I have a Bachelor of Arts degree, am in Grant MacEwan’s Applied Communications in Professional Writing Certificate program (going into my second year). In my past I have guest lectured at the University of Alberta (for 10 years running), ran a local theatre company, produced plays, written as a regular contributer for local magazines and been the primary caregiver for my parents. I tell you this so you’ll have an idea about me.

So I was excited to be able to work for the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Education (the specific department shall remain nameless). Here was a chance to step up my career. I had blocked out the trauma of working for the Government of Alberta three years ago and decided this was my chance to shine.

I pride myself in my ability to produce quality work quickly. This blog, for example, will go through one edit before it hits the line. Normally I’d do a couple of them, but I feel this is important. So, I can produce quality work quickly. Let me qualify that; I can produce quality work quickly if I know what it is I’m writing about and the style I’m writing in. I’m fairly adaptable, so I’m comfortable working in a number of styles but this easy, laid-back manner you see here is the one I like best.

So I was hired in June by the Ministry of Education to “tell Education’s story”. Specifically, I was hired in June to use my own laid-back writing style to “tell Education’s story”. “We want *you* to tell Education’s story,” I was told by the man who hired me. All right. I can do that. A week before I was hired I went online and tried to get a sense of what I was getting into. What I saw didn’t comfort me.

Go to the Ministry of Education’s website sometime. It’s chaotic, drowning in government-ese and dry as hell. It says little and what it does say is pretty useless…. in my opinion. However, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I needed this job and I needed to shine. I could do this.

Problems arose in the first week of my employment. I raised the possibility of doing a story on Mr. Bob Maskell, an incredible educator who’s made an impact on so many lives. That was shot down. Good try, I was told, but we couldn’t feature just one educator (who is retired), it’d look like favoritism. No, I thought, it’d look like we appreciate those teachers and educators who dedicated their lives to being the best they could. Never mind, they had another idea.

My boss plopped a document on the table; the “Framework for Action“. This was what they wanted me to write on. This document has been in the making for years and is extremely intricate. There are subtleties and nuances that would take years to decipher. Okay. In my own style, huh? I could do this.

To give you an idea of the task at hand, open the document and read it. I had two days, tops, to learn each section, its history and where it was going then write a 250 word piece on it. Factor in to that I’m not getting to talk to the managers who’s responsible for each section. No. I get documents in legalese and whatever I could find on the Internet. Still, I managed. I thought. First meeting with the boss I found out I didn’t have a clue. Back to the drawing board.

When you work as a journalist, you need to have a feel for your topic. It isn’t necessary to read every document written on it so long as you get an idea of what it’s about. It needs to be accurate, but you don’t have to know every aspect of it. For example, you don’t need to get a pilot’s licence to write about flying for a big airline . Not so with the Ministry of Education. I had to know these things inside and out and they are complicated. So, off to round two.

Between round one and two my mentor decided he was too busy for me so he passed me off to someone else in the office. Was I okay with that? Perspective time; I’m a summer student. I don’t have a lot of room for opinion. Keep your mouth shut and your head down. That’s the summer student’s motto. Even if it means being passed off like a bad date to a co-worker who’s first language is not English. Yes, she had a doctorate in research, but I’m a writer doing writing in English. I’m not a researcher translating my writing. That’s like a penguin trying to teach a duck to swim.

At this point I felt confirmation of my role was needed. My writing was too bland and needed more colour and excitement. I needed anecdotes and examples, my original mentor (still my boss) said. Okay. I can do that. So I let myself go and brought out my writing crayons, so to speak. Time for colour.

The second time around wasn’t as nice as the first time. What on earth was I thinking using anecdotes and examples? That’s not government style of writing. Also, I still had some tense issues (due to actions in the past affecting the future) but that’s easily dealt with. For example, I might write “the report he wrote yesterday will be discussed in tomorrow’s meeting.” Perfectly sound sentence, but not strictly grammatically correct. Also, I didn’t have enough examples and the writing was bland.

By this time I got the help of my new mentor and a co-worker to edit the pieces. I wasn’t seeing something, perhaps they’d see it. We’d edit two or three times before I was comfortable and then I headed for round number three. Oh good lord.

One of the pieces I’d worked on was particularly delicate so I went to the person who’s project it was and asked them to make sure everything was correct. When it was returned to me, this person had thrown out one section completely, two others were deleted (this person and the boss decided they weren’t needed. Was I asked? Nope. I was informed by e-mail) and another was so heavily edited it didn’t resemble anything I’d written. Okay, I thought, I had it wrong. I can do this.

I reworked the pieces and showed the boss who promptly got angry because they were unusuable.  They had no factual information and said little about the actual program. So, digging through my garbage, I got the original I’d written, retyped it and prepared to hand that in.

Now we get to round four. Understand that by this time I’m going home shaking, in tears and becoming dangerously depressed. If it wasn’t for the amazing support of instructors, friends, family and fellow writers, I would have either wound up in the hospital from a suicide attempt or from severe trauma. I could no longer look at my co-workers, let alone talk to them. I thought about giving up writing completely. It was my support network who held me up during this time and told me I could get through it and keep going. Several said I was too good a writer to quit. Even as I write this I’m crying. I can’t help it. I think of that time and can’t function.

By this time I was going to work not with the idea of producing anything quality, I felt like a hostage to a sociopath. All I wanted to do was give them what they wanted so they’d let me go. From 7 am to 4 pm, working through lunches and breaks, all I kept thinking was, “they said I could leave at the end of August.”

So, now I was given the instructions to “write in Government Voice.” Let me back this truck up a minute. There are classes dedicated to learning this style. There are writers who specialize in this style and take years to perfect it. Government writing style is very precise and there is an art to it. I have never written in this style in my life. This style is not interesting to me, it’s very bland and like chewing on drywall. However, those who can do it well have my utmost respect.

Let’s toss in here a round of computer problems that took three days to fix because the IT guys forgot to hook me up to the right network. Oh, now let’s add the fact that none of the people in charge of the projects are allowing me to talk to them. Instead, I’m handed documents in legalese that outline the project. I’m supposed to decipher these and make them understandable in government style. I leap over tall buildings in a single bound and dress in leather as a bat and stop crimes in my spare time, too.

So, back to round four. My boss walks into my office and informs me I’m texting too much on my phone. I text to keep me in touch with people who keep me sane, by the way.  He then spends the next hour and half to two hours asking me if I’m “supported” (I felt like we were talking about me needing a jock strap). Talk about turning up the pressure. Yes, on the surface he was asking me if he could help me. Yet, in the same breath he’d say things like, “I need results” and “I expected more.” This “chat” let me know I was on my last legs and yet I still had no clue what they wanted.

I called up my doctor, a wonderful man who knows me and knows I don’t ask to see him often, asking to see about medicating me for stress. I may not do well with most psychiatric drugs (learned that while trying to deal with my sleeping disorder), but maybe there was an herbal remedy he could recommend.

Yesterday I gave it one more try. I gave my boss work I wasn’t proud of, work I’d never admit to doing, work so sterilized of any life I didn’t recognize it. He hated it. No, not the sterilization. He liked that. What he pointed out was places I’d missed a comma (I got 15 minutes on that) or places he felt were unclear (three other people had read them several times. He was the only one that thought those places were a problem). In other words, he was looking for trouble and found it. By the time it was over, he looked at me and said, “if you can’t give me what I ask for, you’ll never make it as a writer in any corporation.”

He crossed a line. I reached past all the crap I’d been handed in the past month and stopped listening to him. The corrections he wanted took only a half hour to make but I drew it out all afternoon. I was going to quit at the end of the month. I kept hearing his words in my head over and over and got angrier and angrier. Over and over again I’d produced quality work that he’d told me he wanted. Over and over it wasn’t good enough. I had to spend three and half hours listening to Ministry of Education employees pat themselves on the back and being paraded around instead doing the job I was being paid to do. I had to listen to my bosses “are you being supported” speeches over and over instead of getting clear instructions. Now I was being told I was a mediocre writer and never going to be a professional. Yes, I was angry.

By the time I was fired this morning I didn’t care. I cried tears of relief as I packed up my things and left. Here’s what the boss who was so concerned if I was being supported did; he read my termination from a letter then walked out. He didn’t have the decency to ask me if I had anything to say or even say to me “don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.” He left and went on his way.

I feel better now being without a job than I have in the past month. I’m free and I can go back to doing what I love; writing. I don’t know what will come of this blog, probably nothing. I do know this; I wrote this on the fly and it’s not bad and it feels so good to just write again.

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