Monday, March 23, 2009

More Signs of the Times

Earlier this week, in my pocket change, I found a wheat penny. Wheat pennies have the image of two stalks of wheat stamped on the obverse side, where modern pennies have the Lincoln memorial. Nowadays they are scarce and maybe somewhat valuable, and as coin collectors hoard them they are becoming scarcer and more valuable (perhaps). This one in my pocket change is worn from years of apparent penny-pinching and bears the date 1929, the year of the last great depression.

This morning, as I was getting the oil in my car changed, I witnessed a drug bust on a street corner of my pretentiously upscale, suburban bedroom community. The county officer making the bust was very business-like and no-bullshit, definitely getting the job done. He smashed some sort of paraphernalia under his heel as the two perps, already in handcuffs, watched, then he made one of them deposit the smashed-up bit of paraphernalia in a nearby trash can. The perp making the deposit looked very unhappy. I'm not really sure what to make of this observation.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sign of the Times

In keeping with the general tenor of the times and of the economy, I lost my job. No, not like I drove all the way in to work and then realized, “Dang, it was here yesterday”. Actually, my job was taken from me. My company gave me two week’s notice.

Not like I didn’t see it coming. At the end of January, I was cut from the project I was working on due to cost overruns. (Severe cost overruns, I might add.) What happens in my company whenever anyone gets off of a project, they get assigned to a “special” office, where their job becomes to find a job. While they are performing this very special job, they charge their time to a very special charge number. (More about the very special charge number later.) Now, if you find yourself in this position, there are numerous resources at your disposal. For example, your manager helps you locate jobs within the company, but you must realize that your manager is up to his ass in alligators trying to deal with the cost overruns that put you in this very special office to begin with, so he (in my case it was a he) doesn’t have a lot of spare cycles to devote to your personal catastrophe. Nonetheless, I had a good relationship with my management (including the guy up to his ass in alligators) and they were very useful in getting other manager’s attention focused on my particular job application.

That very special charge number that I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s an overhead charge number, which is just an accountant’s way of saying you are now costing the company money. See, before, when you were on that project that was hemorrhaging finances so badly, you were actually making more money for the company than it cost to keep you employed. (Or so it appeared; don’t ask me how the accountants figure that.) Now that your circumstances have changed, this equation has flipped over, and you are now costing the company money. Now you get to charge your time to that very special charge number, so the company can keep track of exactly how much you are costing them. You can only suck on that tit for so long before it runs dry.

All this I knew when I walked in to that very special office and began my very special job. Almost immediately I formed a plan; a plan and a schedule. It looked something like this.
  • Week 1: Search the company job resources for jobs within the company and apply to them, as many as I possibly can. Involve my manager.

  • Week 2: Same as week 1, but if no interviews by now, start to worry. Otherwise, keep searching and applying for as many jobs in the company as I possibly can.

  • Week 3: If still no job interviews, begin looking outside the company at job prospects, but continue to apply within the company and involve my manager as needed.

  • Week 4: If still no job interviews or interviews are not resulting in jobs, put my resume out on the streets (applying for as many of those jobs as I possibly can). Begin looking seriously outside the company. I felt no need to mention this move to anyone in the company, nor did anyone ask. I’m not sure how I would have answered if they did ask.
Events began to follow my plan uncomfortably closely. I was not getting any interviews for company jobs. I wasn’t even getting acknowledgments for my applications. (Here’s where a manager comes in handy as well. A word to my manager, and he would drop a word to the hiring manager, and I would very quickly hear what my standing for the job was. Generally, it was not good, but at least I knew.) But by week 5, I was getting interviews outside of my company. Incredibly, the market was far more responsive than my own employer. (Go figure!); there were jobs out there. By week 6, I was getting job offers from outside my company, nothing from the inside. There were jobs, just no jobs in my company. It was looking like I was going to have to change employers.

Back to that very special charge number; there are ways to minimize your use of it. In my case, I found training, lots of it, as much as I could find. If there was a training course within the company, and I could get to it, I enrolled in it. You see, training is also overhead (you’re costing the company money) but it’s more like an investment. You are learning skills that the company can market to its customers and, thus, make even more money from you. So training is a more acceptable form of overhead than simply sitting on my ass and waiting for the next great job to come my way.

So to all you other bread-winning life forms out there, the secret is to get up off your fat asses, guys. Here’s what I’ve learned you can do instead of waiting for that choice plum of employment you feel so entitled to.
  • Get up and look. Hit every job search resource you have at your disposal and hit it hard.

  • Network. Network like crazy. Get out of your comfort zone and go talk to people. (You're going to wish you had started this a lot earlier.) Yeah, you hear this one all the time, but only because it works. Networking deserves its own blog entry, at the very least. There are more networking books on the market than you can shake a pink slip at. Some of them are probably worth reading, but since it’s your economic survival at stake, maybe you should open one or two of them.

  • Have a plan. Knowing that you have a course you are going to follow calms the mind and gives you confidence. You are going to need confidence going into the numerous interviews you will be doing, because you aren’t going to have much of it when you get out.

  • Follow the plan. As your confidence wanes, it’s going to become harder and harder to hit the job searches and go to the interviews. And you need to hit the job searches and go to the interviews. See, getting a job is all a numbers game. To get a job, you need at least one job offer. To get that offer, you need to go to at least ten interviews (just a round number, but you get the idea. Your mileage may vary (and not necessarily for the better!)) To get an interview, you have to have submitted at least ten applications. Right there, that’s a hundred jobs you have to apply to, to get the ten interviews, so you get the one job offer. Having a plan helps you do all this on autopilot. Realize this, and be empowered.

  • Involve your manager(s). Managers can be extremely powerful tools when wielded properly. All you have to do is ask. Even the busiest manager will spare a minute or two to make a phone call on your behalf. Besides, it’s good networking.

There are those who may point out that my approach is perhaps optimistic, maybe a bit naïve, maybe a little too positive, perhaps even unrealistic. All I can say is, I have a new job.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Connections: Ulysses and Infinite Jest

I'm tackling James Joyce's Ulysses now and finding similarities between Ulysses and Infinite Jest as well as insight into The Jest. Here's one example.

3.416-417, in the Gabler edition of Ulysses is this little piece of text: the veil of the temple. I was actually looking on Google for anything about airing his quiff, from 6.196, and came across a good description of this phrase in Ulysses Annotated, by Don Gifford. Poking around in Ulysses Annotated, I found the veil of the temple, and then the A-Ha neuron fired.

Get this (from Ulysses Annotated): 3.416-417 the veil of the temple...shovel hat -- As described in Exodus 26:31-35, the veil acts as a multicolored screen between the outer "holy place" and "the most holy" (behind the veil). And this veil is rent at the moment of Jesus's death (Matthew 27:51). Berkely argued that "Vision is the Language of the Author of Nature" (The Theory of Vision [London 1733], section 38); in other words, the visible world is like a screen with signs on it, a screen that God presents to be read and thought rather than seen. Thus, the signs on the screen could be regarded as something taken out of one's head (or hat). A "shovel hat" was worn by some Church of Ireland and Church of England clergy in the eighteenth centure.

So, Madame Psychosis sat behind a tri-fold screen during her FM broadcasts from the MIT student union. And she wore a veil.

This seems to mean so many things on so many levels; I'm still piecing it together. And I'm just blown away by an intellect that can intentionally make connections and references like this, although I realize my admiration may come from reasoning more like the Watchmaker argument of Creationists (i.e., the Universe is too well put-together to have come about by chance, therefore, there must be a God.) Maybe DFW just accidentally put veils and screens in The Jest just because he read a lot; I just have trouble believing that it was accidental.