What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Stepping Back, but Never Away

So I woke up this morning in a melancholy and dreamy state.  It was all Occupy.  I really miss being able to push on with the movement right now.  I have had to put all of my efforts into trying to sustain that involvement.  This summer has seen me either have to work or push to find work, and I've had to step back from the movement, sadly.

I had this sort of sinking feeling this morning about the others in the movement that are my friends and I have worked with for a long time now.  I had this feeling that they were thinking that I am somehow one of the many people now that has moved on or past it in some way - slowly disappearing in to the crowds of people that no longer show up to rallies, meetings, and events for whatever reason.  A feeling of letting them down.  But this is not the case.  I will be an Occupier for life.  I made huge sacrifices to be here and do this, and will always stand behind them to see the movement through till my last day.  It is because of what I see as this life long commitment that I am able to take this step back I guess.  In a movement that I have always said will not be worth judging until ten years in, what is taking a summer away to try to solidify life for the longer term?  To try to be able to more consistently engage?

This is where I am.  I have no choice and had to take care of my own personal situation: everything from emotional to financial and physical  issues.  When I left my job to go to Occupy, the movement could provide all of that.  Now it can't.  I have tried to start a research project that would seek to address these issues.  But it didn't get enough participation, in no small fault to everyone else is doing the same with their immediate personal lives.  So I have had to throw myself into solving this immediate problem for myself, and to be able work on the bigger picture once I am stable.  That is where I am right now.  Still trying to solve this, and once I do, I will be back to working for the movement.

I can assure you the need for Occupy hasn't gone away.  I read it everyday in the newspapers. And despite how much I like the people and the community, I am in it for the movement itself - because I believe in the message, I believe in the critique, and the need for change.  I took a lot of flack for "quitting a job to protest against unemployment".  But that is an ignorant critique.  As if a job is the be all and end all of our social ills, rather than the outcome of those jobs.  That job I had did not allow me to live on my own and to pay my own bills.  I was underemployed and underpaid.  Like so many people.  It is in-fact exactly that very reason why it was so important to stay involved.  Because this problem is not about jobs, it is about a system that creates jobs that do not meet our needs as a population and society.  Creating 700,000 jobs sounds great, unless they are all minimum wage jobs that don't pay a living wage.  Our society is in trouble, that is why I Occupy, and why I will always Occupy. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beginnings and Ends

Day after day the hits keep coming...  I was still reading in bed this morning when I got an erroneous empty phone call followed by another full one from the Hiking Store I visited last night.  The woman went straight into an interview, as if I knew she was supposed to call.  Twenty minutes later I had to be in their store by 10:30 for an interview and was feeling like this woman was trying to push me in the door for labor day weekend!  So I got moving on my Chi Gung, meditated my self into an outdoor hiking spot and headed down there.  I'm a five minute bike ride away. 

The interview went well.  I mean, if there was anything my personality was made for it was retail.  Interacting face to face with people and trying to help them, too bad that little capitalism issue always gnaws at me!  lol.  But this place is a hybrid, the largest consumer cooperative in the US, and would be perfect for me.  I've actually been monitoring their website for months hoping for openings.  Plus, I've always done great in retail, so long as the emphasis is on helping people, not strictly sales numbers, and definitely not commission.  I feel that the push for "sales" takes away from the desire to help people solve the issue they came in the store looking to address.  The minute it's about money - as with anything - the best outcome for the person/customer somehow gets lost. 

I was interviewing for footwear which I've got several years of experience with in specialty shops.  I'm kind of keen on doing hiking and backpacking work, but I'll take whatever!  I always could branch out and cross-train a bit.  So, anyway, to the interview.  I thought it went really well.  The only hiccup was the what do you need to improve upon question.  I don't have my canned answer down for that on well enough yet.  I always come around to the same answer, but fumbled with it a bit.  I told them I had to find stability.  It was the first thing that came into my head and I spoke before thinking better.  It's my situation now, it's where I am.  I lack stability and its my biggest weakness right now.  The biggest issue I am fighting to address.  I played with the answer quickly, as that it has been my focus, but I don't think it was completely evident that it wasn't about innate self, but about current life situation.  I quickly transitioned to the main issue I've used before and have actually been addressing.   I tend to get into places and analyze and critique things deeply. I'm a born critical thinker, i.e. perfect as a consultant, but not always as a low man on the totem pole.  So what I have been working on is being better and more political in how I express my critiques - or if I even do at all.  I of course didn't get to that statement that quickly while there though.  But I will next time.  I've been working on it mentally all day now.  I hope it doesn't hurt me.  Everything else seemed to go really well.  We had positive interaction, smiles, affirmative nods throughout, etc.  I didn't talk much about the rest of my stuff, mostly sticking to my retail history. 

All together interviews are tricky.  I always used to nail them and get job offers on the spot, but lately since being back here in the US I haven't been getting jobs.  I mean its certainly also due to my qualifications not being quite directly on here in the US as so much of my experience is from abroad and on global issues.  But anyway, the whole job search process is tough.  It starts with your life on one or two pieces of paper based on a one or two piece of paper description of a whole nother life you want to lead and someone else is trying to convey in such a small space.  All of this in the hope of getting a half hour or so in front of a few people that will decided your fate based on every tick of your eye brow or expression on your face.  I couldn't imagine what It must be like to be someone that struggles with inter-personal stuff or pressure like that.  It's so sad too, because everyone shouldn't have to be like that.  Our variances as a species is our beauty, why should the process reward only those with certain skills? 

But anyway, this is retail, you've got to be personable.  So it's a good place for me.  So all smiles throughout, and I'm thinking they are trying to push this through. Then we come to a close with:

"We still have some other interviews to do, we'll let you know in a week or two."

Ugh.... a week or two, I'm ready now!  But I'll tell you what, if I can't get this job, I can't get one!!  A retail hiking store with conscientious principles a cooperative structure?  The job was made for me!  And yes, I do want it!!  It would start as part-time, but it would be a decent enough income, I could work up to more hours easily.  Then I'd have time to work on my other projects, and even still there would be room for advancement as well.  The one thing that does really concern me about the interview though is that I'll get pigeon-holed into running stuff or not considerd for other departments.  They have 14 spots advertised and three areas that I am very experienced at.  I just need one of them to fit. The issue though as I'm worrying about it, is that I went into that interview and was just myself.  My views, my ideals, and translated them to a retail setting - which has worked for me in the past very well.  But I'm worried, I have been having a tough run of things of lat with actually expressing my views in the real world.  I have become marginalized for my beliefs in many circles.  If I don't get this job as is, then the only avenue left for me will be to sit in those interviews and lie.  I don't think I can do that.  But anyway, I felt good abotu it all!!  And I think it will work out and I'll be working in another week or two!  :)   

Anyway, no resting on laurels as I have nothing yet.  The day goes on, more job searches, organize some UN apps, pull out the idealist.org postings from the last couple days.  But I find myself peeking more and more at the Occupy stuff.  September 17th is coming up and I've had to focus on this survival search so pointedly.  I'm feeling out of the loop and missing being involved.  But I can't focus on that, and there's other personal baggage there as well that makes it tough to be involved with right now.  So back to jobs!  I speak to the woman from the Children's agency I interviewed with a month back, she's gonna help me there as well, and now all of a sudden there's a stack of apps to get done! 

Then I get the email!!  KENYA!!!!!!  Nope, didn't get it, they wanted someone with more impact assessment experience and quantitative skills.  I figured, kinda knew it when I walked out of their office really.  And it makes it easier for me.  I don't know that I would have taken it anyway given all the other concerns about it.  But to turn down a job - no matter how rough it could be on me or my career - would have been tough to do.  Anyway, so I went for a run, sweated out all the world's chemicals, and will live to fight another day....  Oh, and I might have a place to stay next month!!  :) 

Monday, August 27, 2012


So I've been doing a fair share of research on this World Bank and Kenya situation, and things are seeming a bit ominous.  I just had two conversations with people in the industry that have both said stop, no, and don't!  That is added to the other two people in the industry that I have been speaking to that said not to as well.  This issue of "playing hardball" with the Kenyan government raises a lot of questions for me and them.  What is the issue here and why is this needed?  There are some other issues going on there within the organizations that I would be dealing with as well.  It's also coming up on an election there and will be rife with political turmoil.  This also piggy backs on violence following the last election.

This point was hammered home in a conversation tonight with an academic that works on Kenya.  She said not to go anywhere near this position, to turn and run away as fast as I can.  She questioned that if the World Bank is in the middle of turmoil there, is it something that a temporary consultant with two weeks to prepare can sort out?  Is it a position set up to fail?  When I walked out of the interview I thought to myself that this is the type of position that people with other opportunities turn down because they don't see how it is set up for them to succeed.  This was how I felt.  With the quantitative things they want of me, the support structure (not) there, and now as more information comes to light about the political and developmental situations there, it is tough to find justification for acepting such a position.

To me it really comes down to professional opportunity, and if it is the right thing for my career.  All four of my aquaintances said various mixes of why not to do it that included:
  • I'd be better suited focusing on my network within international development circles here in NYC
  • Would it be good for my career just because its Kenya?  I'd be doing impact evaluation and assessment, is this what I want my career to be?  Could be very easy to get pigeon-holed there.  Plus the World Bank doesn't have the best name in progressive circles.
  • $40-45k for a consultancy position with little support and no in country set-up?  Nope.
  • Too quick, too many problems, not enough information.... it sounds like they've gotten themselves into some trouble and are looking to throw some random consultant into the fire hoping to sort things out.  Maybe even that they can distance themselves if need be, knowing full well they're in trouble and up against a wall.
  • It sounds like you're set up to fail...
I mean, it is tough for me to think through in this capacity.  My gut tells me not to do it.  My aspiration and passion says it'd be great.  My network says no, yet my mind is back and forth.  I have to admit though that since not getting the Think Tank job I have been able to just assess my life versus this job, as opposed to job versus job.  And it is tough, I so desperately need a job, but do I need to go to Kenya to get one?  And does it need to be one that I seem set up to fail in?  But hey, I haven't been offered the position yet, and given what I'm hearing, maybe its best not to be.  It would save me from having to make a really tough decision. 


Taking Inititative

I keep getting questions about when I haven't taken initiative from people and in interview settings.  As in, can I work for other people?  or will I?  Yes of course I will.  I never got those questions before when I was working.  But now that I'm not and I'm forced to take matters into my own hands (i.e. initiative) I seem to look like a loner. 

People don't understand that our lives are as much about reaction as action.  I went to Sierra Leone because I didn't have a job that would send me there.  Or even a job that would let me work on things that mattered there, or a job that I was even trained for.  I went to Occupy because I wasn't afforded the opportunity to live a sustainable life on my own where I was, and started my own thing at Occupy because what I saw the movement needed wasn't there.  I've volunteerd politically, I've tried starting businesses, I've officiated girls lacrosse, walked into unsavory places, done whatever, because I can't get anyone else to do it for me - give me a job, or even interviews for that matter.  These two interviews I just had are things I'm not qualified for.  I'm not an executive asistant and I don't have quantitative methods work.  I don't know how the interviews came to be, but I couldn't have gotten the positions without a miraculous and magical show at the interviews.  
Point being.  I don't want to do all these things on my own.  I don't want to ALWAYS have to take initiative.  I want a job.  I've tried to find a partner for the Sierra Leone stuff desperately but to no avail.  Since I came back to this country, I have had to take my own initiative simply to stay afloat.  It's not because I want to live that kind of life, it's because I've had to.  I do what it takes.  Sadly, that is not what people see when they read my resume, they only seem to see gaps and instability rather than thinking about it and wondering why: because all of our lives tie back into the bigger picture.  And because  in that bigger picture, our economy sucks and their are too few jobs!  So I've tried to create my own avenues, as a survivor masquerading as a unfocused slacker....

Executive Assistance

So I finally had an interview.  Three actually.  I had one with the World Bank that I will discuss in detail another time, and then a first and second round interview with a "liberal" think tank here in NYC.  No no, it wasn't to actually be think tanking, but to work as an executive assistant to three of the top people in the company.  A foot in the door and an honest day's pay.  But I didn't get the job.  Yeah, it doesn't matter that I would be great at it, or that it would be a fabulous foothold in a place that could offer both a career for me and a better understanding of how a think tank works should we desire to turn the Occupy Think Tank into a funded endeavor.  No all that matters I guess is that I didn't get it.  Why?!  I don't know, but I'm going to speculate.

I'm overqualified.  Would I stay?  Can I actually do the job being that my history doesn't show I've done it?  Those were the types of questions being asked in the second interview.  The first phone interview went well.  It was a little labored at first, but eventually hit a groove.  I liked the woman I would be working for.  I think she liked me enough as well - after all she brought me in for a second interview with the team.  But the woman at the head of operations didn't seem to feel the same.  I felt it during the interview, and completely knew it as I walked back into their office following my "test".  What can I do?  Again, it doesn't matter whether I can or want to do the job, its whether they think I can - or more importantly it seems "would". 

Hell yeah I would have!  People don't understand what life is like right now for many people.  I am applying for a job assisting positions that I have done because I WANT TO.   I want a job, I want stability, and I thought this place would be great for that.  What job I do doesn't matter as much as being able to be a part of something I believe in while getting a solid days work done, especially if there is room to eventually move there.  Frankly, I can do any of these jobs.  I'm sorry to say this, but that job was not difficult.  That may sound arrogant, but yeah, I'm a smart, educated guy.  Yes, I don't have experience working simultaneously for three different executives and juggling their needs, but I do have experience juggling a world so far more complex than three executive's and an office's needs.  And I do not mean for that to belittle this position, just to state unequivocally that I could do this work.  But I don't think that was the problem, they know I can do this work.  They think I'm overqualified because my resume has "higher" positions on it.  Or maybe its because I have more ambition than just being an executive assistant.  But who takes a job like that wanting nothing more - ever?  Not to mention that the people that have experience working as an executive assistant for three people would still be in that position if A, they were really good at it, and B they wanted to do it. 

The fact is that "qualified" is subjective.  It has nothing to do with the past, and everything to do with the present.  The current job market doesn't care what I've done in the past, it cares what positions there are right now and what jobs I can actually get.  Right now, I am an entry level to late entry level worker.  I know this.  Save a handful of jobs a year that I probably will never know exist, I am only qualified for jobs I am "overqualified" for.  Because the job advertisement's I'd BE qualified for on paper are the ones I'm under qualified for in today's job market given the other applicants being "overqualified" for those positions!  I accept that, why don't you?

These companies don't realize that they can get better employees than they once could for these positions.  That's where the labor market is right now.  It's actually the way capitalism is SUPPOSED to work.  Excess labor creates competition, which spurs training and personal inovation, lowers wages, and always leaves a group of people to replace others should they ask for wage increases or better working conditions.  We can all be let go, its why we work 80 hour weeks for one person's pay.

You can get me at a bargain, that's what the market bares.  Yet, you somehow think I won't take it or won't stay.  Yeah, if one of the job applications I put in at the UN came though I might take it.  But they are temporary positions, and I don't want to be looking for work again in 4 months.  I want to work.  I want to do something I believe.  Those are my two conditions.  This job provided both - PLUS a chance at a future!  So sad that they didn't see what I could offer, or maybe that I couldn't sell them what I would offer.  Either way though, I am now still unemployed, still searching, still wondering when people are going to figure it out...  That I have a lot more to offer than they want.   

My posts are starting to suck!

Usually I write a post at some point when an idea pops into my head, then I come back to it and edit it later.  I have been systematically going through these unpublished posts and trying to edit them and get them up dated when they were written.  What I am finding is that a lot of the ones that seem to have been written of late, as in the last couples months or so, are not very good.  I always felt for such a long time that there was a critical insight, an analysis that made sense and had a point in my writing.  Much of what I have just read though in the last couple days has been scattered and fragmented, with the point getting lost somewhere between start and end.

I used to write a great deal about the conflict within us and our society.  But that is not coming out in these posts of late.  I was out there in the world, doing, working, and critiquing.  Now I am mostly holed up in a basement trying desperately to find something to do, someplace to live.  I have to say that this is dispiriting and seems to be effecting me on a subconscious level.  It is amazing to read about the unemployed and about skills being lost, while I sit in a basement without any outlet to really use mine.  I don't think I am losing anything, in fact I feel like I am gaining perspective and a deeper understanding of struggle, nevermind desire and drive (that feels more like desperation, lol).  This additional contextual clarity will aid me some day, but still, the things I am editing right now need rewriting not editing. 

Where was I when I wrote those things?  Both literally and cognitively?  Was I out and about, writing on my phone maybe?  Or more importantly, what was my mindset?  Perhaps I am or was scattered to the point of desperation.  When you have a million things to do, you just do them.  It is the stress of all these things that makes you unable to get them done, not the tasks themselves.  When that stress takes the form of not knowing where you will live, how you will pay for food, and what the future holds, not to mention the stress of the loss of a special someone all at once, things seem easily scattered. 

Basically, I guess what I am saying is there is little coherent social critique in emotions.  My feelings of stress from a lack of employment and the subsequent prospect of homelessness are just that: raw feelings.  They are not analysis.  Granted, if I could turn those feelings into an analysis of themselves, where they come from and why, I would be looking at avenues for alleviating the issues generating that stress.  But I think it takes a clear mind to provide solid analysis, and when you are worrying about food and shelter, that clarity of mind doesn't readily exist.  You become desperate, reaching for things that you think could solve those emotions, rather than the fog that makes them worse.  You want permanence and career jobs rather than the retail or server work that can replace your short term desperation with longer term despair.  But what then when they meld together over years?  Struggle compounds.    

I am seeing this transition of self expressive capacity - the the wavering between analytical writing, and desperation and the discombobulation of a page - and can't help but wonder how we can still talk about doing away with things like school lunch programs, public housing, and other such "entitlement programs" that so directly affect children coming from disadvantaged homes.  How could they not be affected?  How could they be considered to have the same opportunities as others?  When you go home to a nice happy home with a family, food, and human security, you wake up the next morning ready to go back to school - homework done, familially supported, relaxation time had.  But what about those without that?  I can physically see the toll its taken on me - and I'm an adult!  Imagine a 7 or 8 year old kid without food or stability?  Of course it is going to affect their outputs.

Anyway, again, I'm all over the place.  There is a lot of stress on me, as there is on the millions of un/under employed and poor in this country and world.  Those of you with jobs and wealth don't see it, you don't see the struggle, the pain.  You don't see the strength it takes every day.  You just want to tell us how easy it is and what to do to make it all work.  As if I had complete and total control over someone else giving me a job.  Bottom line is, there just aren't enough jobs out there for everyone, many of those that are don't pay living wages or offer career value, and there isn't enough money to get funding to start your own.  Whether I can do the work or not doesn't matter.  My biggest task has become dealing with the pain and stress of not knowing what's going to happen next...

Sympathy accepted, job interviews rewarded!!