Lesson Twenty-Five: becoming a Pent-ite

After college, I was able to get a few extra hours at my internship-turned-job. My official title read “Junior Technical Writer”. I was one of two people in the Tech Writing Department. The company, Penta, was a small operation working with communication systems. My job was to help edit and create documents. I also got to make some minor edits on drafting drawings.

Gary was my boss. He’s been a strong influence on my life since we started working together.

Many people in Kenner, Louisiana fit a stereotype that was well-represented at Penta. Tech Writing stood alone in its left-wing liberal madness. Our department was in the center of the Fishbowl, an area so named because everyone could see you at all times.

Admittedly, I was not the best tech writer to pass through Penta. I wasn’t a poor writer or a bad worker. I was unable to stop nightmares, unable to stop taking the sleeping pills, and therefore insufferably late and absent.

Gary was understanding. He had a daughter around my age. Many of my co-workers saw me as a sort of daughter-figure. A few knew about my abuse. I was an activist in many senses of the word, so my past was presented frequently. I was supported at work, if not understood.

Gary is a talker. This is fantastic because I too am a talker. Gary was a professor in English for years around the country. He’d been everywhere. I studied English and loved travel. Gary believed in speaking his mind no matter the disagreements and in staying friends after opinions are exchanged. I took notes on his methods.

Penta was not like most offices. I was told this throughout my time at Penta, and only after, when I attempted to work in other office environments, did I know how true of a statement it was. Our layout was such that we were separated from the “big bosses” and from the women. My dear friend Cherie worked in the mail area and didn’t count along with the “other girls”. Cherie was an honorary tech writer as she shared many of the values that Tech Writing preached. Because of our minor isolation, the engineers, programmers, and tech writers maintained a maturity level of junior high boys. I thrived.

The professional order could easily be restored and work did occur. The difference that I can see now, albeit with very limited comparison data, is that we acknowledged the amount of bullshitting that goes on in most office jobs. We’d check Facebook. We wandered at times, between tasks, admitting boredom and craving the clock to crawl. We made jokes about each other. We swore and laughed and talked. We’d buy Powerball tickets and talk about when we are rich and can leave this job. It was real life happening with few filters under fluorescent lighting.

Gary would assign me tasks because he didn’t want to do them. I would tell him no to tasks and sometimes I even got away with it. My boss compromised and worked with me like I was a partner or student rather than an employee. I never felt disrespected or made to do something I didn’t understand. I could always ask questions. I was encouraged to try to figure out problems myself before seeking help. I’d be forgiven for mistakes. I had the Internet and was told to learn any number of programs to use for improving my skill set. I pushed for a few months and was rewarded with being able to rehaul the tech writing library. I put out a few recycling bins when Orleans Parish started the recycling pickup at my house. I felt involved at my office.

I was in charge of Department Relations, I decided. Gary had indicated as much with his commonplace complaint about talking to people. Gary loves to talk to people, but going from desk to desk and trying to force along documents for approval and edits is different. I loved taking tours of the whole office and getting to catch up with everyone. I got to be bossy and pretend-lecture those above me for pointless paperwork. I got to know my coworkers. Rae gave me some toads her son caught for my garden one year. Debbie is a late-in-life biker chick who gets easily squicked out by the idea of my being bisexual. Herb let me be me, which was a gift I can not price highly enough. Penta was a great job with wonderful people that cared about me.

As happy as I was at work, it was not realistic to assume Penta as my career. I knew that when I signed up as an intern. I was lucky that it paid and that they wanted to keep me on after school. The company is small, and my position was only seriously necessary a few times a month. During those times, it was critical that I was there to share the burden of labor. If I was going to move up any ladder, Gary would have to quit or die. He did threaten to die a few times but didn’t seem likely Gary would follow through while his kid was in college.

I hunted for a better job. A full-time job with benefits and adult things. New Orleans is not a great area for technical writers.

Gary told me not to settle too quickly for a big-paying job because then I’d be trapped. I agreed. I wanted to be able to travel. I hadn’t been to Europe yet. I had a must-see location and a must-eat food for every country in western Europe. The idea of some entry-level job holding me back was intolerable. Still, I looked. I learned how to build my resume and the technical job sites online. I needed three to five years experience to do anything full-time in my field. I planned to stay for at least three years at Penta and learn all I could. I did my best to learn the basics for anything I’d need at a bigger company. I researched locations for technical writers.

I loved my degree and the classes that led me there. I’d taken Technical Writing in college and I’d dropped that class. I was a creative writer. Technical writing felt canned. Still, Penta was a joy. I could do this, I told myself. Still, I’d get stuck in nightmares, too drugged to wake up. I’d be spaced and hungover from not sleeping off the meds correctly. I was missing things. I was letting Gary down, which upset me more than any document being misfiled.

I felt like a sardine, the lid unrolled slightly while I stay in my tin. I can see others working, being “real adults” that have full work weeks. I struggled to maintain my part-time job doing basically nothing.

If my number one priority in life had been Penta, I would’ve been a better employee. I would’ve stayed longer in my position. Penta was my number two priority. My number one priority was healing. It had to be. I was still losing time. I was still spacing out. I couldn’t sleep well. I was taking 300-500 mg of Seroquel a night. I took Effexor on days I remembered, and suffered mini withdrawals on the days I’d lose myself. Sometimes I’d come into work and not know what I’d done the day before. It was done, but I didn’t remember doing it. I was confused frequently. Gary was confused about my struggles. He knew a bit about me and my mental issues. He knew I had nightmares and sleep problems. He supported me. Still, it’s hard to get a job done with an unreliable teammate. No matter what the job or the excuses.

My therapist started to push for me to apply for disability.

I was insulted. I was not disabled. I would not take money from people who need it.

I gave voice to imaginary conversations where family and friends told me I was lazy or stupid. I berated myself for studying for love and not for profit. I argued with Kimberley that I was doing way better than before. She agreed and suggested disability nonetheless. It didn’t matter that I was doing better than before graduation, she said. What mattered what that I was unable, despite my best efforts, to maintain life like most other people.

I got more self-help books and told myself I’d do better.

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