Another One Bites the Dust

I’ve discovered my special knack, that skill unique to me that I carry from job to job regardless of industry or position. It is the ability to instill either fear or distaste in those who have the opportunity to prosper me, such that they work to minimize my involvement in things or they circumvent me altogether.

How do I include this as an asset on a resume?

I knew earlier this week, when my colleague told me he was meeting with our “business partners” and I wasn’t invited, that he was marginalizing me. I even called him out on it–in a nice way. I’ve gotten very good at conveying my disappointment in a dispassionate tone; I don’t yet embody apathy, but it’s on the horizon. He was not swayed. Sure enough, he met with them and set up a deal between him and them, a deal to which I presumably will be an after-the-fact contractor. Thanks, dude–I definitely put in all that advance work and planning so that I could be set up in another subsidiary position where someone else can dictate both my work and my compensation!

My problem seems to be an unwillingness to continue assuming a prone position. How long must I pay dues? Whether to an employer or a lover, how long do I submit before I reach a level that allows me to weigh in on the direction of things? Or perhaps the problem is more personal and insidious: perhaps I’m doing something to sabotage my own advancement. In trying to model an honest and transparent way of doing business, perhaps I’m revealing too much of my game plan and others are wont to simply use it and discard me.

Plus I just piss people off.

Oh well. I’m getting used to this now and don’t want to spend a lot of time navel-gazing to determine how I can better fit in. Lady Gaga and Madonna and Sarah Palin don’t worry how to fit in, or how to improve themselves in order to meet the demands of the world. They just do what they want to do.

What do I want to do?

Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

I’ve spent the better part of the past week doing absolutely nothing. Nothing. I filled my days with mundane chores and marginal tasks, taking almost no initiative to accomplish anything or reach out to anyone. My nights were dictated feebly by the telephone–waiting for my fella to call and include me in his activities, or waiting for Helen’s nightly call as she spent the week with her cousins. Didn’t make much progress on the diary transcription, mostly because it’s making me painfully aware how reactionary I’ve always been and I’m already drawing clear connections from who I was at age 12 and who I am now. I have ever been defined by those around me and whatever they wanted me to do, holding only onto weak dreams of having a “boyfriend” and avoiding any effort to shape my own world.

Perhaps it’s foolish to expect a 12-year-old to proactively shape her world, develop some interests independent of others and pursue them. Perhaps I’m stretching too far by comparing that me with the current one. But I’m longing to see some sign in the younger me of grander desires than simply having a boyfriend–any boyfriend at all! Even if I’d just applied a few standards other than their finding me worthy, it would encourage me that some critical reasoning was being formed in my young brain. But no, the pre-teen me is just going with the flow, noticing when one boyfriend or another isn’t treating me well or when I’m just not feeling it anymore but staying in the relationship and just puzzling over it instead of stepping out and doing something else. I’d love to turn a page in the diary and see my handwriting proclaim that I was putting all this boy stuff on hold so I could spend more time reading, or perhaps learning a language or a new skill, such as splitting the atom. Sometimes, when I’m transcribing, I’ll read forward a few entries just to see if anything is different, if perhaps I’ve become someone else. Thus far it’s just been me, with the same old tactics.

For good or for ill, I see many similarities between that boy-crazy young girl (who goes on to become a boy-crazy young woman–I know how this ends even before I get to those diaries) and this unemployed middle-aged woman. All my working life, I have pursued whatever work or employer that would have me rather than figuring out what I wanted to do and pursuing THAT. My very first job ever, working at Tice’s Farm Market, was obtained when my friend Julie suggested I apply to become her coworker. All my jobs during college were simple work-study gigs rather than a strategic patchwork that could inform my future career choices. Even my first “real” job after college was a fluke: I didn’t have the slightest inspiration or idea what to do, so when a friend recommended I move to DC and try to get a job on Capitol Hill I did it. No imagination necessary on my part, simply wait for someone else to tell me what to do and then do it.

I’m still on that same path today. I can’t seem to put together my own 30-second elevator pitch on “what I do.” I’ve got no particular expertise, no over-arching passion, no cohesive story to tell people who might be in a position to hire me for something. Instead, my answer would be, “What do you need me to do? What do you want me to do?” I give all the power over my career life to anyone who asks. Except nobody does.

In the old economy, the one with available jobs, it was an asset to be a switch-hitter. I could rearrange my resume to feature my writing and research skills (from Capitol Hill), or my print production and project management experience (from NSTA), or my meeting planning and supervisory abilities (from the Michigan Chamber). I’ve even been able, in the past, to leverage my computer tech knowledge (which should have come from my brief time at EDS, but really came from dating my first computer dude–can’t explain that on a resume). But I never took any of those jobs far enough to make a career out of it. And Lord knows that my seven years at the fancy consulting firm mostly served to isolate me from any meaningful career development or advancement. To them I was truly this devoted (if occasionally lippy) girlfriend who did what she was told and sacrificed her self for the good of the whole.

Now I’m stuck in the new economy, the one without jobs. Most organizations are, themselves, in some phase of identity crisis; why would they want to hire someone who can’t identify herself? If ever there was a bad time to be waiting for outside assistance to tell me what to do, this is it.

Boys, Boys, Boys

This is going to be harder than I thought. I’ve only just begun transcribing my first journal (actually, it was a diary–indicated by the “Dear Diary” at the beginning of each entry), and already I’m growing weary of my 12-year-old self. It’s less than a month into the school year and I’ve already focused like a laser on getting a boyfriend. Seventh grade is when “it” all started to happen: going together (the 1970s equivalent of “going steady”), French kissing, spin-the-bottle, and a sordid variety of prepubescent foreplay that is nothing short of embarrassing to read. We certainly thought we were hot stuff, and we flaunted it and encouraged each other to keep going.

Seventh grade was also when I discovered the word “fuck.” My, how I delighted in using that word! A neatly-folded note was tucked between the pages of the diary, a missive from my friend Joanne that simply listed words and phrases we liked to say or that held some deeper meaning for us. One of the phrases was, of course, “F U C K off!” written just that way, as though the blanks had been there like in a game of hangman and we had to guess what would fit. Such delight we took in that word! Seventh grade was the dawn of my incredible potty mouth, much to my mother’s chagrin, and it wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I made any effort to clean up my act.

I wonder what my mother thought at the time, or whether she had any idea about the kind of mischief I was getting myself into with my friends. Have I ever told her? By today’s standards, our activities were probably pretty mild, but still–if Helen comes even close to the kind of boy preoccupation I manifested, I will be in big trouble as a parent…

Life in a Box

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing my memoirs for quite some time. It probably started when I got fired the first time in 2009, although the sum-total of that memoir would have been the picking apart of my seven years at that firm, and ultimately–when I really put my mind to it–I couldn’t figure out what on earth I’d done that whole time. I really started thinking about writing when I got fired for the second time in 2009, because that particular stint (lasting seven months) left me with so much juicy material–thread upon thread of e-mail reparte forming a rather ugly fabric. But again, it would really only have been a memoir of that episode and the whole idea of documenting it without context made me unappealing to myself.

Then there was the more recent occupational debacle (also lasting seven months) that similarly had its draw for me to put it in writing. Oddly enough, it was also ugly and bizarre and perfect for showcasing to a world fascinated by the graphic details of misfortune. At least in that case, I didn’t get fired–although I no doubt would have if I’d actually been an employee instead of an independent contractor.

I’m not the smartest person in the room (well, actually I am since I’m in the kitchen alone; then again, NPR is tuned in the background, so yeah, I’m not the smartest person in the room), and I’m getting noticeably dumber by the day, but it hasn’t escaped my observation that I am the least common denominator in all these scenarios and perhaps there’s something I’m doing to contribute to my recent lack of employability. Truth be told, it’s entirely possible that my undoing has been my…doing. I keep trying to figure out where I went wrong in my career life so I can better understand where I am now and perhaps reach some method of making a living that doesn’t piss people off. I’m reminded of that line from early in the movie “Broadcast News,” where Jane is talking to Aaron on the phone, recapping a horrible day in which (1) her speech to a journalism class was met with apathy and rejection, and (2) her date with the handsome Tom was cut short by his early departure brought about by her condescension. Jane laments to Aaron, “I have crossed some line, somewhere; I am starting to repel the people I’m trying to seduce.”

So I thought it would be interesting, and possibly illuminating, to go back and revisit my own history, catalogued somewhat irregularly in journals, letters, and photographs. I’ve spent several days now thinking about how I would chronicle these things–transcribe everything into a Word document? Blog it? Capture it in a cloud so I could work on it anywhere with an Internet connection? Of course, these were all just delay tactics to keep me from simply starting. Today, after going to church and reading the paper and taking a nap and smoking several more cigaretttes than usual, I found the nerve. I knew there was a box in my garage containing the items in question, and I FINALLY went out to retrieve it.

Oh my goodness.

First of all, there were three boxes simply marked “Office,” and I knew that one of them contained the DATA–but which one? The first one I opened was the I-love-me box, filled with my diplomas, certificates, trophies, and medals. I remember back in high school, when I was winning those medals for running races and those trophies for academic achievement, I would lovingly display them on a shelf or a dresser in my bedroom, and I would revisit them and rearrange them and fondle them while recalling my former victories. But by the time I went to college it became clear that past achievements (and their decorations) failed to do anything for me and hauling them around from place to place actually became more of a depressant than anything else. It seems I was learning that such achievements only decrease in value once they are bestowed.

The second box I opened was filled with my grandpa’s sheet music, given to me by my dad over the past three decades. I had forgotten I still had it. It reminds me that I used to love playing the piano and even considered (at a very young age) pursuing a musical career the same way my grandpa did. This memory is a disappointment, an example of something I started but then never devoted any real or sustained effort to, and I am reminded that this is a pattern for me–in relationships, in academics, in jobs. I’ll start something and learn enough about it to do it well and even earn accolades for it, but as soon as the accolades stop I lose interest in taking it to the next level of expertise. This was especially apparent in my job at the fancy consulting firm, where I was very good at doing whatever project or task I was given but never delved into any subject matter that would prove me to be valuable to the firm over time.

The second box also reminded me that this was my dad’s junk passed along to me. My dad has a hard time letting go of stuff, particularly if it has some connection to his parents. We’ve had lengthy conversations about this. He thinks he gets the tendency from his mother, who always had a room in her basement filled with the stuff that got passed down to her from her parents; she never knew what to do with it but couldn’t get rid of it. So then she passed down all that stuff–plus her own stuff–to her children. Now Dad’s passing it down to me. But the chain will be broken here because I do NOT want to be surrounded by so much stuff that it could kill me if there was ever an earthquake in mid-Michigan. If I was in my garage during the mid-Michigan earthquake.

Of course the third box was the one I was seeking. I could tell as soon as I opened it and saw my first “diary,” one of those blank books with lines. I remember picking it out because I fancied the design, which was made to look like denim with a jeans-back-pocket outlined on the front. The first entry was from September 1978, so I was twelve years old and just starting the seventh grade. Is that when my life began? Where is the chronicle of the first eleven years? That’s probably going to be harder to piece together, given that it’s been over two-thousand years and they still haven’t figured out anything from Jesus’s life between early adolescence and age 30.

I read a few of the early entries in that diary; oh, the drama! From the start, I wanted a boyfriend. I hope I find that all these years I have had a “normal” focus on getting, maintaining, and keeping a significant relationship, but I have a strong feeling that my focus was perhaps more of a guiding principle than anything else–which would explain why something like a career would come up short in the grand plan.

In the box is also a bag containing several large envelopes. On the outside of each envelope is written a man’s (boy’s) name and a little heart symbol. Oh yes, I remember keeping all manner of letters, notes, cards, and such given to me by my sweetheart du jour. I thought it was cute, until I came across an envelope labelled “Mike.” I couldn’t recall having a significant relationship with a Mike! I pulled out one of the letters in it to see if I could refresh my memory. It was a letter in my own handwriting, written to “Mike,” and it was a tragic-goodbye-my-life-is-forever-changed letter. As I read it, I remembered my brief affair with a coworker at one of my jobs in Washington, D.C. He was newly married and we became friends, and that’s all I thought we were–until that day at happy hour when he put his hand on my leg in a meaningful too-much-tequila sort of way and suddenly I found we were more than friends. At the time when we called it off–yes, his wife found out–I was utterly devastated in the most real and tangible and profound way. But now, 20 years later, I didn’t even remember having been involved with him. This says a lot to me about the kind of perspective I ought to have if I want to life an authentic life and make a living doing so.

This also tells me that I’m probably going to uncover many lost memories, which may trigger both laughter and tears. Perhaps I will chronicle my findings in this blog while I transcribe the DATA elsewhere. Perhaps this will give me something to do while I try to figure out something to do to make a living.