Friday, 22 February 2013

And Then There Were Two



After being unemployed for 8 months, I accidentally found myself working two jobs, neither of which are related to my carefully-crafted life plan.

I started working as an art instructor in December. It’s fun and different from anything I’ve ever done, but it’s very part-time. I consider twelve hours at the studio to be a “busy week,” and I supplement that with several hours of practicing, creating personal requests, and taking art classes each week. I consider my continuing education to be a job-related expense, since we do get a few people in every class who have art minors. My approach to art has always been more of a Nike slogan than a valid instruction method: Just do it. Effective when I’m painting, not as useful when I’m teaching someone else.

Since grad school is on hold until April and I only had a few shifts each week, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a text asking if I was available to work at a florist shop during the Valentine’s rush. I would finally have a real, full-time week processing orders on the computer. Perfect!

When I got there, I found out that I was going to be running the computers as well as taking orders over the phone. I hate answering phones like most people hate cleaning bathrooms. In fact, I would clean a bathroom any day before answering the phone. I equally hate being the person to place the call. I get physically ill at the thought of calling customer service, for anything. Caller ID has been a lifesaver, because there are probably four people on earth that I will answer the phone for. See Mom? You are special!

You don't ring, I won't cry.

The first day, I stayed exclusively on the computer. It was an awkward start, as my helpful trainer explained to me how to use copy/paste. I didn’t expect him to be nearly as excited as he was when I “mastered” it. After a short break, in which I assured him that I was not a complete idiot, he described some of the other holiday-help workers he’d been forced to train and it was smooth sailing for the rest of the week. I carefully avoided all phone calls for the first day.

Day two was a different story. At some point, I was going to have to answer the phone and interact with society. Not my strong suit. It’s not that I don’t care when you call, I do. I’m just not very good at understanding what you want and how to achieve that goal if I can’t rely on visual cues. I’ve never been able to process information solely via audio; I need to see your face or preferably a PowerPoint to fully grasp the conversation.

As any instructor will tell you, there are a few distinct learning styles that are used to categorize people: visual, auditory, and tactile (or kinesthetic/kinetic). For some reason, tactile people like to tell me that they’re “touch-learners.” That makes you sound like a sexual predator; please stop. At any rate, I am very much a visual person. Given the choice between a deaf person and myself on the phone, you should go with the deaf guy every time.

I did manage to take several phone orders throughout the week, and I think I only pissed off most of them. Success?

Three days into it, I realized that I loved working at the shop (phones aside). Everything about processing orders and designing arrangements appealed to me. I asked if they needed any help after the holidays, to which my trainer asked me if I’d ever made a floral arrangement before. I responded that I hadn’t, but then again I’d never used their computer system before and that went pretty well.

I got hired the next day, without any resumes, applications, or interviews. Thank Christ, because I don’t think I can sit through another generic interview where we both dress up and pretend to give a shit about each other’s five-year plan. Job interviews are like a first date without any hope of drunken sex at the end.

I’ve been working at the florist shop for two weeks now, and I’ve been excited to show up every day. Each afternoon, when it’s time to leave, I’m surprised to see that I haven’t looked at the clock once. I didn’t even know what my hourly wage was until this afternoon, and even after recovering from the shock and Googling “poverty” I still wanted to continue working. Is this what people mean when they say, “job satisfaction?”

I may never enjoy answering the phones, but it’s not as terrifying after the first hundred times. I even called customer service to try to get a W-2 this afternoon and realized after I hung up that I wasn’t even shaking. This is a serious step in the right direction for me.

I’ve also learned how to use a helium tank to blow up Mylar balloons. The first few were disastrous, and I couldn’t help but think, “How many engineers does it take to blow up a balloon…”

Somehow, mine never end up looking like these.

Properly inflating those things (without exploding them) and then attaching a ribbon without letting them get stuck to the ceiling is quite possibly the most complicated thing I’ve done in a long time. Maybe I would be better at it if I was a “touch-learner.”

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Pen vs. The Sword: An Update



After a month of calligraphy class and six weeks of fencing, the sword is mightier than the pen. I say this because the worst thing I encountered in calligraphy was stained fingertips, whereas I left fencing class to spend most of my Saturday morning in the local ER. The staff were friendly and helpful as usual, but that was probably due to the fact that everyone wanted to come see what a “saber injury” looked like.

I should probably include some backstory. Fencing is one of those sports that attracts people who wouldn’t normally be considered “athletes,” myself included. Granted, there’s a lot of very athletic people, but there’s also an eclectic mix of those who just like swords, for various reasons.

I mentioned LARPers before, but I never really explained that acronym. LARPing (as done by LARPers) is Live Action Role Playing. Basically, you dress up in costumes and reenact scenes. If you think back to being a kid, what’s the one thing that everyone wants to “reenact?” Fighting! If you’re going to take the time to find/create a kick-ass costume, you may as well add a sword.

The sport of fencing also carries over to Renaissance faires, pirate fairs, conventions of all types (Comic Con, Combat Con, etc), and pretty much any other situation where it’s socially acceptable to carry/use a sword.

From the very first day I saw this one particular guy in our class, I recognized a perfect storm of geeky hobbies, physical strength, and social awkwardness that was only going to mean one thing: this guy was going to take a beginner’s fencing class way too seriously.

And so it began that I learned to hate fencing against this guy. We’ll call him “Kyle,” because that’s his name. He’s a very sweet kid, and it’s easy to see that fencing is way more than a recreational sport to him.

Anyway, every time I fence against Kyle, I find myself trying to stay the hell out of the way and praying to whomever might save me. First, he’s a solid foot taller than I am. Second, he has a certain “intensity” when he’s fencing, and by that I mean he looks like he actually believes his life is in danger. This will be an excellent advantage in competition, not so useful in a Saturday morning community college class.

In this particular class, we were using sabers. In saber, you can score points by either “stabbing” the opponent with the tip of your blade, or by “slashing” and hitting with the side of the blade. In either case, you’re using your wrist to move the blade, so although you will feel the attack through your protective jacket, it’s unlikely to leave more than a slight bruise if anything.

I fenced against Kyle as usual, but for some reason I decided to go in for a hit. To do this, you lunge forward with your blade, and hopefully hit the other person’s jacket with the end of your saber.

In a perfect world, Kyle would’ve parried my attack (knocking the blade out of the way and then returning the attack) but instead he went straight for a counter attack, by bringing his blade down directly across my outstretched forearm. His “intensity” caused him to put his back into it instead of using his wrist. As I said before, sometimes I think he believes this shit is real.

I immediately believed in the reality of the situation as well, and discovered the meaning of the phrase “blinding pain.” The worst part is that he made me cry in fencing class. There’s no crying in fencing, dammit! I finished out the final 10 minutes of class but I was pretty sure that something was messed up because I couldn’t hold my blade straight.

At the ER, I didn’t even have to put the Vicodin in my own mouth. The kindly nurse did that for me. The service was impeccable at that place! The good news is that it wasn’t fractured. Seeing as I prefer to use my right arm to teach painting, this is excellent news for my job. The bad news is that I have some beautiful crushing of the deep tissue, and I get to wear this sweet arm brace and sling.

Naturally, I returned to fencing that afternoon sporting my new get-up. Kyle started out by telling me what I did wrong in class and why I got hit, but I think he can also recognize rage and decided to leave me alone for awhile. On the prompting of my adventure partner, he bought me a botanical G&T after class and all was forgiven. Apologies are good, but apologies with liquor are better. The best part about a fencing injury is that everyone wants to know how you hurt yourself, and saying “I got hit with a saber” sounds way cooler than “I slipped on the ice.”

This week I’ll be learning how to fence with my left hand, so that should I encounter this problem again in competition, I’ll be able to finish the fight. I also get to wear these cool black leather arm guards under my jacket, that will look awesome at the Ren faire this spring. I’m looking forward to becoming ambidextrous, and I still think that fencing is the coolest sport in the world. But that could just be the painkillers talking.
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