Current Occupation: Eighth Grade Humanities Teacher
Former Occupation: Actress, Stand-Up Comic, Waitress, Fitted Sheet Inventory Counter
Contact Information: Ilana Long is the author of the humorous book on parenting: The Binky Conspiracy: True Tales of Mommydom (Paperback), available at


Odd Jobs

Being a failed actress has its pitfalls. The deepest of these valleys is that society dictates that one must eventually make a living, and if one is a failed actress, that means taking up a variety of chirpy yet demeaning odd jobs. You have seen me at the nightclub, with a holster full of “sex on the beach” overcharging you because you are a sloppy drunk and don’t even notice. I’m the one in the dorky Harcourt and Brace bear costume, nearly suffocating with heat as you peruse the sterile tables at the publisher’s convention. I’m putting moisturizer on my chapped fingertips after spending a day sponge-sealing envelopes at my temp job.

One day, I’ll be on Saturday Night Live, or write my own sit-com and star in it. Really. A gal can hope. But until then, I’ll regale my pals with the tales of the restless, clumsy days and nights of odd jobs.

For some time, I was lucky enough to pick up a string of mascot jobs. There was some pride in my costumed bearing, as I fooled myself into classifying these as “acting jobs”; a distinction that would help me to convince my parents of the value of having spent thousands on my privileged Ivy League education. It was with this confidence that I donned a Mail Boxes Etc. drop box costume, sweating in my tights and heels, and pranced around the convention hall floor. The mailbox covered me from head to rear, with my dainty legs peeking out the bottom. The mail receptor was located not at my eye level, but at my chest, so I wandered around bumping into tables and swerving around the Suits.

The end of my brilliant, mascot-portraying career happened that afternoon. A middle aged bumbler with a drawl tugged on my mail slot and shouted, “Hey, who’s in there?” He yanked open the mail slot and announced, “Whooohoo! It’s a girl!” I hastily covered my bared chest and stumbled out of the room, vowing to come back in another life as his vindictive postal services boss.

A slew of waitressing jobs followed. I did a stint at Bennigan’s, where I made myself an accessory button for my vest that read “Ask me about my two contrasting monologues,” and continued to try to convince myself that I was an employed actress. At the time, the restaurant had an insidious promotion: each meal was served in 15 minutes or less, or it was free. I considered the customers the enemy. Their job was to try to distract me with ice-free water requests and a third reminder of an allergy to cumin to ensure that I left their meals sitting for sixteen minutes, at which point, they would point to my nemesis, the stopwatch, (a cruel torture device forced upon us by our Bennigan’s masters), at which point I ended up paying for the meal. Finally defeated one day, I let a meal sit for eighteen minutes as I cried in the ladies room until I was unceremoniously fired.

Another waitressing job followed at “Two Dagos from Texas”, a downtown Seattle restaurant. The restaurant had a system of insistent bell ringing to let a waitress know the food was ready for pick-up. I was four bings. When I heard four bings, I was to rush to the kitchen to pick up the order. Lazy and distracted by my sense of injustice at the fact that I was meant for greater things, I would say to my disgruntled, impatient customers who complained that they’d ordered an hour ago, “You know, the root of the word waitress is wait.”

One evening, after ignoring the repetition of the incessant four bings, my rectangular-headed boss yelled at me, “What are you? Deaf?!”

Seizing the opportunity by the apron strings I quickly responded, “Yes, actually. I’m mostly deaf in my left ear, and only partially deaf in my right.” Convinced by the rapidity and detail of my duplicitous response, I immediately became the darling of the Dagos. I was treated with kid gloves; other waitresses were asked to pick up and deliver my orders for me if I hadn’t “heard” the bell, and on one occasion I even witnessed ol’ box head serving one of my tables. This time when I was finally fired (not because my ruse was exposed, but for missing several shifts in a row due to unrequited auditions) it was with a tenderness prompted only by a fear of a “people with disabilities” lawsuit.

In time, you’d run into me posing as a summer camp counselor, assistant to the publicity assistant, shot girl, bingo caller, salmon spawn counter, and art class model….all these for the sake my lofty thespian ambitions.

But I’m not giving up. One of these days, my genius will be recognized, and fame will throw down its gauntlet at my character shoes. Despite the odds, I still have my gown picked out for Oscar Night.

Current Occupation: Advertising Copywriter – Namibia
Former Occupation: Advertising Copywriter – Zimbabwe
Contact Information: Cell: 00264 81 3357528, Address: Box 4119, Windhoek, Namibia



What could I possibly have in common with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Wesley Snipes and Charlize Theron? The simple answer is they have all, at one time or another, been my next-door neighbours. Because although I couldn’t tell Hollywood from a bar of soap, these superstars and more keep coming to work in the grand reality show that is Namibia.

Shaun, my closest friend in Namibia, supposedly works as a shop manager – but I doubt that any self-respecting shoplifter could ever be caught by Shaun even if they wanted to be. You see, Shaun suffers from the same laid-back, happy-go-lucky virus that seems to be Namibian workers’ equivalent of swine flu. It’s not laziness, it’s laissez-faire. I first noticed this when, shortly after my arrival, I was passing the State House. In my home country the overzealous Presidential guards treated every passer-by as though he might or might not be Osama bin-Laden. But on this occasion I was shocked to see two girls chase each other across the road, right between the guards and straight through the gates of the nation’s maximum security fortress. It was an adorable sight and strangely enough, actually made me feel safer. Now that’s one job I’m sure I could do well: being a bodyguard. After all, haven’t we all had a boss who uses us as a bulletproof vest and scapegoat whenever things go wrong, before claiming the Purple Heart when things go right?

I’m in the advertising profession, but even I have to admire the advertising prowess of the street vendors and parking lot attendants – alternately persistent, charming, cunning and downright Mafiosi-like. When you walk around the “kasi” or ghettos of Katutura, the “tsotsis” or criminals openly advertise themselves, offering to bring you stolen cellphones, iPods or other gizmos for the price of a few beers. One even boasted he could get me stolen blankets that were “still warm”.

I have clients and colleagues who, though they can afford the most shameless mansions on Luxury Hill or Hochlandrand, still prefer the townships, the heartbeat of the city. For instance Evelyn Street is famous (or infamous) for its endless liquor stores (‘shebeens’). The patrons love ‘kapana’ (roasted beef, buck or even donkey) and would marry it if they could. The vibe is infectious – as are the social diseases spread by those working the ‘night shift’: the sex salesmen and sales ladies. They must be really good because they get repeat customers, who share the same Vision, Mission and Corporate Values. Hey, it’s not the world’s oldest profession for nothing.

Not that there aren’t world-class hotspots to unwind in after a hard day’s work. Luigi and the Fish is run by a dispossessed white ex-farmer from Zimbabwe, while Joe’s Beerhouse is officially the best in Africa – painfully located practically opposite my advertising agency, where I can smell the ‘braai’ (barbeque) of kudu, wildebeest and gourmet cuisine starring crocodile, elephant and ostrich. Thanks to the German influence, Namibian brews easily hold their own abroad.

I wish the Germans’ trademark engineering efficiency at work was their only enduring legacy here. Sadly, the Germans’ genocide of 80% of the Herero people is in silent evidence. Next door to Windhoek High School is a verdantly green space that hides the fact that it used to be a concentration camp. But Namibians see a new type of foreigner to be wary of: the Chinese. The fact that unemployed Namibians have to grovel for Chinese-run construction projects for peanuts only fills them with more resentment, far from gratitude. On a lighter note, Chinatown is a massive hit, with embarrassingly affordable goodies – usually embarrassingly blatant rip-offs of designer labels.

Last year I befriended a stunning Chinese shopkeeper, Katrina, and asked her about what challenges she faces in her job. She really loves her job. But she explained that even among the Chinese there are divisions between the wealthy Hong Kong entrepreneurs (like herself) and the manual labourers / ex-convict builder. So mistrust isn’t a Chinese problem, she insists; it’s a human problem.

I asked a lecturer friend from the highly rated University of Namibia upon her return from six years of postgraduate studies in Europe, what she had missed most about her job here. “Nothing,” she replied. But by “nothing” she meant “nothingness”; poking your head out a window and seeing, not a maximum security prison of skyscrapers/glass/steel, but sheer empty space, liberating you as far as you dare to see. In a country with the world’s lowest population density after Mongolia, Namibia’s space breeds inner space. Come to think of it, you can also experience outer space from Windhoek, through the displayed meteorites that were part of a shower painstakingly carried by donkey by a scholarly missionary.

It’s hard to divorce yourself from Namibia’s blissful marriage between past and present. As I type, I’m on lunch break in Zoopark, where mammoth skeletons were unearthed. But beside me are two Himba women, a tribe that still lives as they did when those mammoths were still alive; there’s something timeless about their naked breasts, red clay ‘cosmetics’, or how their naked feet withstand the 40-degree heat that almost melts the tarmac beneath. Even the sun has contracted the hangover of Namibia’s bizarre contradictions. When I arrived, I replaced three watches because they kept saying ‘8pm’ when I could plainly see the sun overhead. Later I realised my watches were correct; it’s my expectations that needed to be replaced. Adjusting to this daylight/daytime disparity can wreak havoc with an employee’s biological clock. You get to work late and ask your boss with an apologetic smile, “Am I late?” “No, you’re fired,” will be the answer. But bosses have a point about tardiness: imagine if your house was burning and you just happened to call a tardy band of firemen…?

I wait for my glass of wine at a hotel. It’s funny how most workers see their bosses as slave drivers, but for once I put myself in the boss’s shoes: if I were Manager of this hotel, I would crack my whip more, because the staff clearly couldn’t be bothered. In the time it takes the waitress, I could easily have grown my own grapes. Maybe they have given up on tips. But my clients don’t mind; they are ahead of their time, globally. One is a helicopter carrier who services the Russian oil exploration rigs off the Western coast. Another works for a global uranium leader. All this testifies that Namibia is the next frontier in oil, gas and alternative fuels like solar – easy pickings in a country with 360 days of sunshine annually.

A friend who works as a safari operator had once recommended hiking, so over the Workers Day holiday, I hiked solo along the century-old Trans-Kalahari railway. I felt at one with all the workers of the world who were resting from their sweat-soaked labor today. Even my earphones were blasting the song ‘Work’ by one of the hardest working singers of all, Kelly Rowland. Suddenly the sun seemingly retreated mournfully behind the clouds, for I became aware of another generation of workers who had passed here before me a century ago. During construction of the railroad by slave labor, a labourer died every ten metres. But the German administrator impressed his superiors so much with his slave-driving that he was promoted to eventually become Hitler’s darling: yes, Goering himself.

In-between Close Encounters of the Harrowing Kind with baboons, I discovered an intriguing time machine in form of discarded Coca Cola containers from the 1930s, and other litter I’d never encounter in Windhoek, officially Africa’s Cleanest City. It occurred to me that these cans were discarded by the exact same people now resting in the Jewish Cemetery, predominantly victims of 1920s Spanish Flu. At two million, Namibia’s still a small community; an inside joke claims we’re the only country where you could get married three times and still have the same in-laws. Nowadays the dynamic has shifted; Germans are far outnumbered in population and influence by white Afrikaans speakers – a language spoken by far more people than English here. It also explains the Coloured ‘Baster’ community. ‘Baster’ literally means “bastard” but don’t be afraid to say it aloud; nowhere else has that swearword been worn with greater pride than by these mixed-blood people, who actually have their own “Republic” at Rehoboth just outside Windhoek; though the national government now has jurisdiction over them.

But in other ways, progress is bringing unexpected side-effects. The month I arrived, newspapers from the tabloid Informante to the online newspaper The Namibian all announced that cops were working overtime because Namibia was under siege from the country’s first ever serial killer: the B1 Butcher (named after the B1 highway where he dumped his dismembered victims). Simultaneously, that month barely a week passed without another bank robbery. This was crime on an unknown level, and I realised that prosperity comes at a price.

Every worker wants to earn more, hence the tsunami of immigrant labor crossing borders everywhere. This brings potentially life-threatening ‘occupational hazards’. When xenophobia reared its ignorant head in South Africa, for the first time I contemplated fleeing Namibia. After all, Namibia was previously a South African province and still shares a common currency, culture and language. But when the backlash didn’t materialise, I realised Namibians are just as unsure of foreigners as we are of locals. They don’t know what to make of the Angolans who cross the border just to shop and gamble here (since their American dollars have ten times the buying power). They’re unsure about American tycoons who flee prosecution in the U.S to enjoy their millions here. Ironically, at some subconscious level the locals identify less with their rich countrymen than with unfortunate foreigners like the Zimbabwean refugees who sell airtime and rugby flags at the corner, yet actually have university degrees. One Herero friend jokingly remarked, “The only thing I hate more than racism and tribalism, is Damara people.” The fact that Namibians can laugh at their own shortcomings, is the biggest proof of their social maturity. I’ve learnt that an expatriate’s best sources of information are indirect expatriates: people like Luigi, who probably considers herself a refugee, or Katrina, who considers herself a visiting merchant, or people like me: who considered himself a tourist until a ‘4-day visit’ became a four-year odyssey.

Be it the gold-fabled shipwrecks of 15th Century Portuguese explorers at Skeleton Coast, or the German castles in Windhoek, or the Hollywood-esque cosmetic surgeries at Swakopmund, or the coastal hospital where Brad and Angelina’s daughter was born, or the desert-to-sea wilderness where many Hollywood productions are shot – working here traps you overtime in a theatre of staggering contradictions. It’s no accident that its affectionate nickname is “Land of the Brave”. All your working experiences, good bad and ugly, add a layer of toughness to your character, whether you put it on your resume or not. We as workers all have the bulletproof vests from each of our jobs. The question is, do you remember to WEAR it when corporate fire is hitting the fan above your cubicle trench…?

This interview was conducted in Tawanda’s home in Portland, Oregon this May, 2010. We sat in her kitchen’s breakfast nook and enjoyed evening drinks after TA’s workday was over. Please enjoy. –JMM

What’s your job description?
TA: One of my jobs is I work as a career counselor and that is for a non-profit. I work with women.
I have that title “Career Counselor” so my job is to talk to people interested in new careers. They come in and I’m meant to sit down with them and get them to come into our training class and then we take them on field trips, so I’m meant to help organize field trips and I go on the field trips too, and to talk to employers and tell them why they should hire our people. When people finish our class, I’m meant to meet with them to talk about what they want to be and help them become that. I’m supposed to also combine a social justice component where I talk about the impacts of racial, gender and economic justice on women in the workplace. And I also do some community organizing work with some other non-profits and policy groups that are trying to create more equitable work environments, more job opportunities. So that’s basically what I do there.
So that’s job number one.
TA: Job number one, yeah.
I also, for job number one, do some work with a group that pushes for equitable hiring in regards to transportation spending. That’s more policy related. I try to bring that into what my workplace does as well. So that’s what I do in that regard.
And then I teach one class at the university, a sophomore level class. It’s sort of an intro to social work class that I teach from my background in peace and conflict studies. I teach it with a youth violence prevention / intervention perspective. I really think about it from a family safety perspective. And I really enjoy it because people get the opportunity to think about their families and think about some of the things that have happened in their family systems and maybe ways they can do things differently, or ways they can have a little more compassion for what happened. Because, when you actually study what happens with families, we actually think of ourselves as individual and unique and sometimes that can be very damning. It’s happened to me. We forget, unfortunately, this is our luck of the draw and, you know, there are many things within our society that are ill and we do experience those within our families.
Do you think we live in a violent world?
TA: Mm-hmm, very.
Do you see that within the class?
TA: Yes. I mean, in my class I always do a section on domestic violence and sexual assault and I always have a number of students who come forward after class to talk about their experiences with domestic violence or sexual assault.
One of my students was assaulted in her home by some random perpetrator. She stopped coming to class because she was so traumatized. Another student was talking to me recently about how her niece and nephew were taken from the family through the foster care system and how they were trying to get the children back and how there was a question about sexual abuse and how painful this is for the family. She talked of how there’s this mandate that you will stop all contact, you will be dead to the person who did the violence and yet families don’t work that way. It’s powerful how families can lose their children because of that mandate.
People talk about things like that. People talk about family hostility, sibling abuse, the impacts of drugs and alcohol, even hurtful words. I had a teacher come to talk about hurtful words and he was speaking in the voice of the abuser and he, on that particular day, was very tired and just let rip and said things that an abuser would say. He prefaced it, you know, so the students knew his intentions … and still I had a student leave. I went out and followed the student. He was shaking. This six foot seven guy was like five years old. We had to kind of talk it down and say, “Okay, that’s then. This is now. You’re safe. You will not be harmed. You are safe when you go home. You don’t live in that situation anymore.” It really, well, I don’t ask my friend to do it anymore. It reminds me very much of how this stuff is so real, so palpable, so just-below-the-surface. It’s important to not be crass in how we talk about it. I try to talk somewhat freely about my own life experiences. Sometimes it bites me in the butt – sometimes students are like, “Aw, she’s always talking about herself.”
Like in their evaluations?
TA: Yeah.
So I also have to preface what I say of my life: This is a teaching tool. This is data. As I’m asking you to think about your own personal life history, I’m modeling that.
What degrees are these students headed for?
TA: Engineering, architecture … anything … English, community development … anything. Doctors. One student, she cracked me up, she’s in pharmacy school. She’s like, “Well, you know, I just want to get married and have a kid. I don’t really need to work.” I’m like, “Dude! You are going to pharmacy school!” I mean … (baffled sounds)
And here you are spending the rest of your time helping women who desperately want jobs to find jobs. Here’s this woman who’s like Job-shmob .
TA: Yeah. “I don’t need it. I don’t need it. I’m going to marry well.” I’ve never been good at that. I’ve often wondered what’s wrong with me that I can’t seem to marry up the financial food chain.
(laughs) Did you try?
TA: I had this friend that I flirted with. It didn’t work. He was nice. He was a nice guy. I think he found me disappointing. You know, it wasn’t … I didn’t shave my pits enough, I think.
Yeah, wasn’t slick enough. Polished. I couldn’t do it. I get bored. I had friends that used to want to go to Oba to pick up business men. There’s something about the bravado. There’s something that can be scary, edgy; the privilege is so apparent.
TA: Yeah. I agree. And it feels very stultifying, like all of a sudden I am now sanctioned.
You have to ask permission.
TA: So I haven’t gotten very far in that regard.
But you are married.
TA: Mm-hmm! I am married. I am married. And I do like my husband. Sometimes I struggle with being married, you know, some of my own preconceived notions about, well, you know, I have this preconceived notion about if I’m working then he should have to do the house. And it is in my head in that way, really. It’s not always clear what part is unfair. In what ways am I being patriarchical, in what ways is my partner being lax?
Well, you have two jobs. You have more than two jobs?
TA: Well, my dissertation.
So job number three. What’s your doctorate?
TA: It’s in peace and conflict studies and it’s about women in work. So looking at the impacts of race and gender justice … I was actually thinking of this one title – something about Everyday Strategies for Dealing with Racism and Sexism on the Job: Fuck it!
That’s the title? … Colon Fuck It.
TA: (laughs) Yes! (laughs)
Like, let it slide? What do you mean by that? What does “fuck it” mean?
TA: Fuck it means … from the women that I interview, one of them said it so well. She’s like, “You know, I go to work, these people act stupid, fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. My name is Bess Fuck It Johnson.” (laughs) You know? It’s like, who gives a shit? These people want to trip out, act a fool, you know? Fuck it.
So I’ve been working on that actually, in my own work place, I’ve been working on the Fuck It.
In your approach to work?
TA: Yeah.
That would be for job number …
TA: number one. Because it’s quite a difficult work environment and I don’t enjoy how difficult it is. I don’t enjoy having to go to counseling to work through things that happen there. What’s really good about it though is that I’m learning that if I have to go to counseling for my job, that’s not good. You know what? That’s a step forward.
So does that mean you are scanning the horizon?
TA: Yeah. I’m trying to save up enough money so I can just work on my dissertation, finish the damn thing and try again. Teach, yes, I want to keep my teaching one class a term. ‘Cause I was thinking, ‘Shit. Should I try to get another endorsement for my doctorate?’ I’m realizing, ‘No. My real desire is to be a teacher, a researcher, to work as an advocate on different issues that matter to me.’
Would you start your own organization?
TA: Yes. I wouldn’t say no. I don’t see that starting now. I don’t really know what that would look like. I sit on an EJ board (Environmental Justice) and I like that work. I think it is important work.
Things have to fall in place?
TA: Yeah, but I’m certainly not opposed to the idea.
So how do you protect yourself?
TA: Protect? Well, FUCK IT and, you know, I actually have learned that smiling goes a long way because people are not interested in a black woman’s frown. That’s what I’ve learned. So smiling, you know, kindness, it goes a long way.
Job coaching has the potential to be emotional work. I thought maybe you could detail, without naming names, situations on-the-job that were … taxing.
TA: You know, what’s hard I think about job counseling, and I think it’s about social work or any of these front-line jobs that have case management involved, I was talking with a friend who works for the Housing Bureau and he experiences it, I think the hardest part is when you are working with clients and sometimes I end up having to go out on a limb for clients because I think something is the right thing, even though I know my boss, who definitely is not a counselor, may not like it. So I have to hope the person I’m working with doesn’t take advantage of that. I don’t tend to do things covertly but I am not a big rule follower, I don’t enjoy the rigid whatevers, and so I sometimes slip people things.
Because the organization you’re working with has a specific field they are looking to get people into….
TA: They can be quite narrow in how they think about working with people so there can be a harsh intentionality, an agenda.
Whereas you’re looking at someone and seeing they have these other skills too, why aren’t they looking at getting a job in one of these other areas as well?
TA: If they can, if they want to? Yeah! If it might be easier? Yeah.
Whereas other people in your organization would follow the rules and say, “You need to stay in this field.”
TA: Right, or say, “It’s obviously not right for you” and kind of end the conversation. I believe if one is really focused on this mission of empowerment then we must be empowering and part of that is being sure that we’re not silencing anybody. I believe this happens in jobs where you’re manager may not know your job and may have completely different skill sets. My manager, when she’s done aspects of my job, she’s in and out (snaps fingers), you know, size you up and puts you out. I don’t like working like that.
So I often have gone in different directions in this job which has been powerful. I’ve learned a lot of different things. I’ve worked with the city. I’ve worked with other non-profits, different types of people, industry. I think it’s really hard with non-profits. When we say we want to empower people we need to ask, ‘who is being empowered.’
A difficult aspect of my job is clients whose lives kind of fall apart very suddenly. Clients sometimes run out of the things they need; be that medication, child support whether that’s family support or financial support, they run out of spousal support, or employment. It can be hard talking with clients in those situations. It can be one of those “oh shit” moments. One time, a client’s situation was weighing really heavy on me. I didn’t have anyone at work to debrief it with so I came home and tried to debrief it with my partner and my partner got all analytical on me and it was not very helpful. I think what’s also hard is that our work is such an intrinsic part of our lives. A lot feeds into it. Not having a wealth of support to process what happens can make it more difficult than it needs to be.
Do you think there should be an organization for different people doing different forms of social work?
TA: Hmm. Maybe. Hadn’t thought of that.
There would have to be confidentiality. People would have to be smart about what they say. If everyone was connected to it, there’d be no way to keep confidentiality about where people worked so there’d have to be confidentiality about who it is you’re talking about. But it could be like an old boy’s club where ‘what’s said here stays here’.
TA: I don’t know how it could be safe. I have a friend who’s a counselor. She’ll sometimes say to me, you’re not trained to do this, why are you doing this? You know, I have a master’s degree. It’s not in counseling. To me it feels very painful having someone say to me, “oh, you’re not qualified.” I’ve heard that a lot in my occupation, actually, that message of you’re not qualified enough.
Right now everything has got certifications. Everything. Even using a computer, which pretty much anybody can sit down and figure out the basics given enough time. There are certification programs for that now. I feel like to get a job now you have to go out and get ten different certifications to prove that you can do whatever it is you were already doing. To me, anybody can do this. We don’t need these certificates. Really? I can see someone saying, ‘you’re not qualified, you don’t have the certificate.’ Well, we’ve been helping each other (as a species) for how long now? With no certification, no college degrees….
TA: It’s a hard one. It hurts. It’s demeaning.
Do you enjoy the work enough that it makes you want to go get a degree in counseling?
TA: Fuck no. No. I don’t enjoy this work enough. I have been thinking about doing a certification in Hakomi counseling because it is a more non-traditional form that is based more on mindfulness that is working to help people bring out, to surface for themselves, what’s underneath and to me that’s very meaningful and worthwhile work and doesn’t drain me.
So to be a Hakomi counselor it’s a certificate?
TA: Yeah, a two year certificate. You become licensed. It also teaches you a lot about how to work with people, how to create a welcoming space, also how to learn about what are some of the behaviors that are a bit pathological or stultifying. It teaches you how to avoid packaging anybody, not like in psychology where you’re trying to put people in this box or that box.
Yeah, all the personality tests, happiness ratings, functionality ratings….
TA: Yeah, not down. Not down. But to sit and talk with somebody about what’s going on in their life, to maybe sit with them a few times to work something through; that’s cool.
So as far as job number one, career counseling, do you think you could do this job anywhere in the world?
TA: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
So it’s not spectacular to Portland.
TA: No. When I go to South Africa I want to connect with a group that does similar. As much as I whinge about my job, I actually get paid … well, I don’t actually get paid very well for what I do.
Isn’t it the organizational level, being paid by grants and such.
TA: Mm-hmm and I think it brings up for me that my delight isn’t fed enough.
So then you think about the money because you want to find happiness outside work hours.
TA: Yeah.
So talk about Africa.
TA: Well, I used to live there and I went to college there and I worked there doing some radio work and some copyediting work for a financial daily and worked for a craft conglomerate. I did that for four or five years. I lived there for nine years. I am going back to see friends and go to World Cup.
My partner and I live here with my mom and my sister and the joke is that we’re going on our honeymoon with my other sister; a very glamorous honeymoon. Should be fun, see some friends, watch soccer, eat Biltong. Biltong? It’s like beef jerky but it’s not sugar based, no sugar, and it’s just different.
What’s interesting is as you talked about it, you started to have an accent come in.
TA: (laughs) Yeah, yeah. So I’m quite excited and it’s so far from my life now. It’s definitely a place that I felt more full in the past.
(TA’s mom enters the room. Introductions are made. For the purpose of this interview, TA’s mom will be called Ma, MA.)
So we were talking about getting away, getting perspective.
TA: Yeah. I went to visit out-of-town friends recently. We talk about our studies, talk about my life, their lives, kinda talk it out. It gives me a minute to reflect on what works, what doesn’t. I realized I need more space, more personal space, and I realized I’m tired!
Pacing yourself; good thing. It’s good that you have a kind of mirror that you can hold up in your friends; that you can look back at yourself through them and see if you’re off track.
TA: Yeah. And I guess what’s nice is that we share similar values. I have another friend who is wonderful and in some ways that way for me but she’s pretty conservative in her way of understanding things and it’s kind of sore. Men don’t wear skirts, women work hard but not that hard, you know?
So it’s kind of old-time roles.
TA: Yeah. Which, you know, it’s that hard place too where you’re trying to cultivate that relationship and sometimes it’s hard to understand.
Do you think people generally pick the right or wrong careers for themselves? Do you think people know what the right job is?
TA: NO! Uh-uh, no. I don’t think people know what’s out there; from what I see and from my own experience, you go with what comes up. I mean, that was how I did it. I worked at a book store. I intentionally walked into a book store and worked there because I have romantic notions. I intentionally walked into a coffee shop because I have romantic notions. I intentionally walked into a kindergarten, same reason. Jobs that paid me anything? (laugh) I stumbled into this job because I needed to buy my house.
You think that’s universally true?
TA: I think people are groomed. I watch my sister, she’s a medical student, and I think my sister is going to have quite a good work career. I’ve noticed if she’s in something that has a very clear trajectory, she goes. She’s been groomed to go into medical school since she started university.
How did she get groomed?
TA: Her school. She went to a fancy school that I baulked at. I was like, “Why are you going to that school, it costs too much money! Da dada dada.”
There’s the social justice in you. “You’re being privileged!”
TA: Yeah! And she’s like, “Shut up.” And so she went.
So she groomed herself by choosing that school.
TA: Yeah. Yeah. And my parents had groomed her because we went to school in South Africa and in South Africa everyone has a very strict way of thinking.
I got into South African school when I was in Standard VIII so I had 8, 9, 10 there and because I didn’t start in Standard VI (in Standard VI you’re always taking ten subjects) in Standard VIII you take six subjects so I hadn’t had Africans (language) I had to do German, and because I hadn’t done science with them they said, ‘you shouldn’t do science, you should do history.’ So that very much directed my path. I did history, geography and biology. And I still can’t tell you the bloody map! All I remember about geography was when my geography teacher said seedless grapes are engineered and I said, “They don’t suck out the pips?”
Off the vine. Like a tulip bulb sucks all the flower energy back into the bulb.
TA: Right! I remember feeling really stupid.
That ruined it for you.
TA: It didn’t ruin it. I just felt really stupid. In geography you had to take lots of notes and study them. I remember I had spent so much time writing the notes that she had told us, she would dictate our notes, and then I would write my commentary and I got so I was really thinking how brilliant I was because I could take notes and write my commentary at the same time but when the test came my commentary got in the way of my notes. You had to really know you notes, you know. It was me, another girl named Jackie, and the rest were boys and we would do geography. But it didn’t groom me to think about geographic jobs. Maybe I could have been an engineer or something … but it didn’t teach me about that.
TA: And that was a random conversation that popped out of nowhere. But I remember it because I remember everyone laughing at me. That happened a lot in high school. Everyone else didn’t speak. If they’d speak, they’d be laughed at too.
But, um, but like with my sister, she started in that South African system from Standard II (which is grade third) and my other sister started in Grade I (which is first grade). When my family left South Africa for America, my sister was in tenth grade and she coasted through school because it was so easy. In Africa, they start writing exams in Standard I. And they are taking ten subjects. So she was already geared towards thinking “what’s the best that I could have and how can I get that.” In our South African education it was to be a doctor.
Logical course.
TA: Exactly. She talked about being an FBI agent because she really liked the X-Files; and that really offended me. (laughs)
I can see you two (rubs knuckles together) constantly.
TA: Yes, yes (laughs).
She got into university and she did pre-med and political science which was our South African upbringing. We grew up in the ’94 elections and the transition of the old South Africa to the new South Africa, so she did politics and in the summers she got to go to People Of Color doctor camp. So they would go and be complete geeks and prepare for getting into med school. That’s honestly what made her get into med school. She lived here with me for a year and would fly to schools on the east coast to interview med schools. She ended up getting into two schools. She flew to ten and got into two. She’s doing great in med school. She finished three years of med school and this year she’s getting her master’s in public health and we’re going to South Africa together and while we’re there she’s going to work at Bara Hospital (Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital) in Soweto township. It’s a brilliant hospital.
It’s kind of scary for me that she’ll be working there. She doesn’t drive, man. She only drives automatic and she’s renting a stick and South Africans drive like fucking lunatics and then she’s driving to fucking Soweto which … you can get shanked in fucking Soweto! And then she’s going to (shakes her head in disbelief) … it’s like, ‘oh my god are you foolish!’ Anyway, so she’s going there and it’s a place where she’ll learn so much. When I was at Bara I saw a woman’s cervix, it was very sick and I felt so sad because she reminded me so much of my granny.
Soweto is one of those places where you can actually feel soot. It’s a place where they put soot on the walls. They live in shanties, shanty towns, and there are no filters on their fireplaces. So you’ll be in the car in the winter and you taste it. Someone described it as vibrant … it’s alive. It’s life that’s not checked or supported and so it grows, you know?
TA: Yeah. It grows.
Too many people in a small space?
TA: Yeah. With no proper toilets, with no sanitation. All of a sudden you’ll end up with cholera outbreak or e-coli or the history of South Africa where you’ll drive over a bridge and they’ll say, “So this area you see with all these reeds, hundreds of people were dumped.” So it’s fertile….
Yeah, great.
TA: So she’s going through there. It freaks me out.
Do you feel a sort of calling or urge to go there and use what you know now?
TA: No? (laughs) And yet I remember when I left South Africa (laughs) I said I would.
Are you kidding? This is ‘cush! (indicates furnishings)
TA: Yeah, it’s great. It’s padded. That’s what happens when your mother lives with you. But, no, I mean when I left South Africa I thought I’m not coming back here until I have something useful to contribute.
So you believe you don’t have something useful yet.
TA: Probably do.
You’ve changed your mind about going back for that purpose.
TA: They haven’t asked.
Ho-hoah (laughs) I don’t know if that’s how it works.
TA: I mean, if something pops up, you know. I’ll go and talk to my university prof and I’ll go and talk to my friends and if something comes up that is useful then of course I’ll go.
So you wouldn’t say no.
TA: No.
You just wouldn’t insinuate yourself.
TA: No. I mean, if I think about my life, I often feel like an imposter here. I mean, I’m black … but I’m not black like south Portland.
If that’s your rationale then everyone in Portland is an imposter.
TA: No. I …
Because most everybody has moved here. I mean, what, 80 to 90% of the people here are transplants.
TA: I guess what I mean is that I feel more comfortable with Africans or West Indians than with Black Americans.
I mean, I feel comfortable with my relatives in Virginia. And in Portland my work career has been Africans and I feel comfortable with Africans.
So what’s the difference?
TA: Acceptance and experience. I mean, I think the difference is Africa is different, the history is different, the way of living is different, what you fight is different, the fight is different.
MA: Yeah, you have to worry about people stealing your underwear.
TA: Mummy, yeah! Somebody stole our underpants.
MA: Constantly. The lady who worked at our house, she used to steal my children’s underpants, steal their socks, steal my husband’s socks and when she’d steal she wouldn’t steal the whole pair, she’d steal one sock.
To be subtle?
MA: Yeah.
TA: And watch your chocolate and watch your coffee. Somebody thought I was stealing coffee. It wasn’t that I was stealing it. I was just drinking it profusely.
Which is a form of stealing….
TA: Not really. (laughs) Not if you’re in office hours, you’re just drinking!
‘I wasn’t selling it or anything.’
TA: Hospitality. But Mommy’s glasses got stolen off her face.
MA: Yeah, I was in the car, driving, and had the window down, just driving through downtown. Man came up, knocked me up-side the head and yanked the glasses off my face.
He knocked you out?
MA: No, he didn’t knock me out. He just hit me.
TA: And what I told her is, “You don’t wear nice things!”
Apparently. Jeeze.
TA: They’ll cut your finger off. Cutsies.
MA: So punitive, so difficult, because they earn so little money. So to get nice things, they steal them and they think nothing of it.
TA: ‘Cause nice things give you value.
Makes me think of Brazil and certain areas of South America where people get kidnapped for ransom and some people get kidnapped over and over again for ransom.
TA: Yeah.
It’s just the way the world works and everybody is aware of it.
TA: Capitalism. It’s different. But it does give me, what’s the word, compassion. So I’ve written a paper, an article I have to work on, that is about comparing literature on war affected youth and youth violence in areas of concentrated poverty in the US and looking at the way those literatures can inform each other.
What do you mean by literature?
TA: Academic literature. Basically what it comes down to is that in war affected areas, and though South Africa has not been in a civil war it has been in a guerilla war, and so in areas of concentrated poverty the incidents of death … well … I personally believe South Africa is a traumatized country, even though I have not seen a dead body as in somebody dead on the street I have seen on the front page of my paper with a photo of Campbell soup cans with human flesh burning.
Wait, so a picture of an open Campbell soup can with flesh inside and set on fire.
TA: Yeah. So I’ve seen that. And it wasn’t historical.
A current event.
TA: It was a current event. And I’ve seen someone … I was lost and was trying to get to my rowing class and I saw this naked man who was followed by a mob who were hitting him and taking him to the petrol station. And in South Africa we necklace. Necklace: you put tires around someone’s neck, you fill them with gasoline and you set it on fire. They burn alive. Um … yeah.
So the obvious progression was that he was going to get …
TA: Or something. He wasn’t going to come out of it as nice as he looked. He didn’t look nice in dirt, naked, while these mamas were going past with a stick and hitting him.
Women? He must have done something.
TA: Either he was stealing something, he was cheating on someone, or he was a totsie (a baddy, a burglar, a robber).
Ultimately, whatever that crime was, does it justify the treatment?
TA: That’s a question. I didn’t want to find out. I rushed to get out of that gas station. I didn’t care where I was supposed to be going. I needed to get home. So how do I feel about going back to South Africa?
TA: (laughs)
Mixed feelings. I can see. I have more work questions.
TA: Beware the bitches. (laughs)
So what’s your advice for anyone reading this that is looking for a job?
TA: You know, I experience two things: I experience from the women that I interview for my dissertation when I ask would they do what they would do again, they say yes. Actually they will say they aren’t sure if they would invite another person to do this. And yet taking the jobs they have has offered them a house, other things, and they definitely have chosen it because they want those things. It’s very different than a more middle class value of ‘do what you love’. I think for working class folks, often it’s not about what you love. It’s about doing what will afford you an opportunity. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Do you think with the way the economy is that there is a middle class and people can do what they love?
TA: I think with the economy the way it is that we can move closer to what we love but we may need to make compromises and that what we love may not have a price tag and it may not be that we do what we love but we live what we love.
Which brings me to a question: volunteering … what’s with that?
TA: Lots to it. Lots to it. It may bring you closer to where you want to be. I found myself volunteering and I wrote myself a job eventually – I wrote a grant for my job. But really volunteering for me meant that I got to be around Africans and really, though in some ways I feel very disconnected from it, I am African in many ways. Volunteering in many ways touches our dream. And it may turn into paid work. And it may not. But it might, it totally might.
And you get to do something worthwhile in the meanwhile.
TA: But to not in any way devalue the time that we spend working on jobs that may or may not be the dream. When I think about my friend that works in labor and deals with all manner of shit to do it, her dream is to have her own home, to provide for her children well, to not need a male partner, to have self-sufficiency — she’s got that. That’s a big dream and that’s brilliant. So, yes, for the next fifteen years she definitely has to have the Fuck It behind her name, but it won’t always be that.
What tricks do our brains play on us when we’re job searching or dealing with a job?
TA: That we think we’re not good enough. That’s the biggest one. We are good enough. I mean, Fuck It!
Sorry mom.
MA: Your language, baby.
TA: Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. But just apply. Just apply to every single fricking thing that you see that you think that you might like. It doesn’t matter even if you have to emotionally process when you get that job for the next three months. Why shouldn’t you have that opportunity? Why shouldn’t you have to say no?
And why can’t we be open to the variety of things that might happen to us? Who’s to say what job is really going to help us? We don’t know.
Do you think an individual’s family has an impact in the decisions they make?
TA: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Do you think we should listen to our families?
TA: Unless they are offering us more money, no. (laughs)
So what are the more difficult interview questions you have heard of?
TA: What is a common misperception of you?
That’s a trick question! How would you answer that?
TA: They think I was messy, they think I was disorderly and they maybe think I was flighty.
I think they would think I was a prude, too reserved, although occasionally people think I’m a loud mouth. You can’t win.
TA: I think that is a terrible question to have in an interview.
Yeah, you have to spin it so it’s a positive.
TA: Right.
‘Some people think this but….’
TA: My desk is messy and I balance all their shit.
What are the most common questions you receive from people in all the things you do?
TA: So what are you doing your degree for?
The implied question being, “how are you going to pay it off?”
TA: So I get that from them and I get from different teachers along the way, “Maybe you’re not Ph.D. material.” But I was told I wasn’t Starbucks material so I think it’s all relative.
(laughs) How does someone avoid being nervous in an interview.
TA: Practice, practice and then at some point remember you’re interviewing them. Maybe what they are offering is not that good for you. Going in, having the best go that you can have and seeing if you like it.
I think keeping in mind, in my perspective thinking about interviews I have had, you don’t have to stay with the job forever. If it blows, you move on.
TA: Yeah. And don’t think it’s the best thing ever. Don’t give that job that.
What traits get someone hired? Is there a sure fire trait?
TA: I think nothing is guaranteed but I think showing excitement, energy, knowledge of the job. I definitely notice from my own experiences when people come and say they want to work for my job number one and yet they really don’t understand the mission, they don’t understand how to work with the people who come in the door, and then I’m like, “dude, I wouldn’t sit with you.”

Last question. Do you believe in social networking.
TA: Of course. Know people. Know everybody. Know what they do. And tell everybody what you do, what you think about doing. Elevator speech, but dream. If someone tells you, ‘och, you’re not going to do this’, forget them. For a while I was really clear that I was going to write a book about my dad and I remember this guy telling me, ‘No, you’re not going to do that. You’re never going to do it’ and I remember hearing that and I have not yet written a book about my dad but it has caused me to process about my dad and whether I’m the right person to write a book about my dad. But that idea is still there. What I have been thinking is I really want to interview my aunts and uncles.
Start! This weekend!
TA: Oh, no no. This weekend I have to figure out this article I have to send out to a publisher. Then I have to go to South Africa and after I return I have to finish up my dissertation. What I have thought about is that I should focus on writing, on being a writer.

Current Occupation: University Field Supervisor, Dept. of Education, Marylhurst University, writer, poet, flyfisher, thoroughbred horse lover.

Former Occupation: teacher, correspondent, Blood-Horse Magazine, VISTA Volunteer.

Contact Information: Bruce Greene lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. He taught English, history, and psychology for 33 years in a large urban high school in the Bay Area. His eclectic writing career includes everything from essays on using blues music in the classroom to a recent memoir about his VISTA experience in Texas. He is a founding member of Portland based writing group The Guttery. Feel free to contact him at


I Think I Can

Everybody wears earplugs. Thousands of empty tin cans rattling on a miniature freeway over your head will eventually erode anyone’s sanity. Those who don’t wear standard plugs have small wires connecting their ears to their shirt pockets. It’s 1972; only very small radios have earphones. Some who work at this cannery take drugs. Lots of speed in my co-worker’s systems because after this shift ends at 10, they barely have enough time to grab a bite, or another dose of something and head south to the Hunt’s cannery in Hayward. Tomatoes just came in and the ketchup brigade is in full swing. One of my co-workers, Luis, carries automotive catalogues in his back pocket and in the locker room sneaks a peak at the chrome rims he covets for his car. The $500.00 accessories are possible only by the opportunity to work back-to-back shifts in harvest time. Out on the floor, he looms like a disabled cannery clown, with slurred speech, dark circles around his fully dilated eyes, and wild stringy hair.

“Ima get me some choice rims in a coupla weeks if I can keep dis up.”

“Yeah Luis,” says Jessie, a middle-aged cannery veteran who knows how quickly the lure of double shifts can take a toll or even a life.

“Better get caught up on your child support bro’ or you won’t have nothin’ to put those rims on.”

But right now we are in Emeryville, the little industrial town between west Berkeley and west Oakland, and this cannery belongs to Del-Monte. I’m in pears. Literally. From 1 p.m. till 10 p.m. I empty big steel wheelbarrows full of rotten pears, into large dumpsters on a loading dock that rivals any for activity. Noise, muck, and large trucks loaded with fruit moving in and out all day and night keep this area hopping. I have just completed my graduate work in education at the big U in Berkeley and need to support myself while I wait for my first teaching job. Until then I belong to the cannery worker’s union. I’m paid a fair wage for this shift that seemingly requires more of my physical strength than anything else. It’s the mental part, I soon learn, that will challenge my ability survive here.

But I have a job. I can stay in Berkeley all summer and hope for the call that cinches my ultimate goal. I await my first teaching contract in the dark, dank, shattering sounds of Cannery #35.

When my shift starts I change into a classic bright yellow rain suit complete with headgear. Before the top jacket goes on, I slip into the locker room and rub special lanolin cream on my arms and hands. It’s more like warm taffy; sticky, buckskin colored, and protective. The lye bath that unwashed fruit takes upon entering the cannery can splash up from time to time and injure the skin. This miracle salve feels like I’m up to my elbows in honey. But it works. I get no holes in my skin.

At the mid-point of my shift I have a special task to do. My daily caravan to the dumpsters gets placed on hold. The women who work the stainless steel tray like conveyer belts, with peeled, cored pears streamlining by, take their dinner break. All in white, they look more like midwives than pear sorters. The belts stop and the pears temporarily disappear. I am to wash off the equipment. It is no ordinary hose I use. It’s the size of a fire hose and there are two large valves to turn on first. One valve is for hot water; the other is for hot steam. They do not turn easily. They tremble. I need to be careful.

Not once do I burn myself. But the scalding steam and water occasionally splash up and around my face. Fortunately my spaceman outfit, complete with gloves, keeps me dry. I have visions, on slow days, of the boiler erupting as I twist the big valves. Keeps me on my toes. With the women on the line on their dinner break, I hose down the equipment and the floor. No mushy pear detritus anywhere. When the floor and pear line are spotless, I roll the hose onto it’s bracket, empty the wheelbarrow one more time, (the third time since my shift began) and rest on my feet, watching the women on the level above me finish the first half of their shift and prepare for their break.

They have a most peculiar job. There are only a half dozen of them, on a rise off to the side. They watch cubed pieces of pear pour out of a slot and onto a small belt. They look for brown. These fruit cocktail bound chunks are slightly cooked for softness and occasionally a piece gets burned. With a small hose about the size of a hand-held vacuum, they suck up the overcooked or burnt fruit. They do this for 9 hours. I think their pay must be better, or maybe they drop acid first, or meditate, or listen to music amid the non-stop roar of empty tin cans that rises and falls like cicadas. At least I get to move around. They stand on their feet in the same spot and vacuum up small bits of overcooked pear. Maybe they get a misshapen piece that needs to be removed once in a while. But I think, as I watch them silently descend from their pear vacuuming perch, how do they do this? They must have full fantasy lives I conclude. I make a mental note to see if they smile from time to time.

On this day, disaster strikes. Alarm bells ring and red lights flash. Fruit cocktail spill on Aisle D! One of the big belts that carry a mix of peaches, pears, pineapple and grapes has suddenly stopped, heaping its contents in great mounds on the cement floor. Fortunately the cherries have not been added yet. They arrive separately from another plant packaged in large plastic lined crates having been cooked to perfection for that special faded, rose –colored, unnatural look. When I arrive at the accident scene, I find four feet of piled up fruit cocktail, minus cherries, growing rapidly at the head of Aisle D. The alarm is for all the wheelbarrow boys, in peaches, pears, grapes, and pineapple, to get over there ASAP and shovel up the spilled cocktail. We grab large shovels made for the occasion. Only shovels. We do not need our wheelbarrows. Big as snow shovels, they are more like oversized scoops. We reduce the fruit cocktail dune in about 15 min. We shovel the spill onto another belt where it will be re-washed and readied for a second chance to enter American pantries when the broken belt gets fixed. Disaster averted, the rest of the shift goes smoothly. Even the women that suck up the burnt pear pieces enjoy a chuckle watching the fruit cocktail emergency. Are their smiles from this external distraction or something else, something internal?

A shriek from one of the women on my level shatters even the routine hum of the pear department, now and then. Yesterday, while emptying my third batch of pear slush I heard just such a cry. I turned my head in time to see the large woman near the front of the line raise her arm like the Statue of Liberty. Her torch was a pear half impaled on a steel cutting blade that had broken off the coring machine. The supervisor will reward this “catch”. With yellow hard-hat clearly visible, he descends the stairway from the overhead catwalk he normally patrols and retrieves the glinting blade. Her reward will come from his personal collection. The supervisor, Hank, keeps a stash of huge, oversized pears. Pears the size of pineapples, pears that could never go through the normal core, cut, cook, and can process. He doles them out like prizes. Anyone seen leaving carrying an enormous pear must be someone special. Funny thing is that half the work force smuggles fruit out. Large bunches of grapes concealed under rain suits, a lunchbox full of peaches, or a hat full of pears leave the cannery at all hours. Being caught means getting fired. No matter. Many take the risk.

When my shift ends at 10 p.m. I drive home, eat something and usually succumb to exhaustion. I leave my damp sticky suit outside on these summer nights and hose it off in time to dry before my next shift. One night, as I traipse to the employee parking lot, I notice something different about my car. The little Dodge Dart I bought for $300 with the last of my savings is up on blocks. The two front wheels are missing. Not the tires, the wheels, meaning tires, rims, lug nuts. This car will not be taking me home tonight. My co-workers console me, but are quick to point out that whoever took my wheels did right by me. They explain that someone must have really needed that size tire right away. That they put the car up on blocks to avert damage was very kind of them. I see it differently but get a housemate to come down and pick me up. The next day I get my car towed and find replacement rims and a couple of good used tires and I’m rolling again just in time for my shift.

On August 20th I get the call. On August 21st I quit my job at the cannery. I need to leave at once I explain to the supervisor. I’ll be teaching three different classes and I have two weeks to prepare. I know I can be easily replaced, but still I feel like I’m bailing on the pear department. The supervisor understands, he asks for my rain suit and gloves. He inspects them for damage, throws them in a bin and checks me out. No more lanolin tar on my arms, no more hot steam, no more clanging chorus of tin.

“Greene,” the supervisor yells as I turn to leave. “Wait here a minute.”

What did I forget? I know my last check won’t come for two weeks. All my gear is checked in; do I have to surrender my union card?

Five minutes later he returns.

“Good luck with your teaching career,” he says. Then reaching behind himself, he hands me the largest pear I have ever seen.

Kate Baggott is Employee of the Month YEAR! When it comes to WORK, Kate knows all the ins and outs. Save yourself some trouble and take the following lesson from Kate. She is WORK’s grand prize winner.

Current Occupation: Freelance writer and English teacher
Former Occupation: Camp Counsellor, Library Assistant, Theatre Usherette, Director of Research, Internet Content Strategist
Contact information: Kate Baggott is a Canadian writer living in Germany. Her work ranges from technology journalism to creative nonfiction and from experimental fiction to chick lit. Her latest book is called Tales from Planet Wine Cooler for which she is actively seeking a publisher. Links to recent pieces can be found at


The Third Way Work Dynamic

This is how capitalism generally works:

1. If you are a worker, your job, ultimately, is to do as little as possible for as much money as possible.

2. If you are an employer, your job is to make your employees do as much as possible for as little as possible.

Without these two positions working at cross-purposes, capitalism would collapse. However, there is a third way out of this quagmire that is high-value, demands low-output and is immune to supervisory accounting. Put simply, if you do not feel like working, or supervising, you must traffic in answers.

To begin your career following the third way in the capitalist dynamic, start at the lowest level of company meetings and work your way up to consulting. Remember, to effectively traffic in answers, you must gain control of the question period. To gain control, provoke questions that make everyone feel insecure about the future and their ability to adapt.

To avoid any pitfalls, you must overtake the most vocal pain in the ass (MV-PITA) immediately. There will be resistance to your efforts to make everyone feel insecure and they will usually come from this character. MV-PITAs are generally fairly smart people looking to differentiate themselves through conversational domination. They have the tendency to make meetings last longer when everyone else just wants to get out and get back to doing as little as possible. For this reason they are highly unpopular.

These MV-PITAs will start speculating about the current state of affairs based on his — or more rarely her — own observations. Become a hero and gain respect by listening to their ramblings with an indulgent smile for exactly 2 minutes. Then, raise your hand and interject with one of the following comments:

“I am not sure that is an especially productive direction to head off in.”

“Let’s not get off track here.”

“I’ve certainly heard that before and it’s certainly the more traditional route to take, but let’s prepare ourselves for the new order of business.”

You may then proceed to answer your own questions with confidence, aplomb and big words in new grammatical structures. This process is known as creating a market and driving the market.

Note that there is no need to have original catch-phrases in your answers. In fact, your market will probably feel more comfortable if you steal the big words used in new grammatical structures from someone else. Then, your words will resonate as being complicated, and yet, familiar. In fact, you may even steal ideas from the MV-PITA and re-present from a more palatable source.

It is obvious that commitment to this third way in the work dynamic has grown in the last generation. It is also clear that more participation is needed in order to assure that pointless corporate spending in the face economic insecurity continues to prop up capitalist organizations everywhere.

Current Occupation: Starving Artist and Published Author
Former Occupation: Paid Intellectual
Contact Information: I am a writer and an artist by default, currently living in Washington, DC. My childhood was spent in what I later learned to be a hick town in Northern California, where I spent years perfecting the drawn hand and generally scribbling in notebooks. After the intellectual delight of Reed College and the artistic pleasures that Portland afforded, I’ve switched coasts in search of gainful employment or fruitful insanity. I can be reached at


Breaking Up

My job broke up with me.

I guess that means I’m single now, but I’m doing alright. Worse things have happened. The breakup was fairly amicable, as things go. I did see it coming; something about the look in his eye and how little he seemed to need me suggested in advance of the breakup that it was inevitable. There was nothing torrid about it, though. No one was cheating. It didn’t end in a tearful brawl at two in the morning, and he didn’t ditch me by text. We’d been trying to get together for a couple of weeks and our schedules just wouldn’t line up. Then I got an email from him saying he would call me, which seemed like a bad sign.

I called first. Is that desperate?

His voice seemed different when he asked me how I’d been. He just didn’t have the time he’d hoped he could give me. “I can’t expect you to wait,” he said. “You have to think of yourself. I understand that.” Spring had just started to blossom and I thought of how I’d been marking the changes on my way to see him every day. Part of me wanted to say, “I will! I will wait for you!” but I smiled into the phone and, staring out the window, said, “I hope you’ll think of me, if…”

And, anyway, it wasn’t a very long or committed relationship to begin with. As much as I liked him, I wasn’t terribly attached. Oh, but I did like him. He was intelligent, a little bit nerdy even, and he pushed me in his quiet way. We would meet at the Library of Congress and spend all day together there, sitting under the grand domed ceiling of the Jefferson building’s rotunda. I would look up at the statues — muses of intellectualism — and the gold-painted inlays on the arcing ceiling above them. He even took me on a trip once. He paid for everything and although the destination was by no means romantic, I enjoyed it. It’s hard not to fall at least a little in love under those circumstances. So, of course I miss him.

Maybe this is a horrible thing to admit, but part of my sadness at the breakup has to do with the fact that I tend to be one of those people who always has someone else waiting in the wings, as it were, however socially unacceptable that may be. I don’t know how to look at a job and say, “I love you forever.” Even the thought makes me sort of twitch in that way that adolescents do when their parents kiss. I know our society is all about making that long-term commitment, but I’m just not sure it’s for me. At least not yet. I really need to play the field for a while and get a sense of what kinds of relationships are out there before I settle down. So many of my friends are already taking that step into the drudgery of “the rest of your life” and I can’t help but wonder how they can know for sure.

The only thing I can seem to commit to is my desire for a really good cappuccino and, without a job, I certainly have the time, if not the liquidity, for such luxuries. I flash back to Rome, to early-morning strolls through the cobbled streets in search of the nearest coffee place and a flakey pastry. The sun waits at the corner while I turn into an alleyway that has the appearance of being drawn by hand and two doors down is the café. As constant as my need is my disappointment, unfortunately. I can blame the aroma of the beans or the roasting temperature, the texture of the foam or the proportion of milk to espresso, but it’s probably the cobblestones of Rome or Paris’ smell of aging wrought iron that I miss.

Something about this breakup is making me nostalgic, though it is that nostalgia bread from a desire to explain the future by one’s path, rather than the sort of reminiscing that makes one long to retreat. I don’t find myself wishing to go backwards. I’m learning from mistakes. In truth, I’ve chosen jobs in the past that were bad matches for me, but I really think I’m past that.

Right out of college, scared of the years I’d put toward a life of research and of settling before I’d seen the world, I started a relationship that, I realize now, was completely beneath me. He knew nothing about me, which was intentional on my part. I just wanted something different from what I’d had before, something that didn’t keep me up nights obsessing. Something I could enjoy when he was around, and let go of when I was doing something else. The experience was a necessary one for me and I came to realize that I hadn’t been doing everything wrong, that I just needed to fine-tune what I was looking for. He was so obsessed with money and his taste in music was horrendous, a trait I find unforgivable. He didn’t really have a lot of time for me, and the time we spent together was boring, surrounded by the basest form of writing – the greeting card – and listening to mix tapes made with the intent to calm women in their forties. I stayed with him for nine months. It’s hard to believe I let it go on for that long, but eventually I just ended it. I told him I’d found someone else and two days later I was packing everything I owned into my car and heading north for something more interesting. It took me a while to realize how much he resented me for leaving the way I did, but I can’t regret it.

I do miss my job. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, and it’s fresh enough that all the places we spent time together still remind me of him. If I go back to the Library, will I run into him there? What if he has someone else with him? For now, I’m avoiding the Library, and all of the nebulous feelings associated with it. I think that’s reasonable, if admittedly juvenile. My desire for a new relationship is there, nagging at me, but that pull toward codependency is being kept at bay, for now, by unsatisfying cappuccinos. I sit in basement coffee houses with cement floors and rickety seating. I revert back to high school and make lists on ruled paper that outline my perfect man.

Reliability. The table creaks and shifts as my arm moves and my too large cappuccino wobbles like pudding. I draw a little line pointing away from that word, toward its explanation. Can’t act like you’re 20 forever. Commitment.

Then, to balance the weight of that last comment, I write Adventurousness on the next line in an even heavier hand than I’d used before. Explanation is unnecessary. I move on.

Practicality kicks in again, or maybe just thoughts of my age, which prompt me to write Money in the third place slot on my growing little list of requirements. But not snobby about it, I write, as though assuring someone of some moral standard. No one benefits from moralizing, I assure myself and continue the line with Must make 60k. Cappuccino foam nearly flings itself from the wide mouth of the mug as I erase 60k and replace it with 50k. “Lowering your standards already?” asks my still undulating espresso drink. I scowl at it and suck warm foam from three different places around the mug’s edge, clearly telling it we’re moving on from this particular conversation.

Smart. Obviously.

Good taste in music.

Sense of humor.

Thinks I’m awesome. “Of course you’re awesome,” says my cappuccino. “You have a lot to offer a relationship.” My next sip is self-congratulating.

What else? Tentatively, I write Likes kids, and then seeing it on the page, slowly draw a question mark to follow it. I’ve had jobs with kids before, I’m just not sure I want to make that my whole life. We’re getting back to commitment, here, and to maturity. What kind of relationship am I really looking for? How comfortable am I just casually dating for the next thirty years? My mouth makes a question mark, too.

Must want a future together.

Current Occupation: retired, now a full-time artist
Former Occupation: printer for 31 years, machine operator/laborer in aluminum plant, sawmill, machine shops, restaurants, warehouses. He was also a TA while working on an MFA, briefly a cook on towboats, and substitute schoolteacher.
Contact Information: Dr. JohnnyWow! earned his BA and MFA in Art during the 1960s. He recently acquired a Doctorate in Metaphysics, and has become a Certified Holistic Practitioner and Para-Psychological Counselor. He has self-published 6 booklets, available upon request.
Dr. JohnnyWow! dedicates the remainder of his life to improving contemporary society by joyously exploiting gullibility and expanding the realm of hypocrisy. The Good Doctor augments the monthly display of his paintings and drawings with a wide range of his Transformational Personal Enhancement products and services. These franchise opportunities are created for those individuals seeking a more perfect response to the joys of life. The programs are intended to enable participants to create and experience a state of normally perfect bliss, no matter how fleeting.


Current Occupation: retired, now a full-time artist
Former Occupation: printer for 31 years, machine operator/laborer in aluminum plant, sawmill, machine shops, restaurants, warehouses. He was also a TA while working on an MFA, briefly a cook on towboats, and substitute schoolteacher.
Contact Information: Dr. JohnnyWow! earned his BA and MFA in Art during the 1960s. He recently acquired a Doctorate in Metaphysics, and has become a Certified Holistic Practitioner and Para-Psychological Counselor. He has self-published 6 booklets, available upon request.
Dr. JohnnyWow! dedicates the remainder of his life to improving contemporary society by joyously exploiting gullibility and expanding the realm of hypocrisy. The Good Doctor augments the monthly display of his paintings and drawings with a wide range of his Transformational Personal Enhancement products and services. These franchise opportunities are created for those individuals seeking a more perfect response to the joys of life. The programs are intended to enable participants to create and experience a state of normally perfect bliss, no matter how fleeting.


Current Occupation: retired, now a full-time artist
Former Occupation: printer for 31 years, machine operator/laborer in aluminum plant, sawmill, machine shops, restaurants, warehouses. He was also a TA while working on an MFA, briefly a cook on towboats, and substitute schoolteacher.
Contact Information: Dr. JohnnyWow! earned his BA and MFA in Art during the 1960s. He recently acquired a Doctorate in Metaphysics, and has become a Certified Holistic Practitioner and Para-Psychological Counselor. He has self-published 6 booklets, available upon request.
Dr. JohnnyWow! dedicates the remainder of his life to improving contemporary society by joyously exploiting gullibility and expanding the realm of hypocrisy. The Good Doctor augments the monthly display of his paintings and drawings with a wide range of his Transformational Personal Enhancement products and services. These franchise opportunities are created for those individuals seeking a more perfect response to the joys of life. The programs are intended to enable participants to create and experience a state of normally perfect bliss, no matter how fleeting.


Current Occupation: retired, now a full-time artist
Former Occupation: printer for 31 years, machine operator/laborer in aluminum plant, sawmill, machine shops, restaurants, warehouses. He was also a TA while working on an MFA, briefly a cook on towboats, and substitute schoolteacher.
Contact Information: Dr. JohnnyWow! earned his BA and MFA in Art during the 1960s. He recently acquired a Doctorate in Metaphysics, and has become a Certified Holistic Practitioner and Para-Psychological Counselor. He has self-published 6 booklets, available upon request.
Dr. JohnnyWow! dedicates the remainder of his life to improving contemporary society by joyously exploiting gullibility and expanding the realm of hypocrisy. The Good Doctor augments the monthly display of his paintings and drawings with a wide range of his Transformational Personal Enhancement products and services. These franchise opportunities are created for those individuals seeking a more perfect response to the joys of life. The programs are intended to enable participants to create and experience a state of normally perfect bliss, no matter how fleeting.


Current Occupation: poet
Former Occupation: ship’s mechanic, competitive cyclist, Boy Scout, boxer, etc.
Contact Information: William Conable takes long muddy rides in the hills of Concord, California.



Drove 15 miles of logging road;

jeep in 4 wheel. Climbing 8000’.

We were silent,

each harboring thoughts.

Conversation (hushed by the Mountain)

gravel road—woodchips–sawdust,

empty miller cans:

evidence of profit

evidence of destruction.

Subdivision coming soon.

Mountains can’t attend zoning meetings.

Trailhead after 45 minutes of bumps,

lost traction confusion.

We hiked North East.

Mountain weather moved in;

fog banks in low passes.

The electricity of alpine snow.

i carried matches for a fire.

We meditated through snow,

old growth

Big Trees.

Last stand for the Elders.

She asked,

“How could we do that?”

i was silent