January 8th, 2010

Everything is terrible

Examples of everything:

–Building manager’s inspection of my apartment finds that it is not illegally cold. But last night, before bed, teeth were chattering! Mine! Indoors! That should be illegal.
–This morning, my bus rear-ended another bus.
–A tiny but important little bit’o’code on my computer was devoured in the night. Now I can do everything but the thing I need to do right now. (note: this was fixed almost immediately after I wrote about it by a kind colleague, but that’s not the point. The point is what is the universe’s *deal* that it would do that to me?)
–Hot Friday night plans: avalanche of tax forms.

Although everything is, in fact, terrible, that expression is not mine. There is actually a website called Everything Is Terrible (you should have known) filled with alarming/sad/hilarious found footage. I’ve only seen the cat massage video, which I think has been doctored to make it even more disturbing than it was originally (ie., very) but it’s an interesting concept.

I’m just gonna put my head down for a little bit now. Oh, no, wait, I’m going to do this mountain of work.


PS–I will try to post something rose-coloured on the weekend. As soon as this migraine receeds a little.

November 11th, 2009

The Professional Interviews 7: Jennifer, Food Service Co-ordinator (Circle Square Ranch)

This was my first email interview (over Facebook, actually). This format is great for busy people (pretty much everyone I’ve interviewed so far), since they can answer at leisure or a bit at a time or whenever suits. There’s less back and forth (I did two sets of questions, the second inspired by the answers to the first) and of course no eye-contact/body language/laughter… But for an interviewee (like Jennifer) who expresses him/herself well in writing, this is a fun low-stress interview (and it saves the horrible horrible transcription). See our cyber-dialogue below, me in bold, she in Roman.

What do you at work on a typical day?

Order groceries, cook meals, boss the kitchen staff around, make sure the kitchen is clean and the dinning hall is set up.

I think my job is very interesting; there have been many highs and lows. When I got here I had no idea how to cook a meal for 270 people. I didn’t know how to cook some of the food on the menu let alone make it for that many people. Having a kitchen staff of teenagers who have no experience made things even more interesting. I’ve run out of food with 50 people in line, I’ve had one of my staff call the police on a dare. I’ve had Sysco, who was our only food supplier at the time, tell me they didn’t get our order after a computer glitch and there was nothing they could do and I didn’t have food to feed all these people.

What is your favourite thing to do at work? Least favourite?

My favourite thing: Making massive birthday cakes or cupcakes

Least favourite: Throwing out pans of leftovers, such a waste of food.

How did you wind up with this job?

The old cooks left the Ranch unexpectedly. My boss sent a message to all their friends on Facebook asking if anyone knew anyone. I didn’t have enough experience to run a kitchen but they are such nice people I wanted to help them if I could so I offered to help. I let them know I was unqualified to be the cook but they didn’t have anyone else so I got the job.

What sort of cooking experience did you have before this job (ie., cooking classes, previous jobs)?

One of the best things about working here is they give you opportunity to learn so much. I didn’t have previous experience running a kitchen. I worked in various kitchens–restaurant, camp, golf course–and I took various cooking and cake decorating classes and I had a diploma in cooking but there was nothing that prepared me for this. As weird as it sounds, the thing that was the best preparation for doing this job was being youth group leader at my church. There I planned various events and fundraisers and it was my only experience running anything of any sort.

Describe the first meal you cooked for 270–what did you make and how did it go? How did you feel when it was over?

I don’t remember the first meal I cooked for 270 [since] it was a progression. I cooked for 30 people first for horse staff training, then I cooked for 80 for staff training. The first week of camp is generally smaller: I think I cooked for 120, the following week probabaly 180 and so on. The middle to late summer is usually full or close to it.

My second week was the hardest. It was the first week I was on my own and the quality control person was visiting me after every meal to tell me how much my food sucked and I was working about 17 hours a day, my staff weren’t getting breaks, they were all tired and I was still trying to figure everything out. I cried a lot that week.

Every week things got better, every summer things have gotten easier…. [A]s soon as one meal is done you are thinking about the next. You don’t really look back on a meal until the next time you make it and that is when you try to figure out ways to make it better. The menu is supposed to be kid-friendly. We keep the popular dishes on and take the unpopular meals off, it has been trial and error. If the seconds line is long and the kids run to get in line that means the food is good, if they are coming up for thirds that is a good sign too. If the kids are coming to the kitchen door to ask for toast and cereal that is a very bad sign. If there is food in the compost bin, that is a bad sign.

What is it like living where you work? Does it make you better friends with your colleagues? Do you end up working more because you are right there?

Someone I worked with when I was fifteen stopped in one day and…he said to me in regard to living there “that must be a dream come true.” He said he would love to live here. It is a wonderful place to live. It is quiet, peaceful. Everyone is one big happy family and I am constantly around great people that inspire and challenge me to be a better person. The times I’ve spent here have been some of the best times of my life.

In the summer I really don’t have time for friendship, cooking consumes me but I have to say the people that I live with are incredible and in the off-season you can’t not make friends… The whole idea of me living here is to help them out. I like doing it and I’ve had such good experiences here that it feels good to do something for them. I do end up working more but it is a good thing. One of the best parts of living here is when camp starts the kitchen isn’t a disaster, [since] I was able to do a lot of cleaning last year, which led to a few renovations, which led to more shelving. It is a small kitchen so it made things way more organized.

What sort of person would be good at a job like yours? Who would be bad at it?

I don’t know that there is any type of person that would be good or bad at this job; all I know is what I have been working on. I’ve had to work a lot at getting organized. …[Y]ou order thousands of of dollars worth of groceries in a week and it so easy to forget something, or you misjudge how much you need. Another aspect that I have found hard is the physical aspect. It is a lot of lifting, so I try to get some excercise before summer to get in some sort of shape. Other than that I would say you need to have a lot of energy. You need to be clean if you don’t want to have to worry about the health department.

One of the guys who worked here asked me that question and I told him everything you make you have to put love into it. He said, no be serious. I told him I am being serious: you can either try your best when you are cooking or you can slap the food together like you don’t care. I’ve worked in one fine dining restaurant and my boss there always used to say that to me, put the love into it. He is one of the best people I’ve ever known, I try to live by the things he taught me.

September 26th, 2009


I wanted to write a post about grant application writing because we’re in that season and I imagine that lots are thus obsessed. So many of us obsessed, and yet I am also writing this because no one seems to talk that much about this all-consuming process. There seems to be lots of good web resources on how to ready a manuscript for submission, but very few on grant apps. Possibly that’s because grant-app requirements vary by country and region, or because not everyone politically endorses grants to artists, or because they are such closed-door processes that people feel little is known and there’s no advice to be offered–better just to ignore them and get on with the work itself, which is what really matters, after all.

True that it’s the work that matters. But while it probably is also true that no one can tell you how to write a successful grant application, I think help helps a writer to create a decent one, and helps also to keep him/her from going insane while doing so…and money, if you win a grant, certainly helps.

Jim Munro has written both on how not to get depressed about applying for grants, and why they are important to artists and the world at large. (That last essay, four years old, is still extremely relevant and powerful in these times of arts budget cuts–grant-backed work as the R&D of literature is a concept the government is still struggling with, apparently.)

But I wondered if there were people out there who were hoping for something a little more specific, and step-by-step. And, as usual, what I have to draw on is my own incredible luck: when I first started writing these applications, I had what most young writers would love: people to hold my hand and help me every step of the way. So while I’m not wildly familiar with every aspect of the process, I have been doing this a while, and have received some good advice. At the very least, I’d like to pay it forward.

Step 1: Whenever you have time, read over the national, provincial/territorial, and regional/municipal arts council websites (I don’t think every region/municipality has one, but I think all provinces/territories do, although I’m not even sure about that–anyone want to report?) Figure out which ones you and your project are eligible for, and note when the deadlines are. Also note which ones you aren’t eligible for but would like to work towards (ie., you don’t have enough professional publications to be considered a “professional artist” but are close; you don’t have the page count for the project to be eligible but are close; etc.)

There are so many grants out there, and it is confusing to find out which ones are for what and whom, but obviously, it could be kind of lucrative if you do. If you have no idea what is meant by something or other on an arts council website, it’s definitely worth your time to enquire. I have called the 800 numbers for every granting level, and have been unfailingly met with quick, polite and helpful responses. Once, after answering my question, the administrator said that that bit was actually so confusing he would change it for next year–I helped!! I’m a grant-applicating hero!! Ok, ok….

Not Step 2: Create a project you think jives with the grant guidelines. Not only is this impossible to guess at, but it will be both stressful and boring, and really depressing if you don’t get the grant and you’ve spent all this time creating a project you don’t believe in. Just keep right on thinking about whatever project you were hoping to do next, only maybe try to think about it in the form of 1 or 2 clear and concise proposal pages…

Step 2: 3-4 weeks before the deadline, read the guidelines for the grant you want to try for and make sure you are still eligible. Read over all the requirements and figure out what you need to do. For one of my first apps, I skipped step 1, and was far closer to the deadline than 3-4 weeks when I started to process, and became quickly overwhelmed by the various requirements. So I went and took a bath.

Luckily, I had a good and organized friend staying with me, who printed out the guidelines and, when I returned, read them aloud to me and helped me find all the constituent pieces (I’m sure this is exactly what she wanted to do with her weekend.)

Do whatever the guidelines say. Format the pages the way they want, take things off your resume that they claim are extraneous, use the right colour of ink, etc. A lot of these things don’t matter, but it’s really hard to say which so it’s necessary to DO THEM ALL. If you format the headers wrong and your name appears on something that’s supposed to be blind ajudicated, it will be thrown out. If you double-side the pages when they ask you not to, so that the app can’t be photocopied easily, it’ll be thrown out. These are dumb reasons not to get a grant. Don’t think outside the box when filling out forms; keep the creativity strictly in the work, which is where it matters. Again, if confused, call!!

Step 3: 3ish weeks ahead of deadline: Write your proposal. This is the hardest part (though some grants don’t even call for this), but it’s also actually a useful exercise, as it forces you to articulate what exactly you are trying to do (anyone who has ever been interviewed knows this is difficult even after the thing is print!)

The esteemed writer who helped me with another app (eventually I started doing them on my own, I swear) said he never spent more than 2 hours on one of these, and while we can’t all be that chilled out, I really think we should try. Mr. Munro says he takes about 2 days for the whole process, which seems about accurate, though I doubt you’ll want to take a whole weekend away from whatever writing/real life stuff you’ve got on to do it all at once.

Write the proposal over a week or so. Say what you are doing and want to do, as clearly and smoothly as possible. If it’s a highly theoretical project, sure, make references that are important to you, but if it isn’t, don’t invent them. Tell yourself it’s about the quality of the work, over and over and over. Even if you end up with a highly politicized jury, you have no way of knowing that in advance; you can’t make them like your work, you can only make your work good.

Step 4: as soon as you finish the proposal Get a kind friend to proof everything–the forms you’ve filled out, the resumes, publication lists, anything that has words on it (except the actual work sample; see below). You don’t need a fellow writer necessarily, just someone with a keen eye, good grammar, and an investment in you getting the metaphorical spinach out of your teeth. When they read the proposal, encourage them to mention any sentences that don’t makes sense/aren’t clear–you never know what your fervered brain might have done at this stressful point in the process.

Step 5: whenever you need to Take a little break and think of other things. Really really try not to let the grant app take over your life, or go in the slot where actual writing is supposed to go.

Pep talk: Think about how lucky we are to be writers writing grant applications. Dance, visual art, and musical profressionals have to write them just like we do, only their chosen profession is *not* putting their ideas down on paper in the best possible way. It could be so much worse–imagine having to sing your application, or paint it.

Step 6: a few days before you send the whole thing out Take the best [however many pages you need] from the project as started, or of a past project that is similar in style, and format them according to the specifications of the application. This should be stuff that’s been previously edited and proofread–I would strongly suggest that you not add that to the sundry grant-app pressures–it should be ready-to-go materials taht have been previously submitted it for publication or were actually published or just stuff you have already gotten to a point where you are happy with it. Of course, there’s no reason you *can’t* be editing now, or even writing new materials if you feel you need to, but if that’s your plan backdate the whole process a whole lot weeks, and brace yourself for the extra stress.

Step 7: at least a week before the deadline if you are mailing it Package everything up in an appropriate new envelope (just this once: spring for exactly the right size instead of trying to cut down/tape together/recycle an envelope), address it carefully, and take it to the post office to be weighed and stamped. If you are a tense type (ie., me) you’ll probably need to pay a lot of money to have a mailing option with a tracking number–suck it up and save the receipt for tax season, since it is a professional expense.

Pep talk #2 Try to think of grant applying as part of the job description of being a writer (unless you don’t believe in grants, in which case, why have you read so far in this post?) When I fretted about it not being worth all that time and energy for a grant that I probably wouldn’t get since I was just starting and I should just get on with the project anyway, my mom pointed out that since I was *going* to do the project anyway, and work very hard on it, it would be silly not to even suggest to anyone that I get paid a bit for all that work. No one, I don’t think, is entitled to a grant just for working hard, but we are certainly all entitled to ask.

Exception to pep talk Don’t apply for grants if it will eat up all the time you have for writing. If you are that pressed for time that regular adherence to the grant application schedule would make you more a grant-applier than a writer, it’s obvious which one has got to go. It’s the work that matters.

Step 8: after mailing app, for about 4-6 months Forget it. Go write something. Apply for a different grant. Talk to your loved ones. Look at kittens!

Step 9: 4-6 months later An envelope comes in the mail. We’ve all been trained by *The Facts of Life* to think that thick envelopes mean acceptance and thin mean rejection, but there’s often a lot of extraneous forms in there, so you’ll have to open it to know, probably standing in the foyer of your building, with a pizza guy glaring at the back of your head.

If you get rejected, feel surprised and a bit sad…say to yourself (and others if they ask) “Huh, I thought that was a pretty good application. Well, can’t win’em all.” Then go file the letter, or log it in your spreadsheet, or make it into a paper airplane, or whatever it is you do. Get someone who likes you to buy you a drink.

Pep talk #3 Canada Council funds about 20% of grant applications, and Toronto Arts Council perhaps 22-24% (I don’t have other stats, but feel free to extrapolate or share). That’s because that’s what they have the money for, not because all the other apps they get are unworthy, or even that the committees think they are. I’ve never sat a committee myself, nor even known anyone who has well enough to ask more than general questions, but I firmly believe they weed out all the bad ideas, bad writing, and crazy writers, and then put the good sane materials in a hat, out of which they draw names until they run out of money. Believe that you were in the hat, ok? Rejection doesn’t mean it was a bad project; it means this wasn’t your year. Feel surprised and a bit sad, and put it behind you. It’s the work that matters.

Note: if you have information that contradicts my theory, sure, let me know; if you have a *theory* that contradicts my theory, please keep it to yourself and allow me to remain relatively Rose-coloured.

If you get accepted, feel surprised and extremely thrilled. Hop about for a bit (you should probably leave the foyer now, and let the poor pizza guy in.) Tell someone who likes you (and buy him/her a drink); toast yourself and your good work and good luck. Examine all the paperwork they’ve sent you so that you know how to a) get your money, b) file your taxes, and c) fill the Final Reports that are months away from being due, at which point you will have lost every piece of paper telling you how or where to send them or what to say. Or, erm, not, because you are not as dopey as some of us.

Ok, now get back to work. And for heaven’s sake, don’t put that you’ve received a grant in your author bio, unless it’s in print with the work that the grant actually funded, and the granters are being credited–otherwise, that’s like putting your salary on your resume. Getting paid is nice but it’s–wait for it–the work that matters.

Good luck, everybody! And if you find something erroneous, confusing, or missing in this post, please get in touch!

Keep the faith

September 17th, 2009

Professional Interviews (5): Jamie, Project Manager

The fifth in my series of interviews with people about their jobs, an attempt for me to both learn to interview and learn about people’s jobs. This one was the first phone interview, which presents its own challenges, of lack of facial expressions and gestures, but not too much of a handicap, I don’t think (maybe Jamie is just exceptionally expressive, I’m not sure). Anyway, I’m in bold, J’s in Roman, and I hope you find this all as interesting as I do.


What is your job description on paper? Ie., What did they hire you to do?

I guess manage documents and staff. Manage staff, maintain documents. Maintain the integrity of a set of documents. (what does that mean?) It’s business-speak–it’s making sure that the documents are in order, checking if there’s a relationship between the documents…because often if you are dealing with 500 000 documents, their order has probably been tampered with because of moving, because of coming from many sources. I have to make sure, with this team of people, that these documents are…I don’t know…organized properly. It can be very tedious.

What do you actually do?

I deal with the documents at the ground level, I hire people, I make sure that the staff is aware of what’s going on and, because we’re in front of a computer for 8 hours, I try to be as conscious as I can of the general happiness of the staff. That can be anything from health problems to their infighting, how they deal with one another. That’s why I said I’m managing the staff as well as dealing with these documents.

Can you do a day for me? Like, hour by hour?

I’ve been wondering that myself for the last week! A typical day is at my desk, viewing documents, seeing if there’s a relationship, cataloguing, one ear open to the environment of the office. Making sure that whatever’s happening in the office is communicated back to my supervisor. I’m kind of in the middle, between the bosses and the regular staff.

Lately I’ve been dealing with something else, so I haven’t been looking at the documents. But there’s always part of me that is worrying that people are talking too much, or we’re not producing enough numbers… When we were on a deadline, I made sure I was there cataloguing the documents with everyone else on the weekends. Like, I don’t have my own office, I’m in the mix with everyone else.

Are you responsible for disciplinary issues?

Yes. But I don’t— Like, we work in an office building where we should be wearing business casual, which is a rule I prefer to ignore, and then sometimes people take it to a new level of informality, and show up in really questionable clothing choices for the environment but I would prefer that people dress to make themselves comfortable because it can be difficult being in an office all day. Why make it any harder?

I hate discipline. I’m passive aggressive, so that makes it very difficult. Last week I spoke to someone that was being too loud. The person wasn’t being loud in that moment, so an argument could be made that I should have waited for an example of the problem to say something, but I saw a moment to go over and I said “Ok, you have to watch the volume of your voice. I’m sorry if you feel picked on.” And the person’s response was “Yeah, I do feel picked on.” And then this person went on to list four other staff that needed to be disciplined even more. Which I find humourous, that one person would be willing to sell out all the other people in the office? And for what? Vindication of poor behaviours maybe?

I see problems in the office and I try to think is this just how people deal with the every day or something that we need to deal with. We can’t help ourselves, people, humans. I probably ignore more than most people would. Eventually though you don’t have a choice, once you call yourself project manager and have hired people, you have to go up to people and say, “Do not cut your toenails at work, please. That’s disgusting ” The thing I want to say, “Get your head out of your ass,” but I don’t say, because if you’re verbally abusive people usually aren’t going to listen to you. But because we work in an open environment, 13 people in a room, its not impossible that a toenail could fly in the air and hit someone in the eye.

What is the part of your job you are best at?

Wow, I don’t know. What would someone say to that?

Like, in your job interview, the thing you said you could contribute to the company, the thing that you are good at offering.

Interpersonal skills. I love it, I know there are lots of people who would rather work at home, but I love the social aspect of work. And I don’t mean talking about watching “American Idol” last night, I mean collaborating with people, the process of work. Most of my relationships even with my close friends involve work. I don’t think I have a close friend right now that I don’t have a job with.

…I just like work, I like my social relationships being about work. This conversation I take a great amount of pleasure in because it’s for your blog, there’s something to it.

I spend more time at work than I do at home, most people do, so where do I live?

Why not just go home and say, this isn’t my problem?

I suppose, the easiest thing…if it’s not done, I’d be the first person to be asked why it wasn’t finished. I’d be asked, what were people doing that it wasn’t done? I helped hire the staff, made sure that they can do things within the parameters of the deadline.

I’ve really come to this by accident. I don’t have a law degree and there are people there who are lawyers and it would be really really cool if I had a law degree too I’m sure, but that just isn’t going to happen. Anyway, that’s my day job. My nights are filled up editing a film about a person with a porn addiction. And I’d really like that to be my focus. Not to porn addiction, ideally it would be to make films and write. Right now I’m taking the Kafka approach, to work all day and write all night. I’m trying to eliminate distractions around me and to just write and make these films.

It’s the day job question–can you get any glow from your job? You care about your job and are good at it, so can you feel proud of it the way you do about a solid piece of writing?

I need money to exist. I’ll reduce it to the basics first. I like to live a certain way, and a person has to have a job, that’s almost always true. The things I’m writing right now, they don’t pay. I have to have a job, I like the people I work with, and I actually take pleasure in the work. In having 5 calls to make and making sure things are getting done. It’s the process, and that’s what I take pleasure in with the writing, the process of the drafts of stories is the day to day stuff to me, which I enjoy doing. I know that mundane work day kills people inside, but I don’t have that feeling after 6 years. That might be because I’m in a position that has some power to it, or because I work for someone who’s very freethinking and opening minded. My boss, he really does have a creative mind. And that helps. I’m not really sure if I worked somewhere else, if I’d have the same passion. But then, I equally I enjoyed working at a pizza place for years.

What do you do at lunchtime?

Um…bitch. If I’m with the one or two coworkers that are my confidants, we’ll take a break to go out of the office to talk about the office. Sometimes I’m playing basketball. I’m obsessed with the middleaged weight-gain, I’m terrified of it, so I’m getting some exercise. If I could do it the way I’d like it, I’d be by myself. I used to go to this place that no one else went, it served this disgusting pasta with bbq sauce and this chicken…well, it wasn’t good. But it’s a space where I don’t have to worry about meeting anyone.

When you meet people at parties and they ask what you do, how do you describe it one sentence? What follow-up questions do they ask, if any?

“I’m in litigation and at night I’m collaborating on a documentary about a porn addict.” I never tell people I’m a writer. “Documentary about a porn addict” is easier than writer because it’s more complete, people get that. People ask what you write and you say surreal noirs, they might not get that, and they say, what’s that like? Most times at parties, people give you maybe 5 minutes, so I try to reduce it quickly to its main points. It’s a short form to say “I do this but I also do that.” You’re looking for the description that people nod at and move on. This is cynical, but people don’t have the time in their lives to put into that many other people, they’re too busy with their own lives.

Who would you warn away from this career path–who is absolutely not suited for this job?

I would have assumed that I would have been not suited for my job, and I seem to like it so…who knows?

Some of Jamie Popowich’s writing can be found here.


August 7th, 2009

The Professional Interviews (4): Scott, Assistant Manager of Retail Distribution (at a mass-market publishing house)

[Man, I love doing these things! I’ve known Scott for 6 years and borrowed his workspace to make airline reservations, and I still had no idea he did half this stuff at work. It’s me in the bold-face (’cause I’m that self-important), Scott in Roman. Also, you should know that while he was telling me all this, S was also making a wicked tofu marinade.]

So, what is it exactly that you do?

I work in the retail operations department. There’s 3 components to operations: what’s shipped out; what’s returned; and what’s sold. I deal with what goes out.

And by “dealing” with, you mean?

What I deal with is gross units, order files that are transmitted from our customers, entered by our sales force. I insure that [books] arrive on time, since we have a timeline from when the order files are received to when they are processed at our warehouse. I’m basically chasing down the customer or chasing down the salesperson to chase down the customer, to get the orders. Then I have to also verify the orders that we receive for reasonability. I’m also doing preliminary analysis on how we’re doing overall against these order files.


Every month, stores order the same product lines. The theory is because the series’ are bought as a product line rather than as individual authors, it should be the same order numbers every months. That’s one of the major audits I do of the files, to make sure it’s the same. That’s only series. For single-title, I’m comparing it against projections, which are made by the sales force of what they think we’re gonna get.

So you’re checking that orders are reasonable, not that they’re lucrative?

Yep, just that they’re ordering what they said they were gonna order, or the same as last month. It gets more complicated, because there’s also distribution reviews done by sales force and sales analysis (the “what was sold” group) to see what’s selling, because if 30-40 percent of your book sells, that’s fantastic. Single-titles have a longer shelf-life, you’d probably want that over 50 percent.

Because of those distribution reviews, customers’ll come back and say “we’re gonna change our orders to reflect sales” (a chain will revise distribution for all their stores at once).

That’s a mere fraction of what I do. Do you want to do the rest as bullets?


–I load the [order] files and make sure that they have all the information required for the warehouse to process the orders
–I do gross unit analysis for early trends and missing orders (that’s the bulk of my job)
–I do some summary delivery analysis reports (what does that mean? We need to know, ‘Did 30% of the stores get delivery early? 20%?’ I provide the numbers. Most shipments have a 3-day delivery window, [so we wonder] ‘what stores received stock on the first day of the window?’)
–I also take part in the weekly teleconference call with the warehouse to discuss any issues like stickering issues, inventory issues, basic return information.
–Also, I do a monthly video-conference (cool!) call with the warehouse that deals with bigger issues than the weekly call, like changing barcodes, or marketing has come up with a new product line that they want to ship.
–I am involved with monitoring inventory levels of backlist titles to see if reprints are required.
–I am helping to develop MS Sharepoint site, a document file-sharing website.
–I test and implement reporting in our data warehouse.
–print and binds—which is the process of determining how many books to print to cover initial orders and re-orders for the first 90 days.

What makes you qualified to do all that?

I’ve learned a lot of it on the job. When I started in 2001, I had basic Excel skills and MS Access skills. I would argue that logistics is just institutional knowledge—understanding how the system flows, what file format goes where, what needs to be massaged data-wise, and just…how things work. … There is technical stuff: I had to learn specialty software, but again, I learned them on the job. And then there’s just basic logic—things happen in steps.

So what is it about you, personally, that makes you good at this?

I like to understand things, that’s helpful. People have commented that I’m friendly (True!) which helps, but that is true of any job in an office—the friendly guy is well-liked. There is a certain level of intelligence required and they feel like I possess that level of intelligence, so… Asking questions is important too, so that when someone asks for correct information you can make sure you have it.

How did you get the job?

I actually was approached. I put my resume on Workopolis and a headhunter called me. Then, they made me do 2 interviews and a computer test (they sent me down to this independent third party testing thing) to see if I could actually use MS Excel. Apparently, a lot of people say they can use it, but… Since then I’ve actually done courses on Excel and there’s still a lot more I need to learn about it.

What sort of person would you recommend go after a job in operations?

(laughs) Someone who likes numbers! Um…someone who can think logically, doesn’t mind a stressful environment. Course I say that, but it depends on where you are—other companies might be difference. I think if you make toothpaste, it doesn’t change from month to month. But bread people, they have to get it there every day.

And who should stay away from this sort of job?

People who aren’t good with numbers, people who have trouble with logic, people who want to be able to sit and meander through their stuff. We’re one of those in-between departments that don’t get to control the timelines.

What is a typical day like for you?

There are no typical days.

There are greater cycles: if you come to me on a Friday, there are certain things I do on Fridays. Every cycle is different, every problem is different, unfortunately. If I had to split my day, parts of it are short-term problems and parts are long-term problems, and the short-term always eats up the long-term problems’ time. Lemme give it a crack:

First thing in the morning you are going through your email to find out what happened while you weren’t there. The warehouse starts at 4-5 in the morning; they were already packing books then. And then people stayed after you left, too. After that, I usually have either ad-hoc reports or reports that are due for the cycle that I’m in. Or I’m chasing orders. Long-term stuff, I usually have some reports that I have audit to make sure they work correctly, I have instructions to type out on using reports, my boss will come with some specialty analysis that he wants done… Usually there’s calls to be made for clarification. Also we have a partnership for distribution with another publisher, and they send me morning reports on orders and inventory and I have to deal with problems there.

In the afternoon, if you’re lucky you get to do your stuff; if you’re unlucky, you’re doing other people’s stuff. At a moment’s notice, my superior or their superior, could come and ask for something. Because I’m assistant manager, I’m lucky, because they go to the manager first.

The afternoon is a blur, really. You might have meetings: tomorrow I have meeting from 8:30 to 1. It’s our big monthly meeting, which no one ever wants to go to.

Is it catered?

It used to be, but due to budget cuts, it is no longer. Which has sped it up now that we don’t have lunch in the meeting.

So, you get to 4:30, and leave?

Usually, sometimes I have to stay an extra half hour to get some key things out, but more or less I leave on time. My boss is there until 6 or 7 often, but I joke that’s because he is a bachelor. I have a lot to get home to. I have a new baby, so I have to get home and get supper and spend time with the kid…who probably isn’t old enough to appreciate it.

Is there a people management part ot your job?

I don’t have anyone report directly to me, but in operations, if you’re brought into a meeting, you’re contributing to helping solve a problem. If book signatures have been mismatched, we have a meeting and I’m part of defining the solution, I don’t say, ‘you do this,’ but I say, ‘I’ll do this,’ other people say ‘I’ll do that.’ Sometimes I’ll take charge of a meeting, but that’s a dynamic, sometimes people just don’t want to make a decision and I want to get it done. You can get meeting-itis, and you’re just beating something to death. Some people just like the sound of their own voice, and those people don’t work in Operations. We can’t do that because we have to get out of the meetings and deal with the emails ticking away in our in-boxes. That’s why agendas are so important.

That being said, back to my point about institutional memory, I do tell people what to do sometimes just because I know do the answer, and I say, “If you go do this, it’ll solve your problem.” They don’t report directly to me, it’s just because I have the answer they listen to me.

What do you do at lunchtime?

I usually go to the kitchen, get my lunch, and come back and eat in my office. Unless I didn’t bring a lunch, in which case I go buy it. Then I read a book, websurf (Salon, Slate, Macleans, NYT, bookninja, bookslut, and whatever meets my fancy.)

No working thru lunch?

That happens, depends on the day. Some days I have to work through.

Degree of resentment?

No one likes working through their lunch. But sometimes you get in a groove, stuff is getting done, the emails make sense when you type them up, and you don’t mind. Other days, you’re like, “Why won’t this end?” But there’s always a sense of urgency, I don’t think I’ve ever had slow days. An example: Today, I’m dealing with books that just went on sale for August so we’re having ad-hoc meetings to see if we can deal with the orders. I’ve already got all the billing files for September, now the warehouse is actually starting to process them. I’m already looking at October on-sale because I’m trying to figure out where the orders are. We’re setting up some special projects for November. And I was just dealing with my boss on Christmas books, backlist Christmas books, I had to do a report on that, to see if we need to order them, which we do.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Memorizing some stuff. There’s certain things that my boss is just gifted with–like numbers. I’m good at math, but I don’t remember specific numbers .Some ppl can work faster because they memorize certain things, but my mind just doesn’t want to do that.

When you tell people what you do at parties, what is the typical response?

No, I don’t do that. Frankly people can’t wrap their heads around it. I tell them the name of the publisher, and then I say, “I help get the books out.” I would say operations has an influence on your life, when product shows up and where it is. But it’s just too hard to explain.

Anything general about the job?

It’s been one of my pet peeves that there’s always this discussion about art vs. business. There’s this dullard Dilbert suck-your-soul element that everyone talks about in business, but I would argue every job has a soul-sucking element, even artistic pursuits. I have seen math artists– there’s a guy in our department–people who can read that patterns. And there’s an art to writing an email, there’s art in everything. There’s a human element to everything. Math is not as simple as A + B = C; it’s hard and there are some people who are gifted. Some people just have a knack for it.


August 6th, 2009

An Apology for Crudity, by Sherwood Anderson

[RR: I don’t agree with everything here, natch, and it was written close to 100 years ago, but try substituting Canada for all the American references and see what you make of this.]

For a long time I have believed that crudity is an inevitable quality in the production of a really significant present-day American literature….

If you are in doubt as to the crudity of thought in America, try an experiment. Come out of your offices, where you sit writing and thinking, and try living with us. Get on a train at Pittsburg and go west to the mountains of Colorado. Stop for a time in our towns and cities. Stay a week in some Iowa corn-shipping town and for another week in one of the Chicago clubs. As you loiter about read our newspapers and listen to our conversations, remembering, if you will, that as you see us in the towns and cities, so we are. We are not subtle enough to conceal ourselves and he who runs with open eyes through the Mississippi Valley may read the story of the Mississippi Valley.

It is a marvelous story and we have not yet begun to tell the half of it….

As I walk alone, an old truth comes home to me and I know that we shall never have an American literature until we return to faith in ourselves and to the facing of our own limitations. We must, in some way, become in ourselves more like our fellows, more simple and more real. [RR: does he seem to change POVs here? Wasn’t it “us” and “we” a moment ago?]

To me it seems that as writers we shall have to throw ourselves with greater daring into the life here. [RR: I think this is gorgeous] We shall to begin to write out of the people and not for the people. We shall have to find within ourselves a little of that courage. To continue along the road we are travelling is unthinkable. To draw ourselves apart, to live in little groups and console ourselves with the thought that we are achieving intellectuality, is to get nowhere. By such a road we can hope only to go on producing a literature that has nothing to do with life as it is lived in these United States….

The road is rough and the times are pitiless. Who, knowing our America and understanding the life in our towns and cities, can close his eyes to the fact that life here is for the most part an ugly affair? [RR: I disagree, but…not entirely] As a people we have given ourselves to industrialism, and industrialism is not lovely. If anyone can find beauty in an American factory town, I wish he would show me the way. For myself, I cannot find it. To me, and I am living in industrial life, the whole things is as ugly as modern war. I have to accept that fact and I believe a great step forward will have been taken when it is more generally accepted….

It is, I believe, self-evident that the work of the novelist must always lie somewhat outside the field of philosophic thought [RR: Yup. Short story writers too.] Your true novelist is a man gone a little mad with the life of his times. As he goes through life he lives, not in himself, but in many people. Through his brain march figures and groups of figures. Out of the many figures, one emerges. If he be at all sensitive to the life about him and that life be crude, the figure that emerges will be crude and will crudely express itself.

I do not know how far a man may go on the road of subjective writing. The matter, I admit, puzzles me. There is something approaching insanity in the very idea of sinking yourself too deeply into modern American industrial life.

But it is my contention that there is no other road. If one would avoid neat, slick writing, he must at least attempt to be brother to his brothers and live as the men of his time live.He must share with them the crude expression of their lives. To our grandchildren the privilege of attempting to produce a school of American writing that has delicacy and colour may come as a matter of course. One hopes that will be true, but it is not true now. And that is why, with so many of the younger Americans, I put my faith in the modern literary adventurers. We shall, I am sure, have much crude, blundering American writing before the gift of beauty and subtlety in prose shall honestly belong to us.


I want to be a modern literary adventurer!!!!


July 6th, 2009

Professional Interviews: Mary, assistant manager in a tack shop

Interview #3 in this series, if you are keeping track, still taking advantage of my friends’ patience as I am as yet too timid to interview strangers. For urban readers, a tack shop is a saddlery, a place that sells equipment for horseriders, competitive and recreational, and for the horses themselves.

What is your job? I’m in sales, shipping, and I’m assistant manager, 2nd within the chain of command.

How did you get that job? By chance. I was laid off for the winter from the nursery [plants, not babies] that I was working at and my friend who owns a horse farm needed some help because her dad, who usually helped her out in the barn, was having bypass surgery. So while he recuperated she needed a hand and I needed something to do. I worked for her through the winter and summer while looking for another job (I had decided not to go back to the nursery when they asked since they weren’t going to give me back my management position).

I called the Saddlery one day while I was working on the horsefarm, since I’d been told by friends I’d be g ood in a tack shop. I was told to come in that day for an interview, which was mainly about horses, and got the job. I started a week before The Royal Winter Fair (RR notes: this is like starting in the Secret Service the week before Obama’s inauguration).

A typical shift for me: I get there are 8:45, unlock, turn off alarms, turn on lights (and fans, if it’s summer, turn on the Open sign, take sale or feature items out to the porch. And water my plants! Load computers, count change in the till, count out bills to add to the till…then, if no customers have come in, I’ll answer any emails that need answers and print off any online orders that need to be filled, check the fax machine for fax orders, check the log book for phone and other orders have come in [since my last shift]. I’ll go get the required items from around the store to fill the orders. If large quantities or a large item is require, I’ll fax a request to the company warehouse and have them check their stock since it’s easier for them (but if they don’t have what’s needed, I’ll pull it from the store). If no one has it, I call the customer to suggest something else. Once an order is filled, I got omy till, look up the customer (or add the info, if they aren’t in the system) and run their credit card through. If all goes well, I put the order into shipping and receiving for my boss to take to the warehouse.

I also answer the phone, I set up meetings with suppliers, I sit in on those meetings, take stock of items required to fill the store, and help any customers that need me. But the mail-order takes up the majority of my day.

What makes you good at your job? Knowledge of horses and livestock and the fact that I ride all the time. People don’t want and don’t trust advice from someone who has no contact with horses. I have very good customer service skills and excellent phone manners. And I know what’s going on in the horse world, since I got to shows, know rules and regulations, things like that. Even rodeos.

What sort of person would hate your job? Someone who doesn’t know the horse world; they wouldn’t be able to give good advice. Someone who doesn’t like helping people; there’s a lot of 1-on-1. You can’t have issues with people who come into the store.

Favourite item in the store? A brand-new Billy Cook barrel saddle, the new design. It has a natural coloured rawhide-wrapped horn and cantle… As opposed to the natural light colour, it’s a chestnut. Even the roughout leather on the fenders and jockey skirt are a chestnut colour. It’s very comfortable to sit in. It makes me debate whether to trade in my current saddle. But I don’t think I will.

Final statement: To ride a horse is to fly without wings!

June 11th, 2009

The work in the work

The estimable Steven W. Beattie has a great post up on writing about work that’s worth reading if you care about such things.

I found SWB’s comments, along with those from the Alain de Botton column he was responding to, very interesting and somewhat encouraging. Because I do care about such things, which makes me write about them, and I want to do it well. It’s comforting to know that others see a void in a lot of fiction where I do–the workaday world–and think it worth filling.

The flagship “office novel” in recent years, which both de Botton and Beattie reference is Joshua Ferris’s *Then We Came to the End*, and for the laugh/cry/aspire to be a better writer experience that I am always hoping for when I crack a new spine, this book is pretty outstanding. It was actually one of the first reviews posted here on Rose-coloured, although I can’t for the life of me find it now because I used to name posts clever things and not actually what the post is about. Anyway, I love that book, but I am sometimes I am concerned about how it is regarded, the genre-izing. Somehow “office-novel” implies the work isn’t strong enough to be regarded as simply a novel.

Indeed, I loved Ferris’s book because it offered that office setting that I relate to, write about, and laugh at. Ferris knew his terrain well and treated it with subtle satire and insightful criticism, and I definitely enjoyed that flare and humour. But more than a relevant setting, some good jokes and well-crafted set pieces, this “office novel” is a *good* novel. And to me, it’s good for the same reason so much of my favourite fiction is: because the author has created characters that seem like real people in our world, and he shows them to such effect that we react to them and with them, recoil at their cruelties and smile at their small victories and desire them to grow beyond their failures. At least, I did.

I understood Ferris’s topic not to be “office culture” or work or layoffs, much less snark and gossip and all the unattractive parts of the field. Call me crazy, but I thought he was writing about that eternal topic of literature: *how people are*. This book concentrated mainly on how they are during their working hours, but in any frame the Mona Lisa is still herself, as in any context so are we all. These characters were varying degrees of hurt and suffering, cocky and vulnerable, funny and mocked, but they were all recognizable as human human human, and they recognized their own foibles, too. They especially knew when they were making good jokes.

A lot of writing set in offices is funny, which is something that I love about it, but also something that puts those “office” books in danger as being dismissed as *merely comic* or *merely satirical*. And although I would also like to take on the difference between comedy and satire, one thing at a time: let’s talk about diagetic and non-diagetic comedy first. I just googled those terms and it seems maybe I made them up. But I think they work, even if they don’t technically exist.

If diagetic music in a film is music that the characters in the film can hear and that comes from some source within the scene (a radio is playing, someone sits down at the piano, etc.), and non-diagetic music is a part of the soundtrack but not the scene, so the characters don’t hear it then…does it make sense to say that diagetic humour is a joke the character(s) make(s), or a situational irony that they appreciate and comment on? And non-diagetic humour is a joke *on* the characters, or at least one that they miss but the reader is supposed to get?

Still with me? Like, M*A*S*H was a revelation in diagetic humour in TV shows–Hawkeye made jokes and the other characters laughed or at least rolled their eyes knowingly; everybody was in on the jokes that the audience was laughing at, in a way that simply wasn’t true on *All in the Family*–Archie Bunker had no idea he was funny.

Ok, so what’s interesting to me to write about is to write about characters who get the joke, Because they’re smart, and they’re funny a work environment is a fertile field for such people. A high concentration of reasonably intelligent folk, stuck together in tight proximity over long periods of time, under mild duress, trying to kill the boredom, create the bonds, defend their territory in order to get through the day, and life, without losing their jobs, their dignity, or their sanity.

It’s funny. Workplaces are funny places, and writing, tv shows and films about them *can* be satirical in the sense that the jokes are on the characters (who on *The Office* is laughing?) or they can simply be mimetic, showing a reasonable facsimile as life as it is lived for a lot of the gainfully employed, reasonably amusing world.

And of course “a reasonable facsimile of life as it is lived” is not the only right answer to the question, what is fiction? but it is certainly one of them. Writing about work is important because it’s relevant and true, just like writing about war and babies and sex and taxes are important and relevant and true. I would hate to see that importance be diminished by gags involving photocopiers, rubber chickens and Outlook Calendar. Because those are facts of life, too.

You look so good in the shoes of a poseur

October 6th, 2008

This Week

My desk goes live! The Walrus review of *Once* goes on-line. And on Wednesday, Mark Kingwell, Joshua Glenn and Seth launch The Idler’s Glossary at the Gladstone. They’re doing a “Twelve Step Program for Idlers”–I’m not sure if it’s to become one or to stop being one. I’m hoping for the former, as I’m sure I could use 6 or 8 of those steps. I worked most of the weekend, and am tired now.

King’s taking back the throne / the useless seeds are sown

March 8th, 2008


For several years, I held volunteer positions in which I was forbidden to give advice…about anything. There were good legal reasons for that, and we had a great deal of training about how to jump on our impulses before that “Well, what you *should* do is…” was even a conscious thought.

I’m still super-hesitant about advice, even though it’s been a few years since I’ve done that kind of work, even though I am *very* opinionated about what you (and everyone) should do, even though I take advice in quantity myself. I was pretty successfully brainwashed, apparently, and it’s likely for the best–most people (not me) tell their problems seeking commiseration, not problem-solving, and anyway I don’t have all *that* much useful insight to share.

But not none. In my nearly 30 years on the planet, I’ve picked up a few things that I think other people might. I imagine this store of useful advice will grow, probably arithmetically, not exponentially, until I am old and have perhaps a page of useful algorithms about how a life should be lived (I’m not talking about specific, right-or-wrong advice, like where Dundas Square is or how to de-worm broccolli. If I’m sure I know it, I dispense that info freely.)

What I’ve got so far–

Follow the recipe at least the first time.
Sleep on it.
It’s statistically more likely that you’ll regret making a scene than that you’ll regret *not* making a scene.
If people in the movie theatre *look* noisy, trust your gut and move during the previews.
It’s probably not as bad as you think.
Milk doesn’t really expire when it says it does; just smell it.
More people like to be hugged than seem like they like to be hugged.
Allow extra time.

I don’t know if that’s stuff is relevant, but it’s all I’ve got so far.

7 drops of blood fall

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