finally hit one that didn’t make me want to murder the world.

Writer!Okay, so it can’t really be considered a job until you’ve been paid for it, but it sounds better to say that I’m currently working as a writer than to say that I’m currently unemployed. 😛

inspirationMy eighth grade English teacher told us once that by the time we were thirty-five we would have had up to ten different “jobs” and possibly one or two different “careers”. I didn’t believe him at the time, but there you have it: I’ve had 11 different jobs, only two of them part of my career as a technologist, and one unpaid “job” as a writer. Amazing. Has anyone else had a varied string of jobs like mine? Please share!

A Memorable Idea

This past weekend was full and tiring. My parents visited Friday night, and two awesome friends visited Saturday night. There was drinking and eating and cleaning up before and after visits, and between all that we had the baby outside in her pool, going for walks and playing with the neighbor’s grandkids. In addition to all that I had a hard time sleeping Friday night, and we were up drinking and playing foolish trivia games until 3 am on Saturday night, so I’ve developed a rather debilitating sleep debt.

This is currently the face of my jealousy.
This is currently the face of my jealousy.

So it is with bags under my eyes and an enormous yawn on my lips that I sat down at my laptop and struggled to think of something to blog about for today. I considered a number of previously-planned options that made my head hurt because I am simply too tired to deal with them right now. I thought about reading the first chapter of The Artist’s Way and talking about that, but it turns out that there are half a dozen introduction chapters that seem pretty important before you get to the actual program part of the book, and my addled brain can’t really handle that at the moment. I thought about simply writing about my weekend, about the tomfoolery that occurs when the husband and I get together with our friends and some good liquor, but I couldn’t figure out how to work that into anything coherent and interesting.

With those ideas set aside, I thought I’d mention something that I had been meaning to bring up for a while. It’s an idea I came up with one day a while ago, something that’s one part memory exercise, one part mental therapy, and one part keepsake-that-can-be-helpful-when-writing.

I call it a Memory Book, for lack of something cooler. I don’t remember when or why I came up with the idea, but one day I picked up a pretty notebook and a nice pen, and I began writing down memories. I don’t make the memories long and complicated; they’re generally just a one-or-two-liner that gives the basic idea. For instance, I might write, “That time I decided to roller-blade to school, but the hill was too steep and I ended up having to admit defeat.”

The memories can be good ones (“The first time Jason told me he loved me…he looked so cute and nervous!”) or bad ones (“The first time I left for out West and I was waiting for the plane while struggling not to cry.”) or just random things from my past that mean nothing but that are non-the-less cluttering up my brain (“The time our cabin water was shut down so we kept having to collect stream water in buckets in order to be able to flush the toilet.”). Any random memory that I can think of can end up in the book.

So what’s the point?

Well, for one thing it exercises my memory (which has gone so downhill over the past six or seven years of my life) to bring up information that might be buried deep; alternatively, re-reading it allows me to recall things I may have allowed myself to forget about.

For another thing, it can be very therapeutic. Instead of struggling to think of something to write for my works-in-progress or my blog, I can just sit with this notebook and spill out information that’s already in my head, like a mental Spring Cleaning.

And lastly, having this notebook handy has actually been helpful to my writing. See, one of the hardest aspects of writing fiction (in my opinion) is coming up with relatable characters, people whom the readers will love and sympathize with. Part of this is making the characters feel more real, and in the past I’ve been able to accomplish this by using my Memory Book and juicing the memories up a bit to craft pasts for my characters. Why is a certain character so shy? Because of this embarrassing event, stolen from my Memory Book and blown up a bit to make it sound even more mortifying. How did two other characters meet? Steal something from the Memory Book and spruce up the details a bit. See what I’m saying?

A Memory Book might not be useful for everyone, but it’s been useful for me in several ways, so I thought I’d share and invite everyone to give it a try. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy…it could be a Dollar Store notebook tucked into your purse or wallet, or a Word file on your computer. You can write about any kind of memories you like, and you can write quick one-liners like me or write a whole page for each. Whatever makes it work for you.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you!

Catch Ya on the Flip Side, Alberta!

As has been known to happen on occasion, my life has come to another set of crossroads. Tomorrow, after a mere 5-1/2 hours of jumping around the office like a lunatic, my job will be done. I’ll board a bus to go back to camp, where I’ll have a snack, grab my bags, and wait for the bus that takes us to the air strip. Once I’m on the plane it will be a moderately uncomfortable nine hour flight, and then I’ll be back home, with no idea of what the future holds.

I am amazingly calm about that fact.

Less than two years ago my world was turned upside down when the mill where my husband and I both worked shut down. At the time I had only been back for two months after having been off on maternity leave, and my husband was home taking a few months of parental leave. We’d been trying to work out what we were going to do for child care when he returned to work (and how the hell we were going to afford it); we still had student loans to pay, a car loan to deal with, and a mortgage hanging over our heads, to say nothing of the fact that we had a tiny little princess who relied on us to take care of her.

Those weren’t good days. I readily admit that on the day the announcement was made I broke down more than a couple of times. I was the only woman in the section of the mill where I worked, and as such I spent a rather large chunk of the day locked alone inside the women’s locker room, trying to gather up the pieces of my shattered psyche. I had no idea what we were going to do. Numbers kept running through my mind, and those numbers told me that there was no way we could pay our mortgage, our car payment, our student loans, and all those little things like food and heat on two unemployment checks. A quick call to the bank that holds our mortgage revealed that there was no kind of safeguard for this situation: we would still have to make our full payments. A longer look into the local job bank website revealed what I already knew: that there were no other jobs for an instrumentation tech or an industrial electrician nearby enough that we wouldn’t have to move to obtain them (and since the housing market in our area is so bad, there was no way we’d be able to get rid of our house and move). Basically, the weight of the world fell down on me all at once. We were trapped in a town with no job opportunities, in a house that we had little to no chance of selling, with bills that we would have no way of paying. We had a little savings set aside, but it wouldn’t last long. By the end of that first day I was Googling the repercussions of filing bankruptcy.

In retrospect, my reaction was a little more dramatic than was necessary, but it was still a rough time. I had no idea what we were going to do, and I was STRESSED OUT. There were no jobs in our field that were a reasonable distance away, and the jobs outside our field barely paid more than what we would be receiving on employment insurance. The only other skill I felt I had was writing, but I had no idea how to go about that, and writing takes time that we didn’t really have.

My husband and I had to make a hard decision; one of us would have to stay at home with the baby while the other went out West for work.

Those who don’t live in Canada might not understand exactly what I mean, but I can put it pretty simply: the overwhelming majority of good jobs in Canada are located in Alberta, specifically on the oil sands. Lots and LOTS of people travel from their homes in other provinces to find work in Alberta. Many of the oil sands jobs involve working strange shifts, such as working for ten days straight and then having four days off, or working for three weeks straight and then having two weeks off. Depending on the company they might fly you back and forth from your home for every shift, or you may have to pay for your own flights if you want to go home. Some jobs require you to find a place to stay nearby (and, ideally, pay you a “living out allowance”) and others book you a room at a “camp” where you stay while you’re on shift.

To put it in simple terms, working “out West” is not an ideal situation. You’re away from home, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months at a time, away from your family, and often with many restrictions put on you (for instance, many of the “camps” prohibit alcohol and you can lose your job if you even show up to check-in with the hint of liquor on your breath). There can be good money to be made, depending on where you go and what kind of work you do, but many people won’t even consider this kind of life because of the implications of being away from home for so long.

But we had to do something, so my husband and I started applying for jobs. He got the first call, for a job that required him to find his own place to stay and transportation to and from work. It was a ten-days-on, four-days-off shift, which meant that even if he wanted to pay for the flights he couldn’t really come home (it takes almost a full day to fly from Alberta to Nova Scotia, another to fly back again, and it would cost a major chunk of his check). It was an awful job that he understandably hated, but luckily he was only there for a month when I got the call for my job. It would be two weeks on, two weeks off, the company would pay for all flights, and it was a “camp” position, so I’d have no expenditures while there. It also paid quite good money, so we’d easily be able to survive (and save!) even with my husband at home watching the baby. It was probably the best offer I could have gotten.

And it terrified me. I tried not to show it, but it absolutely terrified me. I’d never even been on a plane before, never mind flying 75% of the way across the country, and being away from my baby girl for two weeks at a time. The morning I left for my first shift I struggled not to start bawling my eyes out while sitting past security waiting for my flight. I really didn’t know how I was going to handle it.

I’ve been at that job for a year now, and it hasn’t felt nearly that long. Despite all my fears and worries, it turned out to be a great job. I’ve had awesome coworkers, and in my time out here I’ve managed to pay off all of our student loans, plus the remainder of the car loan, and I’ve put money aside for the baby’s education fund, in addition to our other savings (which will put a big chunk in the mortgage when our term comes up next year). There were lonely days, but I was able to Skype with my husband and the baby most nights, and when I was actually at home I could spend two straight weeks just playing with the baby if I wanted to. After an incredible amount of stress over the loss of both of our jobs, we found ourselves in a position to actually get ahead, and I haven’t suffered for it. The lifestyle may not be ideal, but it’s not impossible to do. It was a good decision to make.

So now that this job is over, I’m heading home without stress clouding my mind. We may be back to dual-unemployment, but it won’t last forever. We have significantly less debt than we had a year ago, we’ve saved a ton of money by having my husband stay home instead of having to deal with child care, and I’ve collected a number of contacts who could help me or my husband get an upper hand on the next job. We can’t both stay at home and relax forever, but for the time being I plan to go home, enjoy my family as much as I can, and take solace in the fact that there is no rush to work something out asap.

I’m taking a well-deserved vacation.

I totally forgot to title this post

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

38. How the books you read as a teenager affected you

This one is a little harder than the one about books I read as a child because, although I’ve always been a reader, I read significantly less during my teenage years (which I choose to think of as “high school age”). Let me explain why.

As a younger child and a preteen, I was fairly awkward. I was smart, a little shy, and easily embarrassed. I got along perfectly well with pretty much everyone, and I had a tight-knit group of close friends, but I was not a social child, and I don’t believe I came off as someone who wanted to be social. I was the kind of kid the other kids thought of as a nerd. I wasn’t the kind of kid that got invited to parties and events (unless it was a birthday party of the type where you invite your entire class just because), and as we got a little older I was not the kind of girl who got attention from boys. But as we moved on to the teenage years of high school, I started to blossom a little. I somehow mustered up the courage to ask the boy I liked to a school dance, and from that came my first real romantic relationship. That relationship opened up my world a lot. I became exposed to things that other kids my age already had sussed out. My boyfriend introduced me to things like sports, fishing, and non-campsite camping, and I gained a bit more of a social circle which lead to parties, hanging out, and all those things that teenagers are supposed to do even though they’re not technically supposed to (*cough*booze*cough*).

The picture I’m trying to paint here is of a nerdy girl who had suddenly realized that there was other stuff to life than being nerdy. During those years things that had always been an important part of me, like reading and writing, took a bit of a back burner to all the new and exciting stuff I was experiencing.
For that reason, it’s hard for me to talk about the books that affected me as a teenager, because I find myself thinking, “What frickin’ books did I read as a teenager?”

But I wanted to be able to write a proper response to this prompt, so I thought long and hard. And then I remembered something that happened in my second year of high school. My best friend and I were taking a Sociology course, and I was in the first seat of the first row closest to the door, right up against the wall. On that wall, right next to my head, was a photocopy that our teacher had made of a newspaper article. Obviously I can’t remember the exact details of the article, but the basic idea was a story about how a bunch of “good Christian” mothers had gotten together to protest the availability of the new Harry Potter book in public schools. They scoffed at the book and called it satanistic, claiming that the author was attempting to lead their “good Christian” children away from God and into the arms of witches and devil-worshipers.

I remember reading that article during a particularly boring part of our teacher’s lecture, and the first thought that popped into my mind was, well…to be honest, the first thought that popped into my mind was that these “good Christian” moms were well and truly gone in the head. But the second thought that popped into my mind was that I totally had to read these Harry Potter books. There were three or four of them published by that point, but I’d avoided them for the dual reasons of everything I mentioned above, and the fact that the looked like kiddy books. But after having read that foolish article about closed-minded moms on an embarrassing crusade, I decided that I had to read them, and did as soon as possible. To say the least, I fell in love with them, and I absolutely struggled through the next few years as I constantly waited for the next one to be released.

If one book (or series of books, I suppose) can be attributed for bringing me back into the world of reading and writing, it would definitely be the Harry Potter series. Though I never got back into reading as much as I had before until I was well into my young adult years, Harry Potter definitely set the wheels in motion, and for that it is probably the book (or books) that most affected me during my teenage years.

Call This Help?

It appears that the only problem with pre-scheduling my posts for during the work rotation is that when I get home for my off-days I forget that I have to, you know…manually post some entries. I’d like to try and fix myself of this issue if at all possible. One of the big reasons (I suspect) that I’ve been unsuccessful with blogs and the like in the past is because I have no concept of “regular updates”, which as it turns out is a bit important.

In my defense, I had a friend visit from away for four nights, and during three of those nights we devoured a large, large amount of alcohol. A large amount. I may be recovering for another three or four nights.

But I digress. This is an overdue post that I should have made about a week ago when it was originally relevant.

About a week and a half ago there was an article in the local newspapers, detailing a rather frustrating issue with our province’s apprenticeship board. Without going into a great amount of detail, some lawyer (of course) apparently discovered that the apprenticeship board does not actually have the authority to accept work hours that were obtained in other provinces. As an overwhelming number of Nova Scotia apprentices work outside Nova Scotia (i.e. where the jobs are), this is a bit of an issue. It was a topic of much contention out on the work site. But it’s not the main point of the article that bothered me so much…what really bothered me was a quote by an apprenticeship board spokesman that stated how they were trying to help apprentices through this issue and that they were “all about” helping apprentices through to completion of their apprenticeship.

In response to this quote I wrote an emphatic FaceBook status about just how “helpful” I’ve found the apprenticeship board to be over the years. My husband then pointed out that the spokesman I was addressing was unlikely to read my FaceBook page and suggested I submit my status to the newspaper. I did so, expecting nothing to come of it, and was contacted by a family friend a few days later to let me know that he’d just read my letter.

Not the most enormous deal in the world, but pretty exciting to me since it’s technically my first real publication. 🙂 Confidence!

If anyone is interested in reading the letter that I wrote, I submit to you the link to the online version. My letter is third one down, entitled “Call this help?” and signed (obviously) Tracey Tobin.

http://thechronicleherald.ca/letters/130162-voice-of-the-people-august-27-2012

Launch of My Dreams

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

24. Describe your dream launch party

Unlike the previous post, I can actually answer this one because it’s my “dream” launch party and thus does not have to make sense if I’m totally off on what a launch party is supposed to be like.

Obviously my family and friends would be there, especially my daughter because I love any excuse to show off how adorable she is. 🙂 There would be lots to drink, and even more to eat – I would want tons of treats, finger foods, sweets, everything you’ve got! There would definitely be some excellent music (stick to stuff that was produced before the turn of the millennium…I don’t care how old and un-hip that makes me sound), and I would strongly encourage dancing.

Basically what I’m describing here is a Cape Breton wedding reception, but hey…a party! 😀