Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Day Job

It’s April here in the Hudson Valley; spring has definitely sprung. Last week I was at Clermont State Historic site, and driving home in the afternoon I noticed how beautiful everything is outside, and those first touches of green. I felt this sad feeling wash over me, because I won’t be outside a lot, enjoying the season.

I accepted a full time office job, starting this week. So after a long period of making my own hours, being creative, and having a lot of freedom to make my own schedule, I took this day job working for a big health care organization. That’s where the jobs were locally, in health care. Jobs in this area have been hard to come by, and in a way, I’m lucky to get hired at a time when so many people are being downsized.

What a week it’s been so far. I had to go into the hospital at the crack of dawn, for orientation and processing, which takes days. Then there’s the probationary, training period. Human Resources and my department is located on one side of the road, in an old nursing home that was shut down by New York State for bad working conditions!

The hospital is on the other side of the street. The orientation in this big institution was really like death to the spirit. I think it represents the worst of our capitalist culture with its focus on big business. Working conditions in the hospital and in the office building were in my opinion, deplorable.

I got locked in a bathroom no bigger than a coffin in the old nursing home building, and the floor was covered with water and urine. I literally couldn’t turn around in that rest room, it was so small and hadn’t been cleaned in how long? The next person to come along happened to open the stuck door, and I got out.

Over in the hospital, we had a lunch break, and when I went in the restroom over there, right by the cafeteria, it smelled so bad I had to walk away. This is the one by the cafeteria! That was it for lunch. I didn’t have any. I just took a walk down the street for some fresh air. There appeared to be no fresh air, in either building. Some old vents circulated dead air all day, til I felt my allergies really start to kick in.

I tried to sit through the indoctrinations, and watched the clock painfully tick by. A lady who had been a nurse gave a presentation on safety for hours. She said: “you’ve all heard the rumors about the hospital right? Tell me what they are.” The new hires around me chimed in saying things like, if you’re sick, don’t come here! I thought that was pretty funny and ironic, the hospital talking about its bad reputation.

But, they’re trying to do better. (I was born in this hospital but don’t remember going there, except for a tonsillectomy!) They are trying to raise millions of dollars, and they’re constantly building and expanding and trying to raise capital. The old parts of the hospital are really crappy. When I got in and saw where I would be, the working conditions, it really broke my heart. It’s soul-killing work.

I should have known. The hospital was so intent on making sure they would get the maximum out of me and that I wouldn’t cost them anything, and I would add to the bottom line. I had to have a physical and get thoroughly checked out to prove I was disease free and fit to work. Then there was an intensive and invasive background check. And in return, they couldn’t even provide a decent working environment for employees. In my opinion, it’s not a fair exchange, what they ask of me, versus what they provide.

I think the first day of this job, was really a changing day for me. I want something better than this. I want a healthy environment. I want to do meaningful work. I want to feel like I make a difference, I’m not just a cog in a money making wheel. I want decent working conditions.

I was looking around me and felt like I didn’t belong, because I questioned the corporate indoctrinations. Everyone else was either dozing or eating or staring into space. Didn’t Kerouac ask: “What do you want out of life?” All of this is just so scary, and depressing, even though this is a nonprofit, it says a lot about big business. Ironically, for all this indoctrination, I get the impression there’s a lot of turnover at the hospital.

The attitude of the new employees and trainers was kind of disturbing. There were lots of nurses. All of them seemed quite jaded. It seems like in the big business of mainstream healthcare in our culture, the human touch is lost. I got the impression that patients were kind of like furniture, to be lifted, moved around, processed and handled. This is a scary realization, what really goes on in the hospital.

I had a car accident a few years back and had to go to the ER at the hospital. It was an awful experience. After living through this orientation and seeing the inner workings of the hospital, I hope I don’t have another accident and have to go to the ER!

The unhealthy environment in the hospital is also quite troubling. Lots of the new hires and one of the trainers were obese. I didn’t see many healthy, fit people. Yet the trainer threw all sorts of different candy to the crowd of employees when someone answered a question correctly. And a big table of junk food like chips, cookies and soda was set up in the back, and people just grazed for hours through the training.

It’s sad and shocking to me how this all went down. Not a lot was disclosed to me, about working conditions and benefits, til I took the position. I’m really interested in health and healing, and living a healthy lifestyle. I’m interested in things like alternative medicine and holistic living. So this was particularly hard for me.

I thought I would juggle my job and my writing, but so far I’ve just come home and slept after these rather grueling, unpleasant days.

The state of job hunting in 2008 and what it’s like to work for a corporate environment, I think it might be detrimental to my well being. Maybe it’s just the county I live in and things are better for employees in other parts of New York State or the rest of the country? So, I’m not sure where this really leaves me.

I took the job because it would allow me to relocate, and I’ve wanted to move for a long time. Since I knew this job was in the works, I’ve been looking at apartments and thinking about moving, and that makes me really happy and excited.

As I’ve been looking around at places to live, I sometimes had this pit in my stomach, because I knew I had to work at this day job I wouldn’t like, in order to pay for the move.

It’s not a creative job, at all. I continue to work on my writing, but I’m not making enough to live on right now. A writing career takes time to build, and it could take a while to get established and become self supporting as a writer. So, I decided to take this new job but the hospital is so awful I don’t think I can continue there. I’m taking a break this week, and looking for something better, while I really step up my efforts to be a self supporting writer.

I love the freelance lifestyle. Writing on weekends or at night is never a problem for me. I love that freedom and flexibility of working for myself. It’s something I’d really miss a lot.

So I ask myself, am I working hard enough on this goal of being a full time writer? I think this experience will be a motivator to try and make a full time go of it as a writer! I want to work harder than I ever have on my writing.

I’ve also been thinking again about a “parallel career.” Work that is also creative and complements my writing, that would support me financially as I am freelance writing. That could be teaching, or maybe graphic design?

Wherever you are I hope you’re enjoying this lovely spring weather, and even if you’re working a day job right now, I hope you’re also writing! I wish everyone a very productive and enjoyable April.