Thursday, November 22, 2007

The New Job

So I just flew in from Moncton, and boy are my arms tired.

Nah, I drove in from Moncton, last night at that, but boy am I tired. The new job (about which more later), the learning all the ropes of the position, the swimming in French, the fitful nights in a hotel, the running around looking for a place to stay, the drive down in the early hours of Monday morning and back in the early hours of last evening, plus just the stress that goes along with all of the above, has me feeling pretty exhausted today. I know that'll improve once I settle into a routine.

Before I go any further I want to share this photo with you... I took it awhile back but forgot to post it on the blog. It's a sign you see when you hit the highway heading east, about 30 minutes outside Fredericton.

The sign is there to tell you to STAY IN YOUR CAR because you are passing through a MILITARY TRAINING AREA and if you go wandering off the main road you could get BLOWED UP. I just find that perversely amusing. After I'd lived her awhile, I met a woman who grew up in this area - actually she'd lived in a town that was cleared out when the land was expropriated to create Base Gagetown. She and her friend had horses and she told me they used to ride for hours in these woods as kids, including the abandoned town, and "sometimes we used to wonder why there were red x's or targets on some of the houses." I guess she was just lucky the way dumb kids are (the military used the marked houses for artillery target practice).

Where was I? Ah yes, Moncton, where yesterday I passed three men in full Nativity-play shepherd costumes. I didn't get a photo, regrettably, but I did wave at them and they waved back. The city is quite a lot larger than Fredericton and has a strong cultural vibe going. There are posters for cultural events everywhere downtown. (I could have seen Bedouin Soundclash at the Oxygen club on Monday night but didn't see the poster until I got a chance to walk the downtown on Wednesday.) There's City Hall, all ready for Christmas, although that sculpture of a deer is going to have some pretty thin grazing on those bricks.

The job is just about exactly as I imagined working for the great grey ship of the Federal Civil Service would be. There's a kindly old Commissionaire who says "bonjour" to everyone in the morning and "bonsoir" to everyone as they leave in the evening. My office is in a very large, very old building that is part of an even larger complex of buildings full of Federal employees. The building I am in used to be a Post Office; not sure of the date when it was built but there is a fine row of impressive brass-grilled wickets in what is now the lobby, and a wall full of brass mailboxes too, unused now. There's a keycard that works the electronic locks on the elevators and the locked doors (it is a thrill all out of proportion to the event the first few times you wave your card at the lock, and the little red light turns green and a beep sounds and you're 'in', you're on the team, you're an insider with access), and a little cafeteria that serves sandwiches and salads and diner-style hot meals at lunchtime ("MARDI HOT HAM SANDWICH; MERCREDI MAC AND CHEESE"). The cafeteria is run by an organization that hires and trains people with disabilities.

If you're not in the mood for HOT HAM SANDWICH or MAC AND CHEESE, there is a pedway to a shopping mall across the street with a food court and about everything else you could want - a grocery store, pharmacy and big department store, and a bunch of little boutiques, including one where I found this year's #1 entry on my Christmas wish list - a 2-metre tall wooden cat. The light is reflecting off the price tag so you can't see that he's just $995, marked down from $1095. A bargain, and already wearing a Christmas bow!

Let's see, there's a woman who does the IT support and a woman who does "logistics", which covers everything from getting you pens and a stapler to getting your security keycard and setting up your voicemail. There is, naturally, an Administrative Assistant who is the brain of the entire operation, who actually knows everything that happens and how to make it happen; who greases the rails for all the other employees in the building; and who is probably paid 2/3 of what they are.

There is an office, with two cubicles, one for me and one for my office-mate, who has Buddhist flags hung over his desk and a poster saying "HUMAN RIGHTS - NOT HUMAN WRONGS!" next to his computer monitor so I knew we'd get on. The cubicles are roomy and the desk and ergonomic chair are embarrassingly handsome and expensive and nice compared to anything I've ever had before.

There are passwords for everything. For logging in to your computer, for logging in to your email, for logging in to the software used for the work I do. The system automatically kicks you out if you're idle for a few minutes and you need to log in again. Security.

The only English words I heard all week were spoken directly to me... the lingua franca of the office is entirely French. All emails are in French, which isn't a problem because I read it. I attended a meeting in French on Tuesday which felt like a bit of a car wreck. People don't speak proper; they slur and mumble and cross-talk and use slang and jargon. My success is going to depend entirely on whether I can adapt to understanding rapid-fire French.

My worst problem right now is that my co-workers always speak to me in English, because they know I don't speak much French. It's a combination of wanting to be polite to me, and a need for expediency - they need to convey information and this is easier than baby-talking me. Unfortunately I have to try to make them use French with me - it's the only way I will learn, and so far when I explain it that way they're agreeable.

I've written a lot about the job, but almost nothing about The Job. I love The Job. It is so interesting and exciting to work on these projects using new tools and learning about how one works with community organizations to ensure that those upstream in Gatineau are going to fund them. These Program Officers are, much more than I realized, advocates for these projects; if for no other reason than, once you recommend a project for funding, you're staking your judgement and hence your reputation on it. Whew!

I have a good, good mentor - the person who originally recommended me for the job. I've worked with him for years and he was very skilled at ramping up the responsibilty during the week, from just reviewing projects on the first day, to entering information into the software project management and tracking system on the second, to contacting clients and ironing out problems with submitted projects on the third. On Monday we will call and negotiate with a provincial funding officer - another step up in complexity.

Evenings were spent looking at rooms, and I've found a great place about 15 minutes from my office; it's a huge bedroom with a private bath (including a shower) and sitting area. It has cable and there's a wireless internet network which tenants are allowed to use; the owner of the place is a divorced dad who's renting rooms to me and another tenant to help pay the mortgage. He's a really nice engaging guy. So finding that was a big relief.

Did I mention I was tired? Husband is at Spanish Class. I guess I'd best head upstairs to catch Virginie . I mean, we have to find out what happens with Barbara's appearance in Juvenile Court, and have you heard about the new Sexologist at Ecole Secondaire Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc?????




Blogger Mike said...

Isn't it fun to be excited about work? Before reading your blog, I spent about an hour on the phone with a former co-worker who is still back in corporate hell and is totally dispirited ... but stuck by family circumstances in the town if not at the company. Thanks for a view of the other side of circumstance, and the good luck that people make, rather than wait for.

But I'm not buying you that cat, no matter how good it would look in your new sitting room.

8:09 p.m.  
Blogger Xtreme English said...

a thousand bucks for a big wooden cat? i wonder who'll eventually buy it?

great post and congrats again on the new job. it's inspiring, but only the young and sturdy can handle a week like that. i think. maybe us old crocks can, too.

have a great week....keep on bloggin!

3:03 a.m.  
Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

Mike and M.E., you think that wooden cat's price tag is bad?

Here's a life-size little glass fiddle that we saw in the Waterford glass knicknack shop last year. The damn' thing can't even be played, for crying out loud, but here's its price tag.

I wonder how long it will take Mike to find out that we charged it to the Glens Falls Post Star in his name.

3:07 a.m.  
Blogger Peggy said...

It's rough being the new kid. In no time at all, with your total immursion in the language, you'll be very fluent.

That cat is just awful and the worst part is that it is not only awful but expensive!

3:28 a.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

But I'm not buying you that cat, no matter how good it would look in your new sitting room.

Well, gol-darnit, what's the point of having a blog if nobody don't buy you nothin'?

Maybe I gots to re-read the manual...


11:07 p.m.  
Anonymous Dann said...

I hope you find this comment some day.

Perhaps this would be a more fitting acoutremont for your home?

[please forgive the atrocious pseudo-French]

6:41 a.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Those sculptures scare me actually...! I'm not sure I'd be able to sleep with one in the house...


6:58 a.m.  

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