Wow. It’s been a bit. Very busy, ups and downs, and some crystalizing moments. First, I want to recount acts of kindness. Or at least acts of awareness.
The middle-age woman on the subway platform whose dress had caught in her belt, revealing very odd bight green bloomers from behind. Tempted to just pull the skirt down, I realize that would be invasive, so I simply tapped her, and mimed swiping at my seat. She got the message.
The little Latino boy who sat perpendicular to me on the train and kept nodding off, waking just before his head would hit my knees. I wanted very much to offer him my shoulder.
The crowded subway train, there’s nowhere to sit and an older woman is blocking my access to the pole. I’m searching for something to hang on to, and a man cocks his elbow and offers me his arm for balance. I awkwardly take it but let go once the train is in motion. He then offers to change places with me, so I can reach the pole, because he can stabilize with a hand on the ceiling of the car.
The woman who had blocked the pole, I see from new vantage point, is rather old, and she’s leaning heavily on the metal. The man sitting in front of us is young, with eyes closed and headsets closing out the world. The woman seems distressed, and mumbles, “I need to sit.” I reach out and tap the man’s shoulder, surprised he opens his eyes, and removes his headset. “Let this woman sit.” I tell him. He does. She spends the rest of the trip playing with a cute little girl next to her.
Another crowded car, the very tall, very dark black man in front of me looks like he’s scowling, and I am afraid to jostle him. Afraid to set him off. At some point an angry voice is raised, someone is yelling at someone else as they get off the car. The kind of jabbering irritation of being crowded that does no good, because it really doesn’t change anything. The tall man looks at me and his face breaks into a wry grin, reflecting my thoughts – why bother getting angry? His whole face fills with light and he’s beautiful.
I am seated on the subway, a youngish woman standing in front of me suddenly starts asking for money, in a very odd way. She just sort of starts talking, but not in the loud declamatory style of most subway beggars. She seems mentally challenged, not sure what she’s doing. The woman next to me, a very elegantly dressed older black woman, opens her purse, and I do too. We both give the younger woman a bill, and she goes on through the train. A few minutes later my neighbor grabs my arm hard, just below the armpit, and leans in very close to my ear. “We are blessed,” she says softly, but with so much authority. I nod at her, and she nods regally back at me, glancing at the crowd of nongivers. She blesses me again as she exits the train.
There are unpleasant moments too. Although that’s all part of the adventure. Yesterday, going to work a smell reaches me. At first, I thought someone was carrying some unpleasant food in a bag, I looked around and immediately located the source of the smell, a beggar making his way through the car. Today, a young man was begging for money in a rap style poem. A few people gave him money, and I started to reach into my wallet, but then some of what he was saying didn’t sit well with me (“did he just say something about ‘Jews’ or ‘juice’ hurting the world?”) so I closed my bag. Most beggars have short, effective speeches. They know their audience. Not this guy. His rap was an opus! He kept going from 72nd to 96th, including a three-minute stall in the tunnel. I think everyone was pretty sick of him by the time we finally could escape.
A lot has happened in the last two weeks: Halloween, the election, Pax came to visit. I’ve been so busy, so I have a lot of catching up to do. I’ll try to make it short.
Two weeks ago, I was excited about a phone interview with Teacher’s College for an administrative coordinator of the writing center position. Part of me didn’t like the idea of returning to a “coordinator” role, but I looked up the salaries at Columbia (Teacher’s College is part of Columbia, so I figured they’d be close), and concluded I could make something in the 60’s and then decided it would be fine. Also, a much better commute.
Once again, I found a corner in the big empty hallways of the Brooklyn loft building and settled down for the phone chat. It went extremely well. I am very comfortable in this environment, it’s what I’ve been doing for nine years, so I can answer questions with knowledge and experience. But. After the initial interview the woman informed me that she wanted to be upfront and did I know it was part-time 25 hours a week? Ah. Well, yes, I remember reading that in the ad once, but when I looked the job up after getting the interview invite, I didn’t see part-time listed anymore. Still, I might be able to make that work with a good salary. Oh, she says, and it pays $20 an hour. This after going on about taking care of students, and how important the support of a writing center is, etc. That’s even less than I made at Western. She offered to give me time to think about it, but I stumbled out that I would still be interested; thinking maybe I could get another part-time job, my contract job was ending Friday, I needed something.
I have to admit, I was shook. I found myself awash with the familiar anger at feeling undervalued. For years I’d watched Vincent’s salary climb with raises and promotions (or at least the possibility of promotions) while mine inched up in half percent increments. In nine years of work my salary rose barely $5000, with no chance of enhancement or merit pay. Here again, in higher education student affairs a paltry salary for a PhD. The whole experience affected me more than I realized, and I started to sink into a funk like I haven’t been in since coming to New York.
I was still bothered on Tuesday, and on Halloween Wednesday I had my interview for the intentional job. I wish it had happened on its originally scheduled date, when I was so high and confident from Vincent’s presence. The morning of the interview I got up, got dressed and decided to do some last-minute research on the company website. Up to this point I’d been speaking with Kerrin, who was terrifically upbeat and friendly. Her bio said she was interested in the lexicon of the word “cool” and making it into an adjective for empathy. Very cool. The woman I was meeting with on this day was named Jenn, and she’d gone to U of Michigan, done Teach for America and recently finished an MBA at Columbia. And they were all so young. And so hip. And so. I don’t know, but it somehow got under my skin.
I arrived right on time, and no one was there. Like, the office was closed. I went to the bathroom to freshen up, and when I returned, I could see a woman through the glass. I knocked, and she let me in. It was Jenn. She offered me water and turned on the lights, and then we sat down in a board room for the interview. The whole office, like most I’ve visited, was a big open space with all sorts of levels and glass.
I made an opening sally by telling her we had a Michigan connection. Understand, every other interview I’ve been on I’ve felt confident and strong. This one felt terrible. It was called the “fit” interview. Jenn began by telling me about herself, and it was impressive (and I would also say privileged), then asked me to tell me about myself. Where to start? Talk about your transitions and what led you. Okay, I did, but as I did, I felt confidence leaching out of me. At first, I thought it was because she was young, and I was feeling old and out of place. I told her about my work, and she asked me something about how it worked as a business, how I made money. Well. It didn’t. I tried to adapt to that, but she didn’t seem interested. In fact, in retrospect, I think part of why I was shook is the woman had massive resting bitch face. She looked so bored while I was talking. The opposite of enthusiastic bubbly Kerrin.
At the end she introduced me to Kerrin who had just arrived, then thanked me and left me standing in the center of the big loft room, which had now acquired a few other employees, while I fumbled on my coat and walked out rather anticlimactically. Then I made my way down to Brooklyn.
In this whole experience/experiment of the New York thing, there’s anxiety about finding the job, there’s the awareness that it’s a crazy and brave thing to do, but I haven’t really had the fear. I am aware that the fear is rational, but I can’t say I’ve really felt it. That morning I was overwhelmed by every feeling of inadequacy I’ve ever felt in my life. I’m too old. I’m not that smart. I’m not chic. I’m not anything but awkward and an imposter. I was stupid and ineffectual at that job I did in July. And I was stupid about the PowerPoint job I thought I could do. The world is for the young. And etc. etc. etc. The whole sucky shebang. Overwhelming thought process of negativity that I haven’t felt in a long time. And amplified. Individual voices now reaching choir levels.
I don’t like to blame my failures on outside influences, but I can think of three things that lead up to this one. The first I attribute to the disappointment and reminder of my value in higher education from the Teachers’ College interview. I mean, it’s the oldest graduate school in the country, it’s private, it’s expensive, and they’re paying $20/hour? That’s straight up bullshit. Something I’m good at, is not worth much, but so valuable to others. F’ that. I’ve had nine years of that. Second, I’ve been reading the latest Kingsolver novel which is really depressing. The protagonist is a 55-year-old woman who is just realizing how doing everything “right” in today’s world doesn’t add up, and the systems don’t work anymore, and her husband is a professor, and they’re broke, etc. Echoing all my thoughts of how this economy stinks. Finally, I ran out of my desiccated thyroid pills a week ago, and because they are periodically (and frequently) on backorder the pharmacy didn’t’ get them in on time, and I was waiting for a new prescription, and four or five days off them can do funny things to my mental health.
But I don’t like to blame my failures on outside forces.
Halloween was kind of fun. I needed milk and I tried to dash into Ismael’s at 8pm, and found the door locked, although I could see him inside. He was closing so he could take his kids trick or treating, and his wife was all done up as a day of the dead character. I complimented her on her makeup, he let me buy my milk. There were kids dressed up everywhere. I didn’t give out candy, but they were fun to see.
I finally got new pills on Thursday night and was feeling better by Friday. Friday was supposed to be the last day at the job, but I got asked back on Monday and Tuesday. Pax arrived on the train on Friday night, so I left work to meet him at Penn Station. My grown-up baby! Visiting me in New York. We’re both trying out our new lives and our new independences. We shared stories together and went to see a movie (Venom) on Saturday. I spent too much money on food because he must eat out, but it’s New York! And I had to buy him a new pair of Chaco’s because child was walking around with a huge break across the entire sole. My credit card is getting more use than I am comfortable with.
On Monday I took him back to the train and went to Brooklyn, then to leave early for my on-campus interview at Teacher’s College. And I got my official rejection from the intentional place. I also got an invitation for a possible interview at Open Society, which is George Soros’ foundation. So, every week, something seems to come along.
The interview at TC was the full deal. I met with the woman who currently runs the writing center, and a high up in student affairs, and a guy from human resources. Did the whole interview questions thing there, very relaxed, because I don’t know how I feel about wanting the job right now. Then met the VP of student affairs who explained the structure to me and how she’s always fighting for money for the writing center. I dealt quite often with the VP of student affairs at WMU and she seemed a lot more of bigwig than this woman did. Weird. Then I returned to the writing center coordinator and she gave me a little “test”. A paper to read and what advice would I give the student? Again, old hat. So, I might hear something this week.
My last day in Brooklyn was Tuesday. My project managers expressed regret at losing me and seemed to be saying I was one of the good ones, which was good to hear. I was looking to a day off to catch up on this writing, and laundry, etc. I hadn’t gotten much done with Pax there over the weekend. The Open Society sent me an exercise to do. They said it would take a couple of hours and would be in Word and Excel. On Wednesday morning I opened it and it was all Excel, and I had a mini-panic attack trying to figure it out. Not the how, so much, but the what. I found I could read the instructions a couple of different ways. I called Vincent and he also found it confusing, so I just went with my gut and did my best. I am waiting to hear if I make it to the next step.
Tuesday morning, I went to vote. I recognized the woman sitting at my district table and said, “you’re the cat lady!”. Then quickly apologized for the moniker, as it’s not necessarily flattering to everyone. She lives in my building and I’ve met her a few times because she has this big beautiful black cat, she says gets bored in the apartment so she brings him with her to get the mail. Sometimes she’s just sitting on the steps with him next to her, watching people. I might do that with Jasper sometime. He wants to explore. When I was in line to submit my ballot a man approached me and asked if I would agree to a news interview. Of course I said yes. I gave it to him, and he took my pic for Instagram and I left. Later realizing I didn’t get an “I voted” sticker. I was jealous of others who did all day.
In the meantime, although nervous about no income, I was glad to have some time alone to catch up. But Tower, the agency I work through, contacted me about a new project starting Thursday through Saturday. I said yes. Then it turned into Friday through Sunday. So, I had two days off, but spent most of them job hunting.
I still apply for writing, proofreading, copyediting, etc. But the experience of the last two weeks crystalized for me that what I really really want (yeah, Spice Girls are in my head now too), is the three-day workweek, high paying job that I had before. Pax suggested to me that I try to write a book to make money in the wonderful way that his worldview is not hindered by reality. I told him about some of the ideas I’ve had off and on and found myself really considering it. After all, I’ve really enjoyed writing this, and I can actually think of ways to incorporate some of it into my book idea. But for that, I need time. And financial stability to support the time. Being here and more or less alone has given me the headspace to write.
Most frustratingly, the agency I first went to on arrival, the one that sent me to the place that tested me twice, and then decided not to hire me without reason, has been advertising on Indeed with word processing jobs, and FOUR of them are the three-day kind, different shifts. I’m going mad seeing them listed right there, and not knowing how to make it happen. I wrote my agent twice, and she promised me she’d submitted me, and she’d check in on Monday. I don’t know what else to do. I’m getting creative, I’ve reached out on LinkedIn to places. It is very frustrating.
I’m resorting to magical thinking. I have made up a mantra of what I want, and I chant and write it in every spare moment. It goes: 75K3dEARR. It stands for $75K, 3 days a week, and Engaged, Appreciated, Respected, and Rewarded. All the things I want in a job right now. And if I had that, I could even take the TC job, should I get it.
The new Tower project is back in the Canyon of Heroes. Now, I really appreciate this commute of 1 hour or less. My first project was claims processing, entering information into a database. My second project was contract review: going through thousands of contracts looking for clauses on bankruptcy, indemnification, etc., and either typing them whole, or collecting the page and section. This project is redaction. Ever see pages with thousands of those little black boxes that hide confidential or personal information and wonder who does that? Yeah, that would be me.
The funniest thing is that my previous project managers were from a different company and they were so much better at explaining things. For this project the PMs gave us tons of paper with examples of redacted material. You know what redacted material looks like? It’s black. So, seriously, I have ten pages of all black. Nothing else. As instruction. And I can’t see what I’m supposed to be redacting because, you know, it’s redacted.
Still, I’ve figured it out pretty quickly, and the software is easy too. At least to me. The small and rather damp man to my right continually asks me how to do this and that. I show him just because I poked around a bit and figured it out. The older woman to my left I showed how to click and drag to make the box, and how to adjust it a smidge this way or a smooge that way by using the control and arrow keys. The first day was kind of fun as I learned something new, but the last two have been pretty dry. I entertain myself by making up stories from the information I’m reading. It’s mostly banking info, customer service calls, etc. and all in acronym or codes, but I imagine and translate “Customer not clear and hard to understand. Woman yelling at her in background telling her what to say” into whole lives with details.
At least I have a window in this office and can tell when it’s getting dark. My station faces a window that faces the other wing of the building. Other windows, in other words. Yesterday I watched the patch of blue sky reflected in the window opposite and above me, until it got dark. They sent several people home early as the work began to dry up, but I was told to come in today before I left. This morning I got up and checked my email, as always, then made my way downtown. When I arrived on Broadway a street fair was in progress. I love NY street fairs. I asked a vendor how long they’d be there: until 6! Something to do on my 30-minute break. But once in the office I was told that the project was on pause and I should read my email. I checked, and for whatever reason, I didn’t get an email. So, I was sent home. BUT. There’s the street fair, and this gave me the opportunity to explore that. I bought a Tibetan blanket and a cool ring. Then come home and finally have time to write. I have been writing in my head for days, and I even started carrying a little notebook to jot down things I want to be sure to capture. Something advised for years, but never really utilized. So, I write. And wait for more things to come my way.