Office Space

Yesterday, the day of two interviews and an MRI on my knee, was the second instance of a potential employer expressing high interest in me and then showing me the dismal office that might someday have my name on the door. I don't mean to be this shallow, but so far, these are two jobs where the work, the people, the commute and the pay are not especially compelling, and for an offer to succeed it seems like one of those factors needs to be on target.

In both cases, there's a manager, a team of people that would be my peers, and then a small, windowless, claustrophobic office that would be mine. The peers all have attractive offices with large windows. Yesterday was a particularly glaring case, because the peers are all male, and they have a row of architecturally beautiful offices with oversize windows. I asked to see the office that would be mine. He walked across the hall and tugged at a closed door that used to belong to Julie, the only woman in the group. It was locked, and when the manager unlocked it for me at my request, we stood there together. "So, how did Julie get the only windowless office?" I asked, after a long awkward silence. "Oh, it's not the only one," he said, and smiled earnestly. "Garrett down the hall, he just got hired as Adam's number two guy. He has one just like this."

"But...he reports to Adam, right?" I asked. If I took this position, Adam would be my peer, not my boss. "Right," he said, and looked away.

It's not just the window. I am at a point in my job search where I am ready for a cube, ready for a shared office, I would say yes to having a desk in open space. I don't need my own office and I don't need a window. What I need is to come on board with some sense of equality to a team of peers, no matter how superficial the indicator.

Both of these jobs were focused on creating content for websites, and it looks like they aren't very valued within their own teams. Though the part of me that is always burying her head in her hands when she imagines still being unemployed in three months hates to say it, that's a good way to make me not value a job offer, or a job itself. It's disappointing. And I don't know how I'm supposed to react when these managers show me the workspace. Gratitude? Smiling and nodding? "Looks great"? Yesterday I almost said, "Are you kidding?" I'd come in for a second interview simply assuming that the offices of the peers I'd seen meant that I'd be given a relatively equal workspace. I was so surprised to be so wrong.



The cold medicine caplet slid down my throat. Animal crackers blanded out the bitter taste, and I munched on one after the other and trudged up the road. I bit the head off a rhino as I crossed the busy street at a crosswalk, not trusting my jaywalking skills to hold up to the decongestant effect. On the sidewalk again, hand in the box, a giraffe. I came to a curb and blew my nose. Stepped into the smaller street as an SUV came to stop at my left, waiting for me to cross.

I was in the street. White lines, criss cross, an elephant. I bit off the trunk. I felt the car pull behind me to turn into the bigger street. A high-pitched sound, two-tone, and for a second I didn't know it was brakes. Just terrible noise, so close. Run to the curb, to the safety of the sidewalk. There's that moment in disaster when anything can happen, all the rules are gone, and in my head I see everything as dead, or fragile and in the path of death. The sidewalks aren't safe, the order and structure is just imaginary, and you remember that so suddenly, with a jolt. Anything can happen.

Once my roommate's robe caught on fire while we were making breakfast, and she was still cooking when I saw that her whole back was on fire, her arms and legs. And in that instant, I saw more. I saw the parameters dissolve. In my head, our whole kitchen was on fire. I could see the flames lapping up against the paper maps, the poster of John Cusack, and it was all over. But part of me, the helpful part, stayed calm until we got that robe off and in some water.

On the afternoon of 9/11, some ash-covered witnesses said that they saw terrible things that didn't happen; mothers throwing babies out of windows, and worse. In New Orleans, too, there was this phenomenon: when bad things happen, it's human to see beyond the parameters.

There was that--and I don't want to use a cliche, but I think I have to--that terrible crunch of metal, and then my hands were over my mouth, and the animal crackers were on the ground, and I was waiting for 911 to pick up. It took them 38 seconds. People came out of their houses, all the cars stopped, and that instant after an accident, where everything is so unstable, just disappeared. Things got calm and stable again. The sidewalk was OK. No flying metal, no dying people, not on the sidewalk. But I still had to force myself to walk around to see the other car.

The front half of the car was gone, I realized, as I told the cops to send ambulances. All the airbags inflated. I slowly crossed the street, hand still over my mouth, still terrified, the cell phone hung up now. But other people had run up to the car, braver than me, not dominated by their own fear of blood and death but ready to help. Those people inside had crawled out of their car, thank god, and they were on the sidewalk, staring at the wreckage. It was just a Sunday morning, and I wondered where they were going. Were they doing errands? Visiting someone? Going to work? Had they had an argument that day? Suddenly everything mundane and forgettable about an overcast Sunday would be significant to them now.

The cops arrived and took statements, the old man in the SUV refused to leave his (merely scratched) car and kept his head in his hands. He'd probably made that left hand turn a million times before. But this time, he had to stop for a pedestrian, and when she was across, perhaps he thought, now it's time to pull out.


Cool Parents

Dinner last night. Setting: Pub. Our friends are complaining about their parents. Me: "I wonder what all of our kids will be saying about us someday." Friend 1: "They'll be saying we're the coolest parents ever!" Friend 2: "I don't think anyone thinks that, even though people say it." Me: "My parents actually are pretty cool." Blue: "Her parents are cool."
Me: "In fact, I'm not sure any of us are as cool as my parents."
(All laugh)
Blue, Me, in unison: "No, really."



At the Town Diner, an energized lunch with a writer. In an email last night, I'd asked her to meet me, a stranger connected only by a mutual friend, today. To my surprise, she agreed immediately. "I'm impulsive," she said when we both arrived. "Most people ask to meet 'sometime.' Sometime never happens. You said today."

She suggested the Town Diner over email. "There are lots of artists there," she said. "You'll like it."

In an hour and a half, this writer changed my entire approach to job-hunting. She broadened it. "What makes you happy?"

The same question the Career Doctor asked, and it just made me squirm uncomfortably in the red vinyl booth. I don't know what to say. Babies make me happy. Reading about the media makes me happy. Writing without disruption makes me happy. Riding horses makes me happy. Traveling with my husband makes me happy.

Her friends are all lawyers in their forties who are desperately unhappy. "They're trapped." Again an echo of the Career Doctor. "Most people who come to me are in their forties. And I get a LOTTA lawyers."

The writer was a lawyer for seven years, and then she broke away and became a writer. She's an administrator now, half-time, no writing. The other half of the time, she's writing books and magazines. And she loves it. "You have to do what makes you happy."

We talked about it more. We thought of surprising things that might make me really happy, like helping poor women get health care. "Just don't pick something where you waste your writing energy on work."

And an emotional conversation about the pleasure and deep reward of being a parent.

"Happiness is a funny thing. People think it's going to come from money, but I'm not sure it does."

I went home and immediately took her every suggestion.


Near Misses

Setting: Downtown Boston. A distracted drive home at night. I pull a hard right turn into an empty lane. Horns begin to blare. Headlights are coming toward me, in MY lane. Oh, wait a minute. It's their lane. Their one-way street, in fact. Flash brights furiously. Make a mad u-turn across several lanes of traffic, inconveniencing many, but happy just not to have been in a head-on collision.

The next day, at home. Microwaving butter. A simple act. A little distracted. There was the worried job searching combined with the anxious preparation to visit my in-laws in Chicago. Perhaps, I told myself, oatmeal raisin cookies would make everything happy and smelling of cinnamon. They did eventually.

The butter was Kate's Homemade, which ensconces their sticks in a metal foil wrapper. I'm used to generic butter in waxed paper. All it needed was 10 seconds to soften enough for the red KitchenAid. But there's a reason they say to never microwave metal. Sharp crackles. Shots of light. I ran to open the door. The butter was in flames.


Matching the Face to the Bumper Sticker

Last night I met Maura Hennigan, candidate for Mayor of Boston. "All she has to do is enunciate enough so that people actually understand what she's saying," I told one of her handlers, "and she'll have Menino beat like that." I snapped my fingers to drive home the point. We were all snickering when one of them elbowed me. "His wife is standing right behind you," she said. I finally did get to talk to Angela, and I didn't say anything about her husband's impediment-level Boston accent. In fact, I didn't say much at all of importance, like, that I need a job (though I sure blabbed about that to my peers). Instead, I spoke at length about my current job. I noticed last night that while I'm good at talking to people, I'm not good at selling myself, an intrinsic aspect to the act of networking. That's one of the things the Career Doctor could teach me, for $1500.

It sounds like a lot, but really, what's $1500 when you have the skills to network and negotiate for your entire career? Considering the rate at which I lose jobs, those would be very useful skills.

Thanks for the invite to the MWPC event, Sarah! (Or whomever is dropping in on this blog from the Lee Family Office.) It was really inspiring to meet pro-choice women running for local offices. Although people's faces did fall when they learned I was from Belmont and couldn't vote in Boston. Conversation often turned to the local environment rather than issues---where will the Green Line go, which areas are improving, what events are happening, who owns what, where's the green space, and so on. I suppose I expected more talk about the Democratic party (although this wasn't especially partisan, so why?) or the pro-choice movement, or the gay marriage victory that happened that day. But that stuff gets covered in the news a lot more than our nieghborhoods.

Maura leaned in to tell me about mortgaging her two homes to finance her campaign against corruption, and I wished her luck.


I had a dream last night that I was in the Astrodome in Houston. I saw my face on a monitor and was mildly surprised to learn that I was African-American (which I am not, when I'm not dreaming). I had never thought of myself in racial terms, so in my dream I felt as though I was going through an awakening. I thought back to every relationship I'd ever been in, seeing each one as an interracial relationship for the first time, and pondering the idea that my ex-boyfriends always understood the interracial nature of our union, but I never had. It was me; not a face I was familiar with, but the me that I knew and loved just the same.

I turned down a job offer this week. I think my stomach is still upset from it. It was a university communications position, a very flattering offer, but just not right for me. Either it feels like a big risk or that's the acid reflux talking. And I'm spending the weekend in Chicago, so the whole in-law thing isn't helping ease my tension, unfortunately. Mental note: Buy Tums. I also inherited a great extended family, though, and it'll be great to see them. Blue has the best collection of baby cousins, grandparents and that awesome great aunt. Maybe just a small pack of Tums, then. Not that big bottle.


At the Foundation the other night, where I volunteer, my friend Geneva and I were talking. We talked for two hours, sometimes so intensely that we prompted one gym member who needed help to say to us, "You know, I'm really sorry to interrupt, but..." We're only a few days apart in age, but we've had vastly different experiences, so we have great conversations. She was telling me about the birth of her second child. She was twenty, and had been in the hospital for two days with no contractions after the initial onset of labor. "I had a natural childbirth...BY ACCIDENT," she said. The nurse induced labor, and she was by herself in a room when she started pushing. She pushed the call button. "I'm pushing," she said. "Not yet!" said the nurse. "Well, I am," said Geneva. "Wait till I get in there!" said the nurse. "I'm pushing right now!" yelled my friend.

It took less than an hour after that, and though they missed the window for the epidural, she did have a nurse from Haiti get within six inches from her face to help her through the labor. "BREATHE GIRL," she said to my friend, who enacted this with a powerful gutteral emphasis and a great accent. "BREATHE GIRL."


In a few minutes I'll be off to meet the Career Doctor. I'm serious! She plays one on TV!

I met her in a Starbucks years ago, and have never seen her since. Check it out. I even predicted I would see her again. And now I'm off!


Weekend Away

Laughing, talking, watching stars, watching whales, watching seals, drinking wine, eating seafood, being with good friends, setting up the tent, watching spiders in the bathroom, walking on sand, swimming in the waves, ice cream, taffy, smoking cigars, fireworks, even the seasickness on the boat, not even knowing Rehnquist had died, leaving behind the anger at Bush, worries about money, travel, career inadequacies. What a wonderful weekend on the Cape. It was just good to have a few days to feel happy and lucky. Yes, I did feel it slowly slip away on Monday night, and during a viewing of Hitchcock's "The Wrong Man" of all things (OK, OK already, so no one has control over their life, I get it!). But a little of that deep relaxation lingers.


At a job interview yesterday, my would-be manager and I had a two-hour conversation, rambling about our families, outlooks, values, and what we like and don't like in the office. He spoke slowly, and we left with a smile, I feeling a great sense of peace and as though everything would be OK. The job I was interviewing for was the second in a series of similar positions I'm pursuing, all featuring very clearly defined tasks and simple work. It's university stuff; everyone likes their university job, but I left a university after four years because I didn't want to become an administrator and I craved a space where I could be innovative and make change.

I made change; I did it for three years, at three different jobs, at three different unstable places that could not keep employees. Now, facing my fourth job in four years, I just want to crawl back to the university with my head down. And yet, there's a stubborn paradox emerging in these interviews. I still crave colleagues who project ambition, not complacency; people who like risk, not safety; people who want to think independently and not within processes that have been put in place for them. But unlike some of my friends, I've truly failed at trying to find and keep that. After my dramatic and grateful send-off from the university world three and a half years ago, I'm trying to come back with mixed feelings. I don't want to be bored, but I do want to stay in a job for more than a year. And I want space and time for my writing and my family. I can't think of what else to do.
Very Helpful

MoveOn.org adapted the following timeline from the excellent http://thinkprogress.org/katrina-timeline. It seems so valuable to imprint on everyone just exactly what happened.


Friday, Aug. 26: Gov. Kathleen Blanco declares a state of emergency in Louisiana and requests troop assistance.

Saturday, Aug. 27: Gov. Blanco asks for federal state of emergency. A federal emergency is declared giving federal officials the authority to get involved.

Sunday, Aug. 28: Mayor Ray Nagin orders mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. President Bush warned of Levee failure by National Hurricane Center. National Weather Service predicts area will be "uninhabitable" after Hurricane arrives. First reports of water toppling over the levee appear in local paper.

Monday, Aug. 29: Levee breaches and New Orleans begins to fill with water, Bush travels to Arizona and California to discuss Medicare. FEMA chief finally responds to federal emergency, dispatching employees but giving them two days to arrive on site.

Tuesday, Aug. 30: Mass looting reported, security shortage cited in New Orleans. Pentagon says that local authorities have adequate National Guard units to handle hurricane needs despite governor's earlier request. Bush returns to Crawford for final day of vacation. TV coverage is around-the-clock Hurricane news.

Wednesday, Aug. 31: Tens of thousands trapped in New Orleans including at Convention Center and Superdome in "medieval" conditions. President Bush finally returns to Washington to establish a task force to coordinatefederal response. Local authorities run out of food and water supplies.

Thursday, Sept. 1: New Orleans descends into anarchy. New Orleans Mayor issues a "Desperate SOS" to federal government. Bush claims nobody predicted the breach of the levees despite multiple warnings and his earlier briefing.

Friday, Sept. 2: Karl Rove begins Bush administration campaign to blame state and local officials--despite their repeated requests for help. Bush stages a photo-op--diverting Coast Guard helicopters and crew to act as backdrop for cameras. Levee repair work orchestrated for president's visit and White House press corps.

Saturday, Sept. 3: Bush blames state and local officials. Senior administration official (possibly Rove) caught in a lie claiming Gov. Blanco had not declared a state of emergency or asked for help.

Monday, Sept. 5: New Orleans officials begin to collect their dead.


Politics As Usual

"I don't want to see anybody do anymore goddamn press conferences. "

From the Mayor of New Orleans. Read the transcipt here.

"I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We ain't talking about -- you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here.

I'm like, "You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans."

On and on he points to times when the federal response was focused on correct procedural steps.

WWL: Why couldn't they drop the 3,000-pound sandbags or the containers that they were talking about earlier? Was it an engineering feat that just couldn't be done?

NAGIN: They said it was some pulleys that they had to manufacture. But, you know, in a state of emergency, man, you are creative, you figure out ways to get stuff done.

There's some massive disconnect for this administration about life. They are the ultimate bureaucrats: impotent when it comes to effective strategy, awkward in a crisis, seemingly unbothered by swelling human suffering. Profoundly ineffective, unable to move forward, and unable to take responsibility for failure and chaos.

When the mayor of New Orleans asks, "Did the tsunami victims issue a formal request for help? Did Iraq? Did the Iraqis request that we go in there?" he's really right. Where on earth are the priorities of this administration? I feel sick this week, watching people openly crying in nearly every picture I see. Did Bush see the picture of the dead body floating in the New Orleans river as a woman poured water for a tethered dog? And, God, how my heart aches for all the pets and trapped animals in that city, too. If you can, donate to Noah's Wish.

Al Qaeda chose yesterday to announce responsibility for the London bombings. Just that morning I wondered how they felt about the situation in New Orleans. "Worse than Sept. 11," trumpeted one politician after another. Does Al Qaeda feel left out, overshadowed? Why else would they choose yesterday to pipe up about London? Yesterday, as one of our cities came apart at every seam.



It was raining, and even though plans were to be outside---bikes were strapped to the car and we were driving through the woods---it didn't look like the mossy pavement would dry up anytime soon. We drove into town. A tiny cafe: "The Brunchbox." It was Sunday at 1, a time when our town's diners would have a 45-minute wait. There were four people in the Brunchbox, including the waitress. She welcomed us in. We sat in a worn booth, and took in the specials. Fried clams. We ordered a plate, and a veggie omelet, and split everything while the rain hit the awning outside, while the woods soaked in the storm. The fried clams were hot, not greasy, tender, perfect and beyond delectable. The vegetables were summer produce from someone's garden. Through the window we could see the rain glancing off the car and the tethered bike frames.


This morning I was spurred to fill up the tank after seeing this photo. The gas station down the street was well over $3 a gallon. "Already?" I thought. I cut over to Mt. Auburn. Prices there were about 40 cents lower. I kept going; my old Sunoco station was always the one to beat. Sure enough: $2.84 a gallon. I pulled in. "Where did you go?" said the man filling my tank. "We never see you anymore." "I moved to Belmont," I said, gesturing a few blocks to the North. "Is it better over there?" he asked earnestly. I paused. There were class implications to this question. And a cultural truth: Yes, yes, it's better for me. But this man, like most people in Watertown, is Armenian, and there is obviously a wonderful Armenian community there. But I could never be a part of it, no matter how much Armenian food I bought. "It's just different," I said. "But I love this gas station. I'll keep coming back here." "You better!" he said, laughing.


Last night was the long-awaited illustrious event at our neighborhood high school (the high school that has its own lake): Meet Belmont. Fans but no air conditioning. Lots of sweating, shaking hands. A pile of paper. Huge cookies from White Hen. The Belmont Citizen's Forum. A long table at the back of the room, filled with genteel women from the Parent Teacher Organizations. It was Tom Perotta's Little Children come to life. We added our names to lists: the Bike Path group. The cultural council. The new art gallery. How to Run For Town Council. All the ginger ale you could drink. Social activist groups. Business phone books. We registered to vote. I paused in front of the Belmont Cooperative Preschool table, and we both blushed. Blue elbowed me. "Go on, take one," he said, gesturing to the table of flyers. We stopped in front of the Belmont World Film Festival. "Our last festival was about love....and lust!" said the woman at the table as we fanned our sweating faces with brochures. "Some people thought we went a little far, but I like to shake things up around here." We added our names to the list.