Friday, January 25, 2008

Ground Wood

For nearly a year, when I was 23, I worked in a pulp and paper mill in Campbell River on Vancouver Island. I was young and green and worked on call in the mill in various jobs doing various things. Finally I landed in the 'ground wood' which is were wood was ground (ergo the name) into pulp. Logs were pre-cut into the appropriate lengths and came into the building floating on water and then were distributed onto long conveyor belts. The grinders were huge machines with the capability of grinding logs on both sides of an enormous stone that turned at an impossible speed.

The job was to fill a holding pen with logs, when the last bunch of logs were ground the floor of the pen would open and the new batch would drop down, the floor would close again and the pen would need to be filled again. Each guy had four machines, eight pens. The job was not easy, logs had to be pulled by hand off the conveyor belt and slide down into the pen and land just right. Done wrong the log would jam and it would be necessary to right it - a feat that took extraordinatry strength. So the eight hour shift would be spent using a pick-axe to pull logs into the bins and keep them full and running at peak efficiency for the whole shift.

On the wall, in plain view of each of us (and of course the supervisor) was a series of meters that read out the efficiency of each stone in each machine. A red line indicated an acceptable level of production. The goal was to keep the meter running at that level or higher for each stone for the whole shift. All of us kept an eye on those meters. All of us knew that there would be hell to pay if the stone wasn't running at exactly the right amount of efficiency. The needle would drop to below efficiency if the bin opened before you'd had a chance to fill it.

At first I had a sense that those meters were a malevolent presence, ready to report me and my failings at the earliest opportunity. But once I learned the mechanics of the job, how to pull with the pick axe, how full a bin should be, how to get the logs to land properly into the bin - I became rather enamoured of the read outs. I liked looking over and checking to see that I was performing as was expected, I was meeting the goal.

It was simple.

I knew when I was doing a good job.

Today I spent a lot of time working on writing up some of the work that I've done over the last couple of years developing a plan for agencies to offer abuse-free, safe environments. I've chuckled as I've written about some of my mistaken ideas and felt profoundly grateful at others as I've written about the input from all levels of staff within Vita. The discussions we've had, the ideas we've tried, the process of change ... all of it. In the pit of my stomach I feel that this may be the most important work I've done in my career. That this may be a contribution made, not by one person, but by and entire agency - with both will and vision.

But there were moments, even today, where I felt absolutely crushed by self doubt. Where I had to stop and breathe and get ahold of myself. Pages and pages have been written now, no one has yet seen them, but they are piling up. I re-read them. Too often. I can quote some of the paragraphs in my sleep. But I don't know ... does it matter, will it matter?

Somehow I wish that there were a meter I could look over at - check out to see if I'm doing it right, getting it done properly, meeting the target. But there's not. Simply not.

But I am determined not to let fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of foolishness become a disabling condition. Because as I sit here working, my wheelchair isn't the issue, my will is.

And I know that's off the charts.


Anonymous said...

I often find myself wishing for one of those simple measurements to. I look forward to reading what you have written, being with you to present it. You know what we have done has made a significant change. Our members are our measurement, and they are cheering way above the red line.
Here's to a great day. Manuela

Belinda said...

"Done wrong the log would jam and it would be necessary to right it - a feat that took extraordinatry strength."

The "Ground Wood" job is a good metaphor for what you and Vita have been doing, all of the work, the blood, sweat and tears; the huge effort! Already you are all to be congratulated for making safety a priority.

You are almost ready; ready to put your hearts and souls out there to be judged by others. No wonder you are scared. Who wouldn't be?

But the judges who count, as Manuela said, are the people this is all about, those whom the agencies some of us work for are paid to support. I have learned that they are gentle judges and far more gracious and generous than we often deserve.

Whatever you unveil, I can't wait to see it, and I know that it will be passionately respectful.

Go Vita! Go Dave!

theknapper said...

I believe it will be all these things; thought ful & provoking, respectful, cutting edge, real, passionate and there will be space for it to evolve as needed.
Thank you Dave & VITA for doing this work.

Mieke said...

With my eyes closed and without having read your pages, I trust they'll be great.
They are so...necessary, and they will certainly have their necessary effect.

Anonymous said...

Go Dave. If you feel "in the pit of my stomach I feel this may well be the most important work of my career" you go with that gut instinct. Courage, fortitude, all that stuff. Yep.As Theknapper said "breathe". Go Dave Go. from p.t.