The Pathological Truth Journal

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Archive for the ‘work’ Category

I am not particularly good at anything.  I don’t count myself as smart or emotionally savvy.  I can pick things up and do them fast and dirty but when it comes to real understanding I don’t have a lot.  I’m not really great or even really good at anything.  I usually find after a few months at work that I’m really not cut out for the job but they gave it to me because on appearance it seems as though I should be able to do it.  To me, this isn’t really a problem.  It’s just part of who I am.  The problem comes when I try to tell other people that I am, on the whole, rather incompetent.  There are two reactions.

  1. “Oh, you just want attention!”
  2. “You’re too hard on yourself.”

Neither of these is true.  I’m simply very aware of my flaws and shortcomings.  This has caused me to wonder a couple of different things.

Why is this considered a bad thing? 

I realize that I am archaic.  I believe in forgiveness and mercy.  I believe we are all deeply flawed and broken.  We are not what we should be.  All of us have the same darkness, the same egotism, the same flawed nature.  So, why not admit it?  I have never understood the shame in this. I do recognize that as a citizen of the U.S.A. this culture, being very individualistic and “can do” that saying “I can’t” is considered wrong.  We believe we can do anything with our own power if we just try hard enough.  But that isn’t true.  Speaking Scripturally, that isn’t true.  The people who we’re supposed to look up to in the Bible screwed up more often then they would like us to count.  If we allow ourselves to say maybe we’re not perfect then we can really take a look at ourselves and others.  We could offer the grace to others that we would want ourselves to others.  We could look at others with fresh eyes knowing they have the same fallible nature that we have.  Personally, I think this would be great.  Imagine not needing to make constant excuses or blame others because it’s OK to say that you made a mistake and not need to worry about being fired.

So, what do I want people to say to me?

I want to vent sometimes.  I want to go to people and say “this is how I feel”.  There are so many times I feel like I’m drowning and I want to tell someone but invariably there are the two reactions.  I thought about what I would want to hear for a long time.  I think the only reason it’s bothering me so much now is because I am no longer hearing the words that I found comforting.  So, if you come across someone who also realizes their own incompetence here is what I would suggest.

  1. Life is complicated and messy. – Sometimes bad things just do happen and it’s hard to understand.
  2. We’re all just sort of winging it. – You may not realize it but we all look more put together on the outside than we often feel on the inside.  Most of the time every person is just trying to do the best they can.
  3. Just because you’re mostly incompetent doesn’t mean you aren’t worthwhile – I’ve never heard anyone say this but I would sure like to hear it sometimes.


I temped for a lawn & garden manufacturer. They are awesome people but there was something strange about the place. There were always plastic pink flamingos around. They were everywhere but that plant doesn’t make or distribute them. The flamingos were in offices and cubicles. They were made into lamps, into art, into all sorts of things (along with really cool welded sculptures). I found I really loved those flamingos. Not in some hipster ironic way but I loved them sincerely and honestly. As I was born on that wonderful holiday “National Plastic Pink Flamingo Day” I received an entire box of flamingos for fulfilling my duties. The HR manager at the time even decorated the entire office in the most amazing way ever. Again, awesome.


Well, I have no understanding of electrical engineering. But I can do random things with random stuff. So, how would you like to learn how to build your very own flamingophone? Of course you want one! Who doesn’t? Granted, I’m not finished with this project as there are a few issues I need to work out. A capped reed instrument like this requires a lot of finesse but I don’t really finesse anything. Anyway, let’s get started.

1.The reed

This is the dulcet tone of the American Flamingo:

How does one re-create such majesty? Have you ever heard a crumhorn played poorly? It’s a near perfect match and my eventual goal. The crumhorn is a capped double reed instrument with quite a unique sound. Now, before you go out to get a crumhorn reed let me warn you that I’ve only found them in the UK and with shipping the cost of one plastic reed will run about $50.00. I won’t spend that much money on anything. I experimented with quite a few reeds trying to find something perfect. It had to be easy to vibrate but also durable. Then, one night I was talking to a friend when it hit me. Bagpipes. Of course! Bagpipes! Bagpipes are also a capped double reed instrument. The plastic reeds can be found easily and they are pretty durable. But hey, if you want something else I’m not going to judge you.

2. The beak
Take the beak off your flamingo. It just snaps off. There will be a little knob thing the beak sits on:
We need to get rid of this. Once that is done clean up the hole a bit.

3. Finger holes
Obviously, you’ll want to make your flamingo sing a variety of pitches. Creating finger holes requires a detailed knowledge of physics. One must measure the thickness of the material, the bore of the cylinder and take into account what one needs to be able to play. (Chromatic? Quarter tones? Twelve tone? Just John Cage’s 4’33”?) Yeah. I didn’t feel like doing any of that so I just poked some holes to see if it worked.

4. Placing the reed
I tried various materials to stop the hole and place the reed. I originally tried cork but found it too brittle. So, go to a science supply shop and buy various sizes of rubber stoppers for beakers. Yes, they will look at you funny but you are building a flamingophone. This goes with the territory. You haven’t questioned my judgement so far. (Why you haven’t is beyond me but let’s continue.) Find one of the stoppers with hole. Shove the stopper in the hole you cut near the beak. You want it in there pretty tight. The reason to get an assortment of stoppers is that you have no idea exactly how big that hole will be. Once that is done you’ll need to place the reed in the stopper. Thankfully, plastic reeds are pretty forgiving but be as gentle as you can.

5. Other stuff
You’ll notice that there isn’t a cap yet. Well, I haven’t gotten that far. I need to reconstruct a place for the beak out of plastic. Since I have the measuring skills of a gnat I think I’m going to outsource that one. I also have some air leaking somewhere that I need to trouble shoot. So, we’ll finish this project whenever I get around to it. However, if you have followed me to this point then you at least have a glorious plastic roseate spoonbill.

This is a rough draft of a semi-true (sort of, in a way) kind of story. All of the names have been changed as I doubt they really want to associate themselves with this sort of thing.

It took months to convince me they weren’t all reptilian aliens from the fourth dimension. The corporate office was settled in the most unsociable part of Pennsylvania. Caught between the attitude of New York, the bureaucracy of Maryland and the politeness Ohio seemed to fill Pennsylvanians with some sort of secret resentment. However, those offices were filled with smiling people who worked with incredible speed and efficiency to support the making of lawn and garden tools. While the people seemed to have their own language and culture everyone I met tried their best to be inclusive. All of this was peculiar enough as smiles and reassurances generally hide an ulterior motive in the business world. Yet, most people who worked there seemed to genuinely desire that all people be happy… And also buy the tools they made to facilitate ease in gardening. The happiness, incredible abilities and inclusivity were just circumstantial evidence to their alien nature. It was the flamingos that sealed my conspiracy theory. Although I was (unfortunately) assured they didn’t make any plastic pink flamingos at the plant, there were always boxes of them around. I couldn’t go a few feet without finding one of those plastic pink lawn ornaments. There was never any satisfactory explanation for those rosy birds. However, each box seemed to say to me “no advanced alien race who desired humanity’s return to agricultural roots would bother with these silly things”. It was classic reverse psychology. Clever. Yet during my months there I never saw any of them shape shift. So, maybe there was some more reasonable explanation for everything.

Aliens or not, I was contracted to work in the Human Resources department as a temporary employee. To be honest, it was great. The people were nice and there was always something interesting going on. They even gave me a tour to see giant robot arms in action. How many office temps get to see stuff like that? Human Resources in particular always had some mystery to solve. It was like being a detective, except without people shooting at you and with more regular hours. Sure, as the person in the office who knew the least I ended up with most of the spreadsheet work or filing but even that work was exciting in its own way. I spent my days either cataloging or sifting through raw information in order to find answers or make it so others could find out whatever needed to be found. They even let me use one of the empty offices, which if nothing else, made me feel important. Sure, it also doubled as a supply closet but it was an office… And one that was sort of on a corner too. The only real complaint I had was that the room was always cold. Of course, there are only two temperature settings in any corporate building: arctic tundra or equatorial summer.

“Jess, I need to pull off that report. We have some trouble.” Willow hurried into the office wearing her worried smile.

I don’t think I ever saw Willow without some sort of smile on her face. She was the Human Resources Manager for the entire corporation. Every complaint, policy It looked like an exhausting task some days but every day she came in with a smile and did her best. She made sure everyone felt as if they were heard, if not by her then by the appropriate person in charge. If a company could have a heart, Willow would be its aorta in other words, something indispensible.

“What’s up?” I asked, mainly out of curiosity. They rarely gave me any details as to why I was working on a certain project. This wasn’t out of any hostility they were just super busy. However, this time there was an answer. It was maybe the most interesting answer I had ever heard.

“It’s the strangest thing. For the past month, every Tuesday morning, a case of flamingos goes missing. It’s there one minute and gone the next and no one has been able to find out how it’s happening. Who would even take something like that?”

“Hipsters. Lovers of kitsch… Oh! People fighting with their HOA.” Sometimes I’m a little slow when it comes to rhetorical questions.

Willow waited patiently for me to finish. “Right.” She nodded, still wearing the same tense smile. “I sent you some files of the people who work Monday night and Tuesday morning for the past three weeks. I have meetings this afternoon. Can you see who worked each of those weeks? Once you have a list you can pull their files to see if there are any disciplinary actions.”

“Do you think it could be more than one person?”

“At this point we aren’t ruling anything out.”

“I’m on it.” I gave her a thumbs up.

As I checked my email Willow returned to her job of trying to answer every employee’s question at once. With a few clicks the spreadsheet popped open. I scanned the information deciding how to get what I needed out of the nearly raw data.

If life was like a TV show this is where the montage takes over. There would be cool mood lighting and background music while everything comes together in a few minutes. Real life data mining isn’t quite like that. It’s still awesome in its own completely tedious way but everything doesn’t come together in a few minutes. Find all the data. Copy the data. Paste the data on a new sheet. Click, hide the unnecessary information. Click, sort. Click, filter, Click, sort again. Repeat those steps to input all the weeks into the same workbook. Click, click, click and name the ranges. Input the lookup formulas. Check to make sure the formula is pulling the right data. If not go back and make sure everything is pulling the same named data from the right places or just sort it again. When it looks good… Copy, paste, drag. Finally, filter and sort all the information again. Done.

Although, it doesn’t seem like that should take a long time it took me the better part of the morning to come up with the list. Out of the almost 300 employees who had worked every Monday night or Tuesday morning in question there were 76 suspects who matched all the data points. I printed the list. While it wasn’t thousands of suspects there were still a few too many people. I would need a way to narrow it down.

If Willow was part of the heart of the company then Tabitha, the Human Resources Administrator was its memory. Not that she wasn’t super nice also. She never swore and she smiled almost as often as Willow. There was a reason all the employees liked her. In fact, she was one to start calling me Jess in the office. And for whatever reason the nickname made me feel inordinately cool. In addition to all of those qualities her memory was amazing. I mean that very literally, as in, I was amazed. If Tabitha ever said something sounded familiar then it was. She was the kind of person capable of holding millions of pieces of information in her head and more importantly quickly retrieving that information. Tabitha would be the perfect person to help find the more interesting people on my list.

I removed a few jackets and made my way out of the frigid office toward Tabitha’s desk. She sat in the middle of the Human Resources office where she could see and hear everything. That way, everyone who passed by had a chance to use her almost inhumanly brilliant skills.

“Hey, Tabitha. Do you have a second?”

She looked over to me and pointed at the phone she was holding. I grimaced and whispered an apology.

“We have a spot open on Tuesday at 2:10 PM. Does that work for you? Great. We’ll see you then.” Tabitha put down the phone and turned to me. “Hi, Jess. What did you need?”

“Willow has me working on the missing flamingos. I’ve the list narrowed down to these people. Do you think you could take a look and see if any names jump out at you. Then, I could start looking through those files first.”

“Sure. Let me see.”

I handed the paper over. Tabitha scanned the names. She took a pen and wrote a few notes in the margins.

“I would start with those people and work your way down the list after that.” She suggested with a smile. “Sorry I couldn’t narrow it down any more.”

“No. This is great. That sounds like a good plan. Thank you.” I turned to go back to Antarctica then stopped as a thought formed in the back of my head. “Who actually makes the flamingos? Where do they come from?”

Tabitha thought for a moment then laughed. “I don’t actually know. I would talk to Mike about that.”

Mike was the man in charge of plastics. To me, that meant he was in charge of everything plastic. All of the wheelbarrows, plastic fences, flamingos, any twist ties that were found on the ground… Whatever it was, if it was plastic Mike was the guy in charge of it. In spite of all of the challenges of having the responsibility of all of the production for every plastic thing and the employees under him, he maintained a good (if slightly self-depreciating) sense of humor about it all. I’d only ever seen him irritated once and that was talking about what he couldn’t get done. So, dealing with him was pretty easy. There was one problem. Asking Mike anything was a nigh impossible task. Since he was in charge of every plastic thing in existence it was hard to get a hold of him. Rather than taking on another mystery, I set to work looking through the files of the suspects listed.

Contained within the files of every employee was their life story. The papers could only give a certain amount of information on what an employee did. There were disciplinary actions, promotions, basic identification and all sorts of job related material but that was just the tip of the iceberg. These files also contained every motivation behind every employee action. Why did that man ask for a raise? He has a new wife and baby at home. Why has that woman’s productivity declined recently? She recently lost her mother. The ability to look into another person’s life so intimately was more than a little creepy. Of course, unlike marketing which sells that kind of information to the highest bidder, every person I had met in any Human Resources position guarded those files securely. They were guardians and gate keepers.

Even though I wasn’t a real Human Resources employee, as a temp it was my duty to uphold their values. So, I pulled the disciplinary actions of the people who matched my data points and promptly forgot everything else. I made copies of all of the files and pulled the data onto the spreadsheet. From that central location an incomplete pattern began to emerge. There is nothing more frustrating than that fuzzy picture. It’s the kind of feeling that if there was just one more piece of the puzzle everything would fall into place. However, solving this case wasn’t my task. I was asked to compile a list and that’s what I did. I quickly sent an email with the spreadsheet over to Willow.

To be continued whenever…

For the past few months I was temping at a company.  Given all of the documents I signed at the agency regarding confidentiality I won’t mention the name.  However, if you are incredibly curious (because I think they’re a good company), I will give you some hints: it’s a US company that manufactures non-powered lawn and garden tools, has been around since 1700s and has a corporate office in central PA.  They were great people and it was a great company.  I enjoyed my time there.  All things being equal I would have preferred to stay there.  Unfortunately, all things were not equal and at this time they don’t have a space for me.  I have to admit I was disappointed.  That may mean something awful to some people but to me it means I had a preference.  That hasn’t happened in about two years.  What I did really didn’t matter all that much to me because without my husband it was all incredibly boring.  So, the point of this post is to figure out what I liked and what I want… Other than a beach house.

1. The People: A business is a business.  The people inside that business make it good, bad, indifferent or generous.  The people I met there listened to others and tried to understand different points of view.  They were generous with their knowledge (as long as it wasn’t security related, personal or proprietary information).  If you needed help understanding something people would help you.  They worked hard to balance the needs of their customers, individual employees and the health of the company as a whole, which isn’t easy.  Heck, I even saw one supervisor take time after an interview to give really good advice to an applicant he turned down so the guy could work on some areas and might be hired in the future.

2. What They Make: The place where I temped makes lawn and garden tools.  This company tries to make the best rakes, shovels, hose reels and flamingos ever.  They let me see how they were made which was really cool.  These are tools that work well with people who are into organic gardening.  And being human powered they make tools that can assist the most sustainable agriculture.  None of that is creepy.  In fact, in an era where more people would like to grow some of their own food and reconnect with nature it must be great to make something to facilitate that need.  (By the way if anyone from that company ever reads this please do a video on how tools there are made and put it on Youtube.  Your plant is so fascinating.  Explain to marketing that it’s cheap advertising in order to use their budget.)

3. A Spirit of Generosity: While I was temping there I saw them hand out a scholarship to an employee’s child. They were also in the middle of preparing for a charity event.  It’s easy to be cynical about charity from businesses.  Sure, it is marketing in one sense but it isn’t how they spoke to each other in the course of the day.  They talked about how important it was to fund the scholarships and other good works.  They talked about what they thought was the right thing to do.  They also try their hardest to translate this in how they treated each other.

4. Desire To Do What Is Right: Again, this can be seen as something cynical.  No organization wants to be sued over anything.  And again, that isn’t how they spoke about it.  In spite of the sometimes sardonic humor of the management the only real frustration I had seen there was when they felt impeded by some rule or law that prevented them from doing what would help their employees.

5. Community: Although they own plants all over the US that do various things this company seeks to be part of its community.  They made a community garden on their property.  It is involved with local charities.  That is important and often forgotten in the rush to globalize the economy.

6. Non Creepy Marketing: The people in the marketing department and the sales departments were nice people.  I’m sure they have their own quotas and brand discussions and all of that stuff.  I’m sure they have the pressure of knowing they need to get people to buy the stuff being manufactured.  What amazed me is that they didn’t come across as sales people under pressure.  They spoke like people who wanted other people to garden more.  It was decidedly refreshing in the age of track everyone and then bombard them with advertising.  Like most parts of the company it looked like it was more about building relationships rather than screaming about whatever you’ve done.  I think this is a combination of the people involved and believing in your products.

So, what am I looking for in a workplace?  I am looking for a place with good people who make good things and sell them without being creepy.  Also, the company needs to be part of the community, desire to do what is right and be generous.  Anyone know a place like that?