The universal grind attachment

I told my boss I just wanted to get to a place with my project where it would feel comfortable and he said that may never happen, you might just have to get used to it, and he was right — I got glazed over from it so that I couldn’t act, it felt like a knot I’d gotten myself into where I couldn’t tell which end was which, where it started or ended.

But I had an annual bonus for the first time and was getting paid well, even though I never spent anything on the bonus other than a decent bottle of Scotch — and quickly another year came and went, I went in and out of thinking I was content, sometimes happy, most times not, but convinced myself it wasn’t that important, and don’t overthink it.

But coming up on four years of feeling this way, I kind of came undone one week, kind of folded over a process decomposition exercise — in what became more than a hundred pages of documented processes, sub-processes, Visio diagrams with decision trees and swim-lanes — I kind of snapped from it, had to ask for someone else to help me but didn’t go about it right, and it was like I’d caused a stir in the fish tank and it seemed they were all huddled together in one corner in conference rooms talking about me, and I started losing sleep.

It was two years ago now this May we were having a 10-year wedding anniversary party in the mountains outside of Seattle in a place called Goldbar: Eberhard came out with my mom from Germany and went home with a used electric guitar, pictures of himself at Jimi Hendrix’s grave — he was like a dog with his head out the car window driving down the highway taking it all in, about to turn 60 but seemed so much younger then.

We took beers in ceramic Starbucks mugs on our walk to the lake by our house and sat on the shore with bald eagles above, and he squinted while shooting them with his camera phone, and we sat there sharing cigarettes, not saying anything.

I watched him at the party once we got the keg tapped using a hatchet to chop the firewood into impossibly small pieces while balancing a cigarette between his lips and wincing from the smoke and it seemed he did that for hours, the chopping and smoking, and never once sat down.

In the morning mom asked what he was doing all night and he was in the hot tub with Anthony he said eating mais, which means corn in German and sounds the same as saying I was eating mice.

And though the weather was pretty good and all our friends were there I couldn’t for the life of me stop thinking about work.

We took our big vacation that year to Germany, a couple weeks in July, and I read a book by Paul Auster and decided then I would have to leave my job if I was ever going to write the way I wanted to, and maybe we could relocate to Europe and take some time in about a year to start a clean slate, to figure out what to do next.

And maybe it was “meant to be” some people said, that I wound up leaving work that December, when a fight-or-flight instinct kicked in and I chose the latter. Our German friend Benny says it’s like that with him at his work too, where he teaches, that you can go up the ladder or down the ladder — there’s even a German word for going off the ladder, which is what you’re doing, he said.

As I kick it around and write about it, and try to find the humor in my life I find it funny and telling that I kept getting assigned really complex, high-profile projects, and thought at the time it must mean they know something more about me and my capabilities than I do but of course they didn’t, no one does.

When I started working with Starbucks we learned about the importance of getting the right type of grind depending on how you’re making the coffee: like, a fine grind for an espresso or a coarse grind for a French Press — and if you don’t use the correct grind, it won’t taste right. Then, they came out with something called a Universal Grind used to pre-grind packaged coffee sold around the holidays in December, and somehow you could use coffee ground like that in any brewing method, and I never understood why.

Maybe work is its own universal grind we all share and have to get back to, and my boss was right when he said I could never expect to get comfortable with it. And though I did it for good money and the idea of security, the security is like the comfort, it’s temporary too. You should do it for something you think will last forever, like love, and the only place we know that for sure is in our hearts.

"Love what you do"

“Love what you do”


Categories: writing

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

35 replies

  1. Work without passion. I’m still doing it right now, just hanging on for a couple more years in the hope that I’ll still have the energy to do things that excite me. I understand your voice. Oh yeah, and I always thought Starbucks was a big fat scam!!


    • Hang on, alright. It’s the best kind of scam you really fall in love with and cease to see it for that. But seriously, I’m a fan despite leaving. It all comes down to the people who make up the company I think (I know this sounds like I’m towing the company line here) but I worked there so long, almost 20 years, I made some really good friends — and it was very sad to leave, but I had to. I think at the end of the day, we have ourselves to thank (or not) for whatever we find ourselves in, and that’s liberating somehow.


  2. ‘going off the ladder’ – that’s a phrase filled with all sorts resonances – fear being a stand-out one. I think it was Keynes who said a nation’s most valuable asset is its people – what a shame/laughable absurdity (depending on your mood) that we very productive, creative human beings cannot be deployed more productively and creatively. I mean after all these millennia of social development you feel it really ought to be possible, and not down to a predetermined ‘grind’. That’s capitalism for us. We’ve been conned into thinking it equals comfort and security, but that only goes so far – at always at some employer’s behest. I love your little Eberhard sketches. He sounds like a man with his own ladder šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is capitalism for us. I took a picture of some 50s-looking poster with an illustration in Prague, of some angry looking Communist type worker smashing a snake with a hammer that had the word Kapitalamus written on it, funny. I really love your comments and thoughtful advice and insights Tish, thank you. It’s a strange world and about to get stranger. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

    • If I follow you, then I’ll say I’m sorry — but anywhere we can leave. So best to you and yours, and try to work through it, you will. Bill


  3. A powerful and intimate write, Bill. Maybe it’s our age, do you think, this getting to a point in a satisfactory, but unltimately leaden job, and thinking – ‘I can’t – do – this – one – more – day’? Well done for walking away – you stepped off the ladder, but at least you didn’t plummet head first off the ladder into a bucket of piranhas. šŸ™‚


    • Thanks Lynn, I’m glad you were able to read it and respond this way. Walking away is one thing, but — well — I’ll let it go at that. I appreciate your reading, thanks. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • Whatever the future holds, I hope it works out brilliantly for you. We only live once – you have to try to make it as happy for yourself – and those you love – as you can šŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  4. And universal grind – a perfect metaphor. šŸ™‚


  5. During my last visit to the bookstore, I looked at a Paul Auster book and ended up with the Electric Kool-Aid Acid test.


    • New York Trilogy is the one I really liked. He spent a fair amount of time in France I think. Has done some translations too. I don’t what to say about that Kool-Aid book, other then I’m glad I read it when I did and likely never will again; it fit the bill for the time. As did the Auster book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes on the time in France. His French is good enough that he earned money translating French literature. I listened to a talk he gave at the NYPL. It’s where I picked up that his knowledge of France and French was more than superficial. It should still be online.

        I’ve read a few of his and probably will read more one day. I was just stayin true to character: concise, talking in riddles and making a statement about where I am at these days. (I would of used your terminology of “fitting the bill” but it’s not my name).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Staying true to character is important — I’m glad we had a chance to meet up.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. What’s the phrase for stuck on the ladder. I recently created a (I thought) well-considered and logical proposal that would provide me with an assistant and greater say (as in greater than zero) in budget and decision-making for marketing and social media. It was politely received and contemplated until it ran into the wall of the new person they want to hire and the wife that they consequently need to jam into the organization somehow. I’m not going anywhere. And though stuck, I had to ask myself, did I really want the extra responsibility anyway? It’s like they say: I don’t want to dance, I just want to be asked.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Two interesting metaphors for work: climbing the ladder, and the grind. Nice.

    It’s a shame the ladder never seems to lead anywhere. Stepping off is not an unwise move. As for the universal grind, it does sound like something people who are stuck on the ladder came up with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment is like a dart kind of hitting the red bull’s eye, Kevin. Thank you for it. I’m happy you liked the two metaphors; it seems it’s more natural for us to think that way. There’s a ladder here I climb often up the vineyards called the Himmelsleiter, or heaven’s ladder, and that leads somewhere at least, where you can see stuff. It’s good to get off it.


  8. I wish I had one of those good, strong, Eastern European backs. Mine is weak from sitting in a chair my whole life. My job is a fucking universal grind but I get a bonus so who am I to complain?


  9. Yes, work is definitely a grind, even if you like what you’re doing. What makes all the difference is who’s in the grinder with you, and who’s turning the crank.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s why they call it work, right? And friends of mine who love cooking, or one in particular, and why she couldn’t stand catering. Who’s in the grinder for you, for sure…I think we’re all turning the crank, and it conjures a scene from the Wizard of Oz with the flying monkeys working behind the set, and that ominous music and banging of drums and the sense for some reason, you’re fucked.


  10. and sometimes, the ladder falls right on top of you.


  11. Your rumination on work and the grind and such reminds me of the Retail Jedi, who I miss, and who used to speak of the Easy & Agreeable aspects of leadership as compared to the Difficult & Disagreeable aspects. His take was that we had to be willing & able to do the Difficult & Disagreeable, but that these would always — no matter how much we practiced them — be difficult & disagreeable.

    Now the real question is this: Which is the greater marketing hoax — when the coffee grinder introduces a fine grind for this drink and a coarse grind for that one, or when he re-invents the original grind as a Universal one? Granted, I’m kind of assuming there’s a marketing hoax when perhaps there isn’t. But I tend to see marketing hoaxes around every corner. I’m suspicious that way, cuz these guys, these marketing guys, they’re sneaky, and I don’t trust them none too much.


    • It’s when the difficult and disagreeable becomes mechanical, such that you become detached but do it nonetheless that you start to lose your humanity, I think. I’ve been riddling on that with draft #2 of my story, and what it can do to character.
      I like hearing about the Retail Jedi; I had many in my life it seems too, but of course none like yours. Even those I didn’t connect with so much at the time or didn’t think I cared for a whole lot left me with something; most everyone did.
      Yeah, I don’t call ‘hoax’ really: it’s true, about the fineness of the grind. What made me think of that story is the fact we’re using a preground coffee now that’s too fine, and in a French Press, and alright I’ll sound like a dork saying this but it’s too bitter, much too much too, so we have to adjust with the other Fundamentals (proportion and time) to get it just right. Ha…
      What used to be a more enjoyable morning ritual, sipping a perfect cup of coffee, is now reduced down to small cups, and drinking it quickly, like medicine.


Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: