Tiny Bit of Crazy

A chronical of the laughter, revelations and transformations that are possible when you embrace the crazy

Born This Way April 13, 2011

When I was 6 years old, my parents started allowing me  to go down the street and around the corner to my friend’s house by myself. I had a Strawberry Shortcake digital watch and my parents would tell me what time to be home and expect that I would look at that watch often enough to note the passing of time and thus be able to return home on time. 

I understood the watch to be more of a fashion accessory than a tool…

I frequently came home late.

I don’t remember specifically, but my guess is that I was often late coming home for dinner, which was a major crime in my house.

So one afternoon, I asked my dad if I could go to my friend’s house, and he said “Yes, but be home by 6:00.  And if you aren’t home at exactly 6:00, then I’m going to come down there and find you and then bring you home and lock you in the basement forever.”

My dad was a funny guy.

No really, he was a very funny guy. He was always making jokes and being silly and by the ripe old age of 6, I knew that very little of what he said was to be taken literally.

(My mom was the disciplinarian.)

So on this day, I laughed at my dad’s funny joke, perfectly secure in the knowledge that he had no real plans to relocate my bedroom, or to install a lock on the basement door, and set off to my friend’s house.  

Around 6:15 he showed up at my friend’s house and I happily assumed he’d come to keep me company on my walk home.

When I came out on the porch where he was waiting he said “Why are you still here? Why didn’t you come home at 6 like I told you to?” He wasn’t angry so much as bewildered. I wasn’t the kid who flagrantly ignored my parents -that was my little brother.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to,” I said.

“But I told you, 6:00, and I explained that this was your last chance to not be late before we stopped letting you come here by yourself.” That’s when it dawned on me that there had been real information mixed in with his jokes. It was a shocking revelation.

“Daddy,” I said “Sometimes I don’t know when you’re being serious and when you’re kidding.”

“Oh,” my dad said. “Well, I guess I can see how that could happen. So from now on, when you aren’t sure you ask, and when its important I’ll make sure you know, ok?”

I agreed and we had a lovely walk back home wherein I also confessed that I didn’t know how to know when it was time to come home, and then learned that Strawberry Shortcake could be more than an accessory.  

.

.

When my parents went to my third grade parent/teacher conference they were told that I had a very wry sense of humor.

I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean it as a positive thing. I’m pretty sure she thought she’d found a gentle way of saying I was a pain in the ass.  

She had no way of knowing that her words would make my dad burst with pride. I’m pretty sure that of my entire academic career, that was my dad’s proudest moment.  Which isn’t to say that he and my mom both weren’t totally proud when I made honor roll in high school, Deans List in college, or earned a Master’s Degree.  But those achievements were no less than they had come to expect.  Both of my parents are very intelligent and put heavy emphasis on education, doing all the things parents are supposed to do to support their children in school – dedicated supervised homework time, joining PTA, giving me answers on my math homework etc etc.  But they couldn’t be sure I’d develop a good sense of humor (here good = witty, sarcastic and ironic) despite the constant exposure, until they had outside confirmation.

I think that my sense of humor has become one of my best known and appreciated personality traits, and in general has served me well in my life. Probably better than my education when you consider my popularity in storytelling, blogging, and social invitations, compared to my career path…

.

So…yesterday I had my one year review for this mindless job that I’ve had for, god help me, an entire year. I had to do a self eval answering questions about my professional goals and development, and I was actually expected to take it seriously.

It took every once of my self-control, and the supervision of a co-worker, for me to avoid writing “I HAVE A MASTERS DEGREE AND I’M A RECEPTIONIST. CLEARLY MY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS HAVE GONE A BIT ASKEW.” Instead I found a balance between being realistic and playing the game:

Q: What is the most interesting part of your job?

A: I’m a receptionist. And while I love my job, nothing is interesting about it. (This is pretty true – I do enjoy my job. It’s not hard or stressful, and leaves me time to blog and write and surf the internet a lot. What’s not to love? But I didn’t think that “Huffington Post” would have been acceptable as the most interesting part of my job.)

Q: Where do you want to be in a year?

A: I wish I had an answer for this question.

During the official review meeting where we discussed my self eval, he was fine with those answers. I also threw in some “real” answers to make it look like I at least gave a tiny crap about my job since I’d like to keep it at for a while now that I’ve been rejected by every grad school I applied to.

He had only one real point of feedback in terms of areas for improvement. His exact quote?

“Sometimes it’s not clear if you’re being serious or sarcastic.”

I said “On the phone? With staff?” Because I thought I did a pretty good job of hiding my personality at work, and by personality I mean sense of humor.

He said “Yes.”

I said “I’ve suspected for a while that I’ve lost the ability to sound sincere, even when I totally am.”

He looked at me for a moment, probably trying to decide if I was being sarcastic. (I wasn’t, seriously.) Finally he just gave a shrug and said “Well, just…do what you can.”

I fear this might be a losing battle, given how many years of positive reinforcement I’ve had for my sense of humor.

But I’ll do what I can…

 

Not So Funny… February 10, 2011

Filed under: Work — Meredith @ 3:50 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Yesterday I walked into the kitchen at work to wash out my dishes from lunch. My co-worker N was already at the sink washing her dishes. Because she was almost done, I stayed in the kitchen and occupied myself by having a piece of sponge candy that I’d bought for the office.

As I reached for a piece she said “No! Now you stay out of there Missy! You know you can’t afford it!”

Uh huh. She said that.

But wait. There’s more.

Because I didn’t know what else to say, I said “I bought them.”

She tsked in response as she moved away from the sink. I put a piece of the candy in my mouth as I moved toward the sink and she said “Uh oh. That’s going to be an extra twenty minutes on the treadmill, young lady!”

I ignored her and started washing my dishes. She stood staring at me for a minute and then said “I know you think you can afford it, because you’ve been sick, but you really can’t”.

Oh, yes. She said that.

And no, I didn’t kick her in the shin, or throw my dish at her. I simply shut down. I went on auto pilot and ignored her focusing all of my attention on my dish until she finally left. Then I walked back to my desk, and turned off the auto pilot.

This is what I know to be true:

1. I am not overweight. Not by any rational definition. I may not be crack addict thin, but I am not fat.

2. Even if I were as big as those people who need a hydraulic lift to get out of bed, it is not ok to say something like that.

3. N has made inappropriate comments about my eating habits before, and has been reprimanded about it before. But she doesn’t understand appropriate social interaction, so any reprimands have a limited effect. 

4. I have a right to feel safe in my work place.

And yet.

As I relayed the incident to another co-worker via g-chat, I found myself shaking and tears forming. 

Rationally I knew I was justified in being offended at her behavior. But emotionally, I wondered if she had a point. I realized my internal dialogue wasn’t focused on work place law as I tried to calm myself down.

I was defending my body to myself.

I’m not in the same shape I was last summer. I’m still not back up to the same workout schedule almost 6 months after my accident. My abs are not as tight, my face is a little fuller, and I do need to watch what I eat.

Which is NOT the point. I believe I could make an argument that she has violated hostile work environment laws (not just for sexual harassment anymore) with her repeated quips about my food and my weight.

Logically, rationally, I knew the right thing to do was file an HR complaint, so there was another record of her behavior.

But as I tried to write the email to my boss and HR manager I realized I was embarrassed.

I was embarrassed to admit she’d upset me to the point of tears.

I was embarrassed at the idea that she might have had a point. 

I was embarrassed to bring any more attention to my body.

.

I filed the complaint.

And then I sat in my boss’s office with the HR person, and discussed what I wanted them to do about it.

There’s no easy answer here. The party line, when it comes to N’s social gaffs, is to roll your eyes, acknowledge she’s an insensitive misfit who will never learn, and then let it go.

Part of me wanted to just do that, just forget it happened and move on.

But she’d crossed a line. 

So I agreed to the alternative, which is that my boss would talk to her, tell her she was in trouble, and then bring me in to hear her apology.

Nothing awkward about that.

I went into auto-pilot again while I was meeting with my boss and the HR person, in order to control my embarrassment and my knee jerk reaction to avoid conflict at all costs.

I listened to her apologize, saying she was just trying to make conversation. I said that that subject matter is never an acceptable topic, but didn’t say that it was ridiculous that a grown woman needs to be told that.

Since that conversation there have been many closed door meetings and conversations. Turns out some work performance issues had come up as well.

So it’s not like its my fault that she chose to resign.

But I still feel bad.

I keep wondering where the line is between cutting someone slack for their personality flaws and personal limitations, and standing up for yourself. Between taking care of yourself and being cruel?

 

Mad Phone Skillz October 16, 2010

Filed under: Work — Meredith @ 6:01 pm
Tags: , , , ,

At my 90 day review my boss gave me one area for improvement: “I just wish you could be a little nicer on the phone.” I smiled and tried to look like I understood what he was talking about.

But the truth was, I really didn’t understand because I was fairly impressed with myself at my phone skills. I hadn’t hung up on anyone, I didn’t point out (directly) when they were asking stupid questions, and I rarely sighed (loudly) before saying “no, no, it’s not your fault. The internet is very confusing.”

Apparently my face betrayed my confusion because my boss followed up with “Listen, I’ve done your job. I know. I know how stupid people are, and how annoying it is to answer the same question over and over. But that’s the job. So just try to be a little bit nicer.”

The problem is that, I’ve done this job too. Only then I was 22 and wanted everyone – even strangers on the phone – to like me. I gave really good customer service back then, and I think I just ran out, or that part of my brain froze over or something because I honestly can’t really tell you what I’m doing now that’s so different and less nice than what I did then. Yet, on some level, I do understand that it is.

BUT, all things considered, this is a good job, and I like my boss, and I want to at least look like I’m trying. Otherwise it just gets awkward.

My desk is outside his office and every time I pick up the phone I’m aware that he can hear every word I’m saying, and I remind myself to use that (stupid) old customer service  trick of smiling while I speak, so I sound happy, and I swallow my sighs of impatience, and try to sound sincere when I say “No, really, its my pleasure to walk you through our on-line registration…see where it says Select Category?…ok, so select a category….Oh that’s ok, just click back and then you’ll be at that screen again and this time, when it says Select Category, I want you to select your category, mkay? I know….it IS confusing….” And I think I”m successful at least 83% of the time.

The other day I was away from my desk, and didn’t hear the phone, and so my boss answered it. I got back to my desk just in time to hear him say “you know what? Let me just transfer you to her, since apparently SHE knows what you’re talking about” and I immediately recognized his tone and noted, with a certain amount of satisfaction that it was his “I’m trying really hard not to call you an idiot” tone. It’s the one he uses with sales people right before insulting them.

I answered the transferred call and heard “HEY – its Janice! From yesterday?” Ah yes. Janice. I pictured her as a 24-year-old executive assistant, who takes her job very seriously and believes herself to be expert and final authority on all things, and the ONLY thing keeping that office running. She’s energetic, fashionable, sassy, calls it like it is without ever apologizing, and believes she’ll be running that company before she’s 30. Maybe she’s right. I don’t know.

“Hi Janice!” I say, in my nicest sounding voice.

“OH MY GOD GIRL. That man I was talking to was NAS-TY!”

“Really?” I say trying not to laugh.

“Yeah, I don’t know why he’s answering phones if he’s just going to be testy like that. I’m just sayin’.” Unable to agree with her for fear my boss would somehow understand what we were talking about, but also because I am kinda grateful he’s the type of boss who answers the phone when I’m away from my desk, I just said “So, what’s up?” 

“I never got that email you sent yesterday. Which I was trying to explain to that man, but he acted like I was crazy….”

“I’m sorry” I interrupt her. “I’ll send it again,”  It’s not that I didn’t want to listen to her go off on my boss’s phone skills, I just didn’t know how long I’d be able to refrain from commenting.

 “You know what?” she said “I bet you spelled my name wrong, EVERYBODY does. I KNOW! I’ll send you an email and you can just reply to it.”

While she’s waiting for me to get it she says “And you should tell your boss to RELAX. That man is TESTY. You know what I’m sayin’?” I answered with a non-committal noise. “You should tell him not to answer phones if he’s going to be like that. I mean, SERIOUSLY. I was like ‘um, just transfer me to that girl who USUALLY answers, cause she knows what I’m talking about.”

“Right,” I said, wondering if there was any scenario in which I repeat all of this to my boss and he finds it funny.

As we were ending the call she said ” Now you tell that boss of your’s to RELAX. I think that man is too stressed out. I mean, there’s just no reason to be that unfriendly on the phone. K? Bye!”

After I hung up, all I wanted to do was run into his office and yell: “Who needs to practice their phone skills now, BITCH???”

But I didn’t. Because I am a professional.  

Ok, because I’m pretty sure he’d fire me on the spot and have me bodily removed from the premises before I could even get my water bottle off my desk.  

Whatevs.

But now, on those days when I find it particularly difficult to “be nicer on the phone”, I just think of Janice and I don’t have to force the smile into my voice.

 

Awkward August 6, 2010

Filed under: Work — Meredith @ 3:37 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m the “administrative coordinator” in my office. Which is different from a receptionist in that….oh yeah, it’s not at all different. I deal with everyone who walks through the door and everyone who calls.

We get a shit-ton of cold calls. Both on the phone and in person.

My boss hates salespeople. Like, he firmly believes every last one is a slimy, lying, subspecies of the human race.

I on the other hand, love sales people. Or, I did, before taking this job. See, I have a long history with sales people. My dad is not just a salesman but a sales trainer. My brother is in sales. I used to be in sales and some of my best friends are in fact, sales people. It’s a hard job, with lots of rejection and only a few are cut out for it, (I definitely was not. Obviously.) I feel especially bad for in-person sales callers. I mean it’s one thing to be hung up on or insulted over the phone, but being willing to take that kind of rejection to your face takes some serious balls/ovaries. So I respect and empathize with these men and women hocking copiers and office supplies, plying me with candy and promises of cookies if I let them do a demo of their coffee maker (which I totally would have done if my boss hadn’t been here.) I try to be nice, and at first I would lead them to my boss’s office when they asked for him – this was before I knew a) how he felt and b) how much he enjoyed letting them know how he felt.

I learned quickly.

Soon every time I saw an eager faced man or woman in a nice suit carrying a padfolio at my door, my anxiety would spike. It made my stomach hurt to know what they would face if they had the misfortune to interact with my boss. I’d try to explain to them that we were happy with our copier/phone system/paper supplier. I’d push my card at them and urge them to leave before they were spotted. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

One day, as I was talking to a particularly persistent older man (I have to confess, the older men, the ones I put in their 60’s, make me sad. I hate the idea that this is still where they’re at in the career – cold calling office buildings and dealing with overly perky receptionists) so I was already extra uncomfortable for this guy. And then my boss came out. And it was…well it wasn’t pretty. And then I had to spend the next hour pretending to agree with my boss that sales people are a scourge on society.

It was not a good day.

So I started trying to catch them before they even got in the door. I would whisper “You shouldn’t be here. My boss is not nice. Please. You have to go. NOW.” And some of them heeded my advice, hastily handing me their card before scurrying back out into the hallway.

Some refused to hear me. Like these two office supply guys. Late 20’s, very cocky. They laughed at my warning. They assured me they could handle it. I tried again to explain, but then one of them put his hand on my shoulder and said “Don’t worry. We’re professionals.” So between the touching and the condescension, I figured they deserved what they got. So I led them into my boss’s office and then returned to my desk to enjoy the show. And a show it was. They were asked things like “can’t you find a better way to make a living?” and “Do you enjoy wasting the time of people who actually have real jobs with real work to do?” Oh yeah, it was ugly. Way worse than I’d expected, and I was wracked with guilt as the two guys scurried out the front door, their egos a stain on the carpet. My boss then stood in front of my desk and said “There is a No Soliciting sign on the door. The next time one of them comes in here, I’m calling the police. If I’m not here, get their card, and I’ll call the police and report the company.”

Holy Shit Balls.

I want to put a sign on the door that says “Beware of Boss”. Something, ANYTHING to cut down on the carnage. This is the only point of stress in my entire job.

Well, I just had one walk in my office a few minutes ago. He had a sweet, youthful face, and he was selling…something that would somehow make our business better. I leaned over my desk and whispered “I promise, my boss won’t want whatever you’re selling, and he’s not very nice to salespeople.”  And he laughed a little and asked for a business card. I said “I don’t have his cards. I’m serious, it’s not safe for you here.” His laughter took on a nervous quality. He said “Well do you have any card at all I could take?” So I gave him my card and he asked my boss’s name again. I hesitated, but finally told him, and as he wrote it on the card I said “but please, don’t call him.  Don’t come back here. You won’t like what happens.” He looked at me with a strange expression for a moment then stuck out his hand and said “I appreciate that. Thank you.” I shook his hand while shooting nervous glances at my boss’s mercifully closed office door. I said, “Now go. Quickly, before he comes out. Please. But first, promise me you’ll never come back. Its. Not. Safe.” He nodded and backed away from my desk, then uttered another “I appreciate it” before turning and hurrying out the door.

I think I got through to that one.

 

 
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