I Never Thought I am Going to be Happy About Loosing my job. Again.

You might have noticed that over the last two years I was getting more and more dissatisfied with my job. Or, more precisely, with my employer.

Twelve years ago I landed a job at a USA corporation owned factory that had all the right components – interesting job where I could learn new things all the time, both manually and intellectually challenging so I could show off my wide skill set, and well paid, extremely so for my humble standards. After a few years however the shine got a bit worn off, as I was constantly struggling with the mindset that was prevalent on key management positions and I was always outspoken about my disagreements with anyone, no matter how higher in  the hierarchy they were above me. Despite this (or maybe because of it?), I got enough respect and clout at all levels in the company that when it came to a serious clash between me and a complete nincompoop of a mid-ranking manager, where unkind words were said on record, the manager was sacked and not me.

All this instilled in me a deep loathing of managers and especialy those who have MBA. To me, MBA managers are the embodiment of Dunning-Krueger effect – they have no discernible skills, but they think they can dictate actual experienced experts how they should do their job. Not every manager is like this of course, but enough of them that it is noticeable.

Then the whole company was acquired by another international giant, this time a german one. For a short while it looked like things will get better, that the flaws/positives ratio will shift a bit for the better regarding how workers are treated. It did not last – our division was chipped off of the big block and sold off again. And unfortunately again to a USA owned company.

From the start I was fearing that things will go back to the bad old ways, and they did. More than that, it quickly became apparent that things will get a lot worse before they get better – if they get better. And these suspicions were proven true when previous years – in direct contradiction to what we were told after the acquisition I might add – a massive round of layoffs has started. First people were “merely” encouraged to go and they got adequate or even generous severance packages if they decided to do so. Then started the push to slash personnel even more, and people got terminated. Still with severance packages, because this is EU and not USAistan, but loss of job is still a loss of job, even when you get handed several month’s worth money.

When I started, I was first part of and then the head of a three-person team. The clash with the idiotic manager was because the team was taken from me and I was forced to do all the work alone, which was only possible in an Excel sheet, not in an actual real world. I got one team member reinstated and some duties were given to another team. It was still not ideal, but it was workable and under the then german owner it seemed like it might improve again in the future. However this last round of layoffs took also my last subordinate for good and it meant that I would, again, have to do everything by myself.

I am not willing to risk a full blown burn-out.

So I decided to quit. Had I been a mediocre or worse worker, I would have gotten a decent severance package and I could leave the company straight away. But being good has some drawbacks. The company did not want me to quit, and I was told I won’t get anything if I do so. I had some quite intense (but polite and respectful) exchanges with both my supervisor and my HR manager and an agreement was made, due to be signed on Monday. I cannot  of course disclose the details (and if you by some coincidence know or think you know any of the obscured details, do not disclose them in the comments, it would get you banned and the comment deleted), but I can say that I will stay at the company until November and do my best to impart some key components of my extensive experience on my successors. In exchange for that I won’t be completely stiffed. I would prefer to go straightaway, but this is the financially more savvy option.

I could only go into the negotiations as I did because I predicted the situation and I was already preparing for this option for the last year, saving money so I feel more secure and can actually afford to say “I quit anyway” and mean it. I still get less than I would if the company fired me (partially because I still underestimated the strength of my hand, but for that I only have myself to blame), but a lot more than I would if I had one-sidedly quit. I do not recommend to anyone to try what I have done, however, I have also seen people to overplay their hand in these things.

My next plan – and it will affect the blog, hopefully in a good way – is to not seek another job. I feel pretty confident that I would find one, but I am so mentally tired from corporate culture that I need a looong rest to get my bearings back. So the plan is to make knives for a year and see where that goes. I will wake up just as if I were to go to a job, work 8-10 hours daily at knives, and when I build a bit of stock I will try if people will buy them. If it works, great. If it does not, the worst that can happen is that after a year (or perhaps a bit more, depending on how quickly the money dries up) of doing something I like doing I will be forced to sell the knives for just the price of the raw materials and seek employment again.

This is not the first time I am doing this. Straight after university I was working in USA for a short while and with the exchange rate at that time I could subsequently afford to be one year unemployed and live off of the savings. I used that time and money for purchasing a good PC and learning myself the skills needed to build and maintain one, as well as the skill set needed for work with Excel, Word, Powerpoint, Photoshop etc. all that new fangled stuff that I did not learn at school but thought – correctly – will be important in the future.  This has helped me to land my first job, in which I have spent five years and I left it for similar reasons (and under similar conditions, funnily enough) as the current one. I felt quite happy leaving that job, despite not having a new one yet. And I feel similarly happy now as I did then. I hope it works out well for me again.

 

Not a Solution

To be honest, it’s a serious medical condition, but I can’t help but feel a smidgeon of envy:

A woman in China is making headlines for a rare type of temporary hearing condition that makes her unable to hear men. According to the Daily Mail, the patient, only identified as Ms. Chen, woke up one morning and couldn’t hear her boyfriend speak.

Unfortunately, the condition seems to be brought on by a lot of stress and fatigue:

The night before, Chen felt nausea and suffered from a ringing in her ears. She was also under a lot of stress, working late and not getting enough sleep. Chen thought little of it and went to sleep as usual before waking up with the condition.

Doctors were initially puzzled by her symptoms, but she was eventually diagnosed with “reverse-slope hearing loss, in which she could only hear high frequencies.”

[…]

Dr. Xiaoqing believes fatigue and too much stress may have contributed to Chen’s hearing loss and expects her to make a full recovery.

I’m glad to hear, but perhaps in the meantime, someone can invent a certain type of earphones that produces the same effect? I’d buy a pair and wear them at work. It won’t stop the mansplaining, but it might buffer enough sound to reduce my annoyance.

Homeward Bound

This is a travel day, and what with Gatwick and German airports and any number of random occurrences, I just want to get home. Sometime very early Sunday morning, I will be.

The quiet version of my feelings is here, but quite honestly, I’m still playing my angry music. So here’s Blue October, expressing a lot of frustration on my behalf:

(I confess, I have always had a weakness for rock musicians. Something about the way they express themselves without reserve. Especially when it’s traditionally masculine men expressing emotions. And previous post, it’s what I love most about the video – the tough, rockstar performance images placed beside the caring father images. Heart.)

How To Sharpen Pencils

Well, the end of last week was a pile-on of stuff, and even as I’m recovering, I have another work trip scheduled this week – that’s another two days of basic work productivity gone and done. At least I’m not going far this time, just down to Vilnius, and I don’t have to drive. I’m hoping my fellow travellers will let me nap in a corner. I’m just tired right now.

Anyhoo. The rat race is never-ending, as demonstrated by this video (the end was a real exercise in futility).

And you still get a song.

Wheat Kings

Sometimes my head has too many thoughts.

Today’s song holds more than just a nice melody for me. In a lot of ways, what it is about is a reminder of why I do the work that I do, and why it is important to do it well. If you google “David Milgaard” (the inspiration – what a terrible designation – behind the song), you can probably divine more than a hint of what I do. The why is a complicated mix of ‘I like it’ and higher values and the feeling that I can do something to make the world a little… better, I suppose. Or something that makes me feel useful on a daily basis. Anyway, here’s your music:

The Tragically Hip is a strange kind of band, they’ve been around since the 1980s and they really sunk deep into the Canadian consciousness. They were certainly a fixture of the music world in the 1990s and early 2000s. I don’t know if they ever tried (too hard), but they never made it big outside of Canada. Within Canada, though, hoo boy. Everyone knows them, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily like them. They have a very unique style that doesn’t always feel accessible. It’s taken me years to grow into my appreciation of their music, and they certainly have a rich collection of Canadiana that touches on stereotypes and themes and very specifically Canadian subjects, even though their songs that I do like are definitely among my favourites. Their lead singer, Gord Downie, is a whole other kettle of fish. He did their farewell tour 2 years ago (he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was given about a year, he walked on later that same year) and it was one of the biggest things to happen in recent Canadian cultural history. Not least because in his final months he addressed the subject of residential schools (I’m a bit out on a white dude saying so much without hearing about him giving First Nations people a voice of their own, but I can’t say he did wrong). We’ll be hearing more from the Tragically Hip in the future.

In any case, enjoy the music. I have a very social weekend ahead of me and it’s tangling with new stuff at work that makes me feel out-of-step but has many possibilities for personal and professional development. I hope to recover soon. :)

Stupid Work

Do you know this when you’re doing something that is physically and intellectually easy but takes so much time you cannot believe it? As you may know I started a new job this week, which is as a special ed teacher.

Now, I’m not a tidy person. Actually, saying that is probably like the Queen claiming to be not amused when her house just burned down. And because I’m chaos incarnated, I need to be very organised, because I cannot be trusted. So to have a good start, I created a folder for all my kids, with their files, their names printed on colourful paper sorted by their class, note paper,…

That stupid shit just took me two hours of my life. Who has got time for this? Do tidy people simply get a few hours more a day in whi9ch they can be tidy?

Blue folder on a cluttered desk

As you can see in the clutter behind the folder, I struggle with keeping my workspace clean.
©Giliell, all rights reserved

Tools.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved. Bad flash, sorry. Click for full size.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved. Bad flash, sorry. Click for full size.

Good tools are important. Having the right tools is very important too. I can highly recommend the Staedtler sharpener (mine is in obvious need of a clean). It works beautifully and renders a very sharp tip. Speaking of sharp tips, everyone who has worked with pencil, colour or not, is familiar with point breakage during drawing. This sends tiny bits of core all over the place. If you’re working in ordinary pencil, it’s not a major deal if it smears, as it’s easily erased. That is so not the case with colour pencils, Prismacolor in particular. Normally, I use a fox tail brush to clean, but these can cause problems with colour pencils, in that no matter how lightly you wield one, it’s still heavy enough to cause many a smear. The solution? Feathers. I use 3 types of feather. Not only can you pick up minuscule bits of pencil with them, they are very good to brush an area of your work without smearing.  The turkey feather is the lightest, and excellent at picking up bits; the other two are stiffer, with more weight, and good for an overall sweep. If you have a bunch of bits and dust, gently press the feather down on them, and it will pick them up. Don’t forget to clean your feather after. Just using your fingers on the feathers works fine.

Living rural, I don’t have to go far to find feathers, but if you’re deep in an urbanscape, feathers of all types are easily found in craft stores. The benefit there is that you can buy feathers by the bag, so you’ll have more than enough for your needs.

ETA:

22 seconds in the microwave, kept all the info. Just sharpened it, seems to have worked. This was also a sharp reminder of a major failing on my part – not paying attention. I’m so colour focused, I completely ignore observing the condition of the pencil. Now that I had a very good look at this one, there are a number of gouges and scores, particularly on the ‘back’ of it, and there was a suspicious piece transparent tape, too. So, while it’s good to know you can fix your pencil up, it pays to be very observant of the pencil itself before you bring it home.

Stupid Is…

The Problem [right} and the New Choice [left].

The Problem [right} and the New Choice [left].

Right. Stupid is choosing a very hard to find colour in pencils, and compounding that stupidity by choosing a pencil out of gift set, which means no identifiers on the pencil. No number, no colour name. Now, before I got absurdly attached to this colour, I could have engaged my brain for a moment, and focused on the fact that I have a very large piece to do, and only one pencil. This should have called for patience enough to see if I could at least find a colour match. Did I do this? Oh no. Just started drawing, and it wasn’t until my pencil was diminishing at a rapid rate that I realised I was in trouble. Then I started looking for a colour match. Couldn’t find one. The Prismacolour Pourpre Foncé was in the range of my original pick, so I went with it, and bought two pencils. I’ll probably buy another one next week, just in bloody case.

I tried to make it work on the piece, but it just didn’t come together, so I got to start all over again. If, like me, you tend to get abnormally attached to a certain colour, get as many as you can, it will save you much aggravation in the long run.

Starting Over. Bad Flash Photography.

Starting Over. Bad Flash Photography.

Getting To The Point.

I don’t know what possesses me to work in colour pencil now and then, but it happens, and as usual all the frustrations and annoyances of working with them set in. You need to get your pencils sharp, while at the same time there’s always an anxiety over just how much pencil you’re eating when sharpening. There are many ways to sharpen a pencil, and everyone has their fave method. I’m not overly skilled at hand sharpening with a knife, so I save that one as a last resort. If you’re like a whole lot of people and use Prismacolor pencils, you’ll find the frustration levels to be very high indeed. A lot of people settle on Prismacolor because they are in the higher range of quality, and somewhat affordable. That said, they are extraordinarily fragile. Being quite soft, it doesn’t take much to break the core, and when a core is broken, you end up with: sharpen, core breaks. Sharpen again, core breaks. Lather, rinse, & repeat until you have about two inches of brand new effing pencil left. When a pencil costs you around $2.00, that tends to make you yelling angry. Some retailers have a specific policy on Prismacolor, such as Dick Blick, where they will replace your stub with another pencil.  This does not take away the sheer inconvenience of this little problem. If you’re doing a return and replace at a store, you’ll need your receipt, so it’s always good to hang on to Prismacolor receipts until you go to sharpen them.

You can’t tell if a core is broken by looking. If you start sharpening, and start losing point after point, stop. Prismacolor recommends you place your pencil in a warm, sunny spot for up to 5 minutes, which repairs the break in the core. This is not exactly sterling advice for people who live in places which have 6 months of winter, and often have cool, overcast days in Spring and Summer. Some people swear by microwaving them, but this can be a good way to utterly destroy your pencil, with the often metallic stamping going up in a shower of sparks, and setting the wood casing on fire. There’s much debate about time, too – people say anywhere from 5 seconds to 25 seconds. Another method is using your oven, which is safer. The basic consensus seems to be 5 to 10 minutes @ 250 F. Some people insist the pencil should go in cold (on foil or a baking tin), but my oven takes its time heating, so I wait until it’s at temperature, then put it in for the least amount of time. You definitely should check on your pencil at least halfway through – if the point is bubbling, get it out! On the opposite end, some people claim freezing Prismacolor pencils makes them easier to sharpen. I haven’t tried this.

Storage is very important when it comes to Prismacolor, and all pencils should be treated well. Dedicated pencil holders are truly best, padded cases with elastic to hold your pencils. Tran pencil cases are quite affordable, and work well. I have this one, along with a number of smaller roll ups. If you keep your pencils in a cup or similar, generously pad the bottom with something soft, like cotton batting. Whatever you do, try to place your pencil container in a place where they will not get knocked over. When your lovely Prismacolors hit the ground, you can count on broken cores.

There is one thing which makes a massive difference when it comes to Prismacolor pencils, and that is how you sharpen them with a small, hand-held sharpener. It goes without saying that you should change your blades often, but what coddles your Prismacolor pencil is holding your pencil still, and turning the sharpener. This is counter-intuitive, but it will become habit soon enough. This applies a much lighter pressure, which is less likely to break the core, and it actually produces less waste. Give it a try, you won’t go back. I do this with all my different brands of colour pencils.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved.

Working On and Slobbery Dogs…

Lately, I’ve been working on the floor, so this is my fault, but slobbery dogs, aaaaauuuugh. One of the doors in my studio opens onto the lav, and the door was open. I go in for around 10 seconds, and Jayne promptly stands over the painting and drools. Now he’s sleeping the sleep of the innocent (What? I didn’t do anything! Why are you yelling? Can I have a treat?)

And the siren sings…

© C. Ford, all rights reserved.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved.

I’ve been working in pencil too long, does my head in. Pigments are my true love, and always will be. They’ve been singing to me lately, which leads me to the matter of paints. A while back, a friend was thoughtful enough to send me a whole bunch of watercolours they weren’t going to use (Hi, Kestrel!), and I about screamed with delight when I saw the Sakura Koi paints. I haven’t had those in ages, and I love them. Love them to pieces. I’m not impartial to Sakura; I have a whole lot of their markers in my studio, and their products have never disappointed.

I’ve written before about the sheer gougery in art products, everything costs a bloody fortune. Just trying to recoup your materials cost in any given piece can seriously hike the price you end up asking. There is, of course, a staggering amount of snobbery in the world of art supply. Many people end up convinced that name equals quality. Sometimes, it does. Other times, not so much. Some people are so convinced that name equals quality, they don’t pay any attention to the actual quality of the product. This is oh so true when it comes to paints. The best way to insure the quality you want is to make your own, but that does your wallet no favours. Back to the Sakura Koi – the set I bought ages ago, I did buy because of price. Sakura manages to attach a reasonable price to their products, which is not a crime, in spite of many people thinking so. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the pigments, clear, bright, and luminous. It’s very easy to get distracted by the ‘big’ names, and spurn the reasonably priced stuff, but it’s truly worth your while to give the reasonable stuff a try, there are many gems there which you won’t be disappointed in at all, and they’re a kindness to that wallet too. The 18 set shown runs around $27.00 these days, and the tubes are a very generous 12 ml, so they’ll last a long time.

The Fight.

Finished! 18″ x 24″, pencil & marker on Bristol. Click for full size. I am so curious, so this is for everyone, not just fellow artists. For the artists, how would you depict cancer and chemotherapy? For all the non-artists, how do you picture things like cancer and chemotherapy? What shape do they take in your head? Prior to getting cancer, I can’t say I ever gave it any thought at all, and I’m not overly sure where the images in The Fight came from, they were just there. After trying to think about it for a bit, seems the main concepts in my head had to do with fluidity and a crackling electricity, mass power out of control.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved.