Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Pointy Little Timers

This month marked the third full year I've been at my job.

That might not sound like much to some of you. Some members of my family have had things in their freezer for longer than that. My 77-year-old grandma, for instance, keeps an enormous chest freezer in her garage. Two years ago it broke down just before Thanksgiving, allowing the gathered family to celebrate our bounty by throwing it all away. My mother and my aunt established themselves at the freezer to excavate the trove of food; the rest of us hovered nearby. Grandma had meticulously written the date on each item when she put it in the freezer, making it an enormous popsicle of a time capsule.

Grandma wouldn't let us throw out the newer frozen foods, so she got her neighbors Bob and Jo to clear out space in their own garage freezer to temporarily store her goodies. Then my siblings and I lined up with garbage bags to distribute the food. First my mom or aunt would exclaim over the item--"Chili, 2000!"

"Enchiladas, Christmas 1999!"

"Oh my god--a whole gallon of potato soup from 1997! And it's split down the side!"

Then, with a nod or a sigh from Grandma, one of us would either empty the contents into the garbage bag and toss the empty container into a recycling bag, or put the entire thing into the "save" bag. The "save" bag swelled to surprisingly large proportions but we lugged it down to Bob and Jo's garage anyway, safely restoring those bricks of soup and bread to zero degrees and ensuring that after Grandma replaced her freezer they could return to live for many more years in the comfort of her garage.

Anyway, I've been at my job for three years, which is a long time for me as a recent college graduate. Er, for certain values of the word "recent," that is. It was my first "real" job after school, anyway. I was hired there after several months of unemployment in the fall of 2001, months of financial woe mitigated only by working occasional shifts at the bookstore and cobbling together a few babysitting jobs. So to get that call, after an interview I thought I bombed (Boss: "And what are you interested in down the road?" Me: "Well, after the work I did with Americorps, I'm pretty interested in obtaining my teaching certification and working more directly in the field of education." Boss: "Oh...well, we're hoping to find someone who will be staying here more long-term..." Me: "D'oh! Backtrack backtrack backtrack..."), offering me a full-time permanent position with a SALARY and BENEFITS! --well, that was a thrill. I felt like a real adult for the first time. (I even went out and bought myself a comfy chair with my first paycheck--my first furniture purchase!--just to cement my adulthood.)

It was also sobering, though. A little too open-ended. I told myself I'd work there for at least two years, and then I'd re-evaluate my options. Three years ago when I first opened the drawer of the desk I'd be using, I found an assortment of office supplies, including one of those 1,000-count boxes of staples. Only one strip of staples had been used. I wondered cheerfully how many years it must have sat in that desk, through how many former tenants of my position. This box of staples will be here long after I'm gone, I thought.

Yesterday my stapler ran out of staples. I opened my trusty little box, and pulled out the

That's right: I've used a thousand staples in the last three years. The box that seemed set to outlast me--empty, all its staples used up.

I didn't make much of it at the time. I refilled my stapler and tossed the empty box into the recycling bin.

Still, it's a bit of a marker. I went through an entire 1,000-count box of staples, and counting--and I'm still in the same holding pattern. Last year when I reached my two-year mark I did start looking around to see what new direction might be worth pursuing. The direction I found (north) didn't work out after all, so I stayed on, and don't regret it a bit. I like my job and my coworkers immensely. I could see myself staying on there for another three years or more and enjoying it thoroughly.

But now the busy season is over, I have a new box of staples, and it's time to analyze my path. I want it to be a conscious decision, and not find myself staring at another empty box of staples in three years, wondering where they all went.