May 28, 2010

The Number 26

Last Tuesday, I sat on a coffee table in Josh's apartment and gave him a formal schooling in Dr. Mario on the Nintendo. I dominated. The TV was sitting on the floor, in the corner, one of three in the living room for Fred's upcoming Midtown Tetris Challenge. I wouldn't be in attendance for the Tetris Challenge, but I had thrown my full support behind it. Later, Fred came back and proudly showed off his new Fender Rhodes electric piano, a relic from the 60s or 70s on which Radiohead's Everything in it's Right Place can be perfectly replicated. We tinkered around on it, they made me sit down and forbid me to play chopsticks, but nothing else would come to me. A few years of piano lessons and I couldn't locate anything but chopsticks and a few pretty chords. Don't tell my piano teacher.

When I was a kid, if you had asked me how I saw a typical night for me in my mid-twenties, I'd have pictured grown up things. Paying bills. Wife. Kids. Coffee. Harder crossword puzzles. Then I'd have gone back to the NES. And tinkering with a Piano.

Didn't work out that way. I think that when you're growing up you see a few discrete lines between childhood and adulthood. A driver's license, high school graduation, and a few big birthdays officially usher you into the land of grown-ups. You get bills, kids, coffee, and you suddenly know how to handle more stuff.

At 26, I've got the bills, but no kids, still can't stand coffee, and I still have questions for mom and dad about how to handle stuff. And I've lost the piano lessons. The world is every bit as perplexing as it was when I was a kid. Actually, it's more perplexing. It's weird to have time for Nintendo, and have friends who sponsor Tetris tournaments. So I still don't feel qualified for the whole grown-up thing. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up and I still shudder at the thought of big responsibilities. Not in a worrisome way, but I'd rather not be the last line of defense between order and chaos.

And yet: Age has to carry with it some innate and automatic growth, despite my perceived lack of preparedness. I'm more grown up than I realize. I know some stuff. For instance, that the way I used to see growing up - with the clear, dividing lines between kid and adult - was wrong. It's a gradual spectrum, a gradual ascent (descent? assent?). We've all got some grown-up and we've all got some kid. Some of us spend it on video games, some of us - all of us - still have worry, some of us carry our love for high-school drama with us. Having time for the Nintendo and piano tinkering does not restore my adolescence, even if I wanted it to, but it's still a good time.

May 17, 2010


This morning, I went to the park to run. I stretched, did some sit-ups, and after the final one laid on my back and looked up at the trees, the sunlight breaking through, blue sky shining down, green grass tender on the back of my neck, my hands. It was 11:00 am.

You cannot do this at 11:00 am if you have a real job.

I did this at 11 am because I do not have a real job.

But Jim, you have a real job, you work at Whirlpool.

No I do not.

What? Explain.

Gladly. I'll share what I can.

I took a job at Whirlpool in October, last year. They found me - actually, Aerotek found me on Grand Valley's careers website and called me, the door opened without my doing. I interviewed, they offered me a job and I took it. I'm more impulsive than I realize. Whirlpool, it turns out, is a pretty good place to work. I'm not sure what all I can tell you about the workplace. Most companies, especially big ones, would rather you didn't blog about work. They don't want people divulging their trade secrets. Being a low-level support rep, and a contract employee, I wasn't privy to too much of that anyway. So they're safe. And I don't have an axe to grind or anything.

I'll tell you a few generic office things: they have a cafeteria in the middle of the building where nobody actually eats. Not once did I eat the cafeteria food. I mostly bought Lipton iced tea there. There are a few blind corners around the building, and some people walk like they have urgent messages for the President. More than once I rounded one of said blind corners nearly to collide with a staffer on a mission, and narrowly avoided a flurry of papers and awkward excuses. It took me a few months to realize that there are rounded mirrors to avoid exactly that situation.

It didn't take long for me to decide that this job was not one I wanted to spend these years of my life doing. But, I know that lots of people have to pay their dues at the bottom in order to work their way up, so I stuck with it. My brother told me he couldn't see me working in a call center. I kind of agreed. But, 40 hours a week in Michigan is nothing to forsake. I stayed for the opportunities and the money, hoping there might be something for me later on down the line. People would ask me how work was going. There's no good way to answer that question if you're not happy. And for whatever reason I couldn't just answer it with a polite, "Great, thanks." So, for future reference, don't ask that question unless you're sure they love what they're doing or are prepared for brutal, quasi-depressing honesty.

The past seven months have brought a lot of introspection. I thought a lot about being a grown-up, about who I am and who God is and why he brought me there. But you can analyze things to death and never understand them any better. So maybe one day I'll have a better idea of what happened in the last few months.

But going off my own gut reactions, I was lonely and unhappy and not ready to spend a lot of time in a cubicle. Even though I could do the job, and do it well with people I liked, there was something more I wanted, things that I need to get out of my system before I can settle down.

I hadn't planned to go back to Grace. Even when I saw that they had need for another core staff position, I was pretty sure I wouldn't pursue it. I was settling in at Whirlpool whether I liked it or not. I'd developed rapport with people in the office, had found opportunities on other teams, began to build relationships with some coworkers outside of work. Leaving would actually involve leaving something behind. But I knew I had to at least consider it. My aim for the next few years is to get back to overseas missions, to find an opportunity abroad. You need money for that. But experience is equally valuable. So as I weighed the opportunity at Grace and shared my thoughts with friends and family, the counsel was pretty consistently to follow my heart, which I discovered was increasingly leading me back to Grace.

I told Grace I wanted the job. I called work a few days later to put in my two weeks notice. Some co-workers were surprised, people were mostly supportive. I put in my last day on Saturday and moved home yesterday. This morning, I laid on my back at the park, looked up at the trees and the sky, and felt thankful that I wouldn't spend a glorious Michigan summer in a cubicle.