It’s the only fictional-character-birthday I know, and not because I’m a big Tolkien nerd (though I am), but because it’s also my sister’s birthday. Just before my own birthday earlier in the month (or as I like to think of it: the annual reminder from my mother about what LABOR day REALLY means!) I read a piece referring to September as the fresh start of the new year for many pre-Gregorian-calendar cultures.
That feels right to me.
Maybe it’s because my personal calendar turns over its “counter” in September; maybe it’s because the rhythm of school-years imbued my early decades of calendar-use; or maybe it’s because I tend to start things at this time of year.
Case in point: my Blog’s (11th) birthday is today.
In its early years I posted several times a week—a frequency facilitated by the fact that I was freelance-writing for a living, i.e. always at the computer, and when I hit a wall and needed a brain-break, the most natural draw was the open browser-tab with my FUN writing in it. In recent years I’ve drifted away, and back, and away again… and today I notice that my “back-agains” arose in autumn or winter, every time. My creative life broadens as day-length dwindles. I’ve never made that connection until just now, counterintuitive at first blush… but in the next beat, I felt its truth.
My job, too, has a seasonal rhythm. Last week’s rodeo, the Pendleton Round-Up, marked an end to the months where a “day off” might mean only five work-hours instead of nine to fourteen. This week I’m filling our RV sites with monthly residents, traveling workmen arriving for construction on a nearby wind farm, and the processing of guests (phone call, reservation, questions, email, park map, check-in, orientation, more questions, parking, hookup, other questions, conversation, check-out) will drop from the turnover of a thousand guests a month to just a few dozen. You could say our “work-week” is organized on an annual scale: Spring as “Monday”, Summer as “Tuesday-to-Thursday”, Fall as “casual Friday,” and Winter—long-awaited and hard-earned—is more or less our weekend.
Well how fortuitous! The circannual rhythm of my Creative cycle may actually be synced with a job where I have TIME, just when I might actually be most disposed to (literally) make something of it. The purple index card taped to my roll-top desk just above my screen is my reminder:
Time is the currency of your art. In this transaction … writing accepts no form of payment other than your time. “
A person can BE A WRITER without publishing books you’ve heard of (or even, as in my case, published in books you’ve never heard of). A person can BE A WRITER without publishing anything at all, ever. It’s not the publishing that “makes” a writer—it’s the act of writing. So what a person can’t do… is be a writer if she’s Not Writing. In high school I lettered in cross-country, but (for several decades now) it would be inaccurate to say I AM a runner. Same goes, if I don’t engage in the act of writing.
But. Have you ever seen a visual aid of air-flow being deflected around an aerodynamic vehicle or shape?
That’s exactly like my brain’s response to a blank screen: it veers to the side so smoothly I don’t even notice I’ve been redirected.
I am really skilled–disgustingly skilled–at sitting down “to write” and then tripping down a rabbit-hole of writing-related-activity that is still Not Writing. I might be fiddling with settings or images on the blog, or fussing with my writing area, or (my most frequent offender) looking something up for the piece I’m “working on.” This summer I wanted to come up with a visual detail to add texture to a scene (a Manhattan street in 1841) and I ended up spending two days on historic maps and buildings and businesses and newspapers—finally pulled myself up, midway through reading the script of a play that had been onstage at the time… In two days at the computer, I had written one sentence. Framed as entertainment, it’s fine—I get a kick out of that kind of thing. But in terms of productivity? Fail!
Two years ago on an August evening, an unknown Oregon number rang my Idaho cell, and I picked up the call that changed EVERYTHING. Jon and I were agitating to get out of Boise, which has outgrown itself —-wanting to move closer to the Coast, somewhere small-town, more like Idaho used to be… (When I was growing up there weren’t a million people in the state! Now they’re approaching a million in the Boise valley.) Jon, who’d been a mechanic at the same mom-and-pop shop for 27 years, was searching job postings all over Oregon, while I drew a radius around every Home Depot to which I might transfer…
Over and over, my life has proven that GOD is a better planner than KANA. (I write that sentence with a sulky frown, because I’ve considered myself a brilliant planner, thankyouverymuch!)
And so it was that despite all our lists, maps, searches, and phone calls, it was this call-from-the-blue that revealed the real plan for our exodus:
“Is there any chance you’d be interested in managing an RV park in Pendleton, Oregon?”
Why HELL YES, since you ask!
We had chosen to live on wheels for just this reason. Everything we owned was in that fifth wheel—so we could just roll up shop and roll down the road! (That’s it just below: ALL Our Stuff, driving down the road.)
We gave notice at our respective jobs, bid farewell to our Church, my AA Home Group, Jon’s folks and brothers, my teenage daughter, our friends of decades… And exactly 19 days after answering that phone call, we were Pendleton residents: registered to vote in Umatilla County and proud holders of Oregon drivers’ licenses (though I have literally had a mug shot that looked better than this photo).
Now here’s the thing. There wasn’t a written Position Description at that time, but we had a pretty solid idea of what we were taking on. We’d lived in an RV (and an RV park) for our entire marriage, I’d worked in the RV park office for several years, and Jon had moonlighted on the maintenance staff in the summers. So it’s, you know… you keep the grass mowed and laundry machines running, manage the reservations and help people park, sell ice and laundry quarters, pump propane, make bank deposits and do the paperwork, pick the best staff you can from whoever is living in the park… stuff like that.
And indeed, when I ended up writing the Position Description a year later, it was full of stuff-like-that. “Reviewing and updating the Park’s legal and operational documents (renter application, rental agreement, park rules, employee handbook, employee contract, etc.) and staying apprised of applicable changes in state and local laws“… You get the drift. And yes, that’s all stuff we have to do.
But here’s what’s NOT in the Position Description—-not even the one I wrote myself. Because some of this shit just has nowhere to fit in a document like that. Snake Charmer, for example? What heading would you put that under? It’s a thing. In the summer we get bull snakes strolling through from the open adjacent fields—-looking enough like rattlers to spook our East-coast guests, and terrorizing poor Bob, who lives here and doesn’t care that they’re not venomous. Periodically I get a call from Bob, barricaded with his little dog inside his motorcoach, under siege by a bull snake lounging beneath his steps—-so Jon jogs over to take it by the tail and swing it back over the fence.
The ACTUAL Job Title Should Include…
The reality of this job is some crossbred chimera of… House Mother. Building Super. Narco. Concierge. Groundskeeper. Zookeeper. Safety Inspector. Sponsor. Hostess. Personal Shopper. Newspaper Reporter. Driving Instructor. Postmistress. Social Worker. Tech Support. Marriage Counselor. Emergency Services. Landlord. Mediator. Plow Driver. Plumber. Ditch-Digger. Electrician. Traffic Cop. Crew Boss. Legal Advisor. Neighborhood Watch. Marketing Manager. Trainer. Travel Agent. And maybe Tiny-Town-Mayor. (Or Tiny-Country-Dictator?—-there’s really not another branch of government in play here.) Plus, occasionally, a touch of Pastor.
I’ve had someone knock on my door to alert me (with quite stern intensity) that there were hamburger buns in some trees! I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do with that information, but I thanked her politely.
Last week a mom knocked on my door for help with her fourth-grader’s math homework (the kids still aren’t back to school-in-person in our county; thanks to COVID they’re suddenly all home-schooled).
I’ve been asked on the phone if there were any possibility I could provide a javelin upon the caller’s arrival, something about a scheduled coaching-session. (We don’t have Craigslist here, but a community FaceBook page serves similar purposes—and my request for the loan of a javelin was certainly one of my odder posts there…)
I do wish I’d started earlier at jotting down the surprising incidents, the sorts of things that leave me owl-eyed blinking and wondering if someone actually just asked me that… But here’s just a small and recent sampling.
Tech Support, Level One Zero
“I need you to help me set up one of those—-you know, a mailbox on my computer,” says one of our residents, hefting himself onto the stool across the counter from me. Not having the least idea what he has in mind, and not wanting to sound insulting, I settle on the vague but diplomatic: “Tell me more.” Email! It turns out the thing Stan wants but doesn’t know the name for is an email account.
I set him up with gmail—and staple the address and its password to his renter’s file, assuming he’ll need help with that again. Sure enough, a few months later he’s at our door asking my husband about his password. Feeling rather proud of my foresight, I produce it on a Post-It, but Stan frowns and says he’s already tried that. “Here. You make it work,” he insists, holding out his device.
It’s a Roku remote.
Sometimes the moment when you understand something is the same moment when you realize you don’t know where to begin with explaining it.
Parrots. Parents. And Other Wildlife
I’ve been asked if we provided grazing for horses. (They might fit through the dog-park gate?) I’ve been asked if we had rules about goats. There’s a six-foot iguana living in a fifth wheel down the way. (And Harley does startle people, sunning in the window at eye level.) There used to be a one-legged man with a parrot (for real!) and after I teasingly called him a pirate, he showed up in the office in full piratical regalia! Actual wooden leg and antique pistol and all. (Turns out he used to make a living playing pirate in Key West.)
I’ve seen cats walking their humans on leashes (and one that rode around on his person’s shoulder), cow-dogs on rodeo ropes, one bear-puppet, a couple imaginary pets. One day a glance out the office window started me laughing—“Ohmygosh, that looked almost like a huge chicken in that camper doorway!” My cohort and I had a good giggle, because how crazy is that! Well it WAS a huge chicken. Harvey, the biggest rooster I’ve ever laid eyes on. (Thankfully, Harvey’s person considerately took him on a drive every morning so he wouldn’t wake the rest of us cock-a-doodling.)
For pure entertainment value, though, it’s hard to beat the people. Especially (being a hike-in-the-mountains, pee-in-the-bushes kind of Western Gal myself) watching the people unaccustomed to wildlife that’s any wilder than, say, pavement pigeons.
An overexcited woman grips my arm: “Ohmygod, did you see the MOOSE?” (Yes, we do see deer in the fields and conservation easement between our fence and the mountains. Do I educate her, or just let her have her moment?)
A person with a camera around his neck asks me WHAT TIME will the family of quail be returning to view? I’m reminded of a back-country hike in Yellowstone, when we ran into another hiker who was anxious about being on the wrong trail “because when I went UP the mountain there were SHEEP.” (Again, do we educate or just point him toward the trailhead and his car? Notice to all hikers: Bighorns come on legs.)
Just last month a resident asked me to move the birds congregating in the adjacent tree and making a mess on his trailer. I said sorry: “Shit happens. Sometimes literally.”
The people-watching prize, however, goes to a colleague of mine who runs another KOA park… Young kid finds baby skunk. Kid’s mom lets kid pick up baby skunk. Baby skunk bites kid. (Go, Baby Skunk!) Mom wants proof that “the animals are up-to-date on vaccinations.” !!!(Park manager silently wishes baby skunk had bitten MOM while he was at it…)
Sitting in a “town hall meeting” of Home Depot employees last week, several of us broached the subject of training with our store manager, Jeremy. The Home Depot offers some incredibly structured online training modules (I’m especially grateful for the interactive “Cashier’s College” that helped me weather my first days at the register!) but several of us felt our on-the-ground training had been rather haphazard. Invited to critique our experiences as employees, we gave voice to what we saw as gaps in the training process.
Jeremy is a master at the positive spin, and he proved as much in the town hall meeting. While he acknowledged the concern and validated our experiences, he also spun our critique into a pep-talk of a learning-moment. “Well, it IS a do-it-yourself store,” he said with a laugh, after acknowledging our concerns, and sharing the challenges inherent in employee training—“and sometimes that do-it-yourself culture will apply to learning too.” He talked like a teacher, speaking of Pushed Learning (like the online modules that are “served up” to the learner) contrasted with Pulled Learning (when you seek out the new knowledge for yourself).
Essentially he was inviting us to consider whether we’re content with limiting ourselves to what gets served up on a platter, or whether we want to take charge of our own experience. I came away feeling inspired to demonstrate that I AM invested in my own learning.
It was a timely pep-talk for me, because I’m embarking on a whole new learning-journey with my move from cashiering to the Service Desk. While I’m excited about the move, I’m all too aware that it’s a steep learning curve. There’s a whole new (complex) computer system and a load of new procedures and services for me to master before I’ll be effective there.
All in all, it’s the perfect time for me to feel inspired.
I applied some of the same attitude to last weekend’s three-day motorcycle class. The classroom segments were definitely “pushed learning,” but the range practice required more. No one is guaranteed a completion card just by taking the course—in fact, several students failed the skills testing—but I can happily report that my completion card will be in the mail this week, and I can officially add the motorcycle endorsement to my license when it arrives.
In order to accomplish that, I had to get past the step-by-step verbal instructions being shouted to us and feel the bike. Stopping. Swerving. Weaving. Cornering. (This is a venue where the “learning curves” are literal curves!) Continue reading “Learning Curves”→