olimay: (Default)
Recently I have been really proud of my load quality under pressure. (Load quality refers to how effective your package walls in the trucks are, in terms of space usage and stability.) Last night, I flipped out on this guy who has terrible load quality and wasn't following any of the loading techniques we had been trained in earlier in the week.

At one point, after repeating and rephrasing what I had just said, he just give me this blank, confused stare.

I shouted, "ARE YOU STONED?!" My part-time supervisor was right behind me and was very amused.

But guess what: I won't be loading anymore, except here and there to help out the rest of the guys at the end of the night. I'm getting back my job on the high-volume belt pickoff. Power Steve has been _banned_ by upper management from being on the pickoff because it was taking away from other stuff he's supposed to do. The fellow who was handling the heavy side of the pickoff until now has moved on to a new job.

My going back up there means the areas will get fewer mis-sorted packages, but they're pulling me from the trucks just as I was getting good at loading. I'm pleased about this individually, but it's going to suck for the rest of my buddies (the decent loaders in my area).

We're short-staffed in the trucks as it is. Yesterday, Ivan, a kid who's been working with us since Thanksgiving said to me while we were pulling packages that had fallen into a dead chute (one not hooked up to a truck): "Listen, bro--if I don't work here come next week, it was a pleasure working with you."

Because of the staffing shortage, and whatever other factors, the loads seem to be getting progressively worse. Our area has fewer than one person per truck. Power Steve can't help us until the very end of the night. Thursday is usually a lighter night. But last night, every supervisor in my area looked haggard and worn down. Thomas, the lead part-time supervisor for my side of the building was scarily pale, especially given he is Dominican. He had his glasses off and was muttering, "Thomas is dead. There is no more Thomas. Thomas is dead."

I didn't have the heart to break the news about my reassignment to the rest of the guys, who were still working to fix things up when I left.

And I haven't told anyone at work I'm aiming to be out for sure before the end of March.
olimay: (Default)
I've been loading the trucks for nearly a month now. My first week was tough, physically and psychologically. But things got better, especially as I got to know the other truck loaders in our area. We would talk, joke, curse, and commiserate about having to heave thirty pound boxes over our heads, with fifty pound boxes falling off the sides of the belt, burying us. I don't think I am giving a good picture of what this is like --some day I will put more effort into describing the scene and the experience. The other folks know how hard it is, dealing with nothing but giant boxes, some of which are bursting open. They know how bad it is when the management sends someone to help, but the newcomer can't build decent walls, and it ends up being a mess. So when any of us finish up in the truck we're covering, we go over and help. In any case, it felt good to be part of the team, and it still does. There's a strong sense of camaraderie among us physical workers.

But my mood had been shifting again last week. It started when the tendon attached to my left bicep began to hurt. Then, my wrists began to hurt. Then my feet really began to ache. I didn't feel like I was recovering -- by Thursday, the end of the week, I'd feel kind of spent at the opening of the shift. Throughout my time working here, on Friday, my first day off, I'd go through the day fending off tiredness, and dealing with various aches and pains. But after I hurt my arm a bit, Tuesday felt like Thursday, and Wednesday -- a work day -- felt like Friday. One arm not working all that well had an impact on how well I could move the rest of my body, and somehow my general stamina. Acetaminophen, Menthol Salicylate cream, constant Gatorade mediated rehydration, and nine to ten hours of sleep could only do too much. I went to Walmart and spend around sixty dollars: neoprene wrist supports, elbow sleeve, shoe inserts.

Last week, one of the guys--let's call him Dennis--quit at the end of a shift. He had really been struggling physically, and asked me how the hell I was still okay. He had broken his toe on his second day of work, when a certain, very reckless worker pushed the roller wheels over his foot. He hadn't invested in steel-toed boots, a requirement for the job. So he just put up with the pain and didn't tell the management, because he was afraid that he would get fired for not wearing the appropriate clothing. Fortunately, he has a day job working in a physical therapy clinic, so he knew what to do with his toe. He was still in pain. The toughest part was that while the lot of us earn a humble $10.50 an hour, he got to do the same hard physical labor for $4. The rest went to child support.

In the back of the truck, he looked at me from across the rollers and said, "I'm raising a son. I'd rather get fired than quit."

But the next day, Dennis was gone. He quit at the end of that shift.

People in this world put up with a lot of pain to get things done in their lives. Many of the people I work with here come to do this low-wage hard labor after working their day jobs. Just to get a little more money for their families. Just to have a bit more money to help out their kids, like one of the guys who was recently able to find a good school for his autistic son.

Since Dennis left, the mood has been more glum when we talk during the ten minute break, or as we're wrapping up the shift. It's not the only thing. We know other people are leaving. There's talk that corporate is circling around, looking to fire the least efficient people in each area.

A veteran hourly worker, who has been at the company for 24 years, told me quietly, "They're trying to flow through the same amount of stuff as the end of Christmas, with half the number of people. They're trying to squeeze as much money as they can out of us."

It's pretty typical corporate capitalism. He told me before that the warehouse workers at Amazon have it worse, being under more scrutiny, with no union protection.

And here, I have respect for most of our immediate supervisors. They started out where we are. They know what it's like to load a nightmare-heavy load. When it gets heavy, they try to help as much as possible. They come and load with us. They climb up and help sort packages.

So, it's disheartening to hear them getting chewed out by the district manager or some safety supervisor for the truck load quality being inefficient, or for there being too many packages that have fallen off the chute. We are all hauling ass, and we are all tired and at our wits' ends with these crazy loads. We are getting crushed. When I'm tired, I have trouble thinking clearly, and more trouble getting packages overhead.

I have this subjective metric: what I call my Not gonna deal with this shit no more meter. When the meter hitting 100% means I am completely fed up. It means I'm ready to walk the hell out, at least for the day. And maybe for good.

Usually, once I feel the end of the sort is really in sight, my meter mellows out. When we make it to end of the night, I might be bitching and cursing, I feel a sense of relief the day is over. Marlon and instinctively talk about the events of the day, an I think that helps a lot.

Yesterday, while loading a mixture of 45lb boxes of industrial parts and boxes of flowers, topped out at 85%. We started work half an hour earlier, and got out half an hour to midnight -- seven hours for what is typically a 4.5 hour shift. At the end, I chatted with the guys, and then with Marlon on the way home, and laughed it off.

Today, even though it was a shorter shift, the meter peaked at 95%. A box tipped over and hit me in the throat. A supervisor (not one I usually work with) came in and helped me load, but the wall he built was unstable and had a huge gap on the top. The aisles were filled with packages, many have, some torn open. I was getting ready to just give up on the truck and walk out. In a few minutes, I mellowed out a bit, and decided that at the end of the night, I'd pull my supervisor aside and give him notice that I'd be quitting in three weeks at the latest.

But the night wrapped up. The belt finally stopped, and we managed to fit the remaining stuff into the almost-full truck. There was chatter and joking and complaining. Lou, our best loader by far, talked about his wife's health issues, which is why he's been out for the last few days. I couldn't bring myself to announce my departure. I didn't want to hurt people's spirits just as we were all sharing some relief of climbing out of that hell.

But I am ready to move on. I postponed making my move for a while. Through December and January, I felt too tired to work on opening up other opportunities. This small job takes a lot of energy. I sleep nine, ten hours, and don't feel like I'm recovering completely day-to-day. But I don't have any other sources of immediate income, nothing saved up. Recently, my wages have been getting garnished to pay debts -- though nothing as bad as what Dennis was paying in child support.

But Marlon and I keep telling ourselves, if we can stand this crazy-ass work, we can overcome almost anything. If I can make it through a shift after shift feeling like I'm just one more 45lb box of t-shirts away from walking out on the spot, I can get my stuff in order in my spare time. I can overcome the physical and logistical and social and financial hurdles.

I don't want to dampen their spirits. But if I don't apply this same hard work to improving my situation, I feel like I'd be letting down my comrades even more.
olimay: (Default)
Late last week, they started me loading the trucks. It's a basic thing everyone gets to try out, but they had prioritized keeping me on the top belt, picking off packages. I figure now that things have gotten lighter, they can train me to do more stuff.

Loading in the trucks is tough, but what really gets me is when I am there by myself and the thoughts that pop up.

When the rollers get backed up with packages thoughts about how I'm slow and how everyone thinks I am slow start to pop up. Then come the thoughts that simulate me telling other people and them giving me a simplistic response about not beating myself up about it. Then more thoughts pop up about how other people are mentally tougher. Just a for fun, throw in thoughts about how the majority of my friends within 2 years of my age are Vice Presidents or some kind of doctor, and I doing this, making ten dollars an hour.

I imagine freaking out and knocking over the wall of packages I've just built. I imagine walking out of the truck and telling my full time supervisor that I just can't do this anymore. It's not that it's too tough, it's that I am mentally weak --or something-- and can't handle it. Imagine every guy on the PD shrugging at me and saying, "Come on man!" in a tone that means, "You're a big baby, suck it up!" which is something they would not do.

The scanner is slipping off my fingers. My hand is cramped. It's not scanning. I'm losing my grip. What good was all my talk about strength training if I'm still slower these skinny 19 and 20 year olds? The layers of meta-thoughts are as high as the package wall I've built. The increasingly depressive thoughts stream down, forming piles like the piles of boxes at the entrance of the truck.

All I can do, it feels like, is say loudly to myself, "It's okay. It's fine. Scan and load. Scan and load." Sometimes I almost have to shout it to myself.

This is the same mental process that happens in some social situations, especially parties or professional networking things. At least in a truck I can talk to myself, keep moving, keep telling myself aloud that I'm still a beginner and everything is fine.
olimay: (Default)
I called the package sorting job a firebreak. Certain worries of the past, much of the career failure baggage from the past ten years can burn and burn, but they won't cross over. I might have been wrong, though. At the very least, I was wrong about its completeness. The sense of refuge I mentioned began to crack today. As I shifted, flipped, and shoved boxes, I found myself worrying about my parents.

I know my dad is stressed out about finances. I know he asks why he has had to keep working, when he could have retired five years ago. I know he is stressed about having to pay several hundred for my student loans, when I never graduated from everywhere. I know frustrated with my brother and my progress in our lives. I know he asks himself what he did wrong as a father, and why we are unsuccessful, when the children of the people he knows have respectable careers, families, other achievements.

I don't share my father's perspective, or his values. But I can respect the things he finds valuable, and acknowledge his disappointments and his pain.

So how would I be able to tell him, with things strained as they are, that I am not interested in a career--any career, really? How could it possibly help to explain that a career doesn't look like a future to me? I don't think most of most of my friends would get that. How would that not come across as misguided, ungrateful, self-absorbed, and just plain wrong? I don't think I've accomplished anything in my life that would convince either of my parents--or most of the people I know--that I could be right about this at all.

I feel better when we drive over to the hub. For a while, I get extra shielding from these worries. We have a job to do, a tough, tiring job. But I am good at what I do, and the people who work with me are grateful. I am not face to face with reminders that there is work undone, that things are physically falling into disrepair.

The packages come down the conveyor belt. Even if I don't pick everything that is supposed to go down the chute, I move fast, and make a difference down the line. They keep asking me if I could stay for the night sort as well, and are disappointed when I decline. You're a good worker, and we could really use your help, they say.

Heavy flows block out other thoughts--it's move swiftly, pay attention, or miss the ten, twenty packages coming down the line, sometimes piled on top of each other.

But during the light flows, if I can't think of anything to talk about with my counterpart, I just think to myself. And the worries from outside creep in.

The third thought I had that day: you cannot simply exit.

There are no clean breaks or perfect transitions in life. There is no such thing as truly starting over. There will always be baggage you carry with you.

Picking packages off of the belt is tiring. My knees ache, my fingers ache. I refilled my one liter Nalgene during the ten minute break, but now it's empty again. I'm sweating it all out. My eyes, still darting around from label to label, feel weary. When the upside down tote box marking the end of the sort comes around the bend on the belt--what a relief. I was eager to leave behind home and its worries. But at the end of the shift, I am tired and eager to return.

Maybe a firebreak can stop the wildfire from spreading to your side. But eventually, you have to leave the sanctuary. You must cross over to the burned out remnants of the forest, to see what has changed, and what is still alive.
olimay: (Default)

Today was a light day at the package sorting hub. We finished extremely early. While that means fewer hours, I found it convenient, since I will need to be up very early tomorrow morning to head to NYC.

The light load was also fortunate, since my counterpart--I'll call him Cowen--was not in. He stands on the other side of the belt and also assists in intercepting certain packages. Without him there, the light load was moderately difficult.

Being alone at my station meant that I had the whole time to think to myself. Or, depending on how you look at it, I had to think to myself the whole time.

Every once in a while, my mood dips. Some days I don't get enough sleep (around nine hours for me) and that can lead to anxiety and depression. Other times I experience an event that brings up bad emotions. Shame often predominates my depressive moods. At least, that's what I call it--it's the opposite of feeling proud.

I'm only bringing this up because the second thought I had that day came up when I was trying to keep myself from slipping into a bad mood earlier that day. The thought was:

Sometimes, to get out of a bad situation, you have to cross something out.

I feel like that makes sense in a practical way. If you're stuck or trapped in a bad place, position, or state, you might be able to get free by removing something. Remove some of the walls or surfaces keeping you pinned down.

I'm still trying to figure things out. I've accepted that if I'm actually going to go after things I want in life, figuring it out is going to be mostly up to me. There isn't really a template to follow. And while I can chat with some friends, I get the sense that most of the people around me are following very different scripts. And I'm writing my own. To some extent, I have to remind myself that some of the people I know actually take some cues from what I am doing, even though I'm still really, really making things up.

Since I don't have ready made scripts, I use a lot of models in thinking about things. They aren't perfect, and some of them are at most loose metaphors but they help me a lot.

One model I've been thinking through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I'm pretty sure I'm still stuck towards the bottom of esteem layer. I haven't progressed very much in society's terms--I don't earn a lot of money, I don't have a very prestigious career, and I haven't checked off common life milestones, like having children, getting married, or even a long-term significant other. On the more superficial side, I don't even have many experiences that can generate nice pictures to post on Facebook or Instagram. I don't have a college degree, and by all reasonable expectations, I'm probably going to be struggling with that for a while now. A lot of the time, especially because I'm close to my brothers, I feel all right.

But it gets to me. Last night, I was seeing everyone's baby and engagement and wedding photos.

If only I could cross out a large part of that pesky esteem layer! If only I could say, okay, not going to feel shame. If only I could save all the mental energy preparing to explain my life factors in terms other people can understand, only to have them give pretty pointless advice.

But I do kind of do that, or attempt to do that. From my own experience, my own hierarchy has a truncated esteem layer, or at least a very leaky border between self-actualization and esteem. Whenever things feel safe enough, I begin trying to tackle esteem and self-actualization sort of all at once.

What if I just reject the common social scripts that don't seem like they're going to work for me? A different model helped me see that quitting, exiting, or throwing out arrangements that aren't working for me has been a thing I tend to do naturally.

But you don't quit without side effects. I sure didn't. For social/life scripts, the side effect usually is that you have to write your own stuff. And then a bigger side effect is that people don't understand what's going on with you, while your script is still a work in progress. They'll try to pattern-match you to many tropes that just ain't relevant. And then, there's always the possibility that quitting carried a larger price overall than you first thought.

I'm dreading some encounters with relatives this winter. Even though I've felt that I'm learning very quickly how I want to live my life, and how I don't want to live my life, I know it will seem to them that I'm falling into a particularly bad script. And they will have suggestions about what I should be doing instead.

But for right now, I find myself in an interesting stage. I started training at the package hub just an hour after I completely failed an interview. It was sort of a desperate move at the time. I'd been looking for a job all fall, and I'd expected to keep searching in software development. Back in June, I wouldn't have expected I'd be working on a conveyor belt.

I feel strangely at ease, though. I earn enough to just barely pay bills, so I really don't want to stay forever. But most days, I feel really relieved at not feeling that I could be doing something else. While I'm at the hub, I'm doing my best almost all the time. No one there expects that I should be doing more. The packages keep coming down the belt, and I have to do my best to keep up and pick them off. But that's about it. Really, the hardest times of the week to deal with are my days off.

I know it's very temporary, and very limited, but this arrangement has provided a weird sort of haven from most worries. Maybe I'm not out of the rut yet, but at least there's some shelter for the rain.

olimay: (Default)
I have three key thoughts floating around today.

One: for me, some distinction exists between actions with an outcome and outcomes with a future. I mean future in some kind of idealistic sense, in the sense of "This person has a future." But also in a personal sense.

I'm working at a transportation and delivery company right now, in a package sorting facility. I won't name it in a public post. But it's one of the big two: our main competitor is the purple and white one. We're a different color.

The shift goes four o'clock to nine o'clock in the evening, from Sunday through Thursday. But I have frequently been there until ten.

The job is more physically demanding than any other job I've had, except maybe when I was doing maintenance. The pay is a few cents over ten dollars an hour. It is tough, as yesterday attested. Today was my sixth day on the job.

The hub is about 20 minutes from my house. My station is on one side of a conveyor belt, standing on a platform about 25 feet in the air. I look at the states and destination numbers at packages going by. If the label on a package matches certain patterns, I take the package and put it down a chute so that it can go onto the belt below me. Otherwise I let it continue down the belt.

It's pretty simple, but not straightforward or easy. If the belt even gets saturated by one layer, it becomes impossible to pick off the packages on my own. Sometimes it gets so hectic that the packages are falling off the belt at my station, or pushing me backwards.

I'll describe it more later. For now, it's enough to say that I'm sore and tired the rest of the time I'm not at work. And I lost my first paycheck to finance charges--my account is negative until next Friday.

To trace how I got here, I'll will eventually have to work my way back, and recap what I've been doing over the past year or so. Maybe I'll try to describe where I failed, and how, if I can find it, I succeeded. I'm not completely sure, in any case. The question, "How the hell did I end up here?" floats around in my head a lot. Last year, around this time, I never would have guessed I'd be doing this.

But for now, I'll just tie it into the thought in my head earlier.

I think I am doing an okay job picking packages so far. The facility just opened two weeks ago. On Wednesday, before thanksgiving, they had a ceremony to celebrate the opening.

Some company big shots came and said a few words. One of the themes each of these guys kept touching on was that there is room for advancement if we work hard and stay loyal to the company. You hear how good a company it is from supervisors and other people who have stayed on for years. Great benefits, they said. The head of Atlantic operations recounted how he started as an unloader in a small facility in Kansas. His only ambition was to work his way up to driver.

"You can make a great future for yourself here," he said. "I'm proof." He gestured to some of the other managers and executives. "They're proof."

Lots of chances for advancement. Stick around, and you have a future.

It's future if you want the job. I don't really want the job of any of the supervisors who trained me. I doubt I want the job of any of the executives or the drivers.

But as I ranted on Slack:

Even though the pay sucks, the hours suck (even though it's part time), and I'm sore and tired the rest of the time--

If someone came up to me and asked, "Hey, how about you do this [software job] that pays a lot more?" I would still be hesitant. I don't know what that says about the the way things are right now.

But I know I should basically expect to be stuck here until I really begin to make a move

I'm not really sure what this all means

So this is probably the second toughest job I've had. And it doesn't pay much more than hanging clothing. But I'm hesitant to do the work to trade this for a better paying, higher skilled line of work that I've supposedly done before. I wish I could explain why in a succinct fashion. I will be honest instead. There are a lot of I don't knows. That's part of the reason I am writing.

I'm glad I live in a society with this much opportunity, that I don't have so many obligations in my life that I'd be afraid of turning down opportunities. It's been a trademark of mine since I was young, saying NO to career paths and money-making moves.

Of course I do want a future. I feel happiest when I am looking forward to a future. But there is a difference between that and paths that lead to better outcomes. A much better income, working in a nice office, being able to contribute back to my family, being able to pay off my debts -- those would be great outcomes.

It doesn't feel like a future. But I can't bring myself to really look forward to those things. I don't know how to put my whole heart into resolving those issues. It feels like things changed, and I got older. But I know it will still feel as it's felt for much of these last six, seven, eight years -- that my life is still on pause, waiting to get started again.

A stopped conveyor belt would be a good partial metaphor for some part of this, but I would have to explain my job further. I see package labels with state labels and destinations numbers when I close my eyes. Sometimes my brain registers part of a wall or a doorway as an Amazon box standing on its end.

I don't really want to talk about work that much right now. They told us today that we have to come in early tomorrow to handle the Cyber Monday loads.

I started a week ago. But it's felt like one continuous day. Things moving, but little sense of change. There has to be more to life than transactions, changes in tempo, with paid breaks strewn in-between. There has to be more to life than envelopes and boxes and chutes and ladders.

It looks like I am meandering here. I had two more thoughts to discuss, and it looks like I've forgotten what they are. I will have to remember tomorrow.
olimay: (Default)
This is probably going to be a bit jargony, but I hope to clarify and build on it later.

Over the years, I've had a lot of trouble getting some kinds of work done. My main failure point: I don't get started soon enough or often enough, until things are pretty dire or it feels impossible to catch up.

Here are some preliminary mental practices I'd like to experiment with. There's a step, I hope, towards avoiding my major points of failure. They integrate ideas from GTD, Mental Contrasting, Tiny Habits, and AJATT.

Process A - incremental, probabilistic outcomes

1. What is the desired outcome? What does its completion look like?
2. What are intermediate outcomes that raise the chances of achieving the desired outcome?
3. [Recurse]

Process B - next action

1. What is the smallest, most trivial step I can take that will increase the chances of this particular outcome?
2. When and where and how can I perform this next step?

Process C - mental contrasting
(make sure to run processes A&B first)

1. What does the desired outcome look like? Does it seem feasible? (If not, go back to Process A.)
2. What are the obstacles (in the present or near future) to taking action on achieving the desired outcome, and what is the context for these obstacles?
3. What will I do (what is my plan) for when such an obstacle appears?

Process A is a top level thing that can get applied recursively to the branching intermediate outcomes. It can be helpful to run it again to reassess the outcome graph.

Process B gets run on outcomes, starting with the smallest (the "leaves") first.

Process C gets run as next actions from Process B become apparent. But it's especially useful for working towards medium-level outcomes. Process C is essentially the Mental Contrasting technique developed by Oettingen et. al. The literature on mental contrasting says that it works well if the outcomes seem feasible, but that mental contrasting actually reduces motivation if the outcomes seem way too hard, or unfeasible. So it's important to break things down and to make things clear and specific.

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