It’s an easy job. We just flip through stacks of cards, looking for flaws in the printing or cutting or resolution, for instance. The challenge is the repetitiveness, since some orders have hundreds of prints, and doing this for 8 (or more) hours a day can be mind-numbing.
Strangely, I haven’t yet been tempted to stick in my ear buds. At most of my jobs this is the first thing I do. It always seemed like the best way to take my mind off the work and shift my focus to matters I consider more important or more entertaining.
But now it feels like doing so would cloud my brain and make the job more difficult, even though this is one of the most mindless jobs I’ve ever had. I think I’ve finally come around to the idea of mindfulness and given up on multi-tasking. Intellectually, I’ve long seen the benefits of concentrating on one task at a time, but now I seem emotionally ready to embrace the practice.
I think the main difference is that I no longer have to drown out my personal demons. These aren’t shrieking horrors out of the realm of nightmares, just the nattering nabobs of negativity. I used to call them “couch potato demons.” Unlike the anxieties that supposedly drive certain people to greatness, my demons kept me on the couch, snacking and watching TV.
But, given time and nourishment, they grew into terrifying giants. I’d been avoiding them until they grew too large to avoid. I had to stop hiding and meet them head-on. Once I cut back on my behavior of “avoidance” (a term my third-to-last therapist introduced me to), I started down the road to recovery.
Eschewing the ear buds is just the latest step in my path toward engagement with Reality. Instead of trying to distract myself from the job, I’m willing to accept the fact that I’m working as a temp grunt. I no longer have to be ashamed, because I’m not worried (as much) about what other people think of me in terms of social status.
I finally believe the hokum I’ve been spouting all these years about how what really matters is who you are on the inside, not what you have, that love and kindness and charity are more important than material possessions and appearances. This is because I’ve taken another big step closer to fully living by those principles.
That big step was accepting my parents’ love and reconnecting with my nurturing side. At heart, I’m just a big Stuart Smalley. (Sorry about the timing of that reference.) But it’s taken about 25 years to throw off the shame that was heaped on that side of me in my youth.
It’s especially nice to be free of that shame at this job, because we get to look at pictures of cute kids and families looking happy. I’ve really been able to indulge that long-dormant “caring nurturer” side of me. (I should say that my “caring nurturer” side hasn’t been completely dormant, but it’s been mostly expressed toward friends and cats, and even then in an oft-reserved manner.)
This is the first time since I hit puberty that I’ve been able to express that warmth fully towards kids, without being worried that someone’s gonna make fun of me. I’ve finally forgiven them (that is, “Kids,” writ large) for making fun of me when I was a kid. (The actual kids who made fun of me are not yet totally forgiven. But they aren’t kids anymore, so what am I holding on to?)
The Old Me would’ve (inwardly) sneered at the cute kids and the happy families. Eventually, he would’ve despised the person who invented photography for (indirectly) forcing him to do this work. (According to Wikipedia, there were a few Western European male-types involved in the invention of photography.)
But now I can revel in the vicarious joy and cuteness of the pictures, because I’m finally happy and grateful for my family. I’m forced to marvel at those who are happy despite growing up in broken homes. That’s a level of mental health I haven’t yet achieved.
I still wonder if all these people in the photographs are as happy as they appear. I know what it’s like to put on a show for the cameras. I resented having to do that for family pictures. Surely, some of the people in these pics fall into that category, but so it goes. This isn’t a perfect world.
I check out the couples in the pics to see who got the better of the deal. I assume the more physically attractive person got the short end of the stick, but they could be a real basket case. You can’t really make that judgment without knowing them personally. But it’s still fun.
One piece of advice for holiday pix: Don’t hire a Santa to pose with your kids. No matter how jolly that Old St. Nick is, it’s still creepy. It may be a sad commentary on our times, but there’s just something disturbing about seeing a little girl whisper into an old man’s ear, especially when he’s wearing an expression of surprise.
I look at the kids in these pictures and wonder: Which of them are going to grow up to be total fucking assholes? Statistically speaking, some of them will. It’s just science. I wonder if I can tell just by looking at them. I doubt it. That would fly in the face of years of experience. I’ve been obsessed with appearances for decades, and this is where it’s gotten me.
It turns out that most people who order fancy holiday photo cards have physically attractive families, or so this job has led me to believe. That, combined with the super-happy shots of kids frolicking and parents looking on lovingly, makes me wonder if these people are real.
There was also the card featuring the Soap Opera Family, a group of people who looked just like characters from an early-90’s soap, right down to the older gentleman with the white goatee. They made the Kardashians look subtle. I didn’t really think those people existed, except on TV.
I should thank the company employing me, and the temp agency that arranged it, for allowing me this time to write. On my first day, I came down with a cold. It wasn’t bad, but I really would’ve liked to stay home and recover and not infect all the people around me.
I didn’t think that was an option because I’d just started the job and it was my first assignment with this agency, so I kept going and spreading my germs. I cursed Capitalism for forcing me into this situation. Instead of just letting me stay home and rest, it was making me spread my contagion.
I finally called in sick on Wednesday, in the hope that one more day off (I worked Sunday.) would help me get over the cold. It wasn’t quite enough, so I called yesterday and told them I’d have to quit because it would take a while to get over this. The lady at the agency asked if I could just take the rest of the week off and come back Monday. I said, “Sure,” amazed that was acceptable to them.
So here I am, recounting the travails of a 40-year-old temp. I may not be where I wanna be, but, as someone (Robert Frost, apparently) once said, “The only way out is through.” I’ve already made it through the minefield of my own brain. Compared to that, the rest of the journey should be a cakewalk.