Loose Cannons and Coleslaw : Misplaced Creativity in the Workplace

"The photocopier's out of paper!"

“Your stats are great, but you’re a loose cannon, Dave. We have to let you go.”

I sat in my bosses’ tiny cubicle of an office with him and the blonde, perpetually scowling HR manager, feeling a weird mix of relief, panic and bemusement. I could feel an unbelieving wry smile spread itself across my face at this startling news from my beleaguered superior.

Loose cannon

It was a phrase I’d heard many times, mainly from American cop shows and movies on TV. Starsky and Hutch, the guys from CHiPS, Harry Callahan, TJ Hooker; they were loose cannons, and I’d now joined their esteemed circle of mayhem. That was pretty cool.

It’s just a shame I was earning minimum wage working for a telephone marketing company at the time, spending eight hours a day making those infuriating cold calls asking people where they did their shopping and what their preference of washing up liquid was. Yeah, I was that guy. Sorry.

I wasn’t happy at my dismissal for two reasons.

One, I’d just the day before taken out a large bank loan to buy a Gibson SG Special guitar, a Mapex Black Panther snare drum and a bunch of cymbals. My reasoning being that I finally had a proper full time job which enabled me to get store and bank credit. I had spent the pervious two years working in another call centre on a week to week contract, credit-less and poorer than a particularly impoverished church mouse.

I was going to have a wee bit of bother making payments on that three grand bank loan without a job. There was also the small matter of paying the rent.

The second reason for my disgruntlement was that as a loose cannon, I would have expected to be fired as a consequence of some sort of madcap, hair raising adventure. Chasing a reluctant survey-ee down a busy motorway in a juggernaut perhaps, or for beating a member of the public to a pulp until they tearfully revealed their favourite brand of toilet paper.

 No. I was a maverick rouge survey taker because when going through my list of scripted questions with one member of the public, I didn’t think it was necessary to ask the pleasant ninety-something year old gentleman whom I was grilling if he’d be interested at all in taking out a bank loan or applying for a credit card. Thinking that someone almost a century old would have no desire to rack up debts with the bank, I skipped the question and automatically ticked the "no" box on my screen, giving myself a mental pat on the back for my efficiency, common sense and use of initiative. Little did I know however, that in my attempt to save time and avoid asking a fairly silly question considering the context, I’d inadvertently committed an act of data fraud. 

As anyone who’s ever dealt with an automated phone system will know, all calls are recorded for training and monitoring purposes, and such was my downfall. The boss had been listening in, and although I was meeting and exceeding my targets, he was tired of taking heat from the commissioner for my screwball antics. I had to hand over my badge and gun, or rather, my name tag and survey script. And I hadn’t even got to blow anything up, be in a single gunfight or hang on to the landing skids of an airborne helicopter as it soared above the buildings of Glasgow city centre.

Fast forward another seven years or so through a variety of similar office jobs, a brief stint trying my hand as a commi chef in the family restaurant, another few call centres, verbal warnings, written warnings, final written warnings and disciplinaries, and I eventually came to the realisation that unfortunately, I was never going to be happy, content or even good at any job unless I was doing something I loved. What I’d loved since I was child, was music and writing. Too bad there’s not much scope for that kind of thing working in telephone marketing, mobiles, expired computer warranties or hand made coleslaw.

By the time 2008 rolled around, I was thirty-one, working as a bottom level customer advisor for an international health insurance company, and my fiancée and I had a mortgage to pay on the flat we’d bought the previous year. One day I got talking to a fellow drone in my cubicle, who like me was a frustrated musician at heart and hated his job. He mentioned that his wife had just left her job in HR and had returned to uni to study design. I didn’t think such a move was possible when you have a family and a newly acquired eighty grand bank debt. Intrigued, a few sums, Googles, emails and phone calls later though, I discovered that my returning to higher education was in fact just about financially do-able, if I didn’t mind being terminally skint for the next six years or so. Hell, I’d never made more than thirteen grand a year in my life anyway, my loose cannon attitude and irrepressibly creative "think outside the box" approach to customer service always scuppering any chances I may have had of rising above an entry level pay grade.

Six years or so from that moment of epiphany, and in a few months I’ll be graduating from Glasgow uni with a joint honours degree in Digital Media and Music, with hopes of doing a post grad year in creative writing.

Sure, I’m now almost thirty seven, I’m married with a kid, that mortgage still needs to be paid, and lets be honest, the creative arts are pretty much just as hard to make a living in now as they’ve always been.

But in the past six years while at college and uni, among other things, I’ve published a novel, a bunch of short stories and have another novel on the way. I have written classical/thrash metal entrance music for an ICW wrestler named Wolfgang and provided an epic ten minute Maltese folk instrumental for a virtual reality archaeological dig for the University of Catania in Italy. I’ve even worked as an extra on the movie World War Z.

It’s been an absolute blast, and I think the things I’ve learned and experiences I’ve had have at the very least increased my odds of finally finding a steady job where loose cannons are welcomed, not frowned upon.

Now where’s that application form for that admin assistant job…?

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