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A new study of workers entering the labour market between 1979 and 2002 confirms what I have been feeling about work and jobs. The study looked at thousands of workers and their patterns of mobility and found that those who did not find their place within a few years tend to suffer the consequences. From the press release announcing the publication of the study by sociologist Dr. Sylvia Fuller:

“On average, every job change reduces a worker’s wage by a little over one per cent. So if someone changes jobs 10 times, they’d be earning about 11 per cent less.”

The statistics paint a sobering picture of wage penalties for women who leave a job for family reasons, almost on par with getting fired. For example, female employees who quit for reasons such as taking care of children or following a husband to another city would see a 2.6 per cent drop in wages compared to 2.7 per cent less if they were fired.

“It seems that leaving a job for a family-related reason results in significant wage disadvantages, even beyond what we would expect given the time out of the labour force that such quits often entail.”

The press release goes on to say that whether the reason for leaving a job was dismissal, layoff, or for career or family reasons, employers tend to start stigmatizing such potential employees as, frankly, damaged goods. It’s a cruel slap in the face to those of us who came of age in the era of massive corporate layoffs and cutthroat competition for good jobs. We’ve also been weaned on the advice that having 5-10 jobs over the course of one’s career is not only okay, but expected. Throw in the lies about “work-life balance” (mostly aimed at women) companies are so fond of touting and see if you don’t start getting cynical, too.

The sobering news that I may be approaching my sell-by date for respectable employment is hard to swallow. But in a weird way, this study’s findings are more comforting than the perky career advice doled out by e-mail newsletters from Monster et al. to dress right for the interview, shake hands with authority, handle pesky co-workers and face change with a positive attitude, always! Oh yeah, and set them goals. It confirms that although competence and experience are what employers say they want, they are actually judging workers on image (physical appearance, career track record, gap-free resume) and likeability and personality. “Fit” is ephermeral, yet paramount. I don’t fit in, never have, never will. I always hoped to find a place to learn and grow in the bosom of a company, but now it looks like going my own way may be the only way.

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Research class is really a lot of fun – there is this whole world to explore beyond Google and it’s dad-blasted keyword popularity searches. I have this not-so-hidden inner geek that loves to find out little-known facts on obscure phenomena.
JSTOR is one of my new favourite sites to browse – it is a site that features scanned versions of various academic journals going way back to the turn of the century and the Victorians. For example, you can look up the journal of the American (or Royal, if you prefer) Anthropological Society and find the original writings of Malinowski, Levi-Strauss and Meade on the Trobriand Islanders or whatever. The only catch is that you need to link to the site through a library or college that has access. I am assuming, if you are reading this, you are a library-card-carrying citizen of some description (geeks, unite!)
If you need facts, Bartleby.com is a collection of searchable reference books including Emily Post’s Etiquette, Strunk’s Style, encyclopedias and dictionaries, plus complete collections of poems, fiction and non-fiction works of the Western World. Free, free, free! We life-of-the-mind’ers must live cheaply.
I have also discovered several new search engines and directories that offer much browsing pleasure. More on those to come. Till then, smartypants.

It’s happened to me several times, so I decided to do some research into sleep paralysis. A combination of nightmare, hallucination and physical terror, sleep paralysis is when you wake up (or think you’ve woken up) in the middle of the night with the feeling that something sinister is in the room, on the bed, or sitting on top of you. The fun part is that your entire body becomes frozen so that you can’t see what it is or fight the danger. Sometimes there are hallucinations, physical sensations such as tiny pinpricks all over the back, and even levitating and flying. I have had all these things happen to me in various episodes. Sleep paralysis may explain some cases of hauntings or alien abduction.
I found a surprising humber of articles both in the library and on the web – even an about.com site devoted to sleep paralysis. I am waiting in a library queue for a book called Terror that Comes in the Night – behind about three others. Various articles quote statistics that anywhere from 10 to 40% of the population have had at least one episode of sleep paralysis in their lives. I’ve had it five times so far, both my sisters have had it, and probably my mom too. It might be genetic.
It could be caused by stress and anxiety too – each time I have had a case of “the Old Hag” (as it is sometimes called), it was during some kind of scary change going on or sleeping in a new place.

A team of researchers from Britain recently studied the attribute of territoriality in drivers. They measured how long it took for a driver to vacate a parking space when someone was waiting for it versus when no one was around. On average, if someone was waiting for the space, drivers took an average of 37 seconds to vacate for the next person. If no one was waiting, the average time was 30 seconds. How do I get a job on one of those research teams, anyway?

It’s interesting to me how we think about what spaces we’re entitled to appropriate outside of our own homes. Drivers go mad if someone “cuts them off” or follows so closely that all sorts of ass-related comebacks spring to mind like “If you’re not a hemorrhoid…” because in their own minds, they occupy the road on which they travel. Over on the garlic wagon, it is verboten for passengers to sit too closely together on a near empty bus. On a full bus, how many times does a driver have to shout “Move to the back of the bus!” before someone obediently releases their grip on the handhold and shuffles a couple token steps along the aisle?

Label makers become tools of the devil in the hands of workers who take office supplies seriously. Even a polite “Please return to Bob’s desk” benignly pasted to a stapler is a stapler pissed on and spoken for. One worker I saw went so far as to claim his warehouse cart with a note secured with packing tape. The felt tip message spelled out consequences for anyone who took the dolly without his expressed permission: “Take this cart and Die!!!!”

In a city where real estate is king and buyers are baited with promises of views, we start thinking that the space in front of us belongs to us too. Apartments and houses are touted with such selling points as Magnificent Views! 180 Views! City Views! Mountain Views! Even when it isn’t perfect and you can still see something (anything), it might be promoted as Peekaboo View or Partial View. Buyers of suites in swanky waterfront buildings freak out and call their lawyers when someone else decides to build another tower in front of them – oops, no view for you, suckers. Neighbours sue neighbours when trees are planted or cut down, or when a height extension to a house or new construction threatens the view, and therefore the property values. In my old neighbourhood, residents of one house were so upset by the dramatic heightening of the roofline of house directly in front of them that they sued for mental anguish caused by loss of their views.

I have to admit that I’m looking at a pretty fine view right now – City! Mountains! Sky! – from my little temp’s chair. Its not an extension of me, I don’t own it, I’m just glad to be here. Before long, I’ll be out the door again (from sitting all day in someone’s else’s cubicle, guarding the boss while she’s on vacation) and riding in my little space bubble on transit all the way back to my home, door locked firmly behind me, cursing the neighbours bass.

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