Thursday, January 20, 2011

on a happier thing

I forgot to mention that January 20th is the two-year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration--the significance being, of course, that Ricky and I went to said inauguration and I decided then that I would like very much to date him, which I began doing 11 days later. 

That...that is a happy thing.

on astonishment

Let it never be said that I did not try my hardest to not care what others think of me.

I can talk the talk, of course, and say breezily that I don't care, but my walking of the walk is limited at best.  There are a lot of things that others will say about you that you have to attempt to not care about.  Hair?  Not a problem.  Clothing?  Whatever.  Sense of humor?  Meh.  People can say what they want about those things and it doesn't phase me.  As of today, however, I have discovered a chink in my shield of self-awareness and I'm still reeling from the shock.

I've genuinely been enjoying my job at the bookstore.  Granted, the honeymoon phase of this new job has just recently worn off, but I've still been doing my best despite working 40(+) hours a week. (Did I mention I was only hired to be part-time?)  I mean, it's a bookstore!  The customers are lovely, and the people I work with are great.  I'm significantly younger than most of my co-workers, but whatever, right?  We still get along fine....or so I thought.

One of my managers pulled me aside today and began talking to me in a low voice, which is never a good sign.  "Katie," she began, and my inner organs collapsed.  Did I get here on time this morning?  I thought quickly.  Did I screw up a transaction?

"You have great customer service skills--really.  The only problem is that you don't have the same courtesy for the people inside the store."


"Your co-workers.  I've been getting complaints from members of the staff that you're not treating them very well--you're quite abrasive."

Abrasive?!  I thought, horrified.  Images sprang to my mind of sandpaper, bruises, scrapes, fingernails on a chalkboard.  Abrasive is the opposite of good, the opposite of nice.  Abrasive is mean and rough and annoying and unforgiving.  I kept trying to formulate a verbal response or even other thoughts, but the word kept banging around in my head.  My eyes practically popped out of my face trying to keep it contained.

"You need to stop acting like you're their boss.  You're not their superior.  You can't talk to them the way you do--you need to talk to them the nice way you talk to the customers.  Have you heard the way you talk to other employees?  It comes off pretty nasty."

If my lips hadn't been so tightly pressed together, my jaw would've dropped.  I talk to the customers like I would speak to children!  I wanted to say, but the words got lost.  90% of them are over the age of 60 and have no idea what's going on in this store!  (No offense to anyone reading this that might be over the age of 60.  If you found this blog, you are automatically exempt.)

I don't speak to my co-workers that way because it's condescending.  It's insulting their tenure at the store (everyone besides me has been there for years) to treat them like I'm guiding them around and explaining every little thing.  I was under the impression that I spoke to them like equals--never mind the fact that many of my older co-workers constantly treat me like a child in front of customers, interrupting my sales pitch to point out something I "missed" (hadn't gotten to yet) or to interject comments of their own.

"Do you understand?"

I realized my manager was waiting for a response.  I opened my mouth--no words followed.  I tried again and managed to squeak out "I didn't know they felt that way" before I felt my face turning red in complete humiliation.  How long has this been going on?  How long have my co-workers dreaded working with me?  How long have I been that girlI was frantically trying to backpedal through my memories and come up with an example of my supposed abrasiveness.  My train of thought snagged on something from that morning--the phone had been ringing for a good two minutes while I was trying to make a sale, and a co-worker was unoccupied.  I paused to ask her if she could pick up the phone.  Is that considered abrasiveness?!  I was becoming more upset by the second.  At previous jobs, asking a co-worker to answer the phone was letting them know that you wouldn't be able to answer it because you were busy.  That's all.  Suddenly, though, side comments from fellow bookstore employees fell into place in my mental puzzle: A co-worker asking if I was an only child.  A manager asking if my previous job required a lot of interaction with others.  Every thought that my brain formulated buried me deeper in mortification.  What was I doing wrong?

"I don't--" I swallowed hard. "I don't mean to be like that."

I try really hard to be kind to people.  I don't always succeed, of course, but I was completely astonished by the idea that I had failed in my attempts at kindness so consistently and on so many attempts that multiple people had spoken to a manager about my behavior.  By "astonished," of course, I meant "sick to my stomach."  It's rough business discovering that people you thought you got along with actually don't like working with you at all.

I've been called a lot of things, but it's been a long time since I was accused of rudeness, or meanness, and I've certainly never been called nasty.  This was the mirror that I had been missing.  Am I really that way?  Do people see me that way and say nothing out of politeness?  How have I managed to work effectively in previous jobs without ever having this kind of discussion?

I didn't say anything else to my manager.  I should've, but I couldn't...or wouldn't, I'm not sure.  I had to bury myself in the empty children's section for a few minutes before I could face the shame of talking to my co-workers.

If some (or all) of this post seems whiny, it's probably because it is.  I'm still upset about the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

on my wariness of graduate courses

After my...disappointing...class choices last semester, I definitely went into the spring semester holding my breath.

The Class: History of the English Language (Dr. Busbee put a sign on the door that said "Welcome to HEL."  Yeah, us English-types are pretty clever.)
The First Day: We spent 60% of our first class on phonics, staring at the mouth shapes of the people across the table and collectively sounding an awful lot like Professor Higgins' record player from My Fair Lady.  The other 40% was spent listening to our professor lecture on important dates that changed the English language forever and speaking to us in Old English.
The Initial Verdict: AWESOME.  Seriously, have you ever heard Old English?  It's pretty legit.  Also, it's hysterical listening to a group of 15 postgrads sound out letters like preschoolers.  There's no term paper, but we have short etymology papers, a 45-minute presentation (Who's presenting on the Norman conquest?  This girl!), and recitations in Old, Middle, and Modern English--in addition to the midterm and final, of course.  There's a lot of emphasis on lingual structure, which I am totally pumped about. 

The Class: Writing Pedagogy (or something like that)
The First Day: We did some teacher/undergraduate student role-play (the course is specifically designed for those who want to teach high school- and college-level writing courses), sat through a lot of explanation that I thought wasn't very necessary, and spent the rest of the time signing up for multiple presentation dates, syllabus projects, and when to bring snacks.  (It's a three-hour evening class--snacks are 100% necessary.)
The Initial Verdict: Undecided.  I was hoping it would be more of a grammar-based course, but it seems to be leaning more toward the psychology of writing--why students are good/bad at it, communication issues, expression, etc. etc.  Hopefully another class will be more telling.  There aren't any tests for the course, but it feels like I signed up for about a dozen presentations, so I'm assuming those are going to make up the difference. 

Sometimes I feel like an imposter in my English programs because I really don't enjoy writing 95% of papers.  I much prefer tests and presentations.  Papers are graded so arbitrarily--it's especially difficult when you have a new professor and you're not sure how they grade.  Plus, I remember details about the topic longer and more accurately when it's in presentation format.  One of the reasons I balk at the idea of teaching as a ranked professor (Assistant, Associate, or Full) is because of the professional development required of most schools, which requires you to write a certain number of publications and submit papers to a certain number of conferences and yada yada.  It's a mess.  Why do college professors get paid so little to do so much? 

In other news, I bought a 7-inch, touch screen, digital picture frame today for $25.  This is how low the price gets (down from $110!) when a store stocks things no one would actually buy there.  (Who goes to Borders for a digital picture frame?  Zero people.)  I didn't particularly need a digital picture frame, but all my rich and fancy customers wave their iPads in my face all day and I wanted some sort of gadgety upgrade that I could afford to feel hip for the new decade.  Maybe.  Or maybe I just want my wedding pictures to play on a loop in my living room all day, every day.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

on...well, everything

Remember that time I was doing really well with keeping my blog updated and I felt like a total blogging rockstar?  If you don't, it's because it's been three whole months since my last post and by now my blog link has fallen to the very bottom of your sidebar and you probably didn't even remember it existed. 

I don't believe in making New Year's resolutions, but I do believe in eventually setting goals to get things done at some point, so maybe now I'll be better about keeping you up-to-the-minute updated on the goings-on in my life.  If not, there's always Facebook, right? 

My last post was about that horrible gospel music class--the sight of which, now that I think about it, may be why I stopped visiting my own blog.  You'll be happy to know that I wound up with an A- in the class, which is pretty laugh-out-loud ridiculous, because I don't feel like I learned much in that class at all.  At the end of the day/semester, all I cared about was not getting a D, so I'd say my mischief is managed pretty nicely.

Did I mention that I'm now working at Borders?  I don't think so.  Allow me to quote from a blog post back in August: "Further decorating will come when I find a job, hopefully at a Books-A-Million or Barnes and Noble or Borders or something equally up my ally, and have a little extra money."  Did I also mention that I can see the future?

I love, love, love having a job at a bookstore, even a big corporate one, because I get to talk about books with EVERYONE.  Customers love books.  Co-workers love books.  People love my book recommendations.  People BUY the books I recommend!  It's like my college degree was made specifically for me to be really, really awesome at getting people to buy books.  I'm especially awesome in the kids' section, where every customer is a huge game of 20 questions.

"Boy or girl?"
"Uh...first grade." (People almost always give me the age in school-year format.  It's funny.)
"Any special interests?"
"He really likes zombies."
"Ok!  Let's look at a few My Weird School options."

The moral of the story is that Borders is amazing, even for retail.  And, for those you who are tempted to ask, "But isn't Borders going out of business?" like every other customer, please read this Wall Street Journal article.

The only time Borders isn't amazing is when customers are complete fools, like the lady who tried to pay with a gift card balance receipt ("But it says $4.65 right there!  What do you mean, 'Where's the gift card?'  I don't know where the card is!  I probably threw it away!"), or the other lady who started yelling at me because I wouldn't accept her Barnes and Noble teacher discount card ("I've never been asked for teacher identification before!  This is ridiculous!  Barnes and Noble didn't need any!" "Well, why didn't you just go to Barnes and Noble?"), or the man who ranted for five minutes about how someone "who knows" told him that Borders sells the Kindle (we don't) and it should absolutely be there and "you don't know what you're talking about, young lady," or the man who bought a Blu-Ray movie, took it home, realized he didn't have a Blu-Ray player, opened it anyway, and then brought it back because it didn't play on his DVD player.  (We have a no-return-for-opened-movies policy.)  On the other hand, these loonies make for great story material--obviously. 

In other news:

I went to Charleston for the wedding of two amazing friends of mine and it was the most fantastic thing since my own wedding. 

Zelda is getting a little bit chunky and I love it.  It makes her that much more adorable.

Ricky and I spent Christmas with my parents and grandparents in Miami.  It was 75 degrees.  Be jealous.

I bought "Inception" the day it was released on DVD.  It's still great.

My (real) Christmas tree is still up.

Notice the lack of ornamentation on the lower half of the tree.  This is Zelda's fault.  Also, our stockings are obscured by the angle, but you can see Ricky's peeking out of the right side of the tree.

Here's a close-up of the tree topper because I'm really proud of finding it buried behind other baubles at T.J. Maxx.  I had two strangers come up to me on the way up to the check-out line and compliment me on it.

Again, the angle makes it look funny, but it's a 12-point, three-dimensional star.  It's lovely.  Also, our white pine tree has lost approximately five needles up to this point, and it's been in our living room for three weeks.  I've never had a white pine before, but they're a lot cheaper than the blue spruces ($80 for five feet?!  No thanks!) down here in FL, and I like them a lot more now that I know how well they hold up!  You go, often-overlooked breed of tree.

Ricky and I also started our very first Christmas tradition!  Mount Vernon, where we had our wedding reception, designs and sells a new Christmas ornament every year.  We thought it would be neat to collect each one, starting with the year we got married, so we had my mom send one down to us!  (You can have them shipped from Mount Vernon itself, but we didn't know that yet.) 

This one commemorates the 150th anniversary of the restoration of Mount Vernon--the other side has a painting of the mansion as it was in 1860.  The ornament took a place of honor at the top of our tree, of course, along with another Mount Vernon collectible ornament of George Washington's sixteen-sided barn that my grandparents gave us for Christmas.

In still other news, Ricky and I flew back to Florida yesterday after a week-long adventure in the wild wild West.  We were supposed to fly out last Sunday, but five minutes before take-off the pilot informed us that a part was broken and everyone would have to vacate the plane and find another flight.  I was a little annoyed until I remembered my flight to England in 2008 that was two hours in before they realized they were leaking hydraulic fluid all over the Atlantic and made an emergency landing in which point the plane caught fire.  (Sometimes run-on sentences are necessary for dramatic situations.  I hope you feel the drama.)  So, I was grateful they caught the problem before take-off and not after.  Everything into Salt Lake was booked for the rest of the day, so we re-booked the flight for Monday morning and went home for some much-needed sleep.  Other than that blip in the schedule, everything went without a hitch--we caught all of our connections, we didn't die driving in the snow, etc.  We also got to go to the Salt Lake City temple, which I took a picture of and haven't uploaded yet, so too bad for you. 

(We even got a $15 parking ticket because we didn't know the temple validated parking and didn't have enough change for the meter.  That's right--we broke the law to go to the temple.  No Mormons are more hardcore than we are!)

After the brain-freezing temperatures of Salt Lake, Ricky's hometown of Burley, ID seemed a lot nicer.  I got the tour of his childhood home, saw the old pictures, combed through his old room, and laughed over his X-files "Trust No One" doorknob hanger.  We played a lot of his old video games (and brought them back with us, of course) and saw his friends and even went to the DI (Deseret Industries, which is like the Goodwill of Utah/Idaho and run by the LDS church), over which I was way too excited.  We also went to Boise and saw Ricky's sister and her adorable chil'ins, who are still as adorable as they were last year but taller and with better eye-rolling skills. 

The youngest, Bridget (age 5), caught Ricky playing with her Leapfrog hand-held game across the room.

"Ricky," she said sternly.  "Did you ask?"

All the adults, of course, "ooooh"ed like someone in middle school just got called to the principal's office.  We're all really mature.

We also went to Rexburg, which is inhumanely cold and I don't understand why anyone willingly lives there. 

(I bet you'd like pictures of all these things, but I forgot my camera for 99% of these excursions and I don't even feel that bad about it.)

Then we flew back to Florida and I practically kissed the humidity-soaked ground.  My hair and skin still haven't recovered from the moistureless vacuum that is the West, but it was worth it to finally see Ricky's hometown.  He hasn't been there for two years!  If I couldn't see Charleston for two years, I'd be pretty sad.  He's a trooper.

I start classes tomorrow, so watch out for a blog post about either my enjoyment or disdain regarding them.  I'm taking History of the English Language, which has most of you gagging already, and a writing pedagogy course--I'm more excited about H of EL, but the pedagogy class was the closest thing to a grammar course offered for this semester, so there you have it.

Ricky hasn't been given his first semester grades yet, but from the amount of studying he did, I'm expecting a call from the President to tell him he did better than any law student has ever done, ever.  We'll see. :)

Hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas!