Thursday, December 8, 2011

On decency and safety: how playing it safe occasionally is hazardous

This is a tale of the importance of a safety pin, and how choosing safety in one department, very well might put you at risk in another.

Let me first dwell over the expression "safety pin". It is "a spring wire clasp with a covering catch, made so as to shield the point when closed and to prevent accidental unfastening"[1]. So true. A safety pin is meant to prevent accidental unfastening. What this definition fails to convey, however, is that a safety pin generally also is meant to prevent accidental unfastening of the item(s) it is holding together.

For instance. I have a reflex.

Digression: I know the word "reflex" in English means many things - none of which is the one I need it to mean. (Actually, I have many reflexes. None that are shaped like a giraffe, incidentally. This is not relevant to the digression or the story, though. It's a sub-digression.)

The word I need is tricky to find. I've been stumbling around google for a while, and the best I could come up with is "reflective item". That sounds overly complicated for someone who grew up with government initiated campaigns ("Reflexes save lives!") to make people wear these reflective items to increase traffic security. I feel this says something about the English speaking world. Most of it is located much further south than the Norwegian speaking world (which mainly is located in Norway). Further south means more light during winter. But, it just occurred to me, further south also means less light during summer, so technically, they ought to use their reflective items all year round, and not just in winter, like we do! Also - what about Alaska?!

Yes, what about Alaska?

Alaska is English speaking, and far north. They would suffer from similar reflective issues as we do in Norway. They need to wear reflective items too. But there is no way you'd make an Alaskan put on what a Norwegian would refer to as a "reflex" unless they have a better name for it. I can imagine the government initiated campaigns in Alaska:

"Use a reflective item! If you can pronounce it fast enough; it might save your life!"

Not that the pronounciation matters, technically, to how efficient it is at reflecting light and thus making you visible to cars and thus increasing traffic security...

I think I lost a part of myself in that digression. (I also forgot to pull back in the string about the south-of-Alaska part of the English-speaking world needing reflexes year-round. I just don't know. Do they?)

Anyway. Since I didn't grow up in Alaska, or anywhere else in the English speaking world, I know that you have to wear a reflex all through winter. It might save your life. Or mine. Every autumn, then, I dutifully put on the little not-giraffe-shaped thingie, and so far I've never been killed by a car.

However, that might be subject to change.

On Monday my workplace had its annual Christmas Party.

Digression again: I know I haven't been talking about my job much. At least not this job. The job I now have. The job with the Christmas Party safety issues. I went directly from "Back from Japan, new opportunities will come" via "Ihatelookingforajob!!!" to "Istillhatelookingforajob!!!!!" to "So, on my way to work today..." to near-radio silence. I know. So much for blogging being all about sharing stuff, right..?

I got a job. I got a job that under no circumstances made me feel like sharing anything at all. Partly because it was top-secret (it wasn't. That just sounded more interesting than what I was about to type...) - Partly because it was temporary. One month only. Then one month more. Never enough to actually let my shoulders down. Not even enough to find an apartment in Oslo.

So, I've been living with my parents, still (most of my stuff is there), but in reality, I've spent more time living at either one of my sisters' houses, plus occasionally crashing on various couches. I am grateful for their hospitality, but obviously, the situation isn't ideal. It's exhausting, and the only reason I tolerate it is that the alternative would be a four-hour commute, daily. As it is, I "only" have a two hour commute.

The other reason I haven't felt like sharing much about this job is that it isn't... it isn't what I wanted to do. The job itself is fine. I occasionally like it, I occasionally don't. Like any other job, then. I don't ever feel I work enough, or that my results are sufficient - like any other job, then. It's challenging, tiresome, and fairly interesting. Like any other job. Then.

As happy as I am to have a job, I am slightly - surprised, perhaps - that I'm still at my old university. Many of my classmates fell in love with the process of academia. I didn't. I wanted to use it to get an education, and then get out. All hail those who want to become scientists and researchers, but that was never me.

And yet. Here I am. Back in academia, back in research. I'm writing footnotes like my life depended on it. (Actually, no, that is a stretch. My life depends on wearing a reflex. Not footnotes.)

It's been an interesting shift from being a student to being a colleague. Of sorts. I'm still the lowest ranking here, of course; but all of a sudden I'm two floors up from before, I have xerox and printer access I could only dream of as a student (I did), and the noble professors now greet me when I run into them in the hallways. Plus I got invited to the Christmas Party.

At first I didn't sign up; after all, I was here for a short time only. But then something changed. I got a new job.

This time it's for six months. I know that's still temporary, but to me, it sounds like a world of time. More interestingly, perhaps - it's not about footnotes anymore. It's teaching. Classes. University classes. With actual students. Students who will be graded. By me.

It feels - overwhelming. Great responsibility, massive amounts of work, and a situation that will be completely new to me. I've asked myself whether I am qualified for this - heck, I asked my boss whether I am qualified. We reached the conclusion that I am... Now I only need to prove it. Am I scared? No, I'm terrified. But I am also determined to do my best.

Academia pulled me back in again. I guess this will be my chance to find out whether my decision not to devote my life to academics was right.

In the meantime my concern lies more with reflexes and safety pins. You see, my reflex - of the not-giraffe variety - is fastened in my coat with a safety pin. Usually, then, this safety pin keeps me safe. However, for the Christmas Party I needed safety in a whole different way. Since I signed up late for the Christmas Party (having changed my mind when I realized I'd be working here six more months), I didn't have much time to figure out what to wear. I went with what appeared to be a safe choice: the little black dress.

Every girl should own one. So versatile, so classic. And in my case, so revealing... I hadn't realized just how revealing it was until I wore it a few days earlier, and noticed this dress took the concept of cleavage to a whole new level. There was no way I could sport that at a Christmas Party for a new job.

So, a safety pin was my rescue. My rescue and near demise. Because I only had the one - the one from the reflex.

The safety pin kept the dress in place, thus fulfilling its purpose of preventing accidental unfastening. But since I had to remove the reflex from my coat in order to maintain the desired level of decency, I ran a risk with safety. Without the reflex, I was near invisible to a car passing me on the street later that same night. If I had been killed, we would have had decisive evidence to two hypotheses:

"Reflexes save lives"; and

"Putting decency first, makes safety worst."

I'm not sure the latter would be appropriate or desirable in a government initiated campaign. It depends on what sort of campaign it is, I suppose.

The Christmas Party went well. I still have a job. My decency is safe. And so will I be, if I can only remember to put my reflex back on my coat. Then I can return to my habit of not being killed by cars.


Michelle Gregory said...

your digressions are amazing.

Cold As Heaven said...

Go for a PhD. After that you will know if you wanna stay in academia or not. There are some facets of academia I like and some I dislike. Teaching is great fun, and supervising students is fun too. However, I don't like the forever rivalry and academic wars between professors who fight for sources of funding. Now I have a 20% academic position, and a full industry research position. To me that's perfect. In industry research people co-operate and work towards common goals >:)

Cold As Heaven

Talli Roland said...

Congrats on the new job! :)

Marjorie said...

Reflectors. That is what the English speaking world calls them. At least the Alaskan and South of Alaska English speaking world calls them that. Much easier than calling them reflective objects. People normally put them on bikes. As always you keep me interested and entertained. May want to consider buying more safety pins.

Mark Nicholls said...

I like this post.

Melody said...

This is pretty much the best thing ever. Also, in the southern US, we only use them on bikes at night. Rarely do we put them on our person.

Cruella Collett said...

Michelle - they certainly are digressionary, at any rate. I'm reserving amazing for *really* good chocolate and bubble wrap. Bubble wrap is amazing.

Ketil - we've talked about this before, and my basic thought remains the same: in my line of work, there isn't much a Phd can get you that a MA can't (outside of academia). So unless I change my mind about academia; no Phd for me.

Talli - thanks :)

Marjorie - Aaaaaaah! Reflectors! That makes sense! And you're right. More safety pins would probably be smart - and safer.

Mark - I reflect that. Sort of. (Wait, what did I just say..?)

Melody - oh, but then how are you not killed by cars when you walk??? Oh, wait, my bad. I've been to the US. I was the only one doing any walking in my neighbourhood...

Jan Morrison said...

Here in Canada, which is obviously more northerly than most of the US, we wear reflectors on our bikes and on our clothes. I live out in the country and older people such as myself wear them on our coats OR we buy coats that have them already sewed on. Younger people not so much. They apparently think they will live forever. Good luck to them I say.

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