Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Kindness and other lessons from the day job

by Linda O'Toole

Looking back over my working history I realize I had only about a dozen different jobs, with only one or two where I would be paid to do any kind of writing.  That being said, I was only employed by two employers in my many, many years of working.  Here are a couple of jobs that stand out as being memorable.

My first job was working in the stock control office of a local building supply company.  It was my job to keep records of weekly inventory counts so that I could make up the orders for stock from suppliers.  For the most part it was boring.  Counting widgets and add the information to the stock cards – yes it was all done by paper then.  (Did I mention I was a child protégé and started working when I was 2 years old?  Just kidding!)  But one day every two weeks I got to place the orders.  For one company that was in Holland, I would send a telex.  It used to amaze me how that long strip of yellow paper with all those holes punched in it could relay the exact order that I had entered.  I would sit and worry that I had put the paper on the machine backwards and we would get a container load of really weird things…

The other way I ordered things was to punch information into a machine that looked like an adding machine.  After the order was all in, I would dial a phone number and then tuck the telephone receiver into a box connected to the adding machine look alike.  The order was then sent via modem to the supplier.  This was leading edge technology at the time. 

The big joke every week was that my co-workers would stand at the window of the office when the delivery truck arrived stating they were waiting to see if a pink elephant was unloaded!  They swore someday I would make a mistake in my order numbers and one would be escorted off the truck when it arrived.

I stayed with this employer for 15 years.  Over that time I was given the chance to learn all of the jobs in the office and some in the warehouse.  Accounts Receivable, accounts payable, cashier, human resources, forklift driver, etc.  I was also given the chance to take a blueprint reading course and then a construction estimating course, not a typical area of study for women back then.  I had no work experience when I joined this company but they believed in me and gave me the opportunity to learn a great many skills.

One of the other jobs that sticks out in my mind was working with the Kosovo Refugees when they landed in Canada.  I was part of a group from Health Canada that set up shop at the DND base in Greenwood.  I was there when every plane arrived.  Although I did not work directly with the refugees I was fortunate enough to mingle and speak with a number of them while they were waiting to be seen by medical staff or others to look after their needs.  Someone had dropped off a box full of bubbles and kiddies sunglasses so before our shifts started or during breaks we would put on our star shaped sunglasses and grab our bottle of bubbles and join the kids out back. I still don’t know who had more fun, them or us.  The people that arrived on the planes were very grateful and friendly.  It was hard to believe that having to leave their homeland behind they still had such a great outlook.  They truly were a wonderful group of people.

I would have to say that it was the hardest few weeks I have ever worked, but it was also the most fulfilling.  The planes continued to come in every second day, with the day between filled with processing paperwork.  The sense of making a difference in the lives of others was overwhelming and an experience I will never forget. It was an honour to have had the chance to work on this project and speak with so many amazing people.

Things I have learned over the course of my working life:

·       Show others kindness even if you don’t know them.  It only takes one person to do something nice and change the life of another.  Small things can have a big impact.
·       You can do just about anything you set your mind to especially if you have the support of others.
·       Today’s technology will lead to something greater in the future.
·       Appreciate everything you have, there are others out there who do not have as much and you never know when it may all be gone.

What does all this have to do with being a romance writer?   I think all of the jobs I have had including the two above, have helped me see the world in a different light.  They have opened my eyes to possibilities that I may not have even imagined if I had not had the opportunity to experience them.  Will any of my jobs make their way into my stories?  Maybe, but it will not be the duties of the jobs so much as what I have learned about people and life in general that will make the difference. 

I attended an amazing workshop this past weekend.  Three topics were discussed by three different presenters who each did an outstanding job.  I got lots of tips and great handouts- things I will certainly use.  There may even have been a light bulb moment or two. 

The third presentation was on Character and Emotion.  In my notes I wrote the following:
·       “Write what you know which equals write what you feel and feelings are universal even if the situations are not quite the same.”
·       “Create Characters that you care about.  Emotional experience is what counts”. 

I repeat – What does my job experience have to do with being a writer? - These two lines sum it up nicely.


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1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Linda. That line "Emotional experience is what counts" really hit home for me, as I've been revising a project with a view to creating MORE of an emotional experience for the reader. Good timing!