. Alas, not me: October 2021

30 October 2021

When it stopped being fun

A couple of months ago a long-time friend and colleague of mine at work were talking, and we agreed that it was no longer fun to work there anymore. What started our conversation was my increasing dislike for the location I worked in and my sadness at how little I was coming to care about a job I greatly loved. 

That's a long story in itself, and one in which I must bear some of the blame for my unhappiness. But not all. No one can tell me, for example, that a coworker's disclosure of my medical information to customers while I was out on disability was not a grievous betrayal of my trust. Nor can anyone tell me that the failure of management to make any substantive effort to discover precisely who had violated my legal rights to privacy isn't even more egregious. When I asked about it, I was told 'we talked about it in meetings, to let the employees know they can't do that.' 

Does it sound like they even cared? It doesn't to me.

I didn't want anyone fired. I wasn't threatening to sue. I didn't file any complaints with government agencies. I just wanted an admission of wrongdoing by the guilty party, and an apology. That's all. I didn't think malice was involved, just ignorance or inattention. 

Eventually, after two years of listening carefully to what people said and asking enough indirect questions, I narrowed it down to one suspect. I brought it up casually in conversation one day with her -- 'Oh hey, you know what, I finally found out who gave my medical information to customers' -- and I watched her pupils dilate and her body stiffen up. I didn't say anything else. I just walked away.

But I digress. Perhaps. 

Today, however, I realized when it stopped being fun for me. Part of it was my fault. In February 2018 there was a day where the managers in every store received instructions to lay off about 1800 people at once by telling them their positions had been eliminated. There was no effort to reassign any of them or transfer them. They were all employees of supervisory rank, many of whom had been with the company a decade or more. It was a horrible, horrible day, without even the poor form of fairness that laying off the newest person first allows. I was not in that day. For three and a half years I have felt both glad of this and ashamed. The scum who ran our company at that time (since booted themselves, though not hard enough) then went on to boast to the shareholders that by economizing on payroll they had saved the company millions of dollars, which they were now free to spend on putting marble counters in the stores' cafes. They were so proud of themselves. They didn't claim that they fired those people to save the company. They didn't try to hide that they were 'saving' that money in order to spend it on countertops. Monsters.

Today I was thinking about a young woman named Jessica who worked with me for ten years at that point. She was unaffected by the layoff because she only worked a couple of shifts a week and wasn't paid half what she was worth. She quit that day because she knew that what was happening was wrong. On the spot. I have missed and admired her for the courage and principle she showed that day. She refused to be complicit. 

That was the day it stopped being fun. I deplored what was done of course. But I did nothing. I was afraid to lose my job. Because of my age, the thought that I might never get another, and the thought of having to go somewhere else and start over, led me to stand by though I knew without the least doubt that all those people were being wronged. So I became complicit because I was afraid. How many horrors has that kind of cowardice led to over the last hundred years alone?

If I had stood up, had said something -- even 'I won't be part of this. I quit.' -- I could have at least have told myself that I said 'no.' When you claim to have principles, when you say you believe in right and wrong, but don't stand up, you are lying to yourself and so of course to everyone else. It's easy to talk. That was the day to walk. It's easy to believe. It's hard to have faith.

I could have said no. One word would have been enough. It would have changed nothing, but it would have meant everything. I could have been the example of my principles I always wanted to be. Had I done so, perhaps the person who gave out my private information would not have done so, or, having done so by mistake, might have stood up. I failed this person because I was not who I should have been. I failed myself. I failed those I should have stood up for.

No wonder it stopped being fun.

15 October 2021

Sméagol-Gollum and the Legacy of Pity, part 2

In my last post I pointed out that the author of 'The Tale of Years' 'sees the moment of final transition from Sméagol-Gollum to Gollum in his loss of the Ring to Bilbo'. What I did not note there, but will add now, is that Gollum would agree with this assessment. When Frodo addresses him as Sméagol, Gollum replies:

Don't ask Sméagol. Poor, poor Sméagol, he went away long ago. They took his Precious, and he's lost now.'

        (TT 4.i.616)

From these words it would appear that for Gollum, Sméagol somehow continued to exist until he lost the Ring to Bilbo. Gollum seems to scorn him -- the verb describing how Gollum spoke the words in this paragraph is 'cackled'. So we should not mistake his tone in the words I've quoted. There's no sign that he has slipped back into the self-pity of earlier paragraphs, where he sobs and whimpers. The next exchange in the conversation confirms this. 

'Perhaps we'll find him again, if you come with us,' said Frodo.

'No, no, never! He's lost his Precious,' said Gollum.

Gollum is as firm here (and perhaps as judgmental) as Frodo was in The Shadow of the Past when Gandalf suggested that Frodo did not pity Gollum because he had not seen him:

‘I am sorry,’ said Frodo. ‘But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.’

‘You have not seen him,’ Gandalf broke in.

‘No, and I don’t want to,’ said Frodo. ‘I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.’ 

No doubt it was Sméagol, the last of him, that remembered the sun on daisies, at which Gollum, the evil part, grew angry.