Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Flying blind – 306.5

In terms of blows to self-esteem, this has been hard because I am used to being capable and generous and a valued employee. Coming to grips with losing these things is hard. The other way in which this is really outside of my comfort zone is that there are so many unknowns that are completely out of my control.

I am starting to realize that I am extremely neurotic. I have a sense of humor, and am easy going about a lot of things, so it is not obvious and I know I could be much worse. However, I do worry about things and overdo, especially when I am in charge, and I have a hard time trusting other people to come through. I have looked at my behavior before, and seen it as a combination of two things. One is that persistent feeling of not being good enough, where I feel like I need to overcompensate. Maybe if I bring three dishes to the potluck, instead of just one, I have earned a right to be there. The other part is just not trusting people to be flakes. In a lot of cases it may be fair, and comes from experience, but it is probably still overly judgmental.

I knew that I did this, but had never really pegged myself as neurotic, which I associate with New York and annoying people after reading books by East Coasters who obsess over things that don’t matter to me. (So maybe the annoyance is not because they are neurotic, but because it is about getting their kids into the “right” pre-school and crafting the right image.) I started using the word neurotic for me after two incidents.

One was standing in line at a church potluck, where they were trying something new to get enough people to bring food, but the discussion was on how people get flaky, and the person I was talking to was saying how ninety percent of people are flakes and the rest are neurotic, and I realized I was the rest, but I also realized that we get things done. Then I was volunteering at a blood drive, escorting people to the canteen and making sure they got their drink and snack before leaving. I was stressing, because people were supposed to wait for me to come, and if I was not there fast enough they would just start walking on their own (and we had a fainter and another one who got really weak, so it does matter), so I was always looking and trying to gage how long they would take, and just uptight about it. However, I was told later by one of the phlebotomists that I did a great job, and she was right. I did. I was stressed the whole time, but I did a good job. Neurotic people get the job done.

So, you can call me neurotic, and a control freak, and it is fairly true, though I do not try and control other people, and I can live with that. The problem comes when I am here with something that I can’t control. I like to always have a plan, and I can’t plan now. I can plan trying different things, but I have no idea on what the results will be or when I will know, and that is hard. I have had to set aside plans before (like when I realized I was not going to get married when I was twenty, and that I was supposed to go on a mission), but I can’t even make short-term plans now. I am used to seeing very quickly what is needed for a given situation, and how to implement it and just going for it, and that is not something I can do now.

I recently saw a film clip that I am trying to bear in mind. I think it is called “Facing the Giants”. A football team is doing conditioning, where some players are crawling with other players on their backs. One expresses some doubts, and the coach asks if he can carry one player fifty feet while blindfolded, repeatedly asking the player if he will promise to give his very best. The player agrees, and they start, and it is hard. Because of the blindfold he has no idea how far he has gone, or how much is left, so he can’t pace himself at all, and the coach actually has him go one hundred yards.

I don’t know what I have to do, but I probably also don’t know what I can do. It looks like I’m going to find out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bitter – 305

I ended on kind of a bitter note yesterday, so I thought I should at least clarify the advice issue. The two big things that people are saying (besides to not get discouraged, which, how exactly?) is to adjust your resume with keywords for each position, and to make sure everyone knows you are looking. Those are things I have done. I admit that I did not start out with the specific resume adjustments, but lately I have been doing it, as well as customizing cover letters. For networking, there may be a few people who don’t know that I am looking for a job, but I can’t imagine whom.

I think I have shared my theory about good listening before, but if not, it is that you don’t offer advice. The reason for this is that the person with the problem has been thinking about the problem more than the listener. They have a personal stake in it. They are worried about it. If they are like me, they are obsessing over it. You’re not likely to come up with anything new in your five minutes. It’s not impossible, maybe if you have some expertise in the area, or you are just way smarter, but generally, you are going to suggest things that they have already ruled out, and it increases the frustration.

It’s interesting, because I was taught that solution-providing is how men communicate, and then men and women have problems because the woman just wants to be heard, and share emotions. It sounds reasonable, but in my experience women try and provide solutions too, and sometimes men like to vent. Maybe in reality the person with the problem wants to be heard, and the person hearing wants to just fix it so it will go away. I do understand the desire to help someone, and for things to be fixed, but I believe the listening is helpful, and there are things you can do. You can ask clarifying questions, which may help the person see things in a new light, and after they have poured their heart out, if they ask for advice, you can give it then, but otherwise I say you are hurting more than you are helping.

The desire to fix is still nice, so it may not be fair that it doesn’t help, but this is how it looks to me. The thing is, it would be great if someone could tell me something new, because I don’t know how to get out of this.

The situation is that I don’t have a useful specialty or highly in demand skills. When I got out of college, the situation was good and it didn’t matter what you had majored in. I got opportunities to try new tasks, and I did well at a variety of things, but I essentially ended up pigeonholed in customer service. Since they wanted to keep me around, even when there were department changes and management changes and off-shoring, I ended up making really good money at it, that I would not really be able to replicate starting over somewhere else.

I have accepted that, and I can take less money, but no matter how many versions of my resume I make, I’m not going to tell outright lies on it, and so there is a shortfall for a lot of the more attractive positions. I could overcome a lot of that in the interview if I could get in, but a few months ago you could count on 80 to 140 applications for every open position, and the number of applicants keeps going up while the number of open positions goes down. It would be hard to stand out in that crowd anyway, but the way things are going, that crowd probably contains several people who have multiple years of experience and a degree in the right specialty. Truly, this is where networking should come in handy. I guess I don’t know the right people.

What’s really hurting now is that the less attractive positions are not calling me back either. I haven’t heard from Stream, K-Mart, or Fred Meyer, and I know I could do any one of those jobs. Maybe they are worried that I am overqualified, and will have an attitude. A lot of those applications only ask what you have made at previous jobs, not what you are willing to take, but ask me!

Actually, I waited to apply for retail for a while, because I am afraid that a job where I am on my feet a lot will bring on another cellulitis outbreak, but I’m desperate here. My doctor wants me to come in before she renews the Metformin prescription, I haven’t been to the dentist for over a year, and ultimately I am worried that I am going to start falling apart physically, which would at least make the outside match the inside.

So, that’s where I’m at. I don’t know what to do, I’m prickly on the outside because of all the torment inside, and I want to rip the heads off of people who try and help when they do it so ineffectively and smugly. Maybe it is time to start fast food applications.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Here we go again – 308

It was kind of mean of me to dump a lot of doom and gloom, and then procrastinate posting coping methods. It was not intentional—I have just gotten lost in my own problems again. I had said I was going to start another round of self-examination, but I thought I was going to do the other thing first, and maybe that was the wrong strategy. I may mix the two up, but I need to work some things out, and I think I am going to try posting every day for a bit, possibly for the next two weeks.

Maybe the first thing I should make clear is that I don’t think that every thing that happens is necessarily specifically designed by God for us. First of all, turn a bunch of us loose with moral agency in a telestial world and plenty of things happen, where we all get plenty of opportunities to be tested and rise to the occasion (or not). Also, since that agency is definitely there, that alone should indicate that He is not orchestrating every single thing despite being over the whole.

This is important because there are people who try to read specific meaning into situations where the real meaning is that someone is a jerk, or was careless, when they would be better off going for specific lessons, but looking at the greater meaning and how that situation fits into the greater plan. These people are also more likely to view specific trials as punishments (instead of just part of mortal life), and there just seems to be a lot of room for error. I don’t want to fall into those traps.

That being said, I don’t rule out the possibility that at times there are things being orchestrated for you, and even if the trial came up on its own, the end of the trial may be pending upon some change or progress within oneself. And that leads us to the crux of this next writing spurt—I need relief and I am trying to make sure I am eligible for it.

Being unemployed is taking a real toll. It has been all along, I guess. It feels worse now partly because of the cumulative weight (part of my survival has come from moving money around different places, like paying a credit card but then charging the cable bill), and I have run out of wiggle room. Also, well, I had a ray of hope last week, and it looks like that was turning out to be a false hope, so there’s a crash down effect.

When I went through my last bout of depression, I really thought that it was a one-time thing. I lost a key characteristic (my cheerful nature), had to deal with a false belief (that I could not be loved) that was affecting my entire life, but then I did learn and I did get my cheerfulness back, and I thought it was done. Even if there was still residual learning to do (like believing that a specific person could love me, or knowing how to act since I am not the hopeless case that I thought), still, the big part was over and I did not think it would ever have to be repeated. That turns out to only be partly true.

For one thing, I oversimplified my self-definition. When I didn’t recognize myself anymore as this depressed person, I thought, okay, this is my core characteristic, even above intellect. It looks like I have multiple core characteristics. It sounds logical, but it was something I had not thought of until I lost something else that I had always taken for granted: my employability.

This is really unfamiliar territory for me. I have always been able to get the job I want, and then be a star there. Even back when I was first job hunting as a sixteen-year old girl, I applied at a lot of places, but where I wanted to work was McDonalds, and that’s the job that I got. (The desire came from a visitor to my personal finance class who really talked it up.) Then I wanted to work at K-Mart, and Burlington Coat Factory, and those happened. I wanted the job at Clear Connections, and I got it, and even if I was applying for other jobs while I was going after the target, it was like that was all white noise and only one application really counted. There were moments of doubt, when Clear Connections was falling apart, and that one month after my redeployment ran out, but in general things went my way.

This is all different now. That it took a trip around the world right at the time the country was starting an economic freefall for me to have employment problems is impressive, I guess, but it doesn’t help. I still need a job and I am not getting one.

It’s not just that I am worried about bills and depressed about not having money to do things (though I am). It is not just that there is family pressure. It is also that I placed a big part of my value as a person in my ability to earn a living, and to be the smart, helpful one, who knew the job really well and that the rest of the team relied on. I was never doing anything really great, but I earned enough to do what I wanted, and to help my family. I donated to charity. I was generous with people. Now I feel like a big nothing. What am I really doing? Okay, I write (not as regularly as I could, but still), and I apply for jobs, but there’s no payoff. This is the seventh month now.

Honestly, I cannot think of a worse blow. Losing Mom or one of my younger sisters would hurt a lot, but it wouldn’t change who I was. I have struggled with my weight and with being single for a long time, but I am also used to those struggles. This is something completely new, and utterly destroying—except that it is a slow, grinding down destruction rather than a sudden obliteration.

My family is finding me to be a bear, and they are not wrong, but at the same time, every waking moment my emotions are composed of anxiety, fear, despair, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, and self-recrimination. They’re lucky it only boils over when they say something about the job. There is some improvement from last time, in that I have not been as down for as long periods, but still, I am having a prolonged hard time.

Also, what they are saying is not helpful. I am afraid a lot of that has come from Misty. She keeps complaining to Mom that I am not taking her advice, and so it is not my fault. The problems with that are that she actually never gave me advice, she just told Mom she did, the advice that she gave is something I have already been doing anyway, and also, I think anyone who has not successfully gotten a job in this economy needs to shut up. If you were able to successfully get a job in better times, good for you. I was too. The rules are different now. Misty needs to shut up more in general anyway.

Anyway, I’ll allow that ego is a problem that I need to overcome (also, revulsion for my older sister), but that’s why I’m putting it all out here, tearing down the facades that lend any shred of dignity in the hopes that it will help.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The shape of things to come - 305.5

While I was writing my last post, an unauthorized charge was being placed on Maria’s debit card, sending her into the read and ringing up $70.00 in bank fees. It looks like she had gotten them all successfully removed now, but then her car was rear-ended, and some trashy ex-friends of hers started another round of harassment. Add it to our litany of woes. Perhaps that makes this a good time for me to predict a dystopian future.

In December I went ahead and predicted the future a little bit, and now I am basically adding to that. There are trends that I see that are disturbing, and if things are heading that way, well, it’s something to be aware of.

First of all, I don’t see much coming in the way of economic improvement for the next three years. Some will argue over whether that is because the government is not doing enough, or because everything they are doing is wrong. Realistically, I think anyone would have a difficult time cleaning up after this mess. I personally am confident that additional tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations are not the answer, just as I am sure that additional deregulation is not the answer, but again, fixing this is going to be really hard.

Unfortunately, economic hard times lead to despair, and we are seeing a lot of that. I remember watching one news feature about the economy, and strongly feeling the impression that people were going to take their lives over this, then I remembered that at least one person already had (a financial advisor who had lost everyone’s money and felt bad about it). What I did not foresee was how brutal it would be, with so many suicides turning to mass murder first. We already had a growing suicide rate for our returning soldiers, and coming back to find poverty and no job prospects is not going to help. Expect depression, desperation, and rage to be common.

The other thing I have noticed is that the typical bugs are lasting longer. Diseases that you might normally shake in three days are lasting five weeks. This isn’t even an issue with the bugs becoming more resistant to drugs, because these are things like colds that you don’t normally medicate, but I have seen it with myself, family members, friends, and even reading about people I do not know in other parts of the country.

Maybe it is that we are becoming unhealthier. There is already the obesity epidemic and the increase of diabetes, which does not do your immune system any favors. In addition, the average diet is becoming more over-processed, and even some people who were making an effort to be active may be losing the battle, now (either through having to work extra hours or from sheer depression). Also, a lot of it may be stress. Who is not more stressed now than last year? And that does no favors for the immune system either.

Expect to see growing crime—not just violent crimes stemming from the rage and despair (in an environment where alcohol continues to post strong sales)—but also more theft. So much of where the world is now is the result of greed, and from people who stole and cheated big, but there are still a lot of little cheats, and they will be getting grabbier, from ocean piracy to check fraud. This may be somewhat driven by economic necessity, but also we seem to be getting more permissive as a society.
This may not seem like the most pertinent indicator, but marijuana use is becoming really prominent in recently released movies, and it’s being treated as very routine, without their being concerns for it being illegal or killing brain cells. Add sexting, and other trends, and, okay, some people will argue that the moral core has been missing for quite a while, but I think it’s getting worse, and so people and the things that they do will be getting worse.

Weather will continue to be more extreme, and more unpredictable. The last season was really rough on local farmers, and we need to care about them, because the other thing that will happen is fuel costs are going to rise and it will affect everything, including food. When you have cheap fuel, you can get cheap food from all over the world, and the transportation is minimal. That’s not going to last.

Anyway, those are the lowlights. Every now and then I will read something and have a thought, like I think Macao will be swallowed up by the sea, and I’m really curious about the direction that the Catholic Church is taking, what with Pope Benedict restoring indulgences, and pardoning Holocaust-deniers, so I think lots of interesting things will happen, but these are the main trends. Yes, I am sure there will be more natural disasters, but in ways those will almost be a relief from the squalor of regular daily life.

From the December post, I was predicting big calamities around 2012, and then a grace period. Maybe those calamities will shake us out of the economic meltdown much like World War II ended the Great Depression. If there is a need for new construction and repair, and we can work together, you can have a mini-Golden Age before the corruption starts again. Or maybe Christ will just return, and fix things that way. Even if I have a certain amount of pessimism for the moment, my overall belief is that all will be well. Nonetheless, this moment can be very hard. Next time I will write about getting through.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bigger: not always better – 307

I know I was supposed to start another round of self-discovery, but we have had an adventure I want to vent about.

I guess Harrises don’t like to mess with the status quo. Change can be irritating, and we’re certainly not fickle. So, before I was even five my father started a prime share account for each of us kids with Oregon Telco Credit Union. They have changed their name to Unitus Community Credit Union, but they are the same, and I still bank with them. When I took Personal Finance in high school I did briefly start a checking account with First Interstate, but I closed it after not very long, and added checking to my account at the credit union.

Not all of that was habit. I like the principles of a credit union more than regular banking. At times it was inconvenient, because they only had the one location for year, but the amount of things you could do by phone and ATM, and then on-line kept expanding, and now they have a Tanasbourne and a Beaverton location, so it has just gotten better.

On a related note, my mother started with First Interstate years ago, and stayed with them. They became Wells Fargo, and she stayed with them. At times I would be appalled, most recently at the $10 monthly service charge, but she didn’t want to go through the hassle of changing, and that is something I understand. That has changed.

Mom does not know how to use a computer. I have tried teaching her a few times, but she is not that motivated, and it is easy enough to check things for her. I check her online bank statements pretty regularly, and Julie checks her e-mail. Last Friday, Julie forwarded me an e-mail notification of an overdraft transfer, saying, “I assume you did this?” I didn’t.

So, I started checking the individual checks, and found six that didn’t fit. They had all hit within two days and wiped out her checking account, and the e-mail notification was because the bank had automatically taken most of her savings to cover the shortfall.

Obviously this was disturbing, but there were a few things that were comforting. One was that the information on the checks had nothing to do with Mom. The names were different, the address was in a different state, and the logo did not even say “Wells Fargo”; it said “Bank of America”. Establishing that she did not write these checks was going to be pretty easy, and also it looked like it was not a case of identity theft. Instead, someone had probably randomly generated account numbers, and happened to hit on hers. When I worked in e-tail we saw it happen a lot with credit cards, and I have read “Catch Me If You Can”, so I could wrap my mind around that pretty easily.

I wasn’t particularly disturbed that the bank had not caught the different information, because that takes a human eye, and a lot of things are automated, but it did bother me that five of the six checks had check numbers that had already cleared as legitimate checks that Mom wrote. That seems like something that software should automatically detect and have someone look at.

Anyway, at this point, we did not hate the bank yet. I looked on-line and found a contact number, and tried to report it. I was not allowed to because my name was on the account. Mom was right there, she could authorize them to talk to me, and I was not requesting information on the account, I was trying to give them information, but that didn’t matter. They were unhelpful, and honestly a little rude.

Okay, we could accept that we were outside of their procedures, so we went to the nearest branch office. The banker, Lilly, was really good and helpful. She started the claim for us, and told us to call this number in two days to see about getting provisional credit. Also, we would be receiving an affidavit we would need to sign and bring in, and, obviously, the account would need to be closed. (For one thing, there were numbers missing in the check sequence for the counterfeit checks, so I was pretty sure there were more coming.)

We felt somewhat better after this, but it didn’t last. First of all, the number for the claim was just as bad. They act like you are the one who has done something wrong, and that particular agent said that the provisional credit takes 30 days to get. Well, the claim can take up to 30 days to resolve, so that seemed pretty pointless, but I didn’t believe her.

We knew we would need to go back in, but we kept waiting for the affidavit. Thursday Mom got a call that it was being sent, and it arrived Friday, so the mailing time was fast, but it seemed like it could have been sent out faster.

We filled it out, went back in, and found Lilly again, and again she was very helpful. She made multiple calls to find out what the deal was on the provisional credit, and did eventually work it out. Still, several problems became apparent.

First of all, it occurred to me that the larger a bank is, the greater the number of accounts related to its routing number, therefore, the greater the likelihood of someone being able to randomly hit a real account. As Mom and I were discussing this, we started debating about how big Wells Fargo actually is, so we asked there if they were nationwide. Well, they weren’t, but they are merging with Wachovia now. That will not help.

Also, size is an issue with the poor customer support. I realize that we were outside of the norm, but there was still a problem on the other end of the phone, which was that the agents have no ability to do anything, or investment in what happens. When I call Unitus, I get a banker, at the branch, and my hold time isn’t any longer than it was for Wells Fargo.

Sadly, they seem to be moving more in this direction. As Lilly was trying to help us she had to talk to her manager, and it became clear that she had overstepped, and should not have started the claim for us but that those should always be done by phone or it doesn’t work right. Lovely.
One other thing that had bothered me was that we were told that they were unlikely to file anything with the police. I realize they people who did this would probably be hard to track down, but you should at least put the information out there, in case they get caught on something else, or in case they are doing it to multiple business, so it can be tracked, or just so you are not sending a message that counterfeiting is okay and you can get away with it. Again, I think they just write off the losses, and they can, because they are big.

The manager did try to turn their size into a good thing. So, our claim was granted pretty easily, and the original ten-dollar overdraft fee was returned, but there was another thirty-five dollar fee that has not been yet, and this is why. The $10 could be covered by savings, and was triggered by one of the bad checks. Mom had one debit card purchase she had made the previous week, but it had not billed yet because the package had not shipped. When it came through, there was not enough in checking or savings. What the manager told my mother was that since she knew it was coming, she should have arranged to have some funds put in to cover it. And I am thinking, funds from where? Both accounts had been emptied, she doesn’t keep huge wads of cash around, is she supposed to try and borrow it from her unemployed and underemployed kids? She never even comes close to floating checks. We were hoping we could get the provisional credit in there before it hit, but you know how that worked out.

So, I was irritated, and pointed out those things along with some of my concerns about the lacking security, and while she admitted that they needed to do a better job now that fraud was happening more, she said that they will return the amount on the bad checks without a problem, which a smaller bank or credit union wouldn’t do. Bull. Okay, granted, for reasons already listed it is less likely to happen at a smaller bank, but still. Bull.

I’m not saying that the bank is the only one at fault, because we have some very dishonest people out there. Lilly had said with the hard economic times, people are desperate, but I’m sorry, a $2500 shopping spree at places like TJ Maxx, Bed Bath & Beyond, American Eagle Outfitters, and Victoria’s Secret? That’s not desperation; that’s just fun. However, the bank was charging my mother $120 a year just so she could run her checks through them, so I expect more.

I did also have some feeling of unfairness about the issue of them not talking to me because I am not on the account, because is it really fair that she has to put my name on things just because she isn’t tech-savvy? And if you take away the branch option, and send her to the phones, with their menus and unhelpful people, I mean, there are a lot of people in her age group who would have a hard time navigating that mess alone, and they deserve better. However, I had to give that one up. I am on her new account.

Yes, Monday we went over to First Tech and signed her up. We thought about Unitus, but First Tech is more convenient with their locations for her, and Julie and Tripp have both said they are great, so I’m sure it will be fine. There are still a few hassles left in getting this mess cleaned up, but I believe this will turn out to be a good change. I’m still going to try and get that $35 back.