A Tale of Two Departments

To say that my boss is a micromanager would be wrong. She is a micromanager who does not communicate. I am expected to know what she wants and how she wants it done, but I only find out when I’m doing the wrong thing and doing it wrong. When it comes to my department, she tells me what my priorities should be, in which order I should be doing things, and how to go about doing them.

I feel like she just does not get that people have different work styles, and that that’s okay. The Boss doesn’t seem to understand how much time I need for thinking, contemplation, and the actual steps it takes to put a project together from beginning to end. I’m not asking for weeks to mull things over. It’s just that I would like a little more lead time on things. If today is the first time you mention a grant application that’s due tomorrow at noon, don’t expect my finest work.

She is applying for a grant to create a paid internship position at the museum in my department, and she wanted to get “examples” of the kinds of projects that I would have my intern working on. This is easy. The collections are largely undocumented and almost wholly uncatalogued. Only about 0.012 percent of the collections are catalogued in the database. So I would definitely have my intern cataloguing. That is a real-world job skill. You have to find the documentation, learn the collections management database, digitize any photos or documents associated with the object, do data entry, and research, measure, photograph, and describe each object, then label it and return it to storage. You learn object handling, photography, research, database administration, and have a sense of real, measurable accomplishment.

Her response? “That is not a valuable project. The intern has to LEARN something. They have to be doing something that contributes to our needs but also improves their own skills and abilities, that gives them real-world museum experience, hands-on. Sitting in front of a computer all day is not appropriate.”

Funny, cause as a grad student, I did three internships in three different museums and archives. And all three of the internships were….cataloguing a collection. Sure, there were other projects along the way, but the bulk of my work at all the internships was cataloguing. I think as a curator and the direct supervisor of whomever this intern is, I know what they should be working on and I definitely know what my departmental needs are, other than a NEW BOSS.

For contrast, I present you with the Education Department intern. Before Twitwit was fired, she had arranged for a college student to work in the Education Department full-time (40 hours per week) for 4 weeks starting today. She had arranged no specific project or details. The intern arrived from Connecticut with no idea what she would be doing here or what would be expected of her. Since I’m the de facto Education Director, the Boss has instructed me to orient, train, and supervise this new intern. When I asked her what I should have the intern doing, she said: “That’s for you to determine.” Um, I’m not an Education Director and don’t really know what the fuck she should be doing. How about a hand here? She has no understanding of the amount of time and planning it takes to create a project for an intern and then hand hold them through every step of the way, especially one who is here full-time for the next four weeks, during which I’m supposed to be preparing for and then overseeing the move of all collections, on top of the usual working the front desk and developing the new exhibit.

It’s official. I’m looking for other work.

Employer of the Month

One of the problems with working as much as I have been is I’m getting run down and sick a lot more often. Today I called in sick with strep throat. I can barely talk and I feel like crap. But not nearly as bad as I felt when the Boss yelled at me for taking a sick day.

The crypt keepers volunteers meet once a month and have a speaker give a presentation before they hang out and bitch for the rest of the morning. Today I was scheduled to lead a brief talk. I was supposed to pull some things from the collection and do a show and tell for the volunteers. The collection is full of wickety wak and so when it came to picking items, I thought, I’ll just do some pottery. I know a lot about prehistoric southwestern pottery, we have a lot to choose from, and it’s easy to just pick a few and talk off-the-cuff about this stuff. I figured I’d do a 10 minute introduction to the types of pottery and describe what’s important about each type, and then just answer questions and let the volunteers examine the ceramics up close. The volunteer association is so casual. They always have a group activity or game to fall back on if the presentation isn’t long enough or, less likely, if they run out of stuff to bitch about.

So I didn’t think it was a big deal to call in sick. Even if I could have come in, I have strep throat and couldn’t talk, not to mention these elderly volunteers do not need any more opportunity to come down with something. So imagine my surprise when the Boss bitched me out about how inappropriate it was that I called in sick when I had obligations and how irresponsible it was of me not to save my presentation on the server so that someone else could give my presentation in my absence, and that I would be written up for this incident.

I’ve always taken pride in my work. My work is important to me. It matters that I do a good job, I see work as a reflection of myself, and I want to be good at my job. So it’s very upsetting to me that I’m not living up to my own standards these days. I feel overwhelmed and the work that I’ve been producing does not meet even my lowest level of acceptable quality. I don’t need your yelling at me to make me feel any worse than I already do.

It’s demoralizing to work for someone who doesn’t seem to value my input and to have my opinions dismissed so readily. It sucks to work for someone who seems not to understand what I have to offer. It’s frustrating beyond belief to be spread so thin that I can’t do high-quality work because I’m doing too many things. It’s made me question my abilities as a museum professional. Nay, as an employee, period.

I’ve become someone who does things half-assed just to get them done, rather than do them right, because there isn’t enough time to get things right.  I don’t feel appreciated. I don’t feel like my boss understands my work style, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, and limitations. I get dinged just because the way I go about something isn’t the way she would. And it’s hard to communicate with someone who always has a look on her face and a body language that say “What the fuck do you want now?” Her feedback is closer to “this is all your fault and here’s why” than to “what we need to work on is…” I came here with such high hopes, the confidence that I had the abilities to make a meaningful difference. But I work for a bully who likes to make other people feel bad about themselves. Thanks, but I got that all under control on my own.

Go-to IT

Once again, I tried to get my boss to wrap her brain around the series of tubes. And again, I got nowhere with it. Disgusted by our website, I suggested that we could start with rebranding our museum exhibits in the least expensive medium available — our website.

To me, traditional and online exhibits are equally necessary. In today’s world, you cannot have a static, crappy museum website. At museum association meetings, museums continually raise the issue that potential audiences are increasingly fractured and it’s going to get harder and harder to attract and retain audiences. People have a lot of options when it comes to their free time — movies, sports, video games, recreational drug use — and folks often choose something other than museums. Well, y’know, if we spent a quarter of the time developing rich and engaging websites, and just playing with the many technologies and ideas available to us — we wouldn’t be 40 years behind the times, we’ll only be 15 and closing the gap. It is unrealistic to think that people will use a museum website only to figure out your hours and phone number. Yes, people want to know your hours and location. But they also want to get a sense for your brand, what you’re all about to make an informed decision about whether or not to spend their time (and money) in your museum.

The web is a 24-hour environment. People could want to know about your collections, the local history, your current exhibits, and your special events at any moment. And every time someone clicks on our website only to find a 1995-designed site (think geocities) with craptastic content is an opportunity lost. I have tried fruitlessly to convince my boss of the importance of this. I came into this position with far more experience in web exhibit development than “regular” exhibit development, but she just doesn’t seem to get it. The fact that our website is a portal back to the days of Gopher and Telnet both implicitly and explicitly reinforces our backasswards interpretation and indicates to potential visitors that if they want current, cutting-edge, and modern, we are not the place. She just does NOT get this. She thinks that we should stick to “being historians.” I may be a historian, but I’m also aware that the web is for content-delivery, not just bells and whistles of cool special effects and flash. And as a content creator, I am willing to put any delivery method to use, and the web is the easiest and most effective way to reach the greatest audiences.

One thing was clear from our conversation. I know far more about technology than anyone else with whom I work. Which is scary because I know only enough to be dangerous. I think sometimes people confuse my understanding of these words and concepts with having the skills to make it happen. I know exhibit development, and I have a good eye for what makes good design. But that doesn’t mean I know web design. It doesn’t mean I know CSS & HTML backwards and forwards. If I did, I assure you, I’d be making a helluva lot more money and working many fewer hours.

A Tale of Two Museums

Now that I’ve been here at my museum job a couple of months, I’ve started to realize just how much work lies ahead. I was lured here to a small local history museum with the promise of what’s to come, the vision that strategic planning was well underway and that plans were being laid to get us from Point A to Point B – from a museum that presents outdated (and just plain inaccurate) history to one that will become a place for people to explore this region’s diverse peoples, cultures, stories, and communities. But now that I’m here, it’s clear that I stand on the edge of a vast chasm between where we are now and where we want to be. It’s hard to see how we can manage to raise the funds needed to completely overhaul all of the exhibits, expand our building with new construction, and become a “top tourist destination” (truly, that is an official strategic planning goal) when we rely on volunteers to kindly donate basic office supplies like pens and paper.

I wondered if the museum’s past could shed any light on this. Had the institution successfully overcome such daunting challenges in its past? The short answer: hell no!

I started my investigation by listening to volunteers. Some have been with the museum for over a decade and I learned a lot from talking with them. The biggest theme running through all of my conversations with them has been that they all long for the good ole days, the way the museum used to be. The way they described it, it was like where I stood was the site of a bomb blast and all I saw were charred remnants of what once was. It became clear that the museum they cherished had somehow changed dramatically, and they were skeptical of where the museum was going. While no one articulated exactly what had changed, or in what ways, I sensed that they felt that the museum had lost its way.

I wanted another point of view, so I went to the Boss. Her take helped shed light on specific events that rocked the institution. The museum always faced enormous financial hardship, but in the 1990s, things went from bad to worse. The museum’s then executive director wanted to spend his way out of irrelevancy. He took on a mountain of debt to finance a staff that grew to dozens, hired professional consultants for (incomplete) exhibit development and (poor) design, and boosted morale with extravagant staff happy hours, with the museum footing the bill. By the time of the executive director’s sudden death, all staff had been let go, and the museum was taken over full-time by unpaid volunteers. For years, these unpaid volunteers ran the museum and made enough headway on keeping collections agencies at bay that the board was finally able to hire a full time executive director (the Boss) in the mid-2000s. Since her start, the Boss has worked tirelessly to reduce the museum’s debt load, halting all purchases and expenditures save those deemed absolutely necessary. Which explains why we kept a wish list for basic office needs so that volunteers could provide our supplies, like paper for the copier and pens. And why the museum went 18 months as a staff of three before I was hired.

Things were getting clearer for me. The volunteers resented their loss of authority and power and felt displaced by paid staff after they had spent years running every aspect of the museum. The staff struggled to establish professionalism in a museum that had relied on well-meaning volunteers who, in reality, had no business running a museum. In an effort to re-draw boundary lines around responsibilities, tasks and duties that the volunteers had handled became staff-only and the staff began to exclude volunteers in strategic planning, branding, and institutional goals.

But things finally became clear to me after I stumbled on an institutional history of the museum. The museum was founded 80 years ago as a pet project by a woman who started a local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter. Her thinking was that any “real” American city should have a museum. While she meant well, she had no business running a museum. She ran off early supporters of the museum (who went on to found the Heard Museum) and struggled to garner financial and community support. She failed to establish a mission for the museum, and as a result, the museum never developed any identity or brand. At the same time, she wrote a museum charter that requires (to this day) that the museum maintain formal affiliation with the local DAR chapter. She failed to steer the museum in the right direction and ran it into the ground for 60 years before her daughter took over for the next 20 years, until the museum finally hired its first museum professional. It was run by professionals for only a few years before volunteers again had to pick up and dust off the flailing organization.

Is it any wonder that today the museum faces such enormous challenges? Today we want to escape the DAR image of celebratory Whitey history, a move that will alienate the very constituency that currently supports the museum. At the same time, the museum must escape this Whitey-centrist interpretation to gain any semblance of professional respect and to expand its base of support, increase its audiences, and be taken seriously. The stories that the volunteers hold dear are the very ones that construct this mythic narrative of conquering and “civilizing” the west. The museum that the staff envisions is miles away from the one that is, and the museum that the volunteers value is one whose time has passed.

Here We Go Again

Yesterday was a rough day.

One of the fundamental things that I expect from a boss is that s/he will be a leader, a visionary who can guide the organization. But the other is that s/he will be someone to whom I can take my questions and concerns so that we can work towards solutions together. Yesterday I went to the Boss with a major problem — I have to present a program tomorrow to 250 kids and as of this moment, still have nothing to present. Today I’m stuck at the front desk taking admissions all day, so I thought I came prepared — I brought all of my notes and files up to the front desk to work from the computer there all day.

No dice. On an average day, that 386 is so slow it’s ridiculous. But today I can’t even get Word to load, and it can’t make a connection to the network, which is a problem because the files I need are on the server. I called the Boss (who is at home today, leaving me as the only staff person on site) and her response?

“We have to do a better job taking care of the equipment we have. We may not have the nicest computers or projectors or whatever, but we are responsible for taking care of what we have. I can’t help it if you are not taking care of the equipment you are provided. I’m not going to call some computer repair company to come in and tell us that we are not taking care of our stuff. You’ll have to make do with what you have.”

It’s through no fault of my own that the network cable is so frayed that the wires have split and are spilling out of the casing all over the place. And she expects me to man the front desk all day with no resources to do my job, but still holds me accountable at the end of every week for the work that I haven’t been able to accomplish. Guess I can subtract several hours from my sleep tonight so I can type up what I’m going to hand-write at the desk today.

Legal Mumbo Jumbo

I already have two immediate projects on my plate at my new job. One is that in a couple of months, the museum will start major building improvements. The museum is installing better climate control and compact shelving in collections storage, where all of the artifacts are stored. As a result, I will be in charge of managing and coordinating the move of all collections. We have to clear everything out of collections storage before construction and renovation can begin, and then move everything back in to the new shelves & storage furniture once the renovation is complete.

The second project is to research, write, and create a new temporary exhibit. In addition to the museum’s permanent exhibit, the museum opens a new smaller (1200 square feet) year-long exhibit on various topics. While the topic would normally be up to me, this time I’ve been handed the topic that previous curator was working on before she left. And it is

sorry, fell asleep there. The new topic is….yawn…Local legal history.

Just makes you want to jump up and down, doesn’t it!

I’ve spent this afternoon trying to discern what “local legal history” means, but I still have no idea. The way the Boss explained it to me was that the topic was already researched, an exhibit develop committee was in place, ideas had already been formed, the structure and content was being worked out. But all that’s in the files are scribbles and brainstorming notes from a couple of different meetings. There’s no overall theme or concept here. Some of the notes pertain to individuals who played a role in shaping local legal history — a lawyer who worked in water rights, a criminal whose case resulted in Miranda Rights, and a bio of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner. There are print-outs of wikipedia articles on specific crimes that happened here, and a list of books about the Indian wars. I’m not seeing how this all relates. And it’s not a topic I am particularly interested in, nor sold on, which makes it hard for me to get other people excited about it.

It strikes me that this topic was chosen simply because it’s sensationalist and not because of anything particularly significant. Don’t get me wrong, there are juicy episodes here — murder, cases that set national legal precedents, and nefarious characters. But to weave together these unrelated episodes is artificial and contrived. I’m all about using the trees to present the forest — each display and topic relates to another and together, help to convey an overall point. But this? I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing here, and I’m unable to draw any conclusions from these tidbits. I mean what are we trying to say here? That Phoenix is riddled with crime, racist cops, and an unevenly applied justice system?

The bottom line is if I can’t wrap my brain around what the story is here, and I can’t be bothered to summon interest, how can I expect our audiences to do the same?

Still having no clue and no guidance for the museum’s legal history exhibit, I had asked the Boss for clarification on the idea behind the exhibit. As in, what is this supposed to be about? What was the thinking behind this, in terms of the overall concept or point? What she handed me was a one-page writeup that she had submitted as part of a small grant application. The writeup confused me even more. Basically it said that the exhibit would be about the “history of laws, vice and crime.” Okay….

Hoping for more meaningful advice, I turned to a discussion forum for help. I posted a question asking if anyone had any ideas on any themes or patterns I might expect to find? Like, do laws in western cities from the 1800s through today say something about the community, and what should I be looking for?

The responses nearly all started with, “I’m not sure what you mean by the history of laws, vice, and crime.” HA! Yeah, me neither!

Work. Sigh.

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, we had a staff meeting about the fallout from Twitwit’s firing. No juicy details, but this is going to be major. Until the museum hires a new education director, I am to take over that position. All duties, responsibilities, and tasks of the education department. On top of my regular job.  Which is the job of about 6 people. I’m the curator, but I’m also the registrar, collections manager, the exhibit developer, the volunteer coordinator, and the archivist/librarian. And now I’m adding another hat into the pile — that of education director. So here’s a (partial) list of my job duties, all of which are to be completed within my 40 hours per week (yeah, right.)

  • document all donations and loans to the museum
  • research all of the museum’s artifacts and collections
  • develop relationship with potential donors to encourage donations to the museum’s collection by attending meetings, networking, and correspondence
  • meet with donors to collect donations to the museum’s collection
  • data entry and database management for museum’s collections
  • research, develop, write, and present a Collections Policy to the museum’s board for formal approval
  • obtain and manage insurance for collections in preparation for collections move
  • manage ongoing digitization of photographs project and make available online
  • help researchers find the books, archival collections, and photographs they need
  • process photo reproduction orders
  • organize, plan, and closely supervise the upcoming collections move
  • get quotes for and order the new storage furniture for storage of all collections, plan the configuration for the new storage room
  • get dimensions for all items in collection to order storage boxes for all items for upcoming collections move
  • photograph all collections to document appearance and condition before collections move
  • attend weekly meetings for updates on upcoming building construction project
  • train & supervise 5 volunteers
  • grant writing
  • historical research on the region in general, and research on our collections
  • exhibit development for the next major exhibit
  • staff the admissions desk up to 24 hours per week
  • research and production of three 5-minute videos featuring local history
  • reservations and billing for all educational programs
  • deliver all educational programs, on site and off site, for children and adults
  • develop, plan, and run all girl scout programs
  • manage, organize, and staff annual Silent Auction fundraiser

After the meeting, I decided that one of the things I needed to get on top of (and fast) was the upcoming Education programs. So I went to Twitwit’s office to mine her files to find records of upcoming tours, dates, and content for each of the programs the museum offered. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I found almost nothing. I found no “scripts” or documents that covered the content of our educational programs. I found no records of upcoming school tours. I found no receipts or correspondence to indicate any loose threads I could pick up on. It’s not that we don’t have educational programs or upcoming school tours; we do. It’s that she didn’t keep any records of anything whatsoever.

Thanks, Twitwit. I’ve come back from my holiday “break” only to find that on Friday, I have to present an educational trunk show to 3 consecutive classes of over 250 students. But you left me no record of a) where this school is, b) what age group these children are, c) if the school has paid for this program, d) which trunk show they requested, and 3)the CONTENT of any of the educational trunk shows. I opened a document on the server today titled “Trunk Show script” and all that was in it were the words “Good morning boys and girls.” That’s it. That’s all that was there.

So I go to the Boss to let her know of this problem and her response? Consult the manual. Oh! I hadn’t THOUGHT of that yet! What a tool I am! I should just open the manual and there on page 3-34 will be the instructions. Except THERE IS NOTHING IN THE MANUAL. I already checked. I am a resourceful problem-solving person. I used everything I had at my disposal to try and answer my question before I decided to bother you with this to try and problem solve this conundrum. In pointing this out to her, she offered no assistance whatsoever in devising a solution. She simply shooed me out of her office so she could get back to staring at her laptop doing nothing, I guess.

So now I am spending the next 48 hours pulling my own artifacts from collections storage, researching and writing my own content, and developing my own trunk show after having called the teacher myself and sheepishly having to ask the following questions two days before the show: 1) have you paid? 2) what age(s) are these groups? 3) which show did you book? 4) where is your school?

I do NOT appreciate looking like an idiot and looking unprofessional. That really pisses me off about this place. I do my best to get my own work done, even when it means taking it home with me and working til 11 pm most nights and working at my laptop all weekend from my couch, as it usually does. During the week, my time is so fractured between managing volunteers who don’t follow the rules, running educational programs for fourth graders, collecting entrance fees at the front desk, and trying to fix the computers that don’t work so that I can do work that it’s hard for me to get any of my own projects done. It’s hard enough for me to manage the upcoming collections move and the upcoming exhibit, both of which I am ostensibly capable of. But I never asked to be a museum education director, have never done anything like this before, received no training, and continue to receive no support. But since it’s my responsibility now, the presentations and tours are a reflection of the institution and of me, and I don’t appreciate looking like an unprepared, unqualified idiot.

Can I run away? Fake my own death? I’ve already routinely been working well over my 40 hours each week just to get on top of my existing duties. And now I’ve got to figure out how to clone myself just so I can get adequate time off on my days day off. All without any additional compensation. I already work benefits-free — there’s no health insurance, no retirement, no fringe benefits. In a larger, better funded institution, one person would be dedicated full-time to almost each of my tasks and duties. But here, I’ve got to learn to juggle all of these different things and still expected to stay on top of a collection of 25,000 objects I don’t know and can’t track. Sigh. I would say I need an intern or six, but training them would just be more work at this point.

Does This Look Like Goodwill?

One of the major projects I’m tasked with at work is preparation for the move of all artifacts. And since I’m in charge of documenting which box every single object ends up in, I’ve been going through all the catalog records to put together a database to track everything for the move. In normal museums, stuff would already be catalogued in a database. Here in the alterna-universe in which I work, that never happened. Why? Probably because it makes sense to do it that way. By best guesstimates, there are about 25,000 objects in the museum’s collections. But nobody knows for sure because there are only 300 entries in the database. Everything else is recorded only on paper in a file cabinet, making any research awfully time consuming if I’m looking for any specific object. I have to trawl through every single piece of paper in a four-drawer file cabinet until I stumble upon one that may or may not be the exact item I seek. So far, I’ve been hunting for three whole days for one specific artifact in our collection and I still have no idea where it is. Only once I find the paper catalog record will I be able to track it down in the collections storage room.

And oh how informative those records are. I thought I’d share with you some of the catalog cards for the more significant items in our collection.

  • unknown metal object, heavily corroded
  • electric fan
  • lid for pot, has metal handle
  • white cotton tote bag, “Tis a Mark of Distinction to be a Reader of the Reader’s Digest”
  • keychain given to new bank customers, Wells Fargo bank

I’m glad the museum is a repository for such historically significant artifacts junk. It’s as if the museum served as an alternative Goodwill all these years, taking the crap that people wanted to get rid of. God forbid someone actually throw out a precious “trash can lid, broken handle.”

Did Twitwit Set me Up?

Today was the museum’s first special event that I had to work. Special event is code for fundraiser, by the way. And also “special” in that, ahem, special sense.

My sole responsibility was to pull together a mini-exhibit. Just an exhibit case or two with some things that Twitwit had arranged to borrow for the event. Except it was like pulling teeth with her. I couldn’t get a list of what objects were coming, any photos of the loaned items, forms to document the loans, what the objects’ dimensions were, or anything else. She brushed it off every time I asked her, reassuring me that it was just “some stuff, nothing major.” Okay. Kind of makes it hard to write and create exhibit labels and copy, decide what visuals I will need, and which cases I’ll be using. I tried my best to convey to her and to my boss that I really, REALLY would need to know the details. The Boss’ response? Work that out with Twitwit, I don’t know what’s on its way over. Gee, thanks.

The worst part about it was that Twitwit told me the woman who was lending these items had been out of town for weeks and would be returning only on the afternoon of the event. Even though it would be tight, I had to figure out a way to pull this off. This is, after all, my first chance to make an impression on not only The Boss but also the museum board members, volunteers, and guests who were all paying to come to the event. An exhibit, even a small one, is a very tangible and outward expression of my capabilities and skills, and it was really important to me that it be done well.

So I spent the week researching the topic, devouring everything I could get my hands on. I made arrangements to borrow items from folks other than Twitwit’s Batman-esque lender as a Plan B. I wrote the text, printed, mounted, and trimmed all of the labels. I made scans of photographs and reproduced archival items to enrich and contextualize the items that would be displayed. But despite my best efforts and advance preparations, the mini-exhibit could not have been worse.

When I arrived at work early this Saturday morning, I found out that I was expected to somehow magically move all three exhibit cases from storage to the exhibit display area all by myself. Neither The Boss nor Twitwit had arranged for any help, even though I had been led to believe that hefty volunteer manpower would be made available to me. So Twitwit and I heaved all three cases into place. Then I proceeded to spend the next few hours carefully placing the backdrops for the cases, inserting the object mounts and labels and the graphics and text panels. Because I did not want the contents of each case to be disturbed before the arrival of the objects, I went ahead and secured the EXTREMELY HEAVY vitrines to the bases. And then I waited for the lender to arrive. And waited. And waited. As the afternoon was drawing into evening, I ran back to my office and retrieved my Plan B items and began assembling the displays using what I already had on hand. Unfortunately, I only had enough objects to fill out two display cases but with an hour to go until the event’s start, nobody could be bothered to help me remove the final exhibit case, and so it stood empty as I tried to figure out what to do.

Twenty minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, Twitwit called me to say the objects were here. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I hurriedly tried to place what I could in the cases, but the public began to filter through the exhibit, so I had to abandon my efforts. In the end, the third exhibit case stood all by itself, completely empty. For all I know, no one else noticed the empty display case. But I knew it was there, and I felt humiliated that I had failed to complete my task adequately and furious that the event had such poor advance planning.

At the close of the evening, Twitwit approached me with a woman, the lender of the objects that had arrived with only 20 minutes to spare. I said “Oh, Thank you for lending us your objects. I guess your flight cut it pretty close, huh?” And she looked at me puzzled. “What do you mean?” I said, “I understand you’ve been out of town and didn’t arrive until this afternoon, but I really appreciate you making these items available to us, even amidst your hectic schedule.” Her reply? “Um, I got in a few days ago.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever know if Twitwit knowingly set me up to fail, or, as I suspect is more likely, she’s simply so disorganized and irresponsible that she unintentionally misled me, but lesson learned. I’ll be making my own arrangements as Plan A from now on, rather than relying on my coworkers’ (mis)information and the Boss’ utter lack of support.

Nice to Meet You Too?

Note: Names & other identifying details in this and any future work-related posts have been changed.

Yesterday was my first day of work at my new job. Since My Better Half had gotten into graduate school, I’d been worried about finding work in my field, but was fortunate enough to stumble into a museum job at a small local history museum.

I was worried about running late, but I had plenty of time. When I got there, I waited for what had to be at least 10 minutes waiting for the Boss to come and get me. We spent the first part of the day going over the incredibly outdated employee handbook, filling out tax forms, and showing me around. Then we went to lunch.

I was looking forward to lunch because the Boss seemed cold and impersonal. I had hoped it was just a lack of coffee or stress about the other tasks she needed to get done, but I started to sense that this might be her truly unsociable self. At lunch it became apparent that her “I’m the Serious Boss” face was actually just her face. Our attempts to connect dissolved into trying to make conversation, which sputtered and stalled. She asked me what I like to do in my free time, and when I told her hiking, gardening, cooking, photography, all she muttered was, “Huh.” When I asked, “What about you?” she replied something along the lines of watching football, ordering pizza from Domino’s, and “oh, by the way, did I tell you I’m pregnant?”

Well, that explains the gigantic boobs, I guess. But no, she hadn’t told me that. And since she volunteered nothing more, nor offered anything else in the way of anything we had in common, I was left puzzling over this revelation. Okay, so she’s pregnant, I thought. How pregnant? Did she deliberately keep this from me in the interview/negotiation process?? And what does that mean for a tiny underfunded museum whose staff of four includes an executive director who is pregnant? Hmmmmm. Mental note: GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS ASAP. Is my old job still available?!

After lunch, she left me to my own devices for the rest of the day. Not even sure what I was supposed to, er, do, I shuffled through the files and re-arranged my new desk. Neither of the other two coworkers work on Mondays, so I just sort of sat there all afternoon, wondering “Is it me? Maybe I’m just being too sensitive.” Wouldn’t be the first time. At the end of the day, she said that she’d be a little bit late the next day, but that my coworker would be here to let me in. So, I left thinking, well, maybe we got off on the wrong foot but tomorrow’s a new day.

Today I got in early, and my coworker came to the door, a 50-something dressed in a puffy teen way-too-short bubble-butt skirt and dingy-looking stained t-shirt. I had my hands full of stuff that I had brought in to the office — pictures, my coffee mug & coaster, my iPod speakers, some books — and I was sweating, since it’s still hotter than hell here. She mumbled something as she opened the door and I immediately noticed a weird facial tic. She kept rolling her eyes back in her head and rapidly fluttered her eyelids as she spoke. While I stood wondering what lingering drugs induced her strange tics and twitches, she picked up a digital camera and took my picture. As I stood in the hallway, sweaty, and holding an armload of stuff. I asked her what she was doing, and she said, “Oh! Just gotta finish up this museum newsletter and wanted your picture for it.”

Um, could I put my things down and get a retake on that after I’ve retouched my hair & makeup?? “No, this is fine.” Then she asked me about my background, but clearly only as a vehicle to open up a conversation about HER overblown expertise and qualifications. When I (regrettably) asked her to clarify an artifact conservation technique she had “researched” for her Master’s thesis, she barked, “YOU work in collections. You should KNOW what that is.” I shall dub her Twitwit.

Quite a social bunch I work with, you might say. Needless to say, I’m a little worried. The Boss, is neither affable nor approachable, and is on her way to a maternity leave, and Twitwit is….um, weird. I just hope my only other coworker is normal.