Nobody For Hire   (2016Feb04)

Thursday, February 04, 2016                                           4:11 PM

When I was a young firebrand, I felt that a job was a fallback position—that exceptional people (like me, of course) should strike out on their own and do great things, free from the bonds of nine-to-five servitude. Two things escaped my notice at the time—one, that exceptional people worked just as hard, even harder, for themselves than other people worked for their boss—and two, that working people had something that even exceptional people don’t have—they were needed to get a job done. It’s nice to be needed. At one point, when I was working in the early days of office computing, I was very much needed—it was a great feeling.

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My working life back then was exciting—my father was starting a small business and I was helping with the computers—new and exotic at the time. The energy of growing a business combined with the innovation of computers—whose software, hardware, and operating systems changed with alarming frequency—kept me hopping. Computers were unusual and they brought with them new ways of thinking—I spent a lot of time explaining things to people—things I had had explained to me only a short time beforehand. There was a lot of learning, and teaching, involved. And the computers made us so competitive that the business grew swiftly—bringing its own challenges. If I were young again, that’s what I’d do—start a small business—there’s nothing like it for adventure.

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Lately I’ve been trying to accept that my infirmity went on for too long, that restoration of my health (such as it is) came too late, and my senior years arrived too early—and that these three combined present a good case for me to accept that any professional life I might have had has gone by the boards—that mere existence, mere dependency, is the best I’m going to do with my near future. I recognize that living off my disability, without any struggle to regain my place in the commerce of the day, is a surrender—but I’ve spent some time fighting to stay alive, to stay sane—and it looks like that is the only challenge I’m prepared to face. Excusing myself from the greater struggle, that of wresting a paycheck from the wide world, is just another lesson I’ve picked up from my teacher, my cancer, my mortality.

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My illness has taught me that there is a realm beyond that of ‘try harder’—I’m a little annoyed whenever someone suggests that I could do more. When a nerve is severed, no amount of ‘try harder’ will ever reconnect it; when a muscle no longer contracts, when the skin is numb to the touch, ‘trying harder’ doesn’t enter into the problem. When a mind that once served me so well that I look back on it now with awe, decides to atrophy—I cannot regain my genius by earnest effort any more than by wishing on a star. While I’m pleased and excited that my health is so much improved from what it was (what Billy Crystal, in “The Princess Bride”, describes as ‘mostly dead’) it is just as important for me to accept that my old self is gone—all my assumptions about my abilities, my knowledge, my stamina, my capacity to learn new things—they’re all misleading taunts, memories of a healthy me that hasn’t existed for decades.

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So I’m giving up on finding a job—if I’m dissatisfied with myself, how could I expect anyone else to find a use for me? If anybody wants to call me on this—or explain how I should just ‘try harder’—well, you know what you can do with that sentiment. There are seven billion people running around—I think we can do without one pair of shaky hands, and things will still roll along pretty much unchanged.

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The biggest problem is that I remain a neo-Calvinist by nature—and I’m unhappy without any hard work to do—I feel most needed when I’m being pushed to meet a deadline. Drawing pictures was always my go-to busy-work—but shaky hands and draughtsmanship don’t go together. It’s a conundrum. I’m trying to teach myself to enjoy being unneeded—but context is everything, and I’d love to have one—a context, that is. That’s what a job really boils down to—I’ve had different jobs at different salaries, but behind it all, whatever job it was was always a context to my life—a framework for my self-worth. Only exceptional people can stand alone, assured that they are of value, even without a paycheck to show for it—but even exceptional people need a target for their efforts, a challenge to strive for. Perhaps it’s just ego on my part—I’m disappointed with the lightweight challenges I’m prepared to meet—and I miss the days when people sometimes expected the impossible of me and I was able to deliver. Applause, applause—yeah, those were the days.

On The Job Market   (2016Jan05)

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016                                                9:44 AM

I can sight-read music like nobody’s business—and I can do the New York Times crossword puzzle from Monday through Thursday –and last night I was yelling at my TV screen because none of the three Jeopardy contestants knew many answers that were obvious to me. So if I’m so perceptive and clever and well-educated, why the hell am I not a good candidate for a job?

Well, most jobs have the ‘clever’ taken out of them, so you don’t have to rely on a smart-ass like myself to come along. Most jobs require subordination, promptitude, and ‘good social skills’ (which, in my head, I interpret as ‘not being myself’). It figures—in my school days, I succeeded in scholarly stuff but failed at what everyone knew was the real point of school—fitting in—so why should I expect scholarly skills to help in the adult version of school—employment?

Most people have a subconscious acceptance of authority—but I’ve spent a lot of time being a ‘teacher’s aide’-type student, training new employees, editing other peoples’ writing, correcting other people’s mistakes, and practicing autodidacticism—so I’ve never been able to do any more than make a pretense of accepting authority. That’s good enough for reasonable people, but for managers and the like, for whom authority is part of their self-image—my veneer is too thin—they see right through someone who thinks they’re mere mortals—and they see my kind of attitude as a threat to their authority, which in their context, I suppose, I am.

I’ve known for a long time that I would never be happy outside of self-employment—but I’ve never had enough ambition to start my own business—and I’ve never come up with a business idea that I liked well enough to put my whole life’s effort into. To be honest, I’ve become so disenchanted with materialism, capitalism, and business that I couldn’t start my own business without becoming a self-hater. I could work for someone else—I could put up with it for the sake of bringing home some bacon for my family—but I’d have to find someone who really needed a geek—and was willing to put up with the strangeness of a geek.

That’s not an impossible task—but time has passed—and now I’m a damaged, sixty-year-old geek with real issues, so the fit is a lot tighter now—and it’s not as if the job market was suffering any sort of surplus. Plus, my big sell was my computer skills—and I’m obsolete on that subject now. I could learn new computer skills, but I always learned that stuff in the context of doing business—it’s hard to do as a pure learning exercise—and it’s always been my experience that computer skills never match the job requirements—on-the-job computer skills never match up with the tutorial stuff.

I used to be able to go into a job interview with the certain knowledge that the employer would be lucky to have me—whether they knew it or not. Nowadays, I’m not so sure. Job-interviewing is an ungodly ritual . I keep putting it off—you put me in a room with a judgmental so-and-so and I’d take that fucker’s head off, never mind getting hired—I’d be lucky to leave the room without being put in handcuffs.

There was a time when I would have been a valuable addition to any workforce—problem-solving, fact-checking, training, organizing, paperwork—I was a working fool, coming in early, staying late, skipping vacations. I still think of myself that way—but then I remember that my present-day self has trouble getting up in the morning, walking around the block, driving a car, talking to people, and concentrating—I’m not god’s gift to employers any more. And I can’t stand the thought of being one of those employees that people ‘put up’ with, the ones who keep their jobs just because it’s too much hassle to fire them—I always looked down on those people, and I won’t become one of them.

Moreover, it was easier for me to be enthusiastic about my work back before I’d had twenty years to think about how horribly selfish and thoughtless most business-owners and managers are. Presently, I’d have a chip on my shoulder before I even walked into a place of employment. I’ve come to understand why Tolkien was so vehemently opposed to property and ownership—it rots the soul. But then most of the rottenness of my soul comes from idleness. Most people are too busy, too obligated, to sit around—as I have lo these many years—thinking about the way the world works, and how terribly one small part of humanity bullies the rest of it—and, with that condition being unlikely to change, my dwelling on it can only lead to despair and feelings of futility—hence my frustration.

Hmmm, not much of a resume….