tomfromhr.com a blog on tech, politics, life and zombies

22Mar/132

An Unprompted Update

A quick update written from the train during an internet dead zone. I had been playing WoW, but for now, I'll settle for writing until my 3G and tethering comes back.

A very dear aunt of mine died about a week ago now. It's truthfully the first person close to me in my life I've had die, and it's a little odd. It's odd to think I likely won't see that person again until I cross that same bridge they now have. 

At the same time I've been sick enough that life has consisted largely of work, sleep, come home and do whatever I need to to feel better (usually, WoW these days). This is, essentially, what I have to do when sick. No working out, and the bare minimum of social engagements. If I go traipsing around Toronto, I will stay sick for longer.

I took two sick days, and took yesterday as a personal, catch up on sleep, write my eulogy, rest and sleep in day. I told work this was exactly what I'd like to do, and asked them for it. Didn't demand, didn't tell them I was taking it, said "this is what I feel I need; if you think we can manage it, I would appreciate it. If not, that's your call." I'm glad I did, and I'm glad they granted it.

I've looked at the Scintilla prompts but they all come out being Aunt related or sad in general, as that's kind of where my mind is going these days. Regrets and loves lost. I'm working on getting out of it, and party of that is sitting here, on this train, in business class, relaxing and enjoying my laptop and a bit of WoW. I've been thinking about the best way to pay tribute to my aunt, but I have no ideas yet. I've written a nice eulogy, I think, or one of several. She would likely encourage me to go on an adventure, to seize the day, to create the life for myself she never had. I'm still debating as to how.

I am starting to think some change needs to happen in my life, though. My time at my home is so wonderful, so full of joy, rest, discovery and creativity. My time outside of home? Not so much. But no one will pay me to stay at home and discover who I am and share that with the world. I don't think so, anyway.

Anyway, this is distinctly a first world problem, don't get me wrong. But I wanted to share where I could, what I could.

14Mar/131

Scintilla Project: Day 2: How To Buy the Perfect Home

I'm doing the Scintilla Project for the next two weeks. Go sign up and join us, or read up on the other folks doing the Project! It's a great blog roll of people.

Today, I'm choosing Prompt B:

Tell the story about something interesting (anything!) that happened to you, but tell it in the form of an instruction manual (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3….).

(Technically this is something I did, not something that happened to me, but still good!).

How To Buy the Perfect Home

  1. Procrastinate on it a lot. Live at home for as long as you can stand. Waste money, live paycheque to paycheque. 
  2. Set really high, unrealistic goals of places to live. Bemoan this a lot.
  3. Change to really low goals. Look at tiny basement apartments with huge commutes to anywhere in dangerous neighbourhoods.
  4. Procrastinate until something in your life changes. This can be a job, weight loss, until you've saved x dollars. Change this a lot to make sure you never really quite achieve it.
  5. Housesit for a friend whose place in the city you once thought would be perfect for you. Discover it's not, at all. Recognize that there's nothing wrong with it, but just that you don't want to live in the same area you thought you did.
  6. Help friends move into a beautiful house, far away from everything, but absolutely stunning.
  7. Realize that you could likely afford their house, or something like it.
  8. Talk with another friend who's disdainful of the city and loves the suburbs. Listen to her thoughts and consider them.
  9. Browse real estate sites incessantly.
    1. Get family and friends in on this as well.
  10. Randomly, and suddenly, decide you've saved enough and it's time to start.
  11. Reject many places out of hand based on pictures on the internet. Nearly ignore what everyone is telling you and don't visit that one place you don't like the look of on the net.
  12. Go visit that one place first and realize it is basically perfect and everything you want, and some things you didn't know you didn't know you wanted.
  13. Visit other places you thought were awesome and realize the pictures made them look good when really they're terrible.
  14. Make your realtor work on the night of a big sporting event to help you put in an offer lest that couple you saw looking buy the place out from under you.
  15. Take the signed back offer.
  16. Wait a few weeks until everything is absolutely 100% finalized.
    1. Rage at people who pressure you for things. Do so quietly. Yell at your phone a lot with it not being on.
  17. Once purchased, wait until the last possible second to move in. Realize suddenly how emotionally difficult this is.
  18. Once there, host party ASAP. Bring people around as much as possible. Clean house incessantly. 
    1. Lighting BBQ on fire at least once is recommended, but optional.
  19. Fight off loneliness with alcohol and food.
  20. Expand cooking repertoire. Learn you really love your own cooking. Use exploring new city as an excuse to order lots of take out, initially.
  21. Get two adorable cats. Watch them hide for a week, then wish they'd hide as they climb all over you.
  22. Write blog post from your laptop, next to your window, and quietly realize that, yes, this is the perfect home for you. Maybe just for right now, but it is.
  23. Thank blog post readers for reading til the end, and stop talking in some kind of weird passive voice now.
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13Mar/133

Scintilla Project: Day 1: The Story of the Cursing Elderly Woman

Hi! I'm Tom, and this is my Scintilla Project post, day 1.

That sounds so formal. But I feel like I've introduced myself many times. I am a nerd, an HR guy, a gamer, a Canadian, a blogger, vlogger, homeowner, friend, Servant to Cats (I used to say cat owner, but they didn't like that much).

Today for Scintilla, we have the option of talking about a time we were drunk under age, or a story from our first job.

I'm going to go with a bunch of little stories about my second job instead. DANGER ZONE.

Mainly because I did not get drunk under age. In fact, I resisted alcohol for a while, until I got a little pretentious in university and decided I wanted to drink scotch and fancy, foreign beers. I was turned off alcohol initially, I think, because I was an uncool kid (well, I thought I was cool, but all the drinking kids couldn't see the inherent awesomeness of Star Trek and video games) and because my main exposure was my Dad's Coors Light. I'll tell you, I can drink almost any beer you put in front of me, except Coors. Damn.

ANYWAY.

My first job was painting for my Dad in the summers between school. It paid well, but I can't say I loved it. Lots of time outdoors, lots of early mornings, slightly later nights and occasional weekends. If I was a more outdoorsy person I suppose I would've loved in, but it tended to involve a lot of traipsing around in dog shit ridden backyards, dealing with bugs, dirt and paint. And for a pale kid allergic to just about everything in the summer, this was not ideal. And, to be honest, I came away with very few good stories. 

After university, I got a job working for the federal government in one of their offices doing data entry. It was a pretty good job overall. Good hours, good pay, nice people. Some of them a little jaded, but good people. The summer afterwards they cancelled the program I was hired under, and I went back to painting.

The summer after that, however, I was hired back again, and asked to work the front desk. Now, this was an office where you could get copies of SIN cards, apply for Employment Insurance and check the status therein, and a few other government services. I dreaded working the front desk. I'd never done sales or reception or anything of the sort before, and I'd heard some of the horror stories others had told me about how some people would act and treat government employees. I was tossed out there with precious little training, the front line representative of a huge government with thousands or programs. What follows was going to be a few short snippets, but one story ended up ballooning up a bit, so just the one. I have more, like the time a guy threatened to kill me, or the time we accidentally triggered a near lockdown, or the time I was nearly given a cushy high paying job, or the time someone attempted to bribe me.

An elderly woman came in to apply for a new Social Insurance Card. This is actually a pretty big deal; that card contains a number with which you can do some very terrible things, so we were required to ask for certain documents to prove a person's identity. A driver's license, library card, credit card, passport, Subway Sub Club Card, nor almost any other document you may have with you, will be accepted. Birth certificate, citizenship card, permanent resident card or work permit. The thing is, technically none of the other documents prove you have the right to get a SIN card. They prove you can drive, read, shop at Subway, or travel as a Canadian citizen, but not that you're able to work in Canada.

I know, it's stupid. I never got why passport wasn't accepted, but alas, my job was to enforce the rules and, sadly, to inform this sweet old lady that, no, she couldn't get a new SIN card, and would have to come back with her birth certificate. 

"What? I have my driver's license!"

"I'm sorry, miss, we need your birth certificate in order to issue a replacement SIN card."

"Why?!"

"It's your primary means of identification. It shows your citizenship, the driver's license doesn't."

"Can't you just look it up?!"

"I'm very sorry, miss, we can't, we need your birth certific-"

"Oh, SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS!"

She stormed off to the nearby phones that linked to the central government lines. I paused a beat, looked to the next person in the massive line, smiled with what I can only assume was very little conviction, and said "Next please."

The rest of the people in that line were quiet and kind, I found. However, a few minutes later, the same elderly lady started waving at me and pushing in front of the line. Now, I don't know whether I've always had this pet peeve, or whether this developed during my time at the government, but to me, those who demand to skip the line, for "just a quick question," who think cause they're "just here to drop something off" they can jump ahead of everyone, who think they're too busy or important to wait in line with the rest of the plebs, those people deserve a place in a Special Hell in my mind, with child molesters and people who talk in the theatre. To this day little pisses me off more, as someone in line or someone managing a line, then someone who hangs out near the front hoping to get whatever they need taken care of ahead of everyone else. It doesn't matter why. YOU DON'T DO IT UNLESS YOUR LIFE IS IN DANGER.

"They want to talk to you!" she said urgently, gesturing to the phone she had gotten ahold of. "Sorry, I was here before," she said, sweet as can be, to the person I was talking to. "They want to talk to you!" she repeated to me urgently, with a hint of warning in her voice, as if I was about to get a stern talking to. I look to my coworker, who nods, as I step away from the desk to pick up the phone.

"Uh, hello, this is Tom, from the office."

"Hi, yes, I've been speaking with this client and I wanted to know why you didn't offer her the Old Age card?"

"The what?"

"The fireworks card?"

"Um, I'm sorry, I have no idea what that is."

"You know, the card senior citizens on Old Age Security can order over the phone that has their SIN number on it."

"…No one told me there was such a thing. I'm new here."

"Oh, well, she can just call in and order that without the birth certificate. Here, hand her back the phone and I'll explain it to her."

I handed back the phone and waited a minute. She nodded happily through it and, after jotting down a number to call, hung up.

"Oh, I'm ever so sorry!" she said to me, suddenly sweet as sugar again.

"It's okay, miss." I said impassively, a small, fake smile on my face. She did seem somewhat distraught, I'll concede, but I can't say I was in a very forgiving mood after being sworn at, loudly, in public, for doing my job to the best of my ability, and then told off about not telling her something I didn't know. 

So, next time you encounter a bitter, beaten down public servant? Cut them a teensy bit of slack? There's no excuse for rudeness, or not doing their job, but these are people on the front lines, often dedicated people who really care about what they're doing, even if they may not show it well. Give them a break if they're not super cheerful, eh?

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6Mar/133

Saying Hello Around the Office and Confidence in Speech

When recently changing jobs I went from an office with 13 other people in it to working for a company that employs over 150 000 people. Not all crammed onto my floor, of course, but the number of people I interact with on a daily basis has increased a fair bit.

It's posed an interesting issue for me on a social interaction basis. Again, this is one of those things that I feel like I missed in school.

When do you say hi to people? Do I say hi to every person I was briefly introduced to in my office tour? For those long hallways, what's expected? A short, slightly loud conversation, asking how the person is, trying frantically to recall their name and something, anything about them? Is that too personal, too much? Is a simple "hi" enough? 

I find myself often copping out. Doing a smile and a nod if I catch their eye. Doing an anemic little mumbled "Hi" as I walk by with a wave that doesn't come above my waist. It's a cop out, truly. I worry about putting myself out, about saying hello confidently and the person…what? Not replying? Not wanting to talk to me? Somehow intimating my lack of worth and interest and responding appropriately?

When I explained this to my therapist her reaction, as it is many times, is sheer awe at how wrong I am about myself, how hard I am, how much I assume about others. She challenged me to say hello to everyone I walked by, loudly and confidently.

Shit's TOUGH, yo.

I've been doing it, though, mostly. Sometimes I get no reply. Sometimes I'm still too quiet. But I'm trying. Making an effort. Working on it. Shockingly, no one has looked on me with disgust that I dare speak to them.

I'm still not really clear though on what to do when you've greeted someone already that day and walk by them in the hall again. A hi again? The look away? The intent stare at the smart phone as an escape?

Seriously, awkward people, what the fuck did you DO before smart phones?!

3Mar/130

That’s a spicy meatball-et-ground beef!

I didn't cook much when I lived with my parents. It didn't really make sense for me to; we had one kitchen, I arrived home at the same time as everyone else, and it wasn't much extra for Mom to make more dinner. Even for lunch, she still makes my Dad's lunch every day, a little extra for me was something she was happy to do.

So since I've moved out I've been doing a lot of cooking and food prep for myself. I lived alone for many years and cooked for myself, of course, but they were often simple, unhealthy meals, and there was a lot of take out during those years, too. So this is, in a lot of ways, new to me. And I've been having a blast with it.

I've started off making simple meals, simpler than would have satisfied my parents, and a lot of repeats, but things I enjoy. This recipe has been my starting point. A relatively low cal, chicken based dish, with lots of veg. I started off making it just as suggested, until I realized I knew the recipe, such as it was, by heart, and could play with it a bit. I used different spices, cooked some things for longer, used different veggies, threw a bit of olive oil into the mix, cooking some quinoa to make things last longer (though they sadly didn't help overly much, I can eat a ton of this stuff). But I started to want different things, so I moved onto roasting. Simple veggies chopped up, tossed in some olive oil and spices and threw them in the oven for a while. Put a chicken breast in and has a nice, full meal.

For lunches, I've had a lot of simple ones. Yogurt, a small jello, some carrots (pre-bagged on Sunday for grab and go!) and often some sort of main. Maybe leftovers from last night's dinner, though lately I've been working at getting more veggies into the mix. A cucumber, cut up, tossed with feta cheese and some light salad dressing, makes for a great lunch. I want to add a bit of heft to that one, though. Maybe some more cheese, or even some pre-cooked meat chopped up and mixed in. I find it doesn't always fill me up, and that is a concern.

For breakfasts, my go-to has often been these egg muffins. I tend to play with the recipe a lot, often using peppers in place of broccoli, turkey bacon in place of sausage. They're great for grab and go, of course, but it means I have to plan ahead and make time over the weekend, which is where I often fail. Otherwise I've been trying to make myself a small sandwich with some peanut butter and whole grain bread, an apple and some yogurt. A good breakfast is important, and I don't just mean that as an after school special. If I don't eat something decent and substantial during that time, I'm starving and tend to overeat at lunch, ducking out for something extra outside of what I bring.

A lot of the big thing for me is making it all as easy as possible, so I have fewer and fewer excuses to buy lunch and breakfast. I won't pretend there haven't been days I have, cause sometimes it definitely doesn't come together, but I work at it. It's a learning experience, like anything.

One tip, though? Be careful with cayenne pepper! I used it like regular pepper and had a batch of chicken and veg that made me cry every time I ate it.

1Mar/131

The Religion of You

Early into my therapy, my therapist started talking about belief systems. This is a concept I've touched on before, but I was talking about it with Dom a while back, and she suggested I do a post. Then an email with Linda ended up with me ranting about how destructive these things can be, and, well, here we are.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with religion. That is simply a catchy title. It caught your eye, didn't it? You controversy-loving reader, you.

It's easy to see that your belief system is the way you see the world. In this case, it is like a religion. But the way my therapist uses the term, it describes how you interpret events that relate to you, and how you handle the various things that life throws at you.

My belief system, at its core, is that I am largely worthless as a person, in almost every way.

Well, it was. I don't really think it's still there, but there are aspects of that. Everything that happened to me I interpreted as someone picking up on and reacting to that fact about myself. If someone corrected me about something, I assumed I was an idiot, and that person was, of course, right. When dating someone I assumed I had, essentially, tricked them into dating me and they would wake up any day now and realize my deception of flattering clothes and put-on intelligence. If someone invited me along to something I assumed it was because they felt they had to, not that they wanted to. If a conversation with someone hit a lull I assumed it was my fault for not keeping things going. If someone liked me (you know, like liked) I assumed it was, at best, because of my personality and in spite of my body, that no one could ever be attracted to me as I am. 

The realities of these situations are so different, and yet they never even really occurred to me until recently. If someone corrected me, they could be wrong too, or not think I was an idiot for one mistaken fact. I also have dated intelligent, wonderful women, who couldn't be tricked into anything, let alone a relationship. People invite me along to things because I'm fun and funny, often. It is not solely my job to keep a conversation going and real people have lulls all the time. And people can, and have, been attracted to my body just as it is.

I don't know how I developed this belief system, but I see similar things from so many people, people who don't think they deserve happiness, who accept so many of their own readings of situations as absolute fact. Challenging these, and believing differently about them, has been very difficult. It requires constant vigilance. 

Because the sneaky hate spirals that tend to come out of those thoughts, where I hate myself, my laziness, my lack of intelligence, my lack of motivation, my lack of willpower, those feel good. They feel familiar. Like a warm, scratchy, unwashed blanket. It feels right to flog myself, to beat myself up. Maybe it will prevent others from doing the same if they see me doing that. Maybe it gives me an excuse to buy that thing, to eat that unhealthy food, to let the dishes sit another day.

This was such an odd revelation when it came to me, that some part of me liked these times where I felt terrible. But I think it makes sense, in a twisted sort of way.

Now, I work on changing this belief system. And I am, slowly but surely. I have to watch my thoughts every second, stop the ones that serve no purpose or reinforce that belief system, examine them, and reject so many. I still doubt I'll ever get there, to that point where my belief system is a more positive one, but I sure as fuck am gonna try.