What Price for Work? The Karachi Factory Fire


Yesterday a fire in a Lahore factory claimed the lives of at least 25 young workers who tried in vain to escape through windows that were barred.  In another Pakistani city today at least 300 died in a fire at a Karachi garment factory.  Trapped by bars on the windows and a bottleneck of panicked workers at the one exit to the building, many phoned their loved ones before the fire and toxic smoke overtook them.  The back stairs exit leading to the roof was locked.  Faulty generators are blamed as possible catalysts, but our own Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire may hint at another catalyst altogether – greed.

I found the timing of these tragedies especially meaningful due to the Michigan Supreme Court’s recent approval of a Bargaining Rights amendment for our November ballot.  As a firm middle-of-the-road moderate I buck the system of reviewing media that supports my beliefs because experience has taught me that I am often misinformed and always biased.   My fact-finding missions are frustrating, but that is another topic for another post.  One of the constants I count on is factual history and we know the when, why, and who of the Triangle fire in New York City on March 25, 1911.  146 women perished in that factory because most of the exits were locked by the owners to prevent theft and the one fire escape collapsed.  Many of the women jumped to their deaths.  There was no need for bars on the windows of the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the Asch building.   The Ladies Garment Worker’s Union was born from the Triangle factory tragedy and I credit the women that perished with the realization of worker’s rights, safety standards, and organized labor.  They did not die in vain.  Now the voters in Michigan are being asked to trust that these rights are secure and freely given by the generous owners of the corporations we work for.  Recent history indicates otherwise as does personal experience.  In a bottom-line work world can we afford to not learn from our history?

Although Pakistan is a world away, globalization connects us, as does our need to work to live.  We mainly affect our own communities with our votes, but we affect the world with our dollars.  My stomach turned when I read that more workplace tragedies happen at this time of year as third-world factories increase production for Christmas.

As always: take what you want and leave the rest behind.




5th Dimension Job Hunt Update

The 37th revision of my résumé combined with a smooth and confident demeanor gleaned from a multitude of prescreening phone calls finally hooked an interview invitation.  I’m exaggerating my coolness, but if I think about how suave I’m not,  I may never have the nerve to squeak out interview answers.

When I lost my job six months ago I knew the job market was competitively fierce.  I can read.  But, knowing and understanding to the depth I do now are different and worlds apart.  My belief that perseverance can overcome any obstacle was wavering and The Maker and I were having some serious discussions after six months with no interview offers.  And then, in typical fashion, He threw me a bone.  Someone was finally intrigued enough to want to examine me for defects in person.

I had been so focused on the interview invitation benchmark that I now felt like a prepubescent boy shown a big set of boobs for the first time.  I was quite excited, but ignorant of what was expected in a 5th dimension job interview.  Was, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” still a standard query?  I have always hated that one because I want to answer, “Oh, writing my second novel (the one I got a huge advance for) in a secluded Irish cottage by the shore”, but instead I feel I must offer up the standard, “Working in a position like the one I’m interviewing for at a company as great as this one.”  My research assistant, Google, helped me compile a list of interview questions that make the “where do you see yourself” query seem elementary, and I mean public-school elementary.  My daughter is much more hip to the interview scene so I tapped into her wisdom, much of which consisted of warnings about talking too much and having specific work product examples at the ready.  My husband’s advice was to replace my usual meandering anecdotes with examples of professional wins.  If I did not practice this foreign language, I knew I’d leave a prospective employer entertained, but unsure of my qualifications.  If enough people say you have hay in your teeth…maybe I do talk too much.

In a concerted effort to create succinct and relevant answers to questions such as, “Tell me about a conflict you had at work and how you handled it”, I spent two full days composing more acceptable answers than, “I just accepted that she was a bitch and ignored her”.  Then I practiced what I hoped were appropriate answers out loud until the “ums” were gone.

On the day of the interview I followed my kid’s advice to think of the interview as good practice.  Remembering that this professional, well-adjusted woman who now advises me on professional matters used to eat ants lends to the whole 5th dimension surreal experience.  Considering that my interviewer was not much older than my kid made her somewhat less intimidating, despite her high-anxiety persona.  Or perhaps that was just the pregnancy hormones.  I understand that after being out of work for six months I am beholden to feel grateful for ANY prospective job, but  guess what?  I don’t.  I have over 20 years left to work and I’m tired already.  So when she told me, “it’s crazy here every minute of every day; everything is always changing”, I probably visibly cringed.  It’s why I have never been chosen to sit on a jury, and may be why I did not hit the next benchmark – a second group interview.

It was good practice, but she did not ask most of the questions I prepared for.  During another phone interview last week I was asked specifically how my past experience could be transferred to this retailer, not exactly what one thinks of as a prescreen question.  But thanks to the previous week’s interview, I was prepared.  Now I wait.  If I make it past the first interview, then there’s a group interview with the Vice-President.  Welcome to The 5th Dimension.  It seems I’ll be here for a while.


Forget about it

Coupled with my Monet-like vision, my hit-and-miss memory makes finding my glasses a frustratingly blind scavenger hunt.  I have adjusted to allow for memory lapses because that is what we humans do.  We work with what we have.  So, I have a designated finder pair of glasses that reside on my dresser.  Sometimes I just have to wear the finder pair if I left my others in an especially well-hidden spot.  In perimenopause an addled thought process is sometimes what we have to work with as waxing and waning estrogen levels that are essential to neurotransmitter and oxygen levels in the brain fluctuate.  Some days I am sharp and can remember and carry out a multitude of detailed tasks that leave me feeling damn good about myself and rather smart.  Other days I am scattered, have to wear my finder glasses, and return to the grocery store for the detergent that I left in the cart.  Adding to my brain drain is the shame of not being on top of my game which is stress-producing for my Wonder Woman alter ego.  Stress, or the inevitable cortisol dump that accompanies it, actually shuts down learning and negatively affects the hippocampus, the memory center.

When my Grandma began showing signs of dementia a couple of years before she died I researched what we could do to make her life less frustrating.  I never thought I would soon employ some of those strategies in order to fake out Wonder Woman fans.  I also use the strategies I learned when placed under increasing pressure to do more and more at work, a common theme in today’s workplace.  I completed a Franklin Covey course titled “FOCUS, Achieving Your Highest Priorities” that seemed tailor-made for my planning/controlling nature.  There is truth to the adage that writing something down gives it POWER and planning requires writing it down.  Working in medical education I became addicted to studies.  Prove it to me; give me some stats or metrics.  Smooth Operators no longer hold sway here in the 5th decade.  So naturally I believe the hundreds of studies that show that multitasking is an inefficient illusion which makes for costly and time-consuming mistakes.  We all know someone who moves at break-neck speed and radiates anxiety, but is not very effective.  I am the friend that has no problem saying, “slow the hell down and identify what is crucial for you to accomplish today”.  The downside is that people get pissed when they are running around while I am calmly asking for identification of priorities.  My satisfaction is that I never spent an hour hunting for pencils the morning of a national inservice exam.  Wonder Woman always keeps her pencils in the same spot because it is a stupid thing to spend time on.  “A place for everything and everything in its place” may seem contradictory for a creative person, but if I spent my time hunting for tools I would have little time to create.

Here are a few other strategies that maximize my unreliable memory and help me focus:

  • Identify the most important goals for a month and work backwards in weekly, and then daily increments and make to-do lists.  Do not forget relationships on these lists.  Just don’t let your husband see that you penciled him in on Wednesday evening.
  • If something unexpected comes up (and when doesn’t it), think about what day’s list it can go on.  Someone freaking out does not necessarily mean it becomes your priority.  Sick kids trump everything, though.  Don’t sweat it.  Rework your lists and try to delegate where possible.
  • Never go to the grocery store without a list that was generated from a menu.  Poll the family while you are making the grocery list and only go off the list if it involves chocolate.
  • Pay with cash.  Not only will you spend less, but you do not have to keep track of several debits, just one withdrawal.
  • Do one thing at a time.  A person who works sequentially is 50% more productive and makes 50% fewer mistakes.  Time is a commodity!
  • Take a five-minute break once per hour to stretch, move about, or talk to someone you like.  Movement sends more oxygen to the brain and restarts the recall center.  You get a good feeling when interacting with someone you like because the brain is dumping those enjoyable hormones like serotonin and dopamine.

Interestingly, Our Bodies Ourselves, the book that granted us the power of knowing where our clitoris resides, just celebrated its 40th anniversary.  This monumental book granted women permission to discuss the taboo subjects of our sexuality by giving us the power of knowledge.  While young women today are prepared for menstruation and openly discuss sex and birth control with their mothers, we still have a long way to go on ridding ourselves of the taboo associated with mid-life female changes.  We have seen the effect of open dialogue and being able to call a vagina a vagina.  In that vein, I welcome you to share some of your strategies for adjusting or minimizing the changes before and during menopause.  If you find yourself trying to put it in what you think of as acceptable terms, just say out loud, “clitoris, vagina, penis, orgasm”.