Oh, Those Well Meaning Folk!

Many years ago, during the period of time I refer to as my Dark Days, I worked in a small indie coffee shop. There were a few other indie coffee shops in the surrounding area, and we were really the opposite of hip at the time, so it was fairly slow there. We had our morning rush of office workers who didn’t want to wait in the long lines at other places, a few daytime regulars, and our nighttime crowd who hung out until close.

Most of the people I saw there, I got to know by name. Because my then-fiance would stop in to check on me a few times a day, they got to know a bit about my situation at the time. For most people, their first reaction was to try and offer me help.

Without getting into much detail, I was in a relationship that was highly abusive in multiple ways. I wasn’t able to eat properly, was constantly tired, my hair had started thinning from malnutrition and stress, and I was working at least 6 days a week and sometimes up to 14 hours a day.

Most of the people I talked to throughout the day offered me some sort of help. For the most part, it was little things. One woman would offer to buy me sandwiches on my break. A gentleman was always offering me cigarettes so that I wouldn’t have to go through mine on my very limited budget. Others just let me sit and talk to them when the shop was slow.

One well-meaning woman went too far. This woman knew my mother, and my mother did not know where I was working at the time. I was not living at home, and was not exactly on speaking terms with my family. This woman, from talking to both myself and my mother, knew this. She knew that I was not mentally in a place where having long talks with my mother would help my situation, and that my mother seeing me in the state I was in would be of no help to her.

Still, she felt the need to go to my mother. She told the state I was in, where I was working, what my schedule was there, and anything else she could think to tell her. She told her bits of things, out of context, that she had overheard me talking about with other customers and friends. She told her things she thought about my situation, without know much about my situation.

Basically, this woman got my mother all worked up into a tizzy, told her exactly where she could find me, and didn’t tell me any of this. I only found out when my mother showed up at the coffee shop one day. In her mind, this is how that day would’ve gone:

My mother would walk into the coffee shop during a slow period, and see me standing behind the counter. All of our fights would be completely forgotten the second we saw each other, and I would run to her arms. We’d hug, we’d cry, I would beg her to take me away from my awful situation and we’d leave right that very second.

Magical, isn’t it?

That’s not what happened, though. Instead, my mother showed up one day while I was working. We had an awkward hello, she ordered a coffee, and sat down while I served other people. We made some forced small-talk about my siblings and dad, and then the hushed fighting started. How could I disappoint them like this? Why did I have to be so stubborn? Why couldn’t I just leave my fiance because my parents don’t like him?

That was in April. My mother and I didn’t talk again until well into the summer. Any progress we had made in our relationship, no matter how little it was at the point, was gone.

That’s the problem with being well-meaning: you have a certain idea of how things will work once you fix them for someone. You don’t take into account how the other parties will be affected, what harms you may be doing, how those you’re “helping” will perceive your “help”, or if your help is even wanted. People who are well-meaning usually come off as meaning well for themselves, not for the greater good.

Now, that’s not to say you should stop helping people all-together. Remember, I had a lot of people help me out in that time. There were times when I probably would’ve have eaten for days at a time if it weren’t for the kindness of others. There are some big differences between help and well-meaning help, though.

1) Does the person want any help right now?

Sometimes, people just want to work things out for themselves. They may not think their situation is as dire as you seem to. Or maybe they’re stubborn and determined to pull themselves out of whatever situation they’re in.

Jumping in to help a person who doesn’t want help can scream “you’re a failure and can’t do this on your own” to them, no matter your intentions. If someone is really trying to pull their life together on their own, and are proud of the progress they’ve been making (no matter how small that progress seems to you), you can’t just jump in and try to take control. If they don’t want any help right now, you can’t force any on them.

2) What kind of help do they want right now?

In my Dark Days, I would never turn down free food. At one point, I had to make a box of macaroni and cheese last me 3 days because I had no other food in the house for myself. There were times when I actually ate out of a donut shop’s dumpster to survive. If someone had come up to me and offered to buy me a burger from McDonald’s, I’d have to resist the urge to tackle them in a giant bear hug. Food was the one thing I always seemed to need.

Do you know what did me no good at all? Money. Part of my problem at the time was financial abuse in my relationship, and I had to turn over all money to my fiance so he could “track” my finances. He came with me to cash my paycheques, he gave me a small allowance, and he needed to know where every penny I spent went. If I came home with any extra money, or bought things that couldn’t be accounted for with the meager amount of money I was allotted, I was in deep horse turds.

I know that one of my friends is always in need of socks and shoes. I can’t afford to be buying him shoes every time he loses his, but I can get a 20-pack of socks for $10 at Giant Tiger and buy a dozen pairs of good thick socks at Dollarama to keep in my car for him. Giving him money to buy socks is not going to get him socks. There’s very few places to shop for clothes in the area he stays in, and most places don’t like to let homeless people in, especially when they’re a bit stinky. If he tells me he needs socks, I give him socks. If he says he needs a toque, or gloves, or a clean t-shirt, then that’s what I’ll find him. Giving him money for these things isn’t going to get them for him.

3) What kind of help are you willing to give?

I will tell you right now, if it were financially possible I would put a roof over Strength’s head in a heartbeat. I would fill his closet with clean clothes, fill his kitchen with food, and make sure he got any help or opportunity his gigantic heart desires. I would make sure he was safe, and warm, and didn’t have to ever worry about find a spot in an alleyway to sleep in in the middle of winter.

I know that’s not something I can afford to do.

Here’s the thing, though: there are things that I may be able to afford to do, but just aren’t practical or helpful to either of us. As much as I want to bring that boy home with him, let him shower and do laundry, and them wrap him in a blanket like a giant burrito to watch movies all night with AAB and the kitten crew while I cook mass amounts of food for them, that’s not going to help any in the long run. I cannot risk losing my home because he brings drugs with him, or his drug-related mood swings cause problems with the neighbours. I can’t move him in with me, because I know I cannot leave a meth addict that no one else in the house knows or trusts alone there while I am at work.

In order to take care of him like that, I would practically have to restructure my life around him. I would have to keep tabs on him, bring him to work with me when I’m at the library, find somewhere for him to go while I’m working at the store. I would have to be financially responsible for his rent, his food, and even help out gathering up basic belongings and clothing for him. That goes well beyond what I am willing and able to do right now.

What I can do, which he says he appreciates, is what I do for him now. I bring him warm clothes and old blankets in the winter. I take him out for coffee, try to feed him. I keep bags of snacks in my car for him. I’ve taken him out in my car to go out for coffee, just so he can rest his feet and get out of the cold (but there are some massive rules when he’s in the car, like he has to turn out all his pockets and bags to show me he has nothing illegal with him).

Now, if I won the lottery tomorrow, it would be a whole different story. I have a well thought-out plan to help quite a few people, with him being the first. But until that happens, I have to set my limits and only do what I am willing and able to do.

4) Why are you helping them?

There is nothing wrong with enjoying that warm, fuzzy feeling you get in your heart when you help someone. Good deeds give people good feelings. If you’re helping someone out of the goodness of your heart, then revel in that warm, fuzzy feeling. That warm, fuzzy feeling is pure goodness.

I do know some people who can’t lend someone a quarter for the phone without taking pictures of the good deed and cross-posting it on every piece of social media they have accounts on. They spend weeks hyping up a charity event, only to have that event do more for them in the public eye than it does for those it was supposed to help.

People like this are in it purely so others will look at them and start heaping on praise. Yes, they may do some good for others, but it can come at a price. They could monopolize fundraising for a certain charity, only to do a poor job of it. Their lack of commitment to a cause can drive others away from it. Or, others could associate them directly with that cause, and not volunteer because they don’t want to deal with them.

I’m stuck with this dilemma right now. There are a few events I’ve signed up for that benefit a certain cause, all for different local charities. For some of these, I will be volunteering with two gentlemen who are very vocal on social media about their activism and charity work. One, I am thrilled to be working with, and others have asked me about him. Yes, he posts a lot online, but he’s doing so just to draw attention to causes. He’s spoken on TV and in the media about things, and declined interviews for others for fear that it draws more attention to him than the message at hand.

The other gentleman…….. well, he’s very active online. More than once (or a dozen times) when I’ve mentioned to people that he will be at an event, they’ve responded with eye rolls. He grabs the spotlight, even when he’s trying to shove others into it. In the beginning people were impressed with the work he was doing. Right now, a lot of the people I’ve talked to are just sick of him. Sadly, these same people don’t want to be associated with events he is a part of, which is hurting my personal fundraising goals.

Do it for the feels, not the fame.

At the end of the day, Sunshine, you can mean well without being well-meaning. You can do a world of good, and make life around you shine as bright as you. You can bring happiness and joy to people’s lives, make a difference in the lives around you, put smiles on faces. You can be the good in the world that you want to see. Just please, make sure that good is good for all the right reasons, and in all the right ways.


The Little Annoyances When Applying for Jobs

The last few days have been killer. I slept so much last night, but I’m still exhausted.

My shoulder and neck are somewhat healed from last weekend. I’m not on the pain meds anymore and only took the muscle relaxers twice. I’m still really sore though, and that makes my head a little foggy.

Some of my favourite co-workers and I had to go to our First Aid and CPR training this week. The bosses kept checking on me before I went, just to make sure my shoulder wasn’t going to be an issue during the CPR training. I’m more sore from sitting on uncomfortable folding chairs all day and watching slideshows than anything else.  When you’re recovering from a pinched nerve, the last thing you want to do is sit in a folding chair staring at a screen for 8 hours!

I also took my entire one day off this week to do all the cleaning around here, play a little Zeus on the computer, and get a little writing done. Started my first real knitting project too. I’m making squares, which will be sewn together to make a blanket.

And on top of all that, I had to do THE job application. This was the application for the job that I’m actually qualified for, that I would be fantastic at, that would pay me enough to not live in a house with a bunch of random people, and I could afford to buy a bed that is big enough for me to sleep in without contorting my body in awkward positions. This was the job I had been lying awake at night wishing for, and then dreaming about once I fell asleep. This was the job that would finally let me better myself so that I could provide for my fur-child, the ever-snuggly Bowser Kitten, properly and shower him with treats and cat trees.

This was also the job that came with a 42-page guide on how to write out the cover letter and resume properly.

I spent three days working on this application. I had to go over every single sentence and make sure it was worded the exact way the guide said to word it. I had to find the perfect balance between showing the responsibilities and tasks I had at previous jobs, and really playing up the things I’ve done that are exactly what this job requires. I had to find a way to show that taking extra online courses in our training modules at work proved that I could keep up with the responsibilities of keeping up with the ever-changing laws and how they apply, even though I was just learning the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

I was working on other applications during this too. I’d work on stuff for an hour, and then run off to the other room to vacuum or mop or anything but type. I submitted a handful of other applications, made two different types of marshmallow cereal bars, took a few naps (thanks to the muscle relaxers I was on, no doubt), and washed the walls. I tried switching between the main application and the other ones I was working on, but I just kept getting more and more stressed out and frustrated.

I mean, there was a 42-page guideline!

This application had to be both a cover letter and a resume with a combined total page length of five pages. Quite a few pages covered the basics, but there was still so much detail that needed to be put into this thing! It was absolutely maddening!

And of course, throughout the whole process, there were the regular little annoyances that come up when you’re applying for jobs. What are those annoyances, you ask?

1. Please attach your resume. Now, please fill in all the info from your resume. 

You see an ad for a job, click the little link at the bottom, and head over to the website for HR. You go through the ad, tailor your resume a bit, fill in your basic information in the application form, and then get to the bottom of the screen. Some companies have you ad your resume as an attachment. Some have a little box where you can copy and paste your resume. Either way, you ad your resume and figure you’re all done.

Oh hell no!

For some reason, even though they’re sitting there on your resume, now you have to fill out like six different forms with all the information that’s already on your resume! You wind up spending close to an hour filling in your job history, volunteer experience, education, maybe even a few references.

And do you know where they could find all that information? Your resume, that’s attached right there on the form!

I know there’s probably a good reason for this. They’re trying to catch people lying on their resumes or verify information. A lot of companies use software to scan applications for keywords, and maybe this makes it easier to do so. Or maybe there’s just some sort of sadistic conspiracy against job hunters.

2. You need a professional resume. And an educational one. And a customer service one. And……

I have a few degrees, a college certificate, and a bunch of Microsoft training. I’ve worked in research, was a teaching assistant, and volunteered for a whole bunch of social justice and school spirit organizations in university. And for the last four years, I’ve been working in customer service.

For some jobs, I need to play up my customer service training. For others, it’s all about my computer skills. Some want to know about my research experience, or my schooling, or my volunteer work with one specific organization.  Each and every one of those requires a completely different resume.

And it’s not just a matter of cutting and pasting things. Different types of resumes require different styles, which means using a completely different template to work from. You can’t just move things around to highlight things. My degrees make me over-qualified for a lot of the customer service work I apply for, and my customer service work is seen as a low point for research jobs compared to my education and research work.

Then you get highly specified applications that come with a 42-page guideline. At least something like that tells you exactly what you need on your resume.

3. Some application processes are extremely specific. They might even have a 42-page guideline.

Ok, I’ll admit that I love the fact that they just flat out tell you what they want in this guideline. They basically lay out the cover letter for you and explain exactly what they want to know from you. It’s like the idiots’ guide to applying.

But it’s 42-pages of this! This is how they weed out the contenders from the “well I’ll just throw in a resume and see what happens” folk. They give super specific directions just for the layout, requiring specific fonts, font sizes, and margins. Then they lay out exactly how they want your information presented to them.

Thing is, this specific application is a 5-page combination of the resume and cover letter. I’m not going to be able to use this for any other application, and I can’t just recycle part of it for similar applications because the presentation is completely different for each one! It’s like spending 3 days working on a “maybe”.

4. Did I mention cover letters yet? Because cover letters suck.

Basically, you have 3/4 of a page to sell yourself. You have to show exactly how you meet every single qualification, how every qualification on your resume proves you’re perfect for this position and answer any questions your education and experience (or lack thereof) may bring up. Oh, and you have a highly specific template you must work from that includes customer headers, specified address lines, and a very specific amount of spaces between “Thank you” and your name.

Oh, and did I mention that this is the very first thing a potential employer sees? This is the very first impression you make. Every single tiny thing must be absolutely perfect, or else they’ll just toss your application aside.

No pressure or anything, eh?

And these are just the things about actually applying that can drive a person bonkers! Nevermind all the waiting for a call back, the interview prep, the rounds and rounds some interviews take, the personality tests, the rejections, the “almosts”…………

A Day to Come Down and to Think

I wound up spending the night at my parents’ place last night, spur of the moment. The Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend caught a ride home with his mother so he could go to work this morning, so I haven’t seen him yet today. The wonderfully friendly Bowser Kitten has been a big ball of cuddles and claws all day, trying to get as much attention from me as possible. As I type this, he’s sitting on the back of my chair, randomly putting his paw on the back of my neck for a second at a time. If I turn to pet him, he runs off. But he’ll sit there for a good 20 minutes, randomly patting me.

As much as I love the fuzzy attention, it’s been really hard to get anything done around here today. When I got dropped off this morning, I put the bag of leftovers large enough to feed a small family into the fridge for AAB and me to pick at. I did some dishes, swept the kitchen, and took out all the stale bread and snack food for the birds and squirrels. I threw in my laundry earlier, did some donkey kicks while I watched a drag queen explain how to fix sparse eyebrows, and started my annual organization binge. But I barely got past the first step, somehow.

You see, the beginning of the year means one thing to me: a fresh new day planner to track things in. Every year I get my new Orange Circle Studio day planner and wait for the new year before I start filling it in with anything beyond doctors appointments I don’t want to forget for the new year. Today was the day I start filling in my day planner, checking out all the new features it has since last year’s model, come down from the holidays, and start to really contemplate life.

First off, a quick word about these planners. I may or may not be hugely in love with these day planners. If you’ve read some of my past posts, you know that I can get a little obsessive about my day planners. I tried to use a bullet journal and gave up after a month. It just wasn’t organized enough for me. I tried just grabbing a little day planner from the drug store, and couldn’t find one with the right amount of room to randomly track things like I tend to constantly do. And as much as I wish I could be one of those people with the tiny little day book in their clutch, I always have been and always will be more of a giant notebook in a messenger back type of gal. These planners are the perfect design, with the perfect amount of space for me. This year they even came with a section in the back of the planner to track what kind of day you’ve had, your goals for the year, and your finances, all on top of the room they give for shopping and to-do lists.

Anyway, back to my day. I started off my organizing for the year by trying to put all the important dates from my old calendar and planner into my new one. I’m not going to lie, I used Facebook to help me look up a bunch of birthdays too. After that, I usually switch out purses to get a new look for the season, clean my desk area, make a healthy snack, do some stretches, and then curl up with a good book. I never got past that day planner today, though.

This time of year is just full of so many plans, so many new beginnings, and so many opportunities to make new goals. It is also full of catching up with friends and relatives, seeing how much more successful everyone else is than you, endless being questioned by people you hardly ever see about what your next step is to “finally living like a damn grown-up”, and hearing that apologetic tone in people’s voices when they say “oh, so you’re still working in retail? Well good for you for sticking with it!”. Tempers flare this time of year. Patience wears thin much easier as the holidays come to an end. It’s like everyone has spent so much time and energy being holly and/or jolly, they just don’t have it in them to do it one more day. The pressure of bettering yourself and your life combined with the crushing realization that everyone else thinks you’re a failure (at least in your own mind), added on to the simmering anger and the waning patience seems to cause this giant bubble of blah to burst inside me.

This year, it feels like I have to accomplish everything all by myself. I’ve always had a very small support system to lean on. For the most part, my family has been supportive but up until recently didn’t seem to understand some of the obstacles I faced or the things I was struggling with. It wasn’t until my brother went through the same things that they seemed to understand. As amazingly awesome as AAB can be most of the time, we are not without our troubles. One of my biggest problems with our relationship, which he can never seem to understand, is that I feel totally alone when it comes to making plans for the future. He will say he wants something for us but doesn’t seem to do anything to work towards that goal. It all seems to come down to my work towards that goal, and it’s damn stressful.

All of this just seems to compound right about now, and it gets me so down. There’s so much I want to do, so much I want to get done, so much I need to consider for my future, but it seems like everything else is coming before all of that. I want to start looking for a new place to live, but I know that it is only me working on this search for us, and I am the one who has to manage the money and go about getting loans or mortgages or talking to financial people.

This post has gone nowhere fast, and I knew that would happen today. Every year I take January 2nd off so I can clear my head, do some thinking, and sink deeper into the existential void I had been trying to claw my way out of. My head is in a very bad place right now. I just want to crawl under a blanket and sleep for a week. I’m doing everything in my power not to just burst out in tears. So if you want to read more about my anxiety, my mental state, and my current mental downward spiral, stay tuned Sunshine! I can’t see this letting up very quickly.

Stay Safe Out There

I helped close up the store last night with the work BFF, the nicest shift leader man alive, and our new seasonal guy that everyone loves. At 9-o-clock we turned off the last cash register, locked all the doors, and pulled out the security gates. The work BFF and I were doing the last minute things (picking up garbage, empty recycling bins) while the shift leader helped our new guy cash out. While we’re piddling about in the office, we could hear banging on the door and a bunch of yelling. By now, it’s at least 10 minutes since we closed, and the store is very visibly closed. It’s dark, the security gates are out, the open sign is turned off, and the store hours posted next to the door say that we closed 10 minutes ago.

Now, we close at 9pm, but the two stores closest to us both close at 10pm. Also, we’re right by the border crossing. Like, if you go out onto the main busy road right outside the store and don’t get into the right lane, you’ll wind up on the bridge and heading over to America. We do get a lot of people coming from out of town who don’t know the store hours or don’t know how to get to the nearest stores. Sometimes they’ll knock on the door just to ask for directions. Also, we’re right by the university, while one of our stores is on a road called University. That store is open until 10pm. A lot of people just see “University location open until 10pm” and assume it’s the one near the university. So, the work BFF and I decided to go out to the vestibule together to see if someone needed directions to the nearest stores.

Last night, it wasn’t lost tourists or someone who read our location wrong. It was three young men who looked to be barely drinking age if they even were.  They were just standing there banging on the door, demanding we let them in so they could drink. WBFF and I get up to the door and tell them through the locked door that we’re closed, but the downtown location is open for another hour. Usually, this is enough to placate people who stand outside our door, demanding booze. Not these guys though. They decided yelling at us through the door would be a better use of their time.

C’mon, I just want one thing!

Dammit, I’m just tryna get my drink on, why you gotta block that?

It’s your damn job, open up the goddamn doors and get me my drink!

We told them all the registers were turned off, the debit machines were off, and the security team would call the police if we let anyone in after the lights go out. They didn’t care. They just stood out there yelling at the two of us. We shut the gate up tight, shook our heads, and went back to the office to laugh at them where they couldn’t hear us. We figured they’d tire themselves out and head downtown to grab a bottle there before that store closed.

About 10 minutes later, we locked the doors for the night and headed out into the parking lot. The new guy got in his car, while WBFF and I walked to hers. We could hear this yelling and then saw a car sitting there honking at our shift leader. It was those three guys! They had sat there in their car, waiting in the parking lot for us. This in itself was creepy enough. But they sat there yelling things at us from their car, watching us walk to WBFF’s car. Then, they sat there in their car, like they were waiting for us to leave so they could follow. We sat there, car off, trying to figure out what to do. I mean, they were pretty pissed off that we couldn’t magically re-open the store for them 10 minutes past closing, make a cash register come to life to ring them through with no drawer in it and sell them a bottle when we legally couldn’t. Like, they were really pissed about that. And then they sat outside waiting for us, and wouldn’t leave until we left. It was really scary.

In the end, I took out my phone and got ready to dial 911 if they got out of their car at all. We sat there for 5 or 6 minutes, trying to keep an eye on them from the locked car we were in. Eventually, they realized we weren’t going anywhere with them sitting there, and they left. Not before driving by us slowly and yelling things at us, and then speeding through the parking lot, almost hitting a minivan and a couple of pedestrians.

Sadly, this isn’t the only time things like this have happened to us at work. I had a group of three younger guys threaten me because I wouldn’t serve them until they gave me their ID. I had the man we refer to as Scary Customer Guy scream at me and shove his pen in my face like he was trying to stab me. We get shoplifters all the time, and more than once they’ve pulled some sort of weapon on our security staff when they try to arrest them. And our store isn’t even one of the two really “high crime” stores in the city!

The point is, stuff like this happens. It doesn’t matter where you are, there is always the chance of crime or violence. Does that mean you should never go anywhere? Stay in the house, hide under your blankets where the world can’t find you? Of course not. You just need to stay smart and be safe out there.

1. Stay In Groups

I’m horrible for this. I walk everywhere and have no problem walking home alone most night. Unless we’ve had an incident in the store, or I had to deny a lot of sales to people in the area, I’m fine walking. My co-workers won’t let me do that though. When we close the store at night, we stand at the doors in a group while the shift leader locks up. Then, we walk as a group through the parking lot, making sure everyone gets to their car ok. We wait and make sure everyone’s car start usually, and everyone gets out of the parking lot ok.

If you’re in a group, you’re less likely to become a random target usually. Some random criminal isn’t going to want to mess with a whole group of people when they could pick on the person who is walking alone.

2. Keep A Legal Weapon With You

I’m not talking about arming yourself to the teeth with guns and ammo. You probably have keys with you. Did you know that putting your keys between your fingers not only makes a great small weapon in an emergency, but it’s also a very low budget way to cosplay baby Wolverine?

We always joke at work that we’re fine in any situation because we have to wear steel-toe boots at work. Those in themselves are a weapon. A kick to the shin or groin with the toe of one of those will stop a lot of people.

Heavy backpacks or purses are great for swinging at people. Large rings make a punch more effective. Keys on a lanyard can be swung around at someone in a panicked moment. There are a lot of things that you have with you right now that can be weaponized.

3. Keep Your Phone Handy

This is the best tip I know. I always have music playing on my phone, so I know it’s right there with me. Know the emergency and non-emergency police numbers for your area. If you think you’re being followed, or you’re in somewhat but not immediate danger, you can always call the police. They’d much rather stop a crime before it starts, or when it’s just starting, then have to clean up the aftermath.

If you don’t feel comfortable calling the police, call a nearby friend. If I have to walk to someone’s house at night, I call them while I walk. That way, I can tell them about anyone suspicious around me. If something were to happen to me, then my friend would not only have a physical description of whoever is bothering me, but she would know where I am so she can call the police for me. She would also be able to hear what is going on as long as I’m on the phone with her.

Well, that’s all the tips I have for today. My work Christmas party is this weekend, and my roots are showing pretty bad right now. I’m off to dye my hair and make myself feel all pretty-pretty again. I am going to work on this topic more at a later date, though, and find some more tips and advise for staying safe out there. I just had to get this out of my head today, because I’m still pretty shaken up about last night.


More Praise for the Internet

Sorry lovelies, but today my head is just a giant pile of mush. I had a few glasses of red last night and the got assaulted with cuddles all morning by the surprisingly loving Bowser Kitten. It’s already after 11am, and I have done exactly nothing all day. I played a game on my phone, checked my Twitter, messaged my mum to see how dad is doing (she’s supposed to be at work, so I can’t just call), and have been hiding in my room from roommates all morning. Even the super snuggly Bowser Kitten is in a mood, burrowed into the blankets on the bed with only his little head poking out.

I just can’t wrap my head around anything today. I’m going over to-do lists, trying to get things done, but no one else around here gets anything done so I get side-tracked. This morning, I got up to make coffee around 9:30. Instead of my usual “put the coffee on, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, go grab coffee” routine I do most mornings, I had to wash a sink full of dishes, scrub old macaroni and some sort of brown sauce off the counters, and clean off the stove. My 10 minutes routine was more than half an hour thanks to that! And I seem to be doing everything in super slow motion today, too.

I think part of this is because I spent so much time looking at my schedule for work. They decided to open our store later on Sundays for the holidays, and the first night of this is the night of our Christmas Party. The Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend and I are supposed to head out to the party around 6:30 with the work BFF and her fiance, but I am scheduled until 8:15pm. So I have to do a little finagling of the schedule, perhaps a little bribery to switch some things around and get an earlier shift. That’s my only 8-hour shift that week, so I can’t afford to just give it up. Actually, it’s one of the few 8-hour shifts I have in the 21 straight days I’ve been scheduled. Yes, after working a 30-day stretch and getting hell from my manager for working that many days, I take two whole days off just to be thrown into a 21-day stretch. If I hadn’t taken this past weekend off, then I would be working 53 straight days.

There are a few really crappy things that come with this. First off, in our collective agreement it states that we can only be scheduled 6 days a week unless we agree to pick up hours on that 7th day. I could totally go to management and tell them I can’t do all these days in a row, and they’d just give away a shift a week. But they don’t have to make up those hours anywhere on the schedule for me. That means I would be losing 5-8 hours a week just to have a day off. Another crappy thing is that I’m working 7 days a week, and still not being scheduled for 40 hours. In the past, I’ve had weeks where I’ve worked 7 days and not even gotten 30 hours! If I want to pay the bills, then I have to work all of these shifts somehow.

The weird thing is, my managers just gave me hell for doing a 30-day stretch! True, part of the streak was my own doing. When people needed shifts covered, or we knew in advance that we would be short on certain days, I volunteered to pick up hours. But I also did that with the assumption that the days off I was already scheduled for later in the schedule would remain as days off for me. I’d plan for a 14-day stretch, only to have my day off on day 15 rescheduled as a closing shift, give me 20+ days. Even at the very tail end of my streak, I was supposed to get days 27 and 28 off, but the manager tweaked that and gave me shifts instead! On day 30, when I made it known that I had survived yet another 30-day stretch, my manager said I can’t do long stretches anymore and have to take days off. Then he turns around two days later and schedules a 21-day stretch!

All of this scheduling, re-scheduling, and long stretches makes having a life outside of work nearly impossible. It’s already hard to schedule around my job since my shifts change so often. I can be scheduled to close at 4:15, just to get a call at 8am to come in at noon instead. Or I can get a highly coveted morning shift with the expectation to be out of there by 3pm, only to get extended until 6pm. And we just found out recently that the company as started to log everything you do regarding the schedule, possibly to use against you. Every time you request a day off, call in sick, refuse to switch shifts or come in early or pick up an extra shift…….. this all goes in a report they add to your annual review. They even log the reasons why you turn down shifts!  This makes scheduling anything else in my life damn near impossible!

Take, for instance, doctor’s appointments. It’s time for my full physical, something that I simply cannot ignore. We have a history of cancer in my family, and cervical cancer is one of them. I’ve had to have cryosurgery before, to get rid of pre-cancerous cell growth that was caught before it became full-blown cancer. It’s uncomfortable enough for me to make an appointment like this already, but my doctor left his practice and was replaced by a brand new doctor. My down-under exam will be my first time meeting this doctor! I have been trying to find the time to schedule this appointment for almost a month now, and it looks like it will be another few weeks before I know for sure I can have the time to do so without penalizing myself at work. I have a physical to book, moles that need to be checked, I haven’t had my eyes checked in 6 years and need to get new glasses, and I should probably see a dentist someday to check on that wisdom tooth that started coming in a little over a year ago.

What really gets to me, though, is that one of the only ways to really advance in this company is to learn French. Actually, not being bilingual is one of the things that has really been holding me back from getting a government position in my field. There are places around here where I could learn French, but it’s impossible to both afford this and take the time to make it to these classes with the way schedules are done. The work BFF has it in her file that she is only available until 7pm on Mondays and Wednesdays. There are 8 different shifts that the manager has given out on the current schedules that she could possibly work on these days. Still, since she’s not available to close, he doesn’t schedule her at all most weeks. Taking even a few hours off of my availability each week to take French classes could mean giving up 10-16 hours of paid work each week! I really can’t afford to do that.

That’s where the third great love of my life comes in (the first two obviously being AAB and currently hiding Bowser Kitten): the internet. Ever check out Duolingo? It’s free online language lessons! I haven’t been able to keep up with mine much lately, but I’ve been chipping away at them bit by bit. As you learn, you have the option to strengthen your skills and go over things you’ve previously learned. They even have a TinyCards page with little flashcards to help you keep up with your skills. Also, they have an app that lets you learn on the go. And it’s not just French you can learn on there. There are 27 different courses for English speakers to help them learn other languages!

Duolingo isn’t the only free online resource for learning, either. Go do a Google search for free online classes. There are a tonne of resources out there! One of my personal favourites (even though I have a hard time finishing courses sometimes) is Coursera. They have a tonne of courses that you can either take for free (just to gain the knowledge and upgrade your skills), or you can pay to take them to get official credits from schools around the world. You can specialize in things from every area of knowledge in their catalog, from marketing to teaching English as a second language.

Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for on there? Well, try out Open2Study, an Australian-based website that follows the same model. What I love about this site is that it features a lot of self-paced courses. The problem I have when taking online courses is that I’ll start one, get all excited about it, and can only go so far at a time. You have to do a little bit each week, which kind of kills my motivation. With my constantly changing schedule, and putting my writing before anything else online right now, I tend to just drop courses after the third week. With self-paced courses, you can do as little or as much as you want at a time. Have a day off? Laying in bed sick all day? Don’t feel like watching reruns of Friends on Netflix yet again after a long day? You can throw on a lecture video, pull up some online notes, and do just as much work as you’re feeling up to at the time.

One thing I’ve been meaning to look into more is learning a bit of web development online. I learned some very basic HTML way back in my MySpace days, but pretty much stopped there. Having some basic development tools is essential for a lot of jobs out there now. Web development is becoming the new “proficient in Microsoft Office” in resumes. There are a tonne of resources out there, which I haven’t really evaluated for you guys at all. Like I said, this is something I’m looking into, not something I’ve actually thrown myself into yet. Still, I’ve been going over the sites listed here in this article. I’ve heard of a few of them before, like Khan and Code Academy. Maybe one of you out there has a little more insight into which online sites would be best for someone looking to learn online, and would like to leave a comment for us.

It’s actually mind-blowing how much there is that you can learn online. Did you know Yale has free classes online? University of Toronto? MIT? I mean, how great would that look on a resume? “While employed with [XXX], I independently upgraded my skills by taking online courses through both MIT and Yale”. I mean, it just sounds cool. Like, I live in the little border town, working my little retail job, working on my homework for MIT. Need an excuse to get out of a social situation? “Sorry, I can’t make it to your Silly Sock Social and Spritzer Mixer. I have to finish a paper for that class I’m taking at Yale.”

And for anyone who doesn’t think that any of this free online learning is “official” enough for them (I’ve heard that complaint from a lot of people, actually), or you specialized education like a Masters Degree or a few university classes to finish your major, there’s something out there for you too. Almost every single university out there now offers some sort of online learning. All through my two degrees, I took at least two online classes a year, usually during the summer months. I was a Teaching Assistant for an online Sociology class for three years. For us Canadians, there is even an entire university dedicated to online learning: Athabasca University. This online school is a collection of majors, courses, degrees, and certificates from universities all over Canada. Most Canadian universities will allow you to substitute online classes from Athabasca for courses you’re unable to take physically at your school for whatever reason. It’s just a matter of filling out some paperwork and using the online classes kind of like transfer credits. You can pick up a few classes here, or do a full degree. I’ve looked into a few certificates recently that would go great with my degrees, and really add something to my resume!

I don’t know, I’m in one of those moods where I feel like my entire life is falling apart, and I need to do something to get out of here. Like I said, my schedule doesn’t allow me to take the time off to upgrade my education, so I’ve been looking into all of this online learning a lot lately. These classes are perfect for anyone who needs to do a bit of learning but doesn’t have the time to dedicate the same time each week to physically going to a class.

I do have some words of warning, though. Like I said, I took quite a few online classes at my university and was the Teaching Assistant for one course. I know how easy it is to blow off work for these classes. When I had to physically go into class and participate in lectures, go to labs, hand in work, then that pressure to keep up was the motivating factor in me getting anything done sometimes. With my online classes, I could put off doing any reading at all until just before an assignment or paper was due. I once took a course and didn’t even take the plastic wrapping off the textbook until more than halfway through the semester! Unless there is some sort of schedule to the class that makes you hand things in, or take tests and quizzes, and all of this is at regular intervals, then it is ridiculously easy to dig yourself an academic hole that is stupid crazy hard to climb out of.

So, is there anything out there that you need to learn? Always wanted to learn a little bit about Ancient Rome? High school Spanish teacher always tell you that you’d never be able to learn more than a few words of Spanish, and you want to prove him wrong? There is something out there for everyone online. You just need to know where to look for it.*

*Google. Google is where you look for it. Type it into the damn search and look for it.

I’m Pretty Bad At A Lot Of Things

So we’re a little short staffed at work right now. A certain coworker is off sick, and the three newest girls all have exams this week, which means we have to pull in people from other locations to help us out. Sometimes this is fun. We have about a dozen stores in this county, and we pull in people from all over. We get to learn about how other stores in other areas work, the differences between the stores, and we get to make friends with all these new hires so that we all have a little group to hang out with at training events and holiday parties.

And then there are times when we get stuck with a worker like we had last night.

Usually, this gentleman follows us around the store, talking non-stop. He leaves the cash registers unattended when his sole purpose in being there is to work the damn register. Sometimes, he tells people we have products we don’t have, or he directs them to the opposite side of the store a certain product is on because he saw something he thought was similar there. Last night a woman asked for the peach schnapps. Instead of asking us where it is, or going down the aisle labelled “Liqueurs”, he sent her to the Christmas display on the opposite side of the store. Why? He saw the holiday peppermint vodka there and to him, that’s basically a schnapps so everything should just be there.  We tell him constantly to just direct customers to us, or to ask us where something is if he’s not sure if we have it. Last night he wasted customers’ time looking for a whiskey that we don’t even carry because he was sure it would be in a certain place that it’s not.

Last night was beyond anything I’ve ever had to put up with from him, though. Not even 30 minutes into this man’s shift, a customer had to come and track me down while I was working in the back of the store. She wanted to check out, but there was no one at the registers. So I came up front, opened my register, and had to handle a small stream of customers. The entire time, this gentleman was just wandering around the store, pretending to be cleaning when all he was doing was basically facing up the very front bottle on each shelf. Anyone who has ever worked retail in their life knows that if you’re not long-arm facing, you may as well be sitting on your ass in the office taking a nap.

When our shift leader came back from her dinner break, she pulled him aside and told him that we needed him to stay on or near cash at all times. We don’t want to keep the customers waiting, or make them wander the store looking for an associate. Usually, when someone comes to help out at a different store, they get their duties from the shift leader or manager on duty, and then do what they’re told.

Well, this grown-ass man decided to regress to the maturity of a 5-year-old. He planted his feet behind his register and decided not to move the entire night. He threw garbage on the floor, let carts and baskets pile up around him, and refused to move an inch even when the store was empty. The most awkward part was the way he treated us, though. When my coworker or I would come up to the front or run cash, he would turn his body away from us and very dramatically stare at the wall.

Now, I didn’t say or do anything to piss him off, but he gave me attitude like you would not believe. When I told him he could go on his break, he snapped at me and made it sound like I was some sort of evil bitch who made him stand still all night. When our shift leader told him to stop being childish and just do his job, he told her she has an attitude. Then he announced that he was never working at our store again, and I did a little happy dance.

But through all of this, I just couldn’t be mean to him. I mean, when he gave me attitude I called him out on it. But I couldn’t yell, or even talk sternly to him. I had a shift leader there, so my confrontational skills just flew right out the window. Confrontation is something I’m really not good at unless I have to be. Actually, there’s a lot of things I’m really not good at. As you know, getting through university without student loans is one of those things.

For some reason, people don’t like to admit that they’re not great at everything, and they hate admitting they are flat-out bad at something. Jenna Marbles made a few videos of things that she’s just really not good at. After the first one, people bugged her about being down on herself and she had to make a video of things she’s awesome at to make them stop. Admitting that you’re bad at things isn’t something you should be ashamed of. It’s a natural thing. No one is amazing at every single little thing they do. So here are some of the things I’m really not good at.

1. Self-Motivation

Every few months, I get into that “I can do ALL the things” mood. I pledge to myself that I’m going to write for 2 hours a day, work out a bit every morning, eat healthier foods, drink less wine, drink more tea, and chug water like it’s the only thing that can keep me going. And every time I do this, I fail at ALL the things in about 36 hours. I work out sporadically and walk everywhere and haven’t done a week of full workouts in a few years. I eat a lot of veggies, and eat like half a cucumber and a large salad a day, but can still throw back half a small wheel of brie, a Twix, two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, and some form of potato (fries or chips usually) as a snack. I have a tonne of tea at home (like an entire cupboard of teas), but still grab a Coke Zero if I have it rather than turn on the kettle.

Once, I decided to start bullet journaling. After the first week, I had already failed. I just could not stay motivated enough to brain dump or reflect on my day every single day. Even little things like “I’m going to read more and work my way through my bookcase” turns into “I’ll check Not Always Right regularly while listening to I’m Sorry Dad in the background if I have time”.  I just cannot stay motivated on things that I can’t see results from quickly.

2. Keeping Up With The Cleaning Around Here

I made a cleaning schedule once. There were things like “scrub out the bathtub every other day”, “mop the kitchen floor weekly”, “change the sheets every Saturday” on there. I keep up with the bathtub mostly, but only because the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend comes home from work filthy so our bathtub gets putting grody if we don’t clean it often enough. I sweep and mop when I can, but the big things just seem to get pushed to the back of my brain and forgotten sometimes.

I need to start the fall cleaning soon because there’s a lot of things that need to get done because I don’t do them regularly. Windows need to be washed, mini-blinds need to be repaired, furniture needs to be vacuumed and steamed, and walls need to be scrubbed down. We get 5 or 6 people living here at a time, and most of them are short-term rentals who stay a few months and then leave. I don’t get a lot of help around here with the cleaning. AAB is getting a lot better, scrubbing the kitchen after cooking and helping keep up with the sweeping and mopping. There’s still a tonne of stuff on my cleaning to-do list that I just never seem to get done.

3. Relaxing

This drives AAB absolutely insane. I do what I call “Multitasking Relaxing”. We’ll curl up in the living room when I get home from work, ready to watch some TV or YouTube videos, eat dinner, and just relax. For him, that means lounging on the couch or the floor and watching the TV. For me, it’s curling up and watching the TV while I catch up on Instagram and read the news on my phone, play a game or two on the tablet, make notes for writing projects, maybe read a chapter or two of a book, lotion up my feet and throw on fuzzy socks, and update my day planner for the week. I can’t just sit there and relax.

The only time I can just relax is when I’m beyond stressed, almost to the point that I can’t function anymore. A few months back, I did back to back 30-day stretches at work, followed by 27 days of work in 30 days. On top of that was job interviews, showing the house to prospective renters, family drama for me, family drama for AAB, a wedding in AAB’s family which meant meeting a whole lot of his family, and having to tear apart bedrooms and cupboards to clean them for new renters. When I finally had a whole day off, I just laid in bed until after 1pm. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t play on my phone, I just laid there with Bowser Kitten and did nothing. Then, after a shower, I watched Netflix and laid on the couch the rest of the day. For dinner, I ordered Chinese food so I wouldn’t have to cook or move. When I tried to move, it took every ounce of strength for me to do so. I was just done with everything. THAT is the only time I can fully relax when the stress has taken hold in such an extreme way that having nothing on my calendar just destroys all motivation to even move.

4. Hitting 10,000 Steps A Day

I walk everywhere. Some days, it’s just to and from work. Others, it’s all over the damn city while I run errands. I try to keep my phone on me at all times since my step counter is on my phone. Most of the time, it just doesn’t work like that.

Most days, I probably am hitting that 10,000 steps mark, or coming close to it. Problem is, I’m not totally tracking it. I leave my phone on my desk while I’m running around the house getting stuff done. One day I threw it in my sweatpants pocket while I cleaned, and I hit just over 2,500 steps. That was just from cleaning, too. On laundry day, I can add another 300-400 steps to my day. Running to the store, or running out to grab a coffee, or running to my coworker’s place for a few minutes can add another 1,500 steps.  But instead I throw my phone on the desk next to my computer, and none of this gets logged. When I look at my steps counter for the week, or for the month, I’m 10s of thousands of steps short.

But they’re there somewhere. Maybe. Possibly. We’ll never know (unless somehow I find the money for one of those FitBit things someday).

5. Watching New Things

I’ve watched Daria in its entirety about a dozen times so far. Same goes for old episodes of the Simpsons. I have a collection of 90’s movies I love that I’ve seen a hundred times over. And I’ve seen the first two seasons of Twin Peaks 5 or 6 times now.

I just can’t get myself to watch that new third season. I have a few dozen shows and movies in my Netflix list that I’ve never seen before, but I still throw on old episodes of anything with Gordon Ramsay in it when I come home from work.

I just can’t sit down and focus on new shows sometimes. Maybe it’s the whole Multitasking Relaxing thing. With things I’ve already seen, I know basically what’s going to happen. I don’t need to pay close attention. I can do four things at once and still enjoy it. But something new required focus, it required paying attention, it requires putting down my book and my phone and the tablet and engrossing myself in the new thing. It’s something I just can’t get into most days.

Being bad at these things isn’t a bad thing. I love admitting that I’m bad at things. I love finding more things I’m just awful at. There are a lot of things I’m good at, and I discover new things all the time. Knowing and admitting what I’m bad at helps me find new things that I’m good at.

YouTube Can Be Our Saving Grace

Miel Bredouw is a comedic goddess. She’s also freaking brilliant in understanding something that we all keep seeming to forget to use to our advantage: there are YouTube tutorials out there for everything. Ok, so she was focused on make-up tutorials, but we can work with that. Because everything can be learned, somehow.

As Miel says, we knew sweet dick all about make-up when we were young. I can still remember my grandma throwing away a concealer because it was kinda orange, I took it from her in 7th grade. For like 6 months, I covered up my pimples with these weird orange dots of concealer. People would point them out to me, and I had no clue why they could see them. I mean, it was concealer. Shouldn’t it just conceal stuff? I had no clue that I had to match it to my skin tone.

I spent the better part of high school with either a grey or black line all the way around my eyes. I knew that eyeliner was a thing and that it lined my eyes. I had no clue how to make it look right, so I just threw on these big circles of liner until my eyelids disappeared.

As a young adult, the height of style was Christina Aguilera and her leather chaps. I was also spending a lot of time in goth bars around that time and now refer to that period as my “dark days”. Christina had the whole ‘6 hairs constitutes one eyebrow’ thing going on, and I went with it too. To this day, my eyebrows have never fully grown back.

I was a mess for a good 10 years at least when it came to make-up. But I wasn’t alone. We all were back then. Most of our makeup skills came from working with whatever was on clearance at the drug store and using it to copy looks from ads in Seventeen Magazine.

Oooh, Tyra Banks looks so good with the but of purple eyeshadow. Let’s recreate that look, but since I don’t have purple I’ll use this metallic shimmery seafoam green and up it right up to my eyebrows!

Today, kids don’t have that problem. I see 19-year-olds coming into my work with perfect winged liner, the most amazing eyebrows, and contour that would stop a Kardashian in their tracks. It’s like they’ve all skipped that awkward ‘blue eyeshadow with no mascara’ phase and jumped right into life as a makeup artist.  And how the hell are they doing that?

YouTube tutorials.

You can look up any look you’re going for online and learn to recreate it step by step. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a complex Halloween makeup lesson, how to do the perfect winged eyeliner or just the basics of how to apply your foundation. There is a YouTube tutorial for everything. Can’t find what you’re looking for on YouTube somehow? There’s still WikiHow, LifeHacks, and dozens of websites like this that you can fall back on. And when in doubt, there “the Googles” as my mother calls it.

So the always funny and brilliant Miel touched on something that a shit-tonne of people don’t realize. Yes, we can use the internet to learn to make our eyeliner fierce as fuck. But why stop there? I did a course through a local business on Microsoft Word and Excel. I learned how to do mail merges and make pretty spreadsheets and graphs and shit. That was a few years ago, and my skills have become rusty. I had to go for testing on these programs for a job interview last month. Not only am I rusty, but they use a newer version than I was trained on. YouTube to the rescue! As much as people bitch about the Millenials (and the Xennials, and whatever the hell youngins are being called this day and age in their generation), anyone who was raised with a computer in their home as a child or teen has one gigantic leg up on the older generations.

We have Rapid Skill Aquisition.

If there is something we don’t know how to do, we know how to learn how to do it. I don’t know about you, but I live for online education. My workplace has an online portal for our work training, and there are dozens of courses available to us to take at our “leisure”. I’ve freakin done a bunch of them! For fun one day, I did a course on addiction. It’s something that’s interested me for a long time: addiction, the culture surrounding it, ways to help those battling it. I may not make a career out of it, but with what I’ve learned through this course I was able to get into some free online courses on sites like Coursera on addiction. Maybe I’ll go volunteer somewhere with this knowledge. Maybe it will help me at work, considering I do have to interact with dozens and dozens of addicts some days. Who knows what I’ll do with it!

And there’s more. Need to know how to make a spreadsheet? Turn a spreadsheet into charts and graphs? Charley in accounting thinks you’re useless because he’s been using Excel for like 13 years and you’re just some young new thing in the office? There are YouTube tutorials for that! Hell, WikiHow will walk you through step by step how to do things. I have known dozens of 50+ people in higher-up positions who had no clue how to do this. They were always shocked at how their young employees could figure out how to do pretty much anything they were asked, whether it was photo editing or mail merges.

Now, I’m not knocking formal education here. But that shit is expensive, and the debt from it follows you. The skills I learned in my degrees and certificate were more along the lines of “here’s how to think critically and problem solve”. The actual skills I need for a job in my field, like Microsoft Office training and learning how to take more professional looking photos, are things that I have been expected to teach myself. Unless you took something like Communications or Film, you probably didn’t get a whole lot of training in things like video editing.

Social media itself is something that most schools don’t have classes on but is a huge plus to have experience in when it comes to the workplace. More and more companies are getting things like Twitter, and things can either be amazingly brilliant or bomb spectacularly. I mean, if you want to talk brilliant social media campaigning, then look no further than Denny’s. I follow them on Tumblr of all places, just for fun. There isn’t even a Denny’s in my city! They have that perfect mix of professional and bizarre that Tumblr caters to, and they know it. There are so many fails out there, though. Anything from a stupid tweet to a bad hashtag campaign can ruin a business, and companies are looking for people to run this stuff who don’t still type with just two fingers like my dad does.

There is so much out there that we’re able to learn with just a few mouse clicks and a bit of typing. Take full advantage of this the best you can. Want to spend the day on the internet just reading memes? Spend half an hour learning something new for a program you already use first. Bored feel like watching random YouTube videos for a bit? Start with something educational. In a writing slump and need to write just about anything to get out of it? Check out sites like WikiHow to see if they need articles about anything you know how to do.

Sometimes just learning a little bit extra can be the difference between a job you love and a job you spend every day wishing you could escape. Don’t let yourself be limited by what you’ve formally learned, Sunshine. Go that little extra bit. Learn something new online.