I am Writer in Residence Now.

In March 2009 I returned to Edmonton after living in England for about 18 months. I went there to get my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. I spent a year in Manchester and then moved to London for about six months to try and find work so that I could extend my stay in England for another year or so. Things didn’t quite work out that way, so I had to return home.

I was sad to leave England because I felt that I was just getting the hang of things there. Especially in London. Winter in London was a bit tough for me. I couldn’t quite get into the proper routine and even after I finally found steady employment I just couldn’t find the energy to do much else than go to work and sleep and relax on weekends and try and think of ways to make and save more money. I was slowly figuring things out but the date on my passport said that I had to go home or go to jail, or something like that.

I was excited to come back to Edmonton though. I was never one of those people who couldn’t wait to get out of their hometown. I was looking forward to coming home and establishing myself and maybe even making a name for myself there. I didn’t realize how much things would have changed when I was away, or actually how little things had actually changed. Back in Edmonton I was starting all over again. I was looking for a job, had to find a place to live, and had to find the time to start writing again and find out how to become a successful writer millionaire.

Finding a job was proving to be more difficult than I thought. Some people suggested that I should take the university education off of my CV, or at least the Masters part of it. It looked like I was overqualified. I had no idea what that meant but I didn’t see the point of doing that. Plus, how would I explain this huge 18 month absence in my job history? Anyway, by the end of April I had found a job working for UPS, not delivering packages though. It was a part time job working in one of their warehouses. I also found a new place to live so things were starting to look up. Slightly.

The job at UPS was part time. About 25 hours a week. My job was to take a look at the packages that couldn’t be delivered that day or had been attempted multiple times by the driver and then try and find a way to either correct the addresses of the packages or call the customers up and get them to come to the warehouse to get them. This involved a lot of reverse address searches on the Internet and a lot of time on the phone with customers who either lived in secret locations, or hard to find locations, or who claimed to have been home all day and the driver must be lying because he didn’t ring the doorbell or I would have heard it. In this case I mostly did believe the customers. The drivers were lazy and probably didn’t really try and see if anyone was home. Anyway, back to the point of my story.

At this time in the history of the world a lot of people were buying iPhones and Blackberry phones. The phone companies were using UPS to deliver a lot of these phones to people and somebody was stealing these phones from UPS.

These phones all came in the same size of little brown box and might as well of had THERE IS AN EXPENSIVE PHONE INSIDE written on the label. UPS was obviously concerned with the amount of phones that were going missing and took measures to prevent it from happening. Now, when a driver tried to deliver a phone to a customer and they weren’t home or the address was wrong they would give the box to me and it would sit in a pile with all the rest. This pile had about 100 or so packages on it and dozens of workers and drivers would go by it all evening. This was ok because UPS had cameras all over the place. UPS didn’t like that these phones were just sitting on the floor so they said that the drivers should give the phones directly to me and I should keep them on my workstation so that I could always keep my eye on them. Someone kept stealing phones.

Then UPS brought in a big cage with a lock on it. Drivers could drop their phone packages in the cage and they would stay safe and locked and then at exactly 8pm every night the manager (whose day job was dressing up like a 19th century blacksmith at Fort Edmonton Park) would unlock the cage and bring me the phones and I would correct the addresses or call the customers and arrange for them to be picked up. The manager would then take the phones and put them back in the cage. Somebody kept stealing phones.

One day I came in to work and found out that two warehouse employees had been fired for stealing phones. They would unload them from the trucks and then hide them behind some storage shelves and sneak them out later on. This is what I was told.

Another night in August I came in to work and a man came up to me who I had never met and said his name was Mark and he worked in the ‘Security Department’ and he wanted to have a chat with me in one of the meeting rooms.

Mark sat down and told me in no uncertain terms that he was 100% sure that I was the one who had been stealing cell phones from UPS. The police were about to be called or were maybe on their way. I don’t quite remember. I said, you’re 100% sure? And he said yes. They knew everything. This was a surprise to me of course because I hadn’t taken any phones and had no idea who was doing it.

Mark again explained that the police would soon be on their way. They would search my mother’s house and tear it all up. I didn’t live with my mother anymore so I wasn’t sure why he said that. He then asked me to tell him about my “gambling problem”. This was very confusing. Ashton Kutcher did not enter the room just then. Instead, Mark left the room for a minute. I quickly took out my cell phone (which was a shitty Motorola flip phone by the way. Only my second phone ever) and called my Dad. They’re accusing me of theft, I said, they say I’m going to jail. Mark had also said earlier that I would surely be in jail soon. I told my dad that he better get down here.

Mark came back in the room and said to me that UPS was very concerned about retrieving the stolen merchandise. Surely I would be fired but if I could just return the stolen phones to them that maybe they would agree to not press charges and just leave things be. They didn’t want to ruin my life, Mark said. He even went as far as getting someone on the phone who was some kind of an executive with UPS. I have no idea who he called. We talked on speakerphone. They both agreed that if I would just return the phones to them that everything would stop. No police would be involved. They would fire me and leave it at that. The person on the phone said that this was the truth.

I didn’t have the phones and never did.

Then Mark became frustrated. He said that if I had sold those phones to some people that those people would be very angry once the phones stopped working suddenly because the police were tracing the microchips or whatever. He said that those angry people would then come looking for the person who sold them the phones. This was a threat. I became very angry at this point.

Mark became angry too and he said that he had no choice but to call the police. My fellow coworkers had implicated me in this crime. It was all over. I told him with 100% certainty that this was false and that it was probably time for me to leave. Mark was suddenly not angry anymore. He was satisfied with the answer that I just gave him and told me that as far as he was concerned I could go back to work. I COULD GO BACK TO WORK?!

So I obviously didn’t go back to work. I went home and I never came back.

I was angry about what happened at UPS for a long time. First of all because having a job was a pretty important requirement at the time. I called some lawyers but nothing really came of that. Instead I just stayed angry. I haven’t really talked to a lot of people about what happened there. I know that a lot of worse things happen to people in the world on a daily basis but this particular event was one of the most embarrassing I’ve experienced. I wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that I was accused of theft and threatened with jail time and some kind of vague physical harm by the types of people who would buy a stolen cell phone. I was embarrassed that I had put myself in that position. I was embarrassed that my decisions has brought me to this point. At UPS, working a part time job that was definitely nowhere near the field that I had spent the last 5 years studying at university. I was embarrassed that somewhere along the way I didn’t try hard enough or sacrifice enough and instead ended up working for despicable people who decided that treating people in that manner was an acceptable way to manage a business. Small, petty people who’ve been told through management training videos and seminars that you can intimidate people who are making minimum wage or close to it.

I think about my time at UPS less and less lately. Mostly around this time of year because so many people are having packages delivered by those awful people. Since that day in August things got a little better, then got worse for me, then started to get better and better almost every day until right now.

In January 2014 I start my new job as the Writer in Residence at the Edmonton Public Library. A writer in residence is basically someone who spends their time at the library helping people who are also writers while also working on a project of their own. I will help initiate some library programs or workshops but I’ll also be able to dedicate half of my time at the library to working on my own book. I’m at a very early stage in my career as a writer. I don’t even know if there’s a career to have at this point. I don’t have an agent and I haven’t written a novel yet. I’m new but I think I still know how to put a good sentence together and I can still help people and bring others together to celebrate writing and celebrate literature. The people at the library believe in me. They believe in what I have to offer. They believe that whatever path I might be on that it leads directly through the Edmonton Public Library, at least for the next year.

For the past 4 years I’ve been working to put myself in a position like this. To do good work and hope others take notice. The thing I’m looking forward to most is sharing everything I know with other people who may want to do the same thing as me some day. Young writers, new writers, old writers, all kinds of writers. All I want to do is help. Hopefully I can do some good, help some people, and  make some decent art along the way.

We’ve come a long way baby!

JLN

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