Hey! Wait! I’ve got a new complaint!

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On the drive home from work Friday evening, I stopped at the grocery store. I stopped at the grocery store because I needed groceries, and because I figured I should stock up on healthy fruits and vegetables while I still had an income. More on that in a bit.

I purchased my healthy fruits. I purchased my healthy vegetables. Uncharacteristically, I did not have my reusable totes on hand, so I had to carry my healthy fruits and healthy vegetables in plastic bags, which made me feel as though I shared roughly the same virtues as Pol Pot and Vlad the Impaler.

I then continued the drive home, only I got distracted by an ostentatious holiday scene on the horizon. It was bright and lurid and gawdy. It made me feel slightly ashamed to live among people with such tacky sensibilities. My internal lecture about how Vegas-style lights do not honor the birth of Jesus was already well underway before I realized what was going on.

The glow was not coming from tasteless holiday lights. The glow was coming from the moon on the horizon.

“No fucking way,” I said. “It can’t be.”

It could be. It was. The half-moon, nestled in the crook between two mountains, was lighting up the sky, sort of like Sauron’s eye in Mordor in the movies, only without the evil-incarnate underpinnings. All I had was a short glimpse, but it was enough to make me realize that I was witnessing a mindblowing moonrise, the kind of thing I would still be remembering thirty years from now.

Unfortunately I live in a valley. I mean normally that’s a good thing, a good and fine thing, but that night it was irritating because it’s hard to draw a bead on the moon if there are all these mountains in the way. So instead of turning into my road, I did the only sensible thing: I kept driving and headed for the nearest high peak. I had frozen vegetables melting in the trunk, but that was unimportant. I had a moon to chase.

Both of my religious identities were claiming victory. The pagan in me was excited that I was chasing the moon. The Christian in me was excited that I was chasing an astronomical phenomenon during the Christmas season.

It would have been a bit of a haul to drive to Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak this side of the Mississippi, so I settled for a crest that is not too awful far from my house. When I got there, the moon had settled in behind some clouds. It was still a very bright moon and a really wonderful effect, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. That’s why I had to park my car, see? I had to park the car so that I could get out and hike around a deserted misty rainy windy midnight mountaintop. Actually I was wearing some decent hiking boots as well as my cowperson hat (which is basically a cowboy hat, only for feminists), so this was not quite as irresponsible as it sounds, but after hiking about for a few minutes, trying to get a better glimpse of the moon, I turned back around, since sweet bleeding nobody knew where I was and I didn’t want my corpse going undiscovered for days and months.

Anyway: that was a properly atmospheric mountain tableau, with the mist and the drizzle and the cold and the wind and the stars.

As I mentioned last week, I am so much happier living here, where we know how to do mountain tableaux with panache and where the moonrises are spectacular. Even so, I am displeased with my job, and I am trying to figure out what to do about it.

When I say that I am displeased with my job, I mean that I have been trapped in a state of depression and anxiety, incessantly, since I got out of training and actually started doing the real job for real. Part of the problem is that my job involves helping people who are, typically, upset. Which stands to reason: if they didn’t have problems, they wouldn’t be calling the help line.

Unfortunately, I have an overactive empathy bone. If other people are feeling bad, I pick up on it. I adopt their problems as my own, and then I feel obligated to fix them.

“You internalize other people’s problems, don’t you,” observed a coworker, unprompted. Yes. Yes I do. This is why I could never go into a career in medicine or in counseling.

This coworker’s offhanded insight into my psyche made me think of a line from a Nirvana tune: “I wish I could eat your cancer.” Which in turn led me to look up some youtube videos of Kurt Cobain. Which is maybe not the smartest move for a depressed person. Anyway.

The other frustration with the job is that I can’t always solve the people’s problems. I find myself in a position where I have to defend my employer, even when my employer’s actions have been indefensible. I am feeling morally conflicted. To perform my job, I have to compromise my own integrity and brush off the customers’ problems, even when they have done nothing wrong.

I have been losing sleep over this, sleep and sanity and self-worth. This job makes me feel like a bad person. I am ashamed of the way I have been behaving.

This puts me in a pickle.

On the one hand, I am performing well at my job– I’ve been getting excellent feedback from the supervisors– and it is a job that gives me a steady paycheck, and in February I will start getting health benefits. I am a fan of health benefits.

On the other hand, I feel horrible. I feel ethically tainted. And I learned about the Milgram experiment and about My Lai and about Nazi Germany. I know the importance of staying true to your own moral code, even if you have permission from your superiors to act otherwise.

(Not that my employers are Nazis. I disagree with them, but I’m pretty sure they’re not Nazis.)

I’ve got two choices. I can stick with my job, which involves people yelling at me, and which asks me to behave in a way that I find appalling, but which does provide an income and health benefits. Or I can quit my job, which would offer me the moral high ground, only the moral high ground never filled anyone’s tummy and it sure as hell never paid the bills when anybody got sick or injured.

I’m going to muse on this some more this weekend and see what I can come up with. Meanwhile, if anyone in the greater Asheville area knows of any job opportunities, I am really quite eager to hear about them.


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