It’s Always The Unknown Unknowns

This week I’ve been bitten hard by unknown unknowns. Mostly related to my employers moving to a different location.

I thought I’d countered the main problems I knew I was likely to have and could mitigate. Going from a room with a decent amount of natural light to a space where all the light was artificial, knowing there’d be a noise problem because we’re going from rooms of varying sizes to big open cube farm…

I missed two things that knocked me completely off balance. I’m apparently way the heck more sensitive to the chemicals used in carpet glue, paint, and so forth than I knew. And I really do not do well in the presence of sub-basso rumble from a less-than-ideally insulated mechanical room. I don’t know if losing one of these will make it possible for me to actually endure the place, but being in a location that sets off panic attacks isn’t exactly my idea of the ideal workplace.

My point being that when you do this to a character you can completely throw them into a state where they can’t do anything but react – and not react terribly well at that.

It doesn’t have to be as extreme as this. Think about it: when you can prepare for a situation you know is going to be stressful or challenging, you can usually deal with it reasonably well. It’s when you get blindsided by something that everything falls apart. Getting smacked with an unknown unknown doesn’t even have to be all that traumatic, just unexpected and hitting at the wrong time.

The main character discovers that he wasn’t an only child after all – and his twin is the enemy general. Or even just on the other side. The possibilities are endless, and allow any amount of character tort… ahem… growth.

I just wish my bloody life would stop trying to provide me with similar opportunities for growth.


  1. Chalk up another one for being self-employed: control over your work environment. I begin to understand why employers are reluctant to hire anyone with significant time as their own boss. Harder to re-domesticate. Will kick at the walls of the stall.

      1. Red hair is a warning! Bwaha! ~:D

        However, you dodged a bullet there. Anybody who hires you on the basis that you can “take orders”? That job is going to be nassssty.

        1. It was a part-time page position at a library. I was a single mother of four and desperate. Probably just as well, since it was part of what drove me to get a degree and that path landed me where I am now.

  2. “I just wish my bloody life would stop trying to provide me with similar opportunities for growth.”

    Being stuck in a badly ventilated cubicle farm with contact cement fumes next to the AC room is not an opportunity for growth. Its an opportunity for new employment. (IMHO, anyway. I’m a bit cranky that way. Better to scrape the eves of a house on a 20ft ladder in the hot sun than work in an office.)

    In the meantime, for the noise may I humbly suggest a pair of SkullCandy Crusher over-the-ear headphones? They are Bluetooth to your phone, they have a decent amount of passive sound deadening insulation, and they practically scream “F— OFF!” to everyone around you.

    You won’t be able to hear the guy eating in the next cubicle, which is what you really, really want in that situation. I bought them because I get stuck sitting in Starbucks and similar quite often, and it makes it easier to write when I isolate my ears from the chattering people.

    I’m a riot at parties too. ~:D

    1. Oh, trust me, I’m looking. It’s finding something in range that’s a bit challenging. I don’t exactly live in a tech hub.

  3. My sympathies. I’d take one look at the open lay-out, let along the outgassing environment, and start looking for greener pastures.

  4. Hearing of such arrangements one can only speculate as to what other poor decisions may have been made or perhaps will be by an organizations management when it displays such obvious disregard for the welfare and working environment of their employees. I’m wondering if anyone in their management chain has bothered to factor in the immediate impact to productivity and inevitable long term loss of talent into their cost/benefit matrix.

    1. Open plan offices are the new Big Thing (that’s been tried before, and part of what cubicles were created to get away from). “Collaboration!” they cry, ignoring the fact that people collaborate while using cubicles anyway.

      1. This is one of the reasons I’m so glad I don’t work in the corporate office at my company – they just recently switched to Open Plan. Technically, they still have something resembling cubicles, but the walls only come to about a foot above the desk surface. But they have lifts, so you can get off your chair and work standing part of the time!

        What is funny is that they then have small offices where people can go to talk privately.

        1. This makes me glad I work for a small company with old fashioned owners. Don’t make as much as a big company would pay, but one of many reasons it’s soooo worth it.

  5. > carpet glue

    Sometimes the dye used in the carpet, or chemicals used to clean it. A couple of times I’ve had people run into me when I came to a dead stop entering a room with fumes that made my eyes water. Nobody else seemed bothered.

  6. “I just wish my bloody life would stop trying to provide me with similar opportunities for growth.”

    In moments like that, I’ve been known to claim that I must have had an awful lot of fun in a past life.
    And bother some of the people around me with absurd stories that might have led to the current predicament as karmic justice.
    (The better sort of people around me laugh. Or better yet, one-up me with stories of their own.)



    When you’re chewin’ on life’s gristle,
    don’t grumble, give a whistle!
    And this will help things turn out for the best.

  7. But cubicles foster collaboration, right? That’s that thing where extroverts spend all their time socializing and get even less work done than usual, and the introverts pour gasoline over their heads and set themselves on fire. Or start calling in sick.

    I don’t know whose idiot idea it was that we all need to be “teaming” and “collaborating” 24/7, but cubicles sure are cheaper than offices and let the boss look over your shoulder any old time he wants to.

    1. “But cubicles foster collaboration, right?”

      Cubicles foster really big headphones and high employee turnover. That’s why I like the ladder in the hot sun better.

      Actual programming production shops have a big open room where everybody sits next to each other. -That- is collaboration. You can lean over to the guy next to you and ask what he did on line 201 of the program. They also have chill-out rooms for the aspies to go and hide when the togetherness gets to be too much.

  8. As long as it’s not the Known Knowns. No excuse for getting bitten by them.

  9. Taking Alfalfa tablets is sometimes helpful in chemical situations. Someone suggested it to me for paint fumes; I thought the idea was crazy but then I was desperate enough to try it and it seemed to help…

  10. If your company has an ergonomics/OSHA department, they will have to accommodate your concerns. (Every time they change the lighting at Evil Rob’s work, they have to deal with the fact that fluorescents set off his migraines. You can tell his work location by the pool of shadow around it.) This could be as simple as budgeting noise-cancelling headphones for you, or getting an air filter.

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