The waiting is the job. That’s what my boss told me anyway. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about during the interview. It was after I’d gone through a battery of physical and mental tests. It wasn’t clear to me what they were after. Verification of a clean bill of health for insurance reasons? Assurance that I wouldn’t have a mental breakdown from boredom? Confidence that I had the mental acuity, however slight the requirement, knowing what I know now, to do the job with some base level of efficiency? Proclivity to obey commands? Fear of asking stupid questions? I don’t know.
I did the tests. I went home and sent out more applications, hoping to land a job – somewhere, anywhere. The situation was starting to get dire. I was over a month behind on rent, no savings to fall back on, and there was no family or close friend I could hit up for a loan who hadn’t already distanced themself from the stink of my defeat at life’s game. I was a cancer, an outcast, a sad benign mole holding a dry bit of skin, waiting for the lance to drop. I needed a miracle, and two weeks later it finally came.
I was hired on a temporary status or maybe it was probationary. It wasn’t clear which, of if there is even a distinction between the two. I had a month to prove myself capable of doing the job and things took care of themselves from there. I didn’t sign a formal contract or get a welcome package. There was no fanfare at all, which I guess is odd in hindsight, but it din’t register as such then. I was just told to show up at a certain time and place. A trainer sat down with me at my austere desk, in a windowless office, and showed me what to do.
If you’d asked me then to describe the work I probably would have called it a proofer. A collection of news stories started popping up on my screen at exactly 8 AM every morning and I had to read through them for clarity and accuracy. That’s how it was described to me by the trainer, but I wasn’t qualified to judge accuracy, and I think they knew that then and were maybe humoring me, so I really only checked for clarity. Was the language concise, could I understand what was being conveyed, was anything unclear; that sort of thing. In reviewing each article I could highlight passages or words that were unclear, which was rare, then give the whole story a clarity score of 1 to 5, with 1 being hard to understand and 5 being crystal clear. I’ve been here for a little over a year now and I’ve given a 5 to almost every article I’ve read. The articles with unclear parts go back to the writer, editor, or reviewer before me – the order isn’t clear nor publicized anywhere I can tell – then mostly make their way back to me for my stamp of clarity approval. That’s it. That’s the job. Easy enough, right?
In a normal working day I get a succession of articles, one after the other, that pop up as soon as I’m done with one. Though sometimes there are long breaks that I’ve never been sure what to do with. These aren’t like our half-hour lunch breaks where I see some of the co-workers on my floor, maybe talk about the weather or sports or whatever is on anyone’s mind. We are prohibited from talking about our specific jobs, but are free to talk about the news, though nobody really does. I assume everyone spends all day with that stuff so it’s not something they want to discuss in their free time. I don’t blame them. The news is never good anyway and I much rather spend my break talking about anything else in the world.
When I first got a break in the stream of articles I thought something was wrong with my machine. I stared at it for a few minutes, thinking there was a lag in the software. After that I called my boss who assured me with a giggle that everything was fine and working normally. She explained that there would be times when there as nothing new to review and I could take that time to get organized and wait patiently for articles to start appearing again. I had no idea what she meant by getting organized and still don’t. I have one job and nothing else to do when nothing is coming through the machine for review. It could have been a hint at something, like there was secret to unlock, a way to move to some next level within the company, decode the random mix of information that made it’s way to my desk and exit the maze around me. If there is, I sure as hell haven’t figured it out. I’d more or less resolved to stand pat and rejoice that I have a job that pays a livable wage.
That first time the break was maybe ten minutes long and I stayed upright at my desk, feeling they may be watching me or testing me in some way, waiting for the next article. A few weeks went by before I had another pause, where I did the same thing, out of fear, out of desire to please my boss. But that one was much longer. It had to have been more than an hour. It was brutal to have to wait that long with nothing else to do, and be present and appear active in my boredom.
I finally started to understand what the interviewer meant about the waiting being the job. After a few months the pauses became longer than the active streams of articles. I was idle more than active, and over time I became mentally restless, then more physically active in the office space.
I started to fixate on the possibility that the pauses were planned. I didn’t tell anyone about this, not my boss nor my co-workers. I didn’t even tell my family and friends who could stand to associate with me again. I became more introspective and inquisitive at the same time, which for me, was a total change in character. I was losing a part of myself, putting on a different face to the world, and enjoying it. For the first time in my life my inner self didn’t match the face I showed to people. I had mystery about me. I had an inner monologue. I had the desire to know things, get to their root, be open and amiable.
[To Be Continued…]