It’s been over a month since my last post, but I’m here again, and here to stay. As I look back on my misspent month of March, I keep thinking of the 2004 movie The Forgotten, in which (spoiler alert, though it’s a spoiler for a terrible movie, and so no great loss) Julianne Moore plays a mother who is part of an experiment run by aliens from outer space. The aliens have set out to prove that Earthling parents can be made to forget their children entirely if one just hides the children and messes with the parents’ minds. Moore’s character refuses to forget, no matter what the aliens do or how many of her fellow humans (including her psychiatrist and her son’s father) insist that her son never existed. Then the aliens have to kill her because, you see, otherwise she would be proof that the experiment had failed.
And that’s what I hate about that movie, and about any argument about science that fails to understand what science is and isn’t, or how a scientific experiment, or any experiment, really, works. Here’s the deal: An experiment is simply trying something to find out what would happen. To be a scientific experiment, you would make an educated guess (hypothesis) as to what would happen, and then try something to find out if your guess is right. (To be truly scientific, then you would have a large sample for the things you’re testing, and at least one control group, but I’m digressing now.) And what if your guess is proven wrong? To a true scientist, or anyone who loves the true nature of an experiment, that’s wonderful! Whether your guess is proven right or wrong, the experiment is a success. You now know something new. Going back to the movie, the aliens have succeeded in finding out that not all humans can be made to forget their children. The experiment was a success. The only failed experiment is one that tells you nothing.
How does this explain where I’ve been all March?
Well, I tried two experiments in the realm of moneymaking, or attempts to get something resembling a “real job.” The first was blogging for Examiner.com as the Denver Knitting Examiner, which sucked up what little time and mental energy I had after my day job (more on that below), and got me just a few readers. Since Examiners are paid exactly one penny per page view, I made less than $0.50 per 200-1,000-word, researched, originally written blog post. Based on the statistics on my start page, this is about average for the site. It may have been worth my while anyway if I was having fun, but my posts on the very narrow topic of local, current, knitting news bored even me. Finally, on a particularly stressful day, an Examiner editor wrote to complain about the capitalization of my posts’ titles, which did not fit Examiner’s unusual and bizarre-looking official style. She further said that she had “fixed” them for me, but when I went to my site, I saw that she had no understanding of grammar and parts of speech, so the new headlines didn’t fit Examiner.com’s style, my style, or any grammatically consistent style. I thought of sending her a copy of my copyediting resume to establish my credentials, and then arguing with her, but I realized that I really didn’t care. Based on my first experiment, Examiner.com is, to my mind, not worth the effort I put in, or any effort at all. I’ve shut down my Examiner page. I may write for pay by page view sites with different structures in the future, but the Examiner’s setup did not work for me. I’m much happier writing my own blog, for free, than writing the overly constrained one for pennies…or for promised pennies. I’d like to publicly note here that Examiner.com never paid me even the $10 or so I earned during my month with them.
My other experiment was taking a temp receptionist position, for $10 an hour, with an old friend of my dad’s and his wife in their accounting firm. (All of Dad’s friends are old friends, since he’s been dead for 20 years now.) I might have known better. Because I haven’t been making much money, and I’ve begun to feel guilty about not having a regular job, I tested some long-standing assumptions: 1) I hate reception work, especially when it amounts to writing down messages for one or two people who simply think they’re too special to answer their own calls or use voice mail, and I can do nothing to help the caller, myself. Such jobs make me feel like an impediment to any real accomplishment, stress me out, and piss me off. 2) I won’t work for less than $12 an hour, unless the job really is volunteer work for a cause I care about. Less than that makes me resentful, and isn’t worth the time away from my freelance gig hunting. 3) I am fascinated by almost every field of endeavor, but accounting bores me to tears. I can just bring myself to do my own taxes each year because I like being a law-abiding citizen, but I can’t bring myself to care about anyone else’s taxes or day-to-day finances.
I wondered if I’d been cheating myself out of opportunities by clinging to these assumptions, so I took the job. Now I’ve confirmed all of them. I hated the job, and it sucked the life out of me so that I could barely get keep my Examiner blog going and keep up with my stage combat class (more on that in a later post), let alone find any other freelance work or do anything else for fun. I also added one more assumption, now proven, to my list: 4) I should never work for those people, and should be wary of working for any of my parents’ friends. While there is hope that people older than me, and even people who knew me when I was nine years old, might be able to see me as a peer, an intelligent, educated, skilled adult worthy of respect and empathy, my bosses were not such people. In the four weeks I was there, they didn’t bother to pay me, ask for my timesheets (which I’d compiled on my own, unasked), or tell me when I would be paid. They often set up my work so that I was alone in the office, waiting for someone to come by to pick up a check or some financial papers, and unable to take a break and get my lunch (while they were out to lunch, themselves). When I spoke sharply to the telemarketer who had called me back six times in a row and then started to swear at me, one of my bosses chastised me for “shouting at callers,” and continued to bitch the incident daily for the next three weeks. When, exhausted, I accidentally locked my keys inside the office as I was leaving on a Friday night, trapping me in the office building (as I couldn’t drive anywhere, and if I left the building, couldn’t get back in), I called one of my bosses for help. Her first suggestion was that I camp out in the lobby for two days until the cleaning crew came by on Sunday. When I pointed out that I actually had a life and responsibilities outside of her office (not mentioning that I also like to eat at least once every 48 hours), she seemed surprised, and suggested I call AAA, have them break into my car, and ask them to hotwire it so I could drive home. When I pointed out that AAA doesn’t hotwire cars, nor does any legal business, she told me to call a locksmith. Only when the locksmith arrived three hours later, charging me $40 (half a day’s salary, before taxes) to tell me that the only way in was to destroy the lock, did she agree to drive for half an hour to unlock the door with her key. And when I quit the next week, pointing out that this job was killing my freelance business and thus losing me money every time I came in, and I gave them two weeks notice to find and train my replacement (a job that could be done in two hours by calling any temp agency, as I told them), they replied, “Well, two weeks would put us right up against tax day. I don’t think we’ll bother to find I replacement. I think we’re going to, um, go ahead and, ah, have you just work the two weeks and be done with it.” I thought for a moment that they were joking, but then I realized that these people didn’t know what a podcast was, what iTunes was, or how to use Google, let alone how to quote Office Space. They weren’t joking. The next day, I brought in my organized timesheets with a note pointing out that Colorado labor law requires them to pay me by the 10th of the next month, and a letter of resignation that carefully explained the point of two weeks notice, that it was a courtesy and not a requirement, and that I was taking mine back. At the end of my work day, I announced that I was never coming back, left my letter and timesheets on my desk, and I was free.
I learned a good deal from that experiment, annoying as it was. I’m tempted to take other assumptions from it, such as: 1) I’m not cut out to hold any job, 2) I hate answering all phones, 3) I can’t stand anyone my parents would associate with, or 4) I should avoid all accountants, but none of those is true. I just shouldn’t do that exact type of job, for $10 an hour, or for those people. Ah, and most important: If a job sucks that much, I can leave, and I will. Life is too short to lose money hating one’s job.
My next experiment: I wonder if someone would hire me to deliver pizzas, and if I’d like the job. My hypothesis is that I’d have fun, and make pretty good money. I’ll tell you what I find out in a few weeks.