Significantly-More-Probable Goals 2014

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the new year again. We’ve crossed that barrier over into 2014 and are busy rubbing our eyes and staring ahead to all the possibilities that a new year holds. Personally, I find myself curled up on the couch under my new TARDIS blanket, plucking away this post while my husband and daughter are still asleep, hoping fervently that how I feel this morning is not a sign of what the year to come will be like. Begone, mysterious aches and pains! Go afflict someone who is actually old enough to feel this sore!

Anyway, this post isn’t about the fact that I seem to be suffering from an exceptionally painful cold (without any of the other symptoms). This post is about the fact that it is January 1st, a day rife with possibilities. What will the new year hold?

Well first of all, some of you may have guessed from this post that I wrote on Monday, that I’m going to be returning to the oil sands soon. Yes, after six straight months of glorious freedom unemployment, I’m set to begin work on the other side of the country again, starting the 21st of this month, with the same company and the same schedule that I had last time. This comes with mixed feelings, of course. It won’t be fun to leave my husband and daughter for half of every month again, and since I’ll be returning to the field instead of the control room I will find myself in a very difficult-to-get-any-writing-done position, but I do love the company, and it will be great to have some income again. What really worries me is that I’m going to be heading out to Northern Alberta in what is usually the coldest month, after having been snuggled all warm and cozy in the control room for the last half of last winter. My body may go through a bit of a shock. Luckily we always work in teams of two out there, so there will be someone to drag my frozen solid ass back to the trailers every day. Wish me luck, people. Wish me luck.

"Don't worry, ma. You go out West. I'll handle this!"
“Don’t worry, ma. You go out West. I’ll handle this!”

Secondly, since it’s a near year it’s time for new goals. At the beginning of 2013 I wrote out three “Wildly Improbable Goals”. Technically, I failed on all three of them, but having them down as goals definitely helped me get some things done, make some changes in my life and my way of thinking, and overall I had a rather productive year, as compared to previous years.

This year I’ve decided that I’m going to be a little less “Wildly Improbable” and a bit more, “you damn-well know that you can do this, so DO IT” with my goals. I want my goals to be things that I know I can complete, if I’d just get off my ass and work on them. So let’s start, shall we?

Goal #1: Lose at least ten pounds and become healthier overall.

I know, I know…don’t look at me like that. This is not one of those, “oh, it’s the new year so I’m going to buy a bunch of exercise equipment that I’ll only use for two weeks before it becomes a coat rack” kind of goals.

You see, I’ve been getting older, and the genes that my parents passed down to me don’t like that. I’ll be turning 30 in 2014, and while that is still pretty damn young to most people, to my physical being it’s like hitting the countdown to complete bodily failure. Things are starting to catch up with me, and I don’t like them.

For one thing, I seem to have inherited a wonderful trait from my father, wherein every second thing that I eat makes me feel like little needle-clawed demons are trying to rip their way out of my digestive tract. My father dealt with this for years before a doctor basically told him to eat a lot more fiber, and oh, throw some yogurt in there too. It sounds like a throwaway answer, but my dad has been doing great, so part of my health goal for this year is to make sure that there is always lots of fiber in my diet. Hopefully the result will be a calmer, less-demon-infested stomach.

The “at least 10 pounds” part of the goal is in there because, to be honest, I’m falling apart at the seams and I blame a good part of that on the extra 20-40 lbs that is hanging on to my body. I’m perfectly fine with the way I look right now, but I’m not fine with the way I feel. Even before the mysterious New Year’s aches-and-pains from hell, I’ve been feeling pretty crappy most of the time. I’m always sore in one spot or another, I’m extremely lethargic most of the time, and I’m so cranky and slow on a regular basis that it makes it very difficult to play with my daughter. I really believe that most of this could be fixed by losing a bit of weight (and, obviously, being more active in general), so I’m making it a goal. I’m not worried about getting down to what I perceive as the “proper” weight…I’m just going to worry about the first 10 pounds and then move on from there. Are we all cool with that? Okay, good.

Goal #2: Be more active on social media and work hard on my “author platform”.

2013 saw a lot of ups and downs for me as far as the whole social media = great author platform thing. I always managed to keep pressing forward with my blog, but other forms of social media often fell by the wayside. Twitter is one of the greatest things out there for connecting with other writers, agents, publishers, readers, and so on, and it only takes a few seconds to type up a Tweet, and yet I regularly go for weeks without Tweeting a single thing aside from the auto-Tweets that WordPress shoots out when I write a blog post.

This year I want to be more active and more diligent with my author platform. I want to show people that, yes, I’m really here, and hey, how are you doing today? More and more this is becoming an extremely important part of being a successful writer, and I don’t want to be left behind in the dust.

Goal #3: COMPLETE my zombie apocalypse novel, Nowhere to Hide.

This one feels more “wildly improbable” than the others, but it’s not…it’s NOT, dammit!

I spent the last year trying to finish editing on my manuscript, and that task is almost complete. I already have a beta-reader lined up to swap manuscripts with. This year is going to be the year of really, truly, finishing a novel. I know that my manuscript has problems even before my beta-reader touches it, but I plan to sit back and wait to hear what she has to say, and then work my ass off once she hands it back. If at all possible I want to publish by the end of this year. I want my zombie novel to be out there before zombies stop being something that people want to read about (which is why I definitely will not be going with traditional publishing…man, you guys are SLOW). This is a big thing for me. By the end of 2014 I want to be a published author.

And to all my religious friends, your prays are totally welcome on this one. 😛

Goal #4: Write 500,000 words.

Last year I made the Wildly Improbable Goal to write one million words over the course of a year. Though that goal turned out to be completely out of my league (it didn’t occur to me until halfway through the first month that this would be over 83,000 words a month), I did end up writing significantly more words in 2013 than in any year previous…possibly in all the years previous.

I came with in striking distance of 500,000 words last year, so this year I want to exceed that goal and beat my own personal record. Half a mil over the course of a year is just over 41,000 words a month. Judging from last year it will be difficult, but I have faith that I’ll be able to pull it off.

                                                           

And there you have it. Four goals for the New Year, all of them significantly more probable than not. I’m going to continue on with my accountability posts (though they’ll be moving to Wednesdays now) because personally I find nothing helps with a goal so much as admitting to the general public that you haven’t been working on it. 😛

How about it, friends and fellow bloggers? What are your goals for the New Year?

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 26

Two things to mention before I get to the heart of the matter today. First of all, it’s week number 26! That means I’m halfway through the year! And while I’m nowhere near where I would need to be to be on track with my million word goal, I’ve written more in the past six months than in the previous 2 years combined! But more on that later.

The other thing I want to mention is that as you are reading this I am packing up my last couple of bits and bobbles from the control room at work, chucking it all in a backpack, and awaiting the bus that will return me to camp where I’ll giddily await my plane home. My last plane home. That’s not to say that I won’t end up back out in Alberta for work in a few months or so, but for now I’m heading home with nothing on the horizon except spending quality time with my family and maybe enjoying a number of alcoholic beverages from the comfort of my back deck. Look upon me and be in awe, for I am officially ON VACATION!

Okay, that’s enough of that. 🙂

Health and Body Image Goal

I’ve been a bit on the ins and outs with this goal, unfortunately, but I’m still not doing too badly. As I mentioned last week I did, in fact, drag myself to the gym and try running on the treadmill. It wasn’t ideal, but acceptable. I figured that’s what I’d do until my stomach felt better. But then my stomach felt worse. I don’t know if it’s the actual physical exertion that’s bothering me, or if it’s the camp food (which, thank god, I won’t be enjoying any more of any time soon), or if I’ve been suffering from some as-yet-diagnosed condition inherited from my sickly parents (love you guys, really :P), but I’ve hardly been able to stand leaving my room in the morning and suffering through the bus ride to work, never mind exercising on top of that. Luckily, about two days ago, my symptoms seemed to subside and I’ve felt halfway decent since then, so here’s hoping all will be well when I get home and try to run around my neighborhood again.

All that said, I’ve still been managing to eat pretty well. I’ve had a cookie here, some pop there, but for the most part I’ve been eating decent food (or as decent as it gets on camp) and not too much of it. I haven’t weighed or measured myself recently because I doubt I’ve lost anything during my refusal-to-exercise days, but I’ve recently had an unusual number of coworkers tell me that I look like I’ve lost weight, so I’m just going to go ahead and say, “Woohoo! I look like I’ve lost weight!”

Editing Goal

I have a stupid, STUPID confession to make. I did try to get some editing done this week, I swear, I really did. But when I finally took out my tablet and opened up the files I transferred there for editing purposes, I discovered something idiotic. Of the four different word-processor-ish apps I have on my tablet, none of them open rtf files. Guess what format all my files are in? After two days of searching for an Android program that DOES open rtf files (for free, because screw that, I’m not paying for an app that I only need for a week) I gave up and admitted defeat. Apparently the world of tablets and smartphones does not believe in the existence of rtf files. So the editing will have to wait for this coming week. Grr.

1,000,000 Word Goal

I have been writing like a maniac this week, mostly due to my rediscovery of 750Words.com. I don’t know what it is, but I love just typing and typing and typing and watching the word counter go up. It’s addictive. Over the course of the week I’ve written blog posts, typed out a few scenes for Returning Hope, did a couple of writing exercises, and did a little bit of free-writing (i.e. writing whatever came to my head as it came to my head). Through all of this combined I managed to once again beat my best week score with a total word count of 16556. In addition to that, I’m happy to announce that I’ve reached a yearly total so far of over 165,000. Again, it’s nowhere near where I need to be for my goal, but it’s a heck of a lot more than I normally would have written, so I’m proud. Revel in my pride! Only six months to go to try and boost that total up as high as I can!

And with that said, I plan to spend the next several hours in the lounge at camp, with my feet up, reading A Dance With Dragons, and waiting for my final flight home. See you soon, Cape Breton!

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.

From Another Perspective

Last week I wrote about how kids see things from a different perspective and that we have to remember that when dealing with them. For writers, perspective can be a powerful tool because a story is never truly whole until you’ve seen it from all angles. To illustrate this concept, I’m going to use the example that made me come up with the idea for this post in the first place: coworkers.

My day job is as a commissioning technician in the Alberta oil sands. For those who don’t speak “tradesperson”, that means that a bunch of people built a plant to extract the oil from the sand, and my company makes sure that everything is set up properly before it runs. To this purpose we have two major groups; field technicians and control room technicians. Field technicians deal with the physical equipment in the main area of the plant, while control room technicians are the ones watching the computer screens that the plant will be controlled from, and they deal with the internal programming.

Both field techs and control techs are required to commission any given piece of equipment (okay it to run). They have to work together constantly. But here’s the thing: control room techs are (gasp!) located in the control room, while field techs are out in the “field” (the main area of the plant). Neither can see what the other is seeing or doing, which results in many instances of failure to communicate and/or jumping to conclusions. I started this job as a field tech and was later moved to the control room, so I am in the prime position to give a few examples of the different perspectives and the animosity they can cause.

Say, for example, that you’re a field tech working on a transmitter that measures the flow of liquid through a pipe. Your transmitter has been set up to read a range of 0 to 100 meters per second. So you call up your control tech and ask to test the transmitter, but the control tech asks you to hold on for a moment because there’s a problem…his computer shows a range of 0 to 200 meters per second. So you wait…and you wait…and wait…and wait… You wait so long that you begin to think that your control tech forgot about you, so you try calling him on the radio again. He doesn’t answer. You try again. He still doesn’t answer.

Now you’re starting to get mad. Where the hell did he go? Finding out the proper range for the transmitter can’t possibly take this long. Is he just ignoring you? He must be fooling around up there in the control room with his other control tech buddies. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass that you’re standing out here in the cold, ready, willing, and able to get this job done. Damn him and his cushy, stress-free desk job… What an asshole!

I can’t honestly say that this exact thought process never went through my head. More than once my field tech buddies and I put in complaints to our bosses that were along the lines of, “We can’t get a damn thing done because we spend all day standing around waiting for the control techs to get back to us!” Then I moved up to the control room myself, and I got to see the story from the other perspective.

Say, now, that you’re a control room tech and you’ve just had a call from a field tech. He tells you that he wants to work on a transmitter and that his range is 0 to 100, but oops! The range on your screen is 0-200. So you ask him to hold on and you go out to find out whose numbers are correct. This involves flipping through a several-hundred-page document that, maddeningly, is organized in no logical way known to mankind. It takes you a good 5-10 minutes to finally locate the information on this transmitter and lo and behold, the field tech’s numbers are correct. Okay, so the numbers in the program have to be changed, but you don’t have the authority to make the change yourself, so you grab the necessary paperwork that must be filled out to request that an engineer do it. On your way back to your desk the control room coordinator snags you and shoves some more paperwork at you from another group of field techs. He also gives you a second radio because the second group is on a different channel than the first group. So you get back to your desk with your two piles of paperwork and your two radios, and you’re just about to call your tech to explain what is happening when your boss appears at your desk and asks you to look something up for him. You do so, because he’s your boss, and he immediately launches into a veritable Spanish Inquisition’s worth of questions about something you worked on over a month ago. You can’t recall the exact details so you sweep aside your pile of paperwork and your two radios and you dig through the mess of your desk to find your log book. While flipping through weeks worth of notes with your boss hanging over your shoulder you hear your name being called on the radio a few times, so you grab it quickly and respond that you’ll be right with them. In the stress of the momenet you don’t realize that you’ve accidentally grabbed the second radio and are actually broadcasting to no one.

In short, you’re trying your damnedest to organize a dozen things at once, and yet there’s a field tech out there in the field, fuming about what an asshole you are for making them wait. You see how perspective can dramatically change the story?

This can work in both directions as well, of course. I’ve been in the control room waiting for a field tech to disconnect a wire for the purpose of a test and found myself wondering what was taking so long. I’ve even considered how incompetent a person would have to be to have so much trouble with a single wire. Then, inevitably, I would find out afterward that the wire in question was fifteen feet in the air and the tech couldn’t find a ladder, or that the wrong type of screw had been used on the wire and the tech had to go hunt down a different screwdriver.

The whole world revolves around the different perspectives from which we each see things, and this is important to remember when writing, because it is a constant source of conflict. For instance, there’s the antagonist who truly believes they’re the good guy because they see their cause as idealistic. Or there’s the protagonist who loses all their friends by doing something stupid that they felt at the time was the right thing to do. There’s the age-old story of how men and women can’t understand each other, or how children see the world in a completely different way from adults. The world is swarming with conflict because different people of different genders, ages, races, religions, creeds, classes, backgrounds, educations, and so on all see things from vastly different points of view, and that is fiction gold. Think about it and use it. Some of the best books I’ve read make excellent use of showing how the “good guys” and the “bad guys” really just have a very different perspective on things. After all, rarely does anyone believe that they themselves are the problem.

Perspective. How do you use it in your writing? Where do you see it in daily life? What books have you read that make good use of this idea? Please share!

Failure? No, not even close.

The best laid plans do not always turn out the way you expect them to. This is a well-known fact, often tested, the results reproduced with alarming regularity. As per this noble tradition of screw-up-ery, November did not turn out the way I expected it to. This is not surprising. What is surprising is the manner in which it did not turn out the way I expected it to.

I went into November with a simple goal: to participate in my 5th National Novel Writing Month. Though I was definitely going to put my all into it, I did not expect to win my 5th NaNoWriMo, due to the working conditions I’ve mentioned more than once on this blog. What I expected was to spend two weeks working out West, writing whenever I could snag a few minutes to keep my word count from plummeting miserably, and then when I returned home for the last bit of November I would write like a maniac to get as close to a winning word count as possible.

In a humorous twist, what I did was almost exactly the opposite. During my days out West I wrote like the wind. I wrote in a notebook during all my breaks, and typed like a madwoman when I got back to my camp room at night. I even scribbled out a few words here and there on buses and in lines for buses, and once or twice I lost an hour or two much-needed sleep because the scenes were just flowing out of me. I made the daily word count every day while I was out West, and even doubled it on some days.

And then I returned home, and I am completely unashamed to admit that I did not write one single word from the moment my plane landed until this blog post. What did I do during those two weeks off? Well, for one, I finished (yes, finished) all my Christmas shopping, cleaned and decorated the house with the help of my husband, decorated the tree with my husband and daughter, and wrapped every single present that was available to wrap (including embellishment with a plethora of ribbons and bows, thank you very much). But even more important than that, I (with a great deal of help from my mother) threw my daughter her second birthday party. She had a blast with her cousin and second-cousins, enjoyed her Sesame Street decorations and cake, and got some pretty awesome gifts in the process. Then we packed everything up and headed home so I could just enjoy being with her for a couple of days before flying back out for work.

The conclusion of this little tale, in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, is that while I’m disappointed that I couldn’t score a 5th NaNoWriMo win after all that frantic writing out West, sometimes there are more important things. And because I was able to accept that, I manged to put myself into a situation where I will have virtually nothing to worry about for Christmas when I get back home in two weeks, and I was able to enjoy my daughter’s second birthday without obsessing over a self-imposed writing challenge. Take that.

And just to make a good situation even better, even though I didn’t win NaNo, I wrote 37189 words of good stuff when I was writing. I’m happy with that, and I fully plan on continuing on with this story while I’m out West for this run. In fact, I picked up a cute little notebook on the way out here specifically for that purpose. I’m going to reinstate my goal from earlier in the year and try to write 1000 words a day. If nothing else it will help pass the time until I can go back home to my husband and my little girl and enjoy Christmas with them. Love you two! See you in two weeks! *kiss kiss; hug hug!*

The Incredible Journey

Alternate title: Why Air Canada should be burned to the ground.

I have no more of a temper than the average person. I may even be inclined to say that my temper is a little more tempered (see what I did there?) than the average person’s. I’ve been known to let my emotions fly, but if you could see inside my brain you’d also see that a large percentage of my most violent rages were kept safely inside my imagination where they could do no one any harm (except possibly myself).

This past week can not be counted amongst that ‘large percentage’. This past week my rage grew in leaps and bounds, and those who were near me at the time got to hear some rather imaginative strings of profanity. It was all the result of the actions of a major airline that evidently enjoys seeing just how much they can cheese their customers off.

Air Canada: herein after known as The Devil’s Own Airline.

For those who don’t know, or who are just stumbling across this blog entry while surfing the web, expressing their own hatred for The Devil’s Own Airline, I currently work in the oil sands of Alberta, while still living back home in Nova Scotia. My shift is two weeks on, two weeks off, so every two weeks I’m flying 3/4 of the way across Canada, either heading out to work, or heading home. On the date in question, Tuesday July 31st, I was to head home, along with some 40 of my coworkers.

Now, the thing about “heading home” day is that the only flight we Eastern Canadians can get out of Fort McMurrary, that also coincides with bus schedules and the like, leaves Fort M at 12:20 am. If you’re like me and you sometimes screw up your am and pm when it comes to the 12s on the clock, that’s 20 minutes after midnight. While not nearly as big an issue as the others that would arise later, this is my first strike against Air Canada. I have it on good authority that many companies, my own included, have asked Air Canada to put more flights on out of Fort M, as these companies are shipping thousands of people back and forth across the country every week. Air Canada said…no. That was pretty much it. No. No, we evidently don’t want any extra business, thanks, we’re fine.

Whatever. I’m no business person, but…yeah. I’m not going to get into it.

Anyway, our flight leaves at 20 minutes past midnight. This is doubly unfortunate because the buses that ship us from camp to the airport (a 2 hour trip if the traffic is good) don’t run past 7 pm or so, so we are generally dropped off at the airport at about 6 pm. You math geniuses out there have figured it out, but for the rest of you that means my coworkers and I have a 6 hour wait before our plane leaves. Because of this extended wait, it has become a custom for many to travel down the road to the Nova hotel to hang out in their lounge, or else catch a taxi into town to find some food and/or drink. It’s a completely reasonable thing to do with a 6-hour wait time, but on this particular day it would prove to exacerbate our upcoming torments.

You see, only a few of my coworkers and I decided to stay at the airport…but those of us who did had decided to sit in the airport bar, have a bite to eat, and watch the London 2012 Olympics on their tvs. From this area of the airport we could neither see the Arrivals/Departures screen, nor could we hear any of the announcements being made over the loudspeakers. By the time one of the men  happened to be walking to the washroom and glanced up at the flights screen it had been approximately two hours since our 12:20 am flight had been cancelled.

The next little while was, of course, panic. The man who’d noticed the cancellation immediately began calling everyone back from the hotel/restaurants/bars/etc that they’d run off to and very soon the airport was full of panicked and upset oil sands workers. My buddy ran back to the airport bar to get me and tell me what had happened, and for a moment I thought he was screwing with me. I generally fall for these sorts of things, you see, but I was in fine form tonight…until I looked up at the screen and saw the big red “Cancelled” for myself. Then my stomach dropped like a bag of bricks. I spent several minutes after that texting my husband while the wings I’d been eating worked black magic on my stomach and my coworkers tried to work out what the hell we were going to do.

As it turned out, Toronto airport (which was our first of several layovers) was experiencing some pretty nasty thunderstorms and everything had shut down. May I note here, for anyone who is not from Canada or has never flown before, that this is probably the worst airport that could have shut down. Toronto International is a major hub and I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say that more than half of cross-country flights go through there. So it wasn’t just we lowly oil sands workers who had been caught with our pants down…it was half the country.

Now, thunderstorms aren’t exactly something an airport can control. No one is blaming The Devil’s Own Airline (or any other airline for that matter) for an “act of God”, as that would be foolish. No no…the blaming comes as a result of the series of events that occurred in relation to the thunderstorm issue.

First and foremost, as I imagine many of you would also do, my coworkers and I ran to the Devil’s Own Airline desk in the Fort M airport. Surely these people would be able to give us a few answers, tell us what we should be doing. Oh, how naive. Before we’d even found out that our flight (along with many, many others) had been cancelled, these nice ladies had had their computers locked out. Let me impress that point on you a little further: The Devil’s Own Airline actually blocked their own employees from being able to help paying customers whose flights had been cancelled. Literally, their computers would not let them do anything. The reasoning they gave had something to do with not knowing how long the storms would last, whether or not the planes would eventually be able to fly, and not wanting every customer to change their flight (thus possibly ending up with some empty planes). In other words, it was a financial decision. People all over the country were kept from obtaining any help with their cancelled flights because The Devil’s Own Airline didn’t want to inadvertently waste fuel on a not-full plane. Look at the tears I’m crying for them. ._.

So anyway, the desk ladies couldn’t help us. The only suggestion they could give was to either go to the “cancelled flights” page of the company’s website, or call the hotline. I checked the website immediately, via my iPhone, but when I gave my booking reference number the site quickly informed me that it had, like the desk attendants, been blocked. It began to seem to me, at this point, that The Devil’s Own Airline actually wanted us to all just sit around patiently and wait like good little paying drones. I am not patient. Just saying.

So it was now approximately 10:30 pm, and my 40+ coworkers and I were gathered in the airport, utilizing the only method left to us. That is, calling the hotline…along with the rest of the goddamn country. The first guy to get through – after approximately two hours on hold – was immediately swarmed by the rest of the crew, the idea being that he would pass the phone on after he got his flight re-booked. We were soon stymied again, however, as the call center attendants refused to let him do this. Their argument was that it was unfair to all the other people who were calling in and waiting on hold. Now, while I understand the reasoning behind this decision, it ignores a certain issue…this being that not all of us had cellphones. We were a two hour drive from camp, stuck in an airport with only one public phone, and approximately 20% of our crew didn’t have a cellphone. This meant that those without a phone would have to wait until those with a phone were done. Since the wait time on the hotline was approximately 2 hours, that meant that some of our crew had to wait 4 or even 6 hours before able to speak to a representative, by which time there were simply no possible flights left. How exactly is that fair?

By the end of the night (approximately 1 in the morning), about a third of our crew had weaseled their way onto a flight heading to Calgary (from where they had no idea where they were going to head next), about another third had managed to get new flights leaving the next day, and the other third were unable to get anything until Thursday evening or sometime Friday. Let me reiterate that: we had been driven to the airport on Tuesday evening and some of our crew had no chance of leaving Fort McMurray until Friday. All the time while on their days off.

My buddy and I were two of the lucky ones to get flights the next day, Wednesday. Our original flight would have been from Fort M to Toronto, then to Halifax, and for me to Sydney. Our new flight had us going from Fort M to Calgary, then to Montreal, and after an extended wait we’d be on to Halifax and Sydney. The new bookings would take us twice as long as our original ones, but by the time our 2:30 pm flight was drawing near we had heard a million and one worse horror stories. The boys who had flown to Calgary the night before had gotten stuck there. A few boys were getting home to New Brunswick that day, but were landing on the wrong side of the province and would have to drive a rental several hours just to get to their vehicles, after which they’d have to drive several more hours to get home. And some terribly, terribly unlucky guys had decided to stay at the Nova hotel and try calling the hotline in the morning…their laid-back attitude got them stuck in Fort McMurray until Saturday. Saturday. So all in all, my buddy and I were feeling pretty lucky as we made a beeline for our 2:30 flight.

As we were boarding our flight to Calgary, however, I heard the first of what would turn out to be a number of vexing situations: our flight had been overbooked…by ten people. This amazes me still. How do you sell 10 seats that have already been sold? Needless to say, 10 people didn’t make it onto the plane. I can only imagine how those people must have felt, especially if they had been one of the many people who had already had to rebook their flight due to the thunderstorms. But the best part? Even if they’d been sitting in the airport all day, waiting for the flight, these people only found out they weren’t getting on their plane when the plane started boarding. They didn’t tell them until the last possible minute. The only thing I can figure is that The Devil’s Own Airline was hoping that 10 people simply wouldn’t show up, allowing these people to fill the plane…I doubt that train of thought comforts the 10 people who didn’t get on the flight that they paid for and were waiting all day to get on.

So my buddy and I made it to Calgary. Calgary was fairly uneventful, but I will say this: after a three-hour wait for our connecting flight, not only was the plane delayed by almost an hour because the flight attendants hadn’t shown up yet, but the plane was goddamn overbooked by 8 people! Now I was starting to be amazed. Again, I ask, how the hell do you sell seats that are already sold?! If this is common business practice, I want to spit on the face of The Devil’s Own Airline’s CEO. Flying standby is one thing, but you can’t sell people tickets showing that they’re getting on a damn plane and then tell them that they can’t get on the damn plane because you sold them non-existent tickets!

On to Montreal we went, and a 7 hour wait through the middle of the night. Fun times, those. Trying to sleep in airport seats is an amazing experience, really. You should all try it. [/sarcasm]

As a quick side note that has nothing to do with The Devil’s Own Airline, the security check employees in the Montreal airport take their jobs way too seriously. The girl at the front of the baggage scanner gave me the most evil eye I’d ever experienced when I asked her to speak English. The guy at the end of the baggage scanner opened every single pocket on my purse and laptop bag and rifled through every single item, bending up all my boarding passes and knocking a couple of makeup items to the floor, without so much as a grunt at me. Finally, the “random-check” guy grabbed my buddy and practically shoved him in the full-body x-ray, without ever explaining to him that he has the right to be patted down instead. All in all, we felt rather abused by the time we got to our gate.

Moving on with the exploits of The Devil’s Own Airline: after having a 7 hour wait, during which our gate was unexpectedly changed to be as far away from where we were as humanly possible, our plane was delayed by an hour because the pilot hadn’t shown up. Okay, sure, whatever, par for the course. But then it was delayed for another hour because the pilot still hadn’t shown up. Okay, now we’re starting to wonder how a pilot just doesn’t show up for his flight. But okay, we’re waiting, we’re waiting. I’m starting to get concerned because it’s going to be tight to catch my connection to Sydney, but we’re waiting.

Then our flight was delayed for three more hours. Because a new pilot was being flown in from halfway across the country. At this point the rage was palpable. Almost no one on that flight was actually going to Halifax. Almost everyone had connections to different places, most notably a couple who were heading to a wedding in Saint John’s, Newfoundland, and now had absolutely no chance of making it in time for the nuptials. Myself, I was now officially going to miss my connection flight from Halifax to Sydney. When I mentioned this to the lady at the gate desk her reaction was to shrug a little and tell me that I’d have to rebook that flight. As I’d already had to do this once, and it had required a two hour wait on hold, I decided to check the airline’s website to see if there were even any flights available. What I found was that the next flight I could get, that actually had some seats left, didn’t leave Halifax until approximately 28 hours after I would get there. For those who don’t know, you can drive the entire length of Nova Scotia in about 8-9 hours. I could have driven from Halifax to Sydney and back again twice and would still have a couple of hours to wait for my flight. As it turns out, my buddy had a van waiting in Halifax and was driving most of the way toward where I live, so he offered to drive me. I accepted and all was well, but that doesn’t make it better. For all intents and purposes, The Devil’s Own Airline stole money from my company by forcing me to miss my connection and being both unable and unwilling to help me get a new flight in a reasonable amount of time.

After that most recent delay, the gate attendant started handing out meal vouchers “for our trouble”. Guess how much money was on them? Ten bucks. Ten bucks, for being delayed half the waking day and missing our connecting flights during a time when it’s impossible to book new ones. Thanks guys. We really appreciated it, seriously.

By the time we finally got on our flight from Montreal to Halifax we had been delayed twice more (making the total delay time approximately 6 hours), moved to another gate again, and at the last possible minute the desk attendants announced (guess what?!) that the flight was overbooked by 8 people and they were hoping some volunteers would come forward to take a later flight. That is so wrong for several reasons. For one thing, everyone on that flight (presumably) paid for that flight, making it ridiculous to request that they not take it. For another thing, we’d been delayed SIX HOURS. Why are you just now bringing this up?! Clearly they were hoping that some people would, like…just give up and go home or something, but that is the most awful business ethic I’ve ever heard. For a final thing, why would anyone give up their seat on the plane, knowing that all flights for the next several days are completely screwed up and they’d be lucky to get on another flight in less than 48 hours?

And finally, to add insult to injury, as we finally stepped off the plan in Halifax, an attendant was waiting at the gate to offer us discount vouchers for our next flight. The vouchers gave no indication as to how much the discount might be, but did indicate that we had no more than 30 days to use them. One particularly angry customer (I believe he may have been heading to that wedding I mentioned earlier) snatched a handful of them out of the attendants hand, tore them into a hundred pieces, and scattered them all over the floor at her feet. Not one other customer so much as cracked a smile at the outburst, as we were all feeling that it was the calmest thing he could have done.

So, to reiterate, Air Canada workers were not only unhelpful during this entire ordeal, but they were regularly (and seemingly deliberately) obstructive. Every step of the way it seemed as though they were actually trying to screw up our flights, trying to make us as angry as possible. And I was one of the lucky ones who still managed to get where I was going less than 48 hours late!

And that, my friends, is why I think Air Canada should be burned to the ground. They clearly have no sense of business ethic or customer satisfaction at all. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Air Canada. Thanks for making me lose a full day home with my daughter after being out West for two weeks straight.

Look ma, I’m planning!

Okay, here’s the deal. As you read this I am on my way to board a plane heading toward my second rotation in Fort McMurray. Those of you who have been reading know what happened during my last rotation…I didn’t have any internet (aside from my iPhone) for the entire two weeks. I like to imagine that my luck can’t be that bad that it would happen again, but since discovering that there is exactly one IT guy for something like 4500 rooms at the camp, I’m not taking my chances. I want to make sure that my blog is updated, instead of being dead in the water for another two weeks, and plucking out posts on my iPhone is beyond tedious. So I tracked down another blogging challenge (okay, more of a list of post ideas), this one aimed specifically toward writers. The list has 101 ideas on it, so what’s going to happen is that before each of my rotations I’ll pre-write and schedule enough posts to fill up the two weeks that I’m out in Alberta. I’ll break during my weeks off so that I can post manually during that time. Sound like a plan? I think it sounds like a plan.

I’ll start tomorrow, and you should have 14 posts by the time I get back. If anyone is interested, the list can be found at Julie Jarnagin’s blog, and here is the exact post: 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

A Day at Kearl Lake

I have come to the conclusion that the Internet in my camp room is not going to get fixed while I’m actually still here, so let it be known that I plucked out this entire entry on my iPhone. 😐

Camp life is definitely a different kind of life.

I wake up between 4:00 and 4:30 am. The bed is a little stiff, but I’m used to a cushion-top mattress, so I might be a little biased there. I wash up at the sink in my room, throw on some clothes, grab my lunch bag and stumble down to the main area of the camp.

Breakfast is served in the dining room, should you wish to partake. There are dispensers of cereal, tons of fruit, and you can also get stuff cooked in the kitchen, such as various forms of eggs, sausages, bacon, etc. To drink you can get milk, several kinds of juice, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. I don’t usually get breakfast in the dining room because I’m lazy and don’t normally eat much for breakfast anyway.

For your work lunch you go to the bag-up room. This room is full of easy-to-grab things like fruit, sandwiches and wraps, sweets, salads, and refrigerated portions of stuff from the kitchens, like lasagna, chili, chicken and potatoes, etc. These things are marked with stickers showing the day they go bad so you can see how old they are and judge whether you’d want to eat them. Of this stuff you can effectively take as much as you want. I usually grab some oatmeal and fruit (which I eat while waiting for the morning work meeting), one of the kitchen things (today I have spaghetti) and some snack stuff like celery and peanut butter, a bagel, some cookies, or whatever.

To get to he job, I line up at the gates at around 5:10 am. The buses line up at 5:15 and leave at 5:30. You have to swipe your card and go through a turnstile and then find the bus that goes to your section of the site. I haven’t actually counted, but I think there are close to thirty different buses. You have to get on the right one or you’ll end up in a section you’re not allowed in. The bus drive takes about half an hour to 40 minutes.

At work we have a meeting and then head out into the site. The site is so huge that you have to sign in to which area you’re going to in case of emergencies. I’m in the Froth section, which is the part of the system that will remove the oil (bitumen) from the sand. It’s still under construction so right now my main duty is to familiarize myself with the equipment. There’s a lot of walking and climbing. A LOT. The other day myself and a couple of the guys climbed to the top of the highest structure on site. It took almost half an hour to get up, but it was a pretty awesome view.

We catch the bus back to camp at the end of the 12-hour shift. If you’re quick you can jump in the bag-up room before it closes and grab some snacks to take to your room. I usually jump in and grab some cookies or something. For supper the dining room generally has two or three entrees and half a dozen possible sides, plus a bunch of deserts. Yesterday I had roasted potatoes and lemon-crusted sole. The night before I had hot wings and fries.

Finally, after supper I basically go up to my room, take a shower, and relax. There’s a gym with lots of equipment but I’m too beat by the end of the day to use it. Maybe I’ll get used to it after a shift or two and start adding in some stints at the gym but for now I just go up to my room, maybe give a call down home, and watch shows on my computer until I fall asleep (which doesn’t take very long).

Eventually I’ll figure out how to squeeze some writing into the day somewhere. 😐

Countdown…

In less than 24 hours I’ll be on my first airplane, just about to land in Toronto, where I’ve never been. I’ll then get on my second airplane, heading out on a 4 hour flight to Fort McMurray, where I’ve never been. I’ll be bused to the first work camp I’ve ever been to, and in the morning I’ll start a new job, working out on the oil sands.

All that might not seem like a big deal to some people, but as I’ve never even left Cape Breton for work before, it’s a big deal for me.

I’ve got my luggage almost packed, and I’m going to run out a little later to pick up some Gravol for the plane (I’m not taking any chances). I’m prepared to get up (very) early tomorrow morning for the drive to the Halifax airport. It’s going to be hard to walk away from the baby when it’s time to board, but I know her father will take good care of her, and I’ll be back in only two weeks to hug and kiss and snuggle her to pieces.

I won’t have a lot of time to myself while I’m out to work (12 hour days and a 30 minute bus drive to and from the work site), but I’m going to be trying to sneak in some time for writing each night before bed, so keep an eye out for updates.

I’ll be sure to let you all know if I make it through the plane rides without hurling. 😐