Temping Escapade #11

On this job, I became the sole man (or woman, I should say) on the ship, manning the "Rights and Permissions" department in a company that published an extensive array of medical journals. In order for someone to reprint or translate an article, chart or table (or section thereof) which appeared in any one of the company's journals, the party had to request permission -- and that's where "I" came in.

When someone requested permission to use something, it was a complicated and detailed process of deducing if the person would in fact be granted permission to reprint what he/she needed. Also figured into the picture was the issue of cost: sometimes there was no fee for usage of the item, whereas in other instances, a specific fee would be charged.

The requests poured in daily. They came by mail, fax, phone, e-mail -- in any and every way they could. And they did, unrelentingly. Here's a typical example of one of the requests (this one came in letter form):

"With reference to my paper entitled, 'Effects of a single contraceptive silastic implant containing nomegestrol acetate on ovarian function and cervical mucus production during two years,' which was published in Fertility and Sterility (65:724-9, 1996), I would appreciate if you would give me written permission to have this article translated into Portuguese and published in a Brazilian medical journal."

Reading these things all day made my head spin!

The internal, isolated, windowless room I was situated in had stacks and stacks of papers everywhere. And the desk area was so cluttered with stuff, I could barely even place my coffee cup down! Personally, I prefer a more pared-down approach at the workplace. For example, I like having a clean, orderly desk area. Well, not here.

Another thing I prefer is having a certain amount of work to do, which can actually be finished from day to day. Well, not here. The department ran on a three-week backlog. This meant from the day a request came in, it would take a minimum of three weeks before it was even considered for processing. There was such a constant, unrelenting river of requests, it was all I could do to just keep maintaining hold of the three-week backlog. Getting even a bit ahead was out of the question.

When the position was turned over to me, and I realized the full extent of what the job entailed, I found the idea of its insurmountable workload hard to deal with. In addition, I had never experienced this kind of workload/pressure before. Having to keep cranking away and processing as many of those requests I could, continuously throughout the day, made me feel like I was up to my neck in a deep river, paddling with all my might, barely able to keep myself from drowning. And if the drowning didn't get me, suffocation from all of the papers would.

I was strong and determined, and I kept plugging away, acting like a steadfast warrior in my position of paperpusher/processor/work machine. I made it through day one.

Day two: As constant as the river of requests, so was my need to continually reinforce myself. "I can do it... I can do it ... I just have to concentrate, and think of nothing else but processing these requests. Process, process, process these requests!" It was grueling, but I completed day two.

But as I headed to the job on my third day, something was different. I could feel that my spirit and will were not as strong. As I was walking to the subway, I remember noticing the sky was crystal clear that day, and it was a gorgeous shade of vivid blue. I thought, "I won't be seeing the sky at all today ... I'll be trapped in that isolated room, having virtually zero contact with the outside world, reduced to being nothing but a pitiful paperpusher." I knew I was in for a real battle ahead.

Sitting alone, surrounded by the many piles of papers, what I feared might happen, did: I started to get upset. And then my condition started to snowball ... soon, I couldn't contain my emotions -- I started to bawl my eyes out. (At that point, I was glad I was in an isolated room, so no one knew what was going on.)

When I finally got a hold of myself, I walked over to the department that handled the temps. I found the appropriate person to talk to, and told her, regretfully, that the job was way too much for me to handle. When I described the position in its full splendor (Laura's emotion-filled portrayal would have cracked even the staunchest of men), she seemed fine with my having to leave -- she "understood." I worried what my agency would think, but the woman assured me everything would be OK -- she would tell them the job simply "wasn't for me."

I tried. Really I did. But it was all too much for me. I can't imagine how anyone could do it. But someone really did it -- before me, and someone else would do it after me. And someone's doing it right now! Incredulous!

When I left the building and set foot outside, the first thing I did was look up at the beautiful sky. Take me, I'm yours.