“Is it possible that ambition is just an immune response to mortality?” – From 8 Stops by Deb Margolin, Theatre Artist Extraordinaire
So. Why am I here? And I ask that question in terms of both my locality and my mortality. I have often thought that one of the dichotomies in the makeup of the populations (aka there are TWO sorts of people… posits) are those who are born knowing what they want to do with their lives and drive themselves to follow and those who are not. (I confess to an ingrained habit of dichotomous thinking because born a twin, my childhood was spent in comparison of alike and opposite.)
Early on I knew what I wanted to do in my life, and this sense of purpose led me through college, jobs, cities, etc. My twin dithered through medicine, health, sports, etc., for years and ended up teaching special education. As an adult I have found some people who were directed in their lives to the point they wouldn’t conceive of doing any other sort of work. I find that attitude privileged, as I performed any work I could get because I needed the money. I have held over 60 jobs in my life, so far, counting part-time and full-time positions. My students called me out once because I so often started a sentence “One time I had a job doing….” “How many jobs have you had?” they asked, which made me sit down and list them. That’s why I know the number.
So, the morality part of my question is to my sense of purpose. I need a strong sense of purpose for being here on the planet in this life. The locality part is why am I here, in NYC? I think I’ve started to find more answers to this question.
When I first made this move, all I wanted was appreciation, engagement and money in a job. [Things lacking in my job of the past five years.] I pursued word processing, because I am good at it, and I thought it paid well. And it does, relatively speaking, but not as well as it used to. And the passive aggression is high there. I started really examining what else I enjoyed doing, and a lot of it came down to two things: learning and being appreciated. I have held on to the contract job, even though it pays the least of my three jobs right now, because they appreciate me, and I learn something new about different industries with each project I start. I also like the autonomy, so long as I come in and do the work, they don’t really care what hours I start or finish.
For the past several weeks I have been questioning my ambition. If my purpose is not theatre, then what should I focus on? Breaking down what “brings me joy”, I realized that I like the feeling of using the most of my skills. My brain, creativity, writing, etc. Where I am appreciated, something I can grow in, and something that pays — or will pay — well. And, ta-da! This week I accepted a job as a Technical Writer.
It happened fast. Since taking the weekend graveyard job I continued to look for work to supplement my income. Niaz kept calling with temp jobs, but I turned them down because between the 24-hour weekend WP job, and the contract job I have been working well over 40 hours a week. Also, I am not spontaneous enough to continuously agree to go to a job in the evening on short notice. And then the contract job stopped. It happened suddenly. I thought we were going through the week and on Wednesday we were told to go home once we’d finished what we were working on. The first week that happened I was fine with it because I had meant to ask for a day off on Friday and I was nervous they wouldn’t be pleased. I got called back to work the following Tuesday, thinking it would be for two weeks, but suddenly that job was over on Wednesday again. So, two days of work that week. Then almost an entire week off until this past Friday.
Of course, this is exactly why I took the weekend job in the first place, for stability when this happened. And I had just started thinking that I didn’t need any more than these two positions because I had been settling into a routine. But with routine my sense of purpose started nudging me, and I began to wonder about what I was doing. Did I really move to NYC to work 44+ hours a week and do nothing else except sleep? Is that all there is? (Cue song of same title stuck in the head.)
I began to look for supplemental work that would be more interesting to me. I applied for teaching jobs. Charter schools, private schools, tutoring. I have been applying for technical writing jobs all this time but getting rejected regularly. One Sunday night at the weekend job I redid my technical writing resume and sent out some applications. The next day I got a call. Then an interview on Thursday. Then a second interview the following Wednesday, and a third on Thursday and a job offer on Friday! It happened so fast. But the best part is this company is very enthusiastic about bringing in someone who wants to learn, is re-inventing themselves and is eager to grow with them. Exactly what I moved here to do. The other great part is in making the offer they were enthusiastic about my skills. And most of all, they stress that they want to hire nice people for their team. And intentional niceness has been my goal all year. The interviews were almost fun, in that way where you have the perfect answer for each question because your experience is right. It feels like fate.
I don’t know whether it is just fate, or I finally hit the right organization of words on my resume, or what. I also got a call for an interview for another writing job the same week, but accepted this position before interviewing, so withdrew. I will be sliding out of the weekend job and into the new job over the next two weeks and then we will see what my routine looks like. Hopefully I will have time to start socializing again. [NYC friends, that’s a hint if you’re interested in meeting up let me know.]
I have already started unsubscribing from the myriad of emails I get offering jobs. The easy ones to go are the ones I purposefully signed up for, like Indeed. Just turn off the alerts and already my inbox is less full. But the other, insidious emails that come to both accounts are impossible to turn off. My personal junk email box is full of ten or twenty daily offers – always from men with soap opera names: Brayden, Gavin, Colton, Justin and Blake. Never female names. Always “We have a new opening” in the subject line, but the body only contains “an opening has become available and we would like to invite you to join the team. Your invite is attached, the password is 679621.” Then I’m supposed to click on their link. I’m not clicking any link. I’m not stupid.
I gave notice to the weekend job last Friday a few hours after getting the offer letter. I felt guilty, as I have only been there six weeks, but they were very understanding about taking something better. On my trek to work on Friday, I already felt nostalgic. Saturday nights feel very different from Sunday nights. Walking along 53rd street past the Hilton around 7:30pm I regularly pass a charter bus loading with Emirate Airline flight attendants in matching regalia. Each a perfect costumed doll. In the morning the Gray Line bus tours are already rumbling around the streets with a few tourists up top. I began to fantasize about ways I could do both jobs. Maybe change the schedule somehow? Switch Sunday graveyards with the person who does Fridays? But by Sunday night I felt readier to leave. Sometimes there is no work at all, and I spend 12 hours watching Netflix. Not my thing. Other times there is work, but I mess it up somehow because I don’t know some part of the job and even though I apologize it does not feel good. Plus, I find I am tired through Wednesday, even though I try to catch up on sleep. Even when I wake up feeling rested, I need to sleep by mid-afternoon. Today I fell asleep at 2:00, just for an hour, and woke at 5:30. As much as I like the eccentricity of working odd hours, it doesn’t feel healthy.
The commute home on Sunday mornings can be long. The trains don’t run well at that time. This past Sunday I took the local-running express to 96th street and then prepared to wait 13 minutes for the 1 train to the Bronx. The 96th Street subway platform has wooden benches placed back to back facing either side of the tracks, local and express. As I headed for the local side, I realized a young man about eight feet opposite me was heading for the same seat. We both stopped at once and indicated the other should take it. The express side was empty, so I just waved him to the seat, gave him a thumbs up and sat on the other side preparing to read. A moment later he joined me, introduced himself as Morgan and said he was an extrovert and liked to talk and wanted to talk to someone who was nice. He had a lovely lilt and I asked where he was from. Ireland. A homeless man approached us and we both gave him a dollar. The man then asked if he could sit on the arm of the bench next to me, so I said yes, although he did take up some of my space. I turned towards Morgan, with my back to the man and continued chatting. Suddenly Morgan shouted “Oi, don’t throw your fecking garbage! There’s a bin right there!” He’d seen the man just dropping garbage on the platform. We both regretted our lost dollars for a moment as another homeless man came by begging, but then the 1 arrived. He was headed for 231st street to start his bartending job at Keenan’s. (For some reason my neighborhood has quite a lot of Irish pubs.) He told me it would be his last day, though, as the commute was long, and he was tired of it. I exclaimed that a bar would be open so early on a Sunday morning. “The horses,” he told me, people come to play the ponies.
Since he would be getting off at the stop before mine, I resigned myself to a ride of conversation, and I listened to his stories the whole way. I could only hear every other word over the train noise, but he had a story about a hostel he’d stayed at in Australia, an older stenographer roommate who slept naked and he had to wake her to alert her to an intruder in the house. He chased the intruder but ran into a brick wall. Upon returning the only thing disturber were the legal files she brought home from work. A goon named Ferguson who played hockey. His plans to get married in Ireland after a civil ceremony here in New York. A man who tipped well at the bar because he listened. All in all, it was an entertaining commute. When he left, he offered me a free drink at his bar that evening, but I reminded him I’d be returning to work that evening and he’d be gone after that.
Yesterday I left my contract job and said goodbye to Efrain and Ann, particularly. We exchanged contact information. Facebook. Today was supposed to be my start day at the new job, but they are still in the process of getting things set up, so I am waiting to hear if I start tomorrow. I hope so. Having said goodbye, I don’t want to go back to that work. Awkward.
And I have the little Malfy (the almost elf) voice in my ear, raising anxiety. What if they suddenly call and withdraw the job offer? Just to torture me? It’s not real until I actually go to work, and it almost seems too good to be true. I went through the entire four-interview process without ever seeing anyone in person. All on phone. The last interview was a Zoom (like Skype) call, but my end didn’t work, so they could see me, but I couldn’t see them.
Yesterday a woman asked for money on the train. She stood at the doors, and explained that she had a daughter, and never thought she’d be doing this, but needed help and food. She was relatively well-dressed, and I dug out some money and some dried fruit I had from lunch, but she never left the door. She spoke from one stop to another but didn’t make the walk along the car. There’s a form to these things: the person enters, gives a pitch, and then usually walks the length of the car making some eye contact and accepting money. It’s quite performative and small elements make a difference. A person who yells too angrily turns others off. Sometimes it seems they are there to yell and vent rather than get money. A few weeks ago, a young man in an expensive jacket with the logo of a film camera on the back entered and spoke loudly not just for one stop, but the entire trip from 42nd to 96th. He was lecturing on economics. His jacket looked like something union cameramen wear and I wondered at his purpose. It seemed it was to educate. I tried to give him encouraging eye contact and when he got off another woman about my age approached him and I heard her agree with his politics. I don’t know what he hoped to accomplish, but good for him, for taking it to the streets. So to speak.
Vincent taught me a nice phrase the other day: Qui Vivra Verra. The translation apps give me the idiom “Time will tell” but I like the direct translation better. What he told me, “He who lives will see”. Which to me means, if you live long enough, you’ll see what happens. I know it means the same, but I somehow like it better. So, why am I here? Qui vivra verra, for now.