Thursday, September 18, 2008


A combination of attitudes usually prevents me from answering my phone in the car: drivers on the phone are even less considerate than the rest of the Chicago metro driving population and I am determined not to become like them, I can do without being connected to the possibility of human contact 24-7, and my phone is set to vibrate because I have no need of yet another source of aural stimulus…hmm….

That’s why I was in the parking lot at work on Wednesday morning when I finally got the message that the office was shut down by water damage sustained when the sprinklers put out a fire on Tuesday night. No one was injured. The fire was limited to a handful of cubicles on the second floor, and my first floor cubicle, along with all the others in that wing of the building, was off limits until the insurance inspectors could assess the damage. It might be days.


Last week I learned that my contract would end on September 30. Yesterday, with only ten billable days to go, the office was shut down because of fire damage; when I got home, the phone was blinking because a contracting firm had called to see whether I was available. Life is good.

Well, not that good. They wanted someone who could start Monday for a two-days-a-week job. I’m all for working fewer hours, but not that many fewer.

I’m looking forward to some down time. It’s not the work or the people…they’re both good…it’s the drive that has been sapping my energy these last couple of months. I have in the past finished up a contract one day and started a new one the next, but right now I need a little chill.

Looking back, it seems the process of finding a contract position starts like this: you find several prospects, and each prospect falls into one of several categories, although which category a specific prospect belongs to is not always immediately ascertainable.

The bulk of positions result from the panicked realization that the workload and deadline far exceed the company’s capacity. “Holy cow, we needed someone to start this three weeks ago!” These are recognizable within minutes of first contact with the client.

The non-position is the result of unfeasible projects. These prospects usually bring you through the interview stage, after which you learn that the company decided to either postpone or abandon the project. The panicked-realization project sometimes goes this route.

The half-price contract falls under the auspices of engineering in companies where the engineers in charge look upon professional writing as something that doesn’t involve much skill because it’s not engineering. (An example of this would be the Suburban Hausfrau’s “Old Company.”)

The future contract is the one that gets tangled up in HR or legal red tape for so long after the interview that you may no longer be available when the company is ready to move forward. If only these were easy to spot, I could take two weeks off between contracts every time.

Then there’s a super category that encompasses all of the above: the big-house prospects. The client contacts several contracting firms, large and small. Within hours, the job posting appears, with identical wording, on five job boards; two more within two days; two more within a week. You know they’re all offering different rates, so you respond to all of them and hope you can negotiate the highest rate possible with whomever contacts you. And your silent phone just stares at you.


Early last week the manager I’m working for told me that my contract would be terminated at the end of the month. Due to budget constraints, most contractors are being let go. She is not happy about it, as there is still much work to do, nor is the engineering manager whose product my writing projects support. There is so much work, in fact, that the company could use another permanent writer.

They acquired a company out East, and its products are complex enough to be supported by two whopping documents and several smaller ones, as well as an online help system, all of which are grossly out of date with some documents going back to 2002. Most were in the process of being updated when the writer left, as people will do when their facility is about to close its doors and move several states away. No replacement was hired to fill the writer’s position.

Déjà vu struck when the engineering manager was opining that these manuals are so important that he would talk with his veep to see if they could come up with some creative ideas to keep the project going. No matter what company you go to, people deem their departments, functions, or products essential, and disagree with management’s decisions about where and how deep cuts should have been made…usually without any idea of the input and logic behind the decision process. I suppose it’s human nature to want to believe that your work matters at least as much as the next guy’s. But, regardless of all the second-guessing of the executives and their rationale, it’s their decision to make.

It actually comes at a very good time for me, psychologically if not financially. When I approached the contracting firm about this job in March, I knew it was a commute that I could not sustain over the long haul, and I said so. The contract was to be two to three months, and I knew I could endure it for that long. It has been six months and I’ve been approaching my limit for some time, even though I’ve been working from home one day a week. A few weeks ago, I broached the subject of working more than one day from home and was told that one day was all the director allowed, which is, of course, her prerogative. But it’s a showstopper for me. Early this month, I had decided to give notice and be finished no later than end of next month, so the cutbacks indeed came at a good time.

I did plant the bug in the writing manager’s ear that should the company realize that the current writing staff is insufficient, I know someone who might be interested in a permanent position. The Suburban Hausfrau lives up that way…