If I have applied to you for employment, don't read this post.
This is my eleventh or twelfth job, I think. I used to clean my dad's office. I
spent the whole time telling him when I was going to stop working for
him. Quitting, in other words. When I was fourteen I
got a job as a library page. The library page job was my first
exposure to professional politics, and dreary, windowless break
rooms, and doing boring stuff because someone else is paying you to
do boring stuff, and suspecting that I was too smart for it. And not
yet knowing that no one pays you to be smart, or cares if you're
smart, in the workplace. Smarts are not the point. If you have the
right kind of smarts, a combination of political smarts and
problem-solving smarts and willingness-to-devote-hours-to-bullshit
smarts, you can go far. If a solid part of your smarts stems from
suspicion of authority, dogma, and consensus, you better develop a
feasible plan for self-employment. If you think you are too smart to get over yourself and just do the work that needs doing, you might be a little immature. Not that
I speak from experience.
My favorite official part of the job was restocking storage books
in the dusty catacombs. My real
favorite part of the job was hiding in the 700 stacks and reading
craft books about making miniature dollhouse furnishings. (I'm pretty
good with the ol' Dewey decimel system, let me tell you.) The bulk of my job was straightening the large print
Westerns in the fiction stacks. Those are really popular with the big
font crowd. I got pretty much very nearly fired from that job for
being arrogant, which I was. (Turns out that it does not behoove you
to believe yourself sharper than your direct supervisor, especially
when you were hired, not by her, but by her
boss. But I digress).
After that I was a clerk in a candy shop (where I ate A LOT of
roasted cashews and "accidentally" punctured holes in
the maple candy boxes so that they would be unfit for sale and become
break room fare). My bosses were a couple of old Greeks who played
chess. Sometimes one of my coworkers would come in on acid and I
would cover for her. Hawking artificially colored and
flavored "fruit" slices to people is surreal enough without
LSD, and there isn't much demand for someone to sit in the back and count the cashews.
I did a couple of summers as an
assistant to the assistant of the community education office at a
local technical college. That involved accepting checks and entering
data into a crotchety DOS database. One time my old third grade
teacher came in with her daughter. The experience of having me as a student was apparently
sufficiently scarring for her that fifteen years was not enough to wash away the pain. I hung up the phone and heard her say, slowly and sinisterly, "I'd remember That.Voice.Anywhere." Yeah,
well, bitch, Modern Egypt? What the hell kind of third grader wants to write that report?
The Star Island
clown-car-of-comedic-job performances finds me slacking to an extent
heretofore unattainable, although I actually did lots of work and
learned a lot. But I also did lots of slacking. And conflicting with
the boss, of course, because...well, because. I think I very nearly
got fired three years in a row. There were some traumatic incidents
involving the overuse of cilantro and a lack of serving spoons and my
perverse insistence on listening to the same record at top volume for
an hour every evening, very nearly backing a truck off a pier and
causing a large (but contained, don't panic) diesel spill.
Let us not forget the
barista-and-sandwich-assembling gig. With my native flair for
psychodrama, I managed to get embroiled in all sorts of shenanigans.
That one culminated in the gentle "suggestion" that I take
some time off after failing to put turkey in the turkey sandwiches
five times. That poor
woman, and her damn turkey sandwiches. Sliced turkey is not turkey,
anyway; I don't care what anyone says.
There was absolutely no comedy
involved in my job at the recycling center at UNH. That was a sweet job.
I nearly forgot the assistant financial advisor job. One does not cold call.
Then I landed an internship at a mutual fund company.
wanted to work on Wall St. since I
was in third grade (when a series of unfortunate events led
me to conclude that I wanted nothing to do with NASA or flying or
engineering). I was genuinely fascinated by economics,
and believed the stock market to be a fairly pure demonstration of
economic mechanisms (which it is, to be sure, but not the true free
market mechanisms I was interested in, and therein lies another
diversion in the frantic trajectories of my intellectual evolution).
Not knowing the difference, as a kid, between the sell-side and the
buy-side, I loved to imagine myself as the analysts on the
investment-advising television shows. Really, I did.
When I actually got a job as an
equity analyst, I was sure I was on my way. I was determined to be
good at it, to be focused, diligent, unassuming, effective, and
subservient. That last one is a big one, in business. I bought an
expensive suit after being told on an "networking interview"
(which turns out to be shorthand for bullshit ego-stroking of some
jerk on Wall St. who just wants to show me the fancy view from his
corner office and make sure I understand the hierarchy of things) that my wardrobe was insufficient. I still
cringe when I think about the way he called out some woman stuffed
into a fancy pink suit as an example of appropriate attire. I learned
a few things about the role of women on Wall St. that day, you can be sure.
About that subservience, though.
I am not good at it. I tried. I did try. Only once did I shout "FUCK
YOU!" at a slimy, sneering, pompous-ass colleague.
Really, only once, and everyone agreed he deserved it. I also learned
through the grapevine that my boss thought I had "scolded"
him about something. What can I say? I have a naturally commanding,
authoritative tone, which is not a tone that a junior employee can
use with a senior employee. I'm working on it. Sort of. While I did
not technically get fired from that job, either (I've never actually
been fired, I don't think), I got sidelined and I knew it. It was
easy to walk away from everything but the money, and I'm glad I did
because I never got to the point where I made enough to stay.
Having made the decision to leave
finance behind, I worked for a couple of plant nurseries, and a few
gardeners, and I did some freelancing.
When Wallace was born, I was
still working as a greenhouse manager and a gardener. I knew all
about babies, hippie-style, of course: you just put them on your back
and they smile and do whatever you do.
Well, not all of them. Wallace,
for one, did not. He did not want to rake, or weed, or prune. He did
not want to play on a blanket while I did those things. He wanted me
to engage with him.
And so, since I wanted to be a mother more than I wanted to be a
gardener, and it was impossible to actively do both at the same
time, I made my choice.
don't know what makes something a calling. Is it something that comes
naturally? Do you get better at it if you work harder at it? Does
every other possibility seem a poor substitute? Would you do it
anyway, even if it didn't pay? Does it seem like something you can't
do? That describes the experience of motherhood for me. If I am going
to do something, I want to do that
thing. I don't want to balance it with other things; I want that one
focus to cause all my cylinders to fire. When I realized that I
was a mother, and there was no going back, I decided to be
consciously, actively, intentionally, the best damn mother I could
be. No one was going to fire me, and I couldn't quit. And I didn't
want to, and I never have. I got really lucky, I guess. The one thing
I couldn't not do turned out to be the one thing I couldn't not do
is not, however, the only thing that I feel called to do. I write. I
can't not write. I've always written. I don't know if I will ever
produce a kind of writing that anyone else wants to pay for, and
that's okay. Don't misunderstand me; if I can find a meaningful way
to write AND get paid, I will, but whether or not I write doesn't
depend on whether or not I get paid. I
observe, I think, I analyze. It may be that no one else ever needs my
abilities to do these things, but I know I can't stop doing them.
Some people wake up in the
morning and do what they love, and someone else values the product
enough to pay for it. Some people seem to fall into opportunities,
to find their calling knocking at the door. Eventually, that's what
happened to me. Well, at least the calling part. No one seems
interested in paying for the product yet. But, like the lady says, I'm
gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay.
What, you may be asking, is the
point of this post.
People have been asking me my point
as long as I can remember. Perhaps I'm not as concise as I could be.
If, by chance, I have
applied to you for employment and you read this post anyway, the
point is this: There may be a straight path to one's purpose in life, but I sure haven't found it. I know now that it is not always easy to do a good job, and it isn't
always necessary for the job to be worth doing, to be worth doing
right. Sometimes you just do the damn job. But once
I know what calls to me, everything I do is about that.
As I set out from this
crossroads, six months after transplant, and choose which direction
to go, life has never been clearer. It has never made more sense. I
will build it, and they will come. As to what "it" is, let me get back to you.