We Made a Boat

Last night we built a boat. It's a viking burial-at-sea boat, and we're going to use it in the funeral for 2017 on New Year's Eve.

This is a tradition now. It's traditional because I said so, and my friends agreed, and that's how a tradition starts. I think my peers, friends, and people of my generation, with our divorced parents, stepkids, tenuous living conditions and unstable employment, are longing for some traditions.

A job change, housing change or relationship change, though it may be welcome, wanted and long hoped for, can be a huge disruption to your life. It can shatter routines and leave you spinning in circles with no idea what to do next. I and almost all my close friends have gone through one or more of these big changes this year – and last year – and the year before that as well. We just do it, and get on with life as if it was no big deal, but we're all still working through the fallout of things that happened years ago.

Traditions have rules and procedures. The rules and procedures can change, grow, or shrink as needed, but the point is that everyone should know what's expected of them and have a clear path to follow. They bring us together as a community, strengthen and heal us together. And they don't have to be based on holidays that Hallmark invented in the fifties. All that's required is at least one person to keep the ball rolling each year, and a couple others to agree to come push.

The Viking Boat tradition goes like this. Somewhere in the dead week between Christmas and New Year's, we get a pile of cardboard. We meet at someone's house. We make a little boat out of papier-mache. On New Year's Eve, we take it down to the water, put it out to sea, and set it on fire. 

This year the cardboard was bike boxes from North Park. The location was my parent's house. The people there were two old friends, three new friends, my parents, one friend of their's who was there for unrelated reasons, and me. I made each person draw me a picture of what they thought a boat looks like. That way even if the boat doesn't come out quite the way anyone expected, we still get to see their vision. The pictures get burned in the boat as well. 

We painted it with dollar-store acrylic paint and tacked it together with finishing nails my dad found in the garage. It's honestly kinda front-heavy and might not float super good, so we're probably going to build it a little raft.

The Vikings used to burn warriors with all their weapons and wealth around them to go into the next world. I think we're going to burn 2017 with all the things we're ready to let go of. I've got to find something that represents self-pity, excuses and fear. That or a picture of an Oompa Loompa. Anyway, happy new year. Hope it was a good one. 

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The Order Form Controversy

I was impressed with my coworker the other day. At Japan Camera, we sell cameras once in a while, but more often we print out pictures of kids with Santa, family snapshots, calendars and festive mugs. Ben, the boss, shows up for a few hours a day, and Sue is my main coworker. Sue has red hair, the nervous energy of a hamster, and a long DSLR camera that she uses to take amazing pictures of waterfalls and mountains on the weekend. She and I get along well, I think. I like her. But one thing I’ve noticed is she doesn’t listen to me that much. She tends to cut me off in midsentence. On Mondays it doesn’t bother me, on Thursdays it irritates me a little. On Friday, we had a small disagreement. I took a photo of a young Brazilian guy who has been on the road for a while. By the smell, I’d say at least 2 months but not more than 6. He needed a photo for his Canadian visa, but had 10 more countries on his itinerary, so he asked for a digital copy. I took down his info order form. “You don’t need to do that,” Sue called from the backroom. “Do what?” I asked. I’m pretty sure I need to write down his email, she must be talking about something else. “Just write on a scrap of paper, you don’t need a full order form,” she said. “Ok, but I already did… ” I said. Another young guy came in, Chinese and needing a Canadian residency card. He wanted the digital copy as well. I took a scrap out of recycling and asked him to write his email down. He said, “Are you sure you’re going to send me that?” I gave him a pained smile and said, “Yep, I’ll just put it down on an order form so we don’t forget.” I grabbed one. “Don’t do that!” Sue called again. I ignored her and finished what I was doing. After the guy left, I asked, “Could you tell me why it’s so important to use a scrap of random paper instead of an order form?” “You can just tape it to the monitor and do it right away. If you make an order it’ll just get lost.” “That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. I don’t lose orders. “Look, I’ll show you how we do digital prints… ” She called up the picture of the Brazilian guy and started entering the Chinese one’s email address. “If only we had some way of keeping all the information about an order in one place,” I said. “Like, some sort of form, for example.” She ignored me. “Something slightly more professional than scraps of recycling, ” I continued. “You know, you’re told to do something in a certain way – ” She bit off her words and kept working. I pointed to the Brazilian’s picture. “This guy. This email address.” We didn’t talk much for the rest of the day. However, on Saturday morning, Sue flagged me down right away. “Come here,” she said, still ringing up a customer. “Just a second… okay, look at this.” She showed me how you can write a memo next to a line item in the cash register. “Put the email address here. Just get them to write it on a scrap of paper so it’s right, then put it on the receipt. Then they see that we have it, and you can go to the back and email it right away.” I nodded slowly. That was a good alternative to a full order form, I thought – faster as well. “Passport photos are done right away, so you drop whatever else you’re doing and finish the whole thing. Same for the digital copies, because people go straight home to work on their forms. If you put it on that stack,” she indicated a pile of 20 or more waiting orders, “It might get done tonight or tomorrow, and that’s too long. That’s why we don’t write up an order.” I was amazed. Not only that her reasons made sense, but also that she restrained herself from blowing up at me yesterday, even when I saw steam coming out of her ears. She went home, thought about it, came up with the words, and explained it to me calmly. Myself, I was passive aggressive and argumentative. I like to think that self-awareness means that I’m making progress. But anyway, that’s why I was impressed with Sue last week.

(Name used with permission)

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Danish Residency Visas

When I started investigating how to move to Denmark, I gave myself a deadline of 6 months to my date of departure. That’s not because I needed 6 months to get ready, but because that’s how long I thought it would take me to fill out the visa form.

Reading government documents is hard. I can read a novel for hours, but I’ll spend 2 minutes reading the first page of a form over and over again, without comprehension, before I give up out of exhaustion.

I’m writing this out because getting all this information was a huge struggle for me, and I hope someone else can benefit from it.

Working Holiday

I succeeded in applying for the simplest Danish visa you can get. That’s the working holiday. You can have that one if you’re under 35 and can prove you have at least $3500 in your bank account to support yourself during your first months in Denmark. You have to present yourself in person at the Danish/Norwegian embassy in Vancouver and pay around $700 in fees.

The visa application isn’t a simple PDF form. It’s an “internet portal” with a series of webforms that you have to fill out and can save for later, although the saving function is dodgy. You need to have scans of your documents, such as passport, travel insurance, and bank statements, to submit to the form.

With that visa, you can work for 6 months, study for 6 months, and stay for a year total. You can take Danish lessons for free, and they give you a social security number and health insurance card when you arrive. In your first week, you are supposed to report to the commune, basically city hall, and that’s when they sign you up for Danish lessons and the health card.

The health insurance card has the address and telephone number of your personal doctor written on it, and you can make an appointment to see them using their website. You don’t have to pay anything. You do have to have travel health insurance from your own country, though, to meet the visa requirements.

This is the visa that’s simple enough for teenage stoners who want to be baristas in Christiania and get high for a year. If you want to stay longer than that, you need an AR-1 or an FA-1.

AR-1

This is a residency permit you can get if you have a job. It’s good for one year and you can reapply. All you need to apply for it is a signed contract with your employer, stating the details of your employment, including date of hire, length of contract (or whether it’s a permanent job), any other benefits they offer like maternity leave, holiday, company car, etc.

Danish employers don’t need to pay a fee to import you or anything, and there is a JobCenter in each municipality where there are people who are supposed to help you get hired. They’re not much smarter than job center employees anywhere else, but they can help you write a resume, point you to some job boards and sometimes they have hiring fairs.

I applied to ten or twenty jobs and wasn’t hired, so my information is not necessarily the best in this area. But the key things I learned are that 1) if it’s a low skill or “easy” job, generally a Dane will be hired for it because Danes are kind of racist and they all have nephews who need jobs. This is the same everywhere on earth, of course.

However, if you are an engineer, they want you. Electrical, chemical engineers, manufacturing, mechanical, and software engineers are so hot that they’re the subjects of national advertising campaigns. This is true everywhere on earth as well.

If you can’t manage to be an engineer, try being a programmer. Stick to C#, C++, C, and Assembly, and you might get somewhere. Tradesmen are mostly not wanted, but medical techs are.

There are huge employers like Maersk, Danfoss and Lego, and they do hire a lot of people. But if send your application to one of these no one will ever see it. Try finding a company making weird little microcontrollers tucked away in an office park somewhere. You might have better luck there.

In my case, I’m a programmer but I can’t seem to convince employers that I can learn C# on the job. I had a remote job with an American company, and I wasn’t sure whether the immigration people would buy that. However, if you read page 16 of the AR-1 form, you’ll see this section: “16.C Information about the applicant’s salary when seconded to Denmark by a foreign-based company “. 

It seems to imply that your company is requiring you to live in Denmark, which is not the case for remote work. But nothing specific in that section rules out remote work.

It took me many months to gain this information, because I read the forms several times without actually taking the information in. I’m not sure what went wrong with my brain, but I’m back in Canada kicking myself for it.

FA-1

If you can’t get hired but you have a lover that you don’t want to leave, you can use the FA-1 form, which is for Family Reunification. Here are the requirements for that: https://www.nyidanmark.dk/en-GB/You-want-to-apply/Family/Family-reunification/Spouse-or-cohabiting-partner

When you drill down into that list, you’ll find that the requirements are quite lax. For example, you have to have a stronger attachment to Denmark than any other country. This means that you cannot have spent more than 6 months in a country besides Denmark in the past year. So if you spent a year on a working holiday visa, you meet that requirement. If you lived with your partner for that year, you could, for example, take an education for 6 months until you’ve cohabited for 18 months, and you’ll meet the cohabitation requirement. Protip – if your Danish lover asks you to marry him, don’t stall him with bullshit about how “marriage is a social construct” while you try to squint through a crystal ball into the future. Just say yes.

You also have to pass a Danish language test. It’s the A1 test, which is the easiest level they have. Relevant to me personally, “If you are blind, deaf or have some other form of disability that prevents you from taking the exam, you might not need to take the exam.” I’m deaf, and being deaf sure does make it difficult to pass an oral language exam.

The toughest part of this visa is that your Danish partner needs to put up 50,000kr in escrow with the municipality, in case you need social services while you’re there. You can have the money back eventually.

If you can pull it off, I think this is a great way to go. Danes are always travelling the world since they take 6 weeks of vacation every year, and they always spend it outside of Denmark because every other place on earth is cheaper. So you tend to run into them on beaches, hiking trails and in tourist bars, and they’re very easy to fall in love with. Just follow one home.

Good luck – Denmark is a strange place, but it will capture your heart.

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Some books I read this year

I worked remotely this year. It’s interesting. The flexible schedule and workspace is great, but the lack of interaction with your co-workers leaves you questioning yourself and your sanity.

Communication has to be very proactive – you can’t wait for someone to check if you’re having trouble or need something to do, you have to go ask for it. I think this skill is some kind of dark art, and I haven’t gotten it yet.

Most of my non-fiction reading was about “soft skills”. The little things that ease friction between humans and help us enjoy each other more. I always feel that I’m deficient in those skills, so I look for books that might have answers. These are books that had answers – maybe not complete answers, but they brought me a little closer to being human.

Negotiating the Non-Negotiable, Dan Shapiro

Dan Shapiro gets world leaders and diplomats into a room together and makes them play games about peacemaking. You’d think those people would already be good at negotiating as it’s the centre of their jobs, but he still catches them off guard fairly often. He helped peace talks in Ireland and Bosnia in the 90’s, among other things.

His idea is that intractable disagreements come up when people’s identity feels attacked. Swallowing your pride, shaking hands and signing an agreement may be the logical thing to do, but logic isn’t the only master that humans answer to. If you read my previous posts, you’ll see one about identity that I did as an exercise after reading this book.

If you have to give up part of your identity to make peace, you may decide that peace isn’t worth it. By extension, if you can figure out how you’re threatening someone’s values with your seemingly reasonable proposition, you can better understand why they won’t accept it, and maybe find a compromise.

Works Well With Others, Ross McCammon

Ross McCammon is a senior editor at Esquire magazine. His job, aside from editing, is to schmooze and make the right moves in high-stakes social situations.

This book is about all the ways he’s failed to do that in the last ten years. It starts out as practical advice for when you’ve gotten a job you’re not qualified for and have to fit in with people who seem very, very cool, when you are very, very uncool.

Have you ever felt crippled by self-consciousness when deciding what to order during a business lunch? You shouldn’t, because the lunch is for focussing on the person that you’re with. But here’s some guidelines for getting past the mechanical aspects of picking your food, talking to the waiter and reaching for the bill as smoothly as possible so that you can pay attention to what matters. Also, what should you say when you interview Rihanna? Also a good question. In this case, asking about the house she grew up in as a child got her talking.

The advice gets less practical and more funny as the book goes on. I loved the part where Ross talks about a bench in Central Park where he used to hide after turning in an assignment. He had a thought in the back of his mind, “They can’t fire me for it if they can’t find me.”

After ten years, he doesn’t need the bench as much, but still goes back sometimes to remember what it was like.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer reminds me of the reason I haven’t written as much this year. Art only works when you’re being really, really honest. As soon as you try to hide yourself, creativity dries up.

Amanda stands on a box wearing a baroque wedding gown and holds a flower out to passersby, and only moves if someone puts money in her hat. It’s the most vulnerable thing she can do – stand in public and beg, with her whole being, “please notice me”.

Rocketships.ca is my email address and goes on every resume I send out. I don’t know how many employers get around to reading my blog. It’s gotten me a couple of interviews, but how many have I scared off? I want to write the really raw, horrifyingly funny stuff, but not end up unemployed because of it. But I know if this blog is ever going to be anything but a minor hobby that a few friends read, I’m going to have to go deep like Amanda does.

The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman

My mom read this book when I was a small kid and has been telling me to check it out ever since. I finally felt the need for it after tearfully explaining to my therapist that I couldn’t figure out how to tell my partner how much I loved him, or get him to believe me when I tried. It’s a book that found me when I was ready to listen.

My love language is Quality Time. The others are Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service. I have a feeling that the guy is right, and if you can figure out what your partner’s language is, you’ll have a better time.

Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business, Paul Downs

Paul Downs makes custom, specialized conference tables in Pennsylvania. Most of his customers find him on Google, and everything they sell is produced in a huge warehouse by a dozen or so woodworkers.

They do beautiful work and fully occupy their market niche. There’s plenty of demand for what they make – so why do they lose money? In 2011, Downs kept a month by month account of what happened.

He fixed their sales process so they’d stop leaking customers. He demoted a shop foreman who had served, resentfully, for over 20 years, and promoted a less experienced guy who wanted the job and cared enough to do it well. He went to the Middle East to look for customers, but found that there were plenty of customers right at home – after he caught and fixed a Google adwords bug that was putting his ads in front of the wrong eyeballs. At the end of the year, he finished with just enough cash to stay in business – he didn’t get to collect a salary, he only paid himself back for loans he’d put into the business.

It’s a story that will put you off the idea of starting your own business, for sure, unless you happen to have the kind of mind that hears about these problems and thinks, “oh, that sounds fun!” I took lots of notes.

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