Joining the Brass Polishers Union of the RMS Titanic

Back in high school I took a bunch of drafting and technical design classes.  One day I came into the class and found along the back wall of the computer lab where the class was hosted was a vector design of the RMS Titanic. “Behold,” the teacher told us, “the symbol of this class!” It was a vector drawing, and so it seemed apropos, but I took the bait anyway and asked the teacher “Why?”

“It’s a disaster,” he said smugly.

I loved that teacher, and I became his best student, regardless of that comment. Hell, maybe I became his best student because of it.

But I think there was something of an interesting dichotomy between the vector drawing of the Titanic and the notion of its doom. Seeing it there like that, you may not recognize that the ship is sinking.

And not everyone does.

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The organization I was working for in early 2020 insisted on having two strategy meetings per week. At the height of our working there, before COVID-19 changed everything, I thought that the meetings were far too frequent. Frequently, we didn’t have a whole lot to say between one meeting and the next. Frankly, a lot of times not much time had passed between one meeting and the other. I was really under the impression that the two meetings a week was there mostly for the sake of the under-utilized employees of the organization (and I consider myself one of their numbers).

Then COVID 19 happened, and for a while the meetings felt worth something, because frankly we had no idea what the fuck we were going to do. But a month into the quarantine the news came in that the organization was coming to a close. Our funding principally came from the stock market, and the market had just crashed. Therefore, none of us were going to be paid. Unless we wanted to be perpetual volunteers, it was time to wrap things up.

The smarter ones of us began to brush up our CV’s. I was not among their numbers.

But as all of this went along, the meetings kept on coming. Two a week, every week. To ensure that all the projects were coming along nicely.

The meetings were always real shit. In that I worked for a company where everything was going wrong – a topic for a future post – these meeting were always a perfect storm of everything meetings didn’t need to be. Long, irrelevant, and easily solved by an email.

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One managed to reach three hours, of which there was almost nothing for me to do or say. I have a pet theory that the meetings were mostly there to ensure the job of some of my useless jean wearing colleagues. It made it look like they were actually doing something at the company, which frankly I highly doubt. This isn’t just a conspiracy theory based on my distaste for this individual, but something to which I do have some evidence. All these meetings were pretty much about funneling information to her (she was kind of in charge of things), and she tried to make it about the members of the team communicating with each other. This was odd, as 99% of the time we had nothing to do with each other. And despite the fact that I had a rather active role in the organization, I would say that the vast majority of the things I heard about in that meeting wasn’t actionable by me in anyway.

I quickly learned to multitask my way through them. But as we got closer and closer to shutting down, the meetings necessarily got shorter and shorter. After all, we had nothing to say at our busiest, and now that everyone’s project was concluding, what could we possibly have gone on about? But still the meetings persisted.

Spoiler: they persisted till the penultimate day of work.

Toward the end we got them down to half an hour. They finally felt about right, at least for the actual good they were doing. But still the meetings came, to per week, sometimes more, and always a colossal waste of time.

Yea, meetings are horrific. But when the first coworker announces that she is quitting a full two weeks before the company is meant to shut down. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but there it is. The boss, the head of the organization starts to relax and talks about how, well, she was planning on quitting anyhow. That one you live with has been passing around her CV for some time now, and for some reason you have decided to extend for an addition two months with one more person.

Wait, what?

And at that point, it all began to feel like I had really good job security on a sinking ship. Yes, that is a weird feeling.

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Ok, I would like to conclude this with an anecdote about the same teacher I opened up with. The first time I took a class with him was in my sophomore year of high school. I came in with all the other assholes and some kind of dumb bland highschool numbness that didn’t make me stand out one way or the other. The teacher would later confess to me that when he first saw me in class he didn’t think I would amount to a hill of beans. But I had determination back then, and I decided to but a lot of efforts in the class. I took a second class in my sophomore year, and I did so well that he had the administration count it twice. For my senior I was taking two classes, and independent study, and I was the teacher’s student aid. I was in that fucking classroom for half the fucking school day.

And somehow, I hadn’t gotten to know the teacher all that well. I knew some superficial things about him: roughly his age, a bit about his work background, and that he was a veteran of the Korean War and had lost his hearing there.

Then one day while I was working on a damn difficult project me and him got to chatting and I found out that he wasn’t a war-hawkish republican like I had assumed, but me and him politically extremely aligned.  We got to talking about topic, after topic after topic and found out that, holy shit, we had a lot in common. he wasn’t even all that pro-America, and thought that many other countries did things better than the good ol’ USA (an opinion which, as an immigrant, I found hard to share with many Americans) We agreed on one thing in particular:

The world was fucked.

Our conversation was very pessimistic in nature, and as my anxiety mounted he remained perfectly calm. At the conversations climax, I finally shouted “but how do you remain calm through all this?”

And he looked at me and said (recall: this guy was a Korean War vet) “I’m not going to be around much longer. This shit is your problem.”

I’ve thought about that a lot. Sometimes it centers me. Every now and again it helps to re-contextualize things. Yes, there are problems, but your time is short. At some point, you just have to recognize that your time is going to end. The ship is going to sink. You should always be aware of what is going on around you, and make sure you are reacting accordingly.

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