The Highs, the Lows, the Curtains

Now that I've found a job I actually want, I'm well into the roller coaster portion of the search. Earlier this week they seemed excited and ready to move ahead, and I was estatic; now the only people calling me back in are the other, less interesting jobs. "Feel free to contact me if you don't hear from me next week," breezily writes my preferred would-be manager, breaking my heart a little. "Hey, you're still in the game," says a friend, and she's right, of course. But the game is so tired. And more tired still is the idea that perhaps I still haven't found the right job yet. This week marks two months of intensive looking.

Yesterday I focused on curtains instead, and finished the entry way eyelet set of three.
Two bedrooms:

and the entry way down:

Now I just need to sew curtains for the sunroom, the dining room, and the living room.

Last night we headed to our favorite pet store, where a black pug has been living for months, waiting for someone to buy her. We watched her grow up there, wishing she could spend her puppyhood with a family. Unlike many of the dogs, she so clearly loves people and even prefers them. Last night we saw a Wheaton, but no black pug. "Hey, maybe she found a home!" said Blue. We both smiled hopefully. But then she came trotting in from the fish area in the back, her tongue hanging out of her mouth and her gargantuan eyes looking at us eagerly. I dropped to the floor and she bounded over, planting her paws in my lap and looking up at me with huge, loving eyes. She licked my cheek and I nuzzled her, hugging her tiny shoulders. Then she turned to my husband and stood her stocky little piglet body close to his legs, for some good petting from him. She stayed liked that while she could, hanging out with us in the store, getting hugs from me and pets from him.

We stood for a moment by the angelfish in the back, and I could feel my eyes tearing up at the thought of leaving her in the store. "She just really needs a good home," I said. "I know, but she's a thousand dollars," he said, his arm around me.

A spare thousand dollars is what we definitely don't have, considering that I am out of work and we're spending two weeks in South America in December. And a pug, though I am definitely soft on pugs, is also probably not what we need. I'm on the lookout for a "smart wolfish dog" that can take long walks with us and be observant and kind. The black pug, on the other hand, is a ball of undignified love, a truly heavy breather who sounded sometimes as though she was choking, she was so happy. She's not what anyone might call beautiful. Except that she is.

We're still thinking about it. She might be a good condo dog, the kind that gets plenty of exercise inside. Lately I've found that what I've been adding to my life has only made it that much richer, and I know already that we love her. The store owner likes us and would bargain down with us. I feel torn, interested, worried, overwhelmed, overscheduled and a little in love with her.

In addition to the boxing regimen that's becoming somewhat addictive (I recently found myself wishing I could get into a ring and spar), I'm also going to take a hip hop class tomorrow, and I'll get to drag my little brother since he'll be visiting us. I'm excited; I've been putting it off since August for lack of anyone to take. Blue is already spending a lot of time watching me shadow-box, not to mention squiring me to see Gwen Stefani and the Black-Eyed Peas on Monday night. Is there enough "take" in that equation? We are going to see the Cyclocross in Gloucester tomorrow, but then that's just as much for me and the bro as for my cyclist husband. Maybe he can dance to hip hop with me when there's been just a little more give on my side.


The Hunt

In the middle of a stretch of 6 important, high-profile job interviews in 7 days, I dashed into my dry cleaner's store last Thursday. "I have some kind of dust on my new suit," I panted, "but I need it back by 9 am tomorrow!" The woman gestured at the line of clothes behind her, busily marching into a machine. "Can you change right now?" she asked. "We are cleaning them RIGHT NOW."

"I live down the street!" I yelled, running out the door. "I'll be right back!"

I returned minutes later, suit in hand, clothes thrown on from whatever was on the floor, and still in my nice interview shoes. "Here," I said, "but you can't...that's my only suit, my new suit, and I have a job interview tomorrow morning at ten, and I have nothing else to wear." We looked at each other as a smile crept across her crinkled face. "NOTHING," I repeated.

"It be OK," she responded, in broken Asian English, taking the suit from me. "Hundred-per-cent guarantee."

I smiled for the first time. My interview that morning had been a little tense, a group interview with three people, all sitting back in their chairs, eyeing me, judging me closely, not leaving enough time to really get to know me, and instead I had been talking fast, trying to list everything I needed them to know, trying to make it sound organic and winning but failing for lack of time, I knew, failing, and it was fun job, so close to my house, and I was qualified. I was tired.

Maybe more importantly, the interview the next morning was with a high-powered person manning a high-profile department I badly wanted to work for. He was the reason I bought the suit in the first place, but three wearings later, it was dirty. Or dusty, rather. What was that, that fine powder on the black sleeve, the coat pocket, the $200 pant leg? Makeup?

The dry cleaner wrote out the ticket. In bold red marker the color of blood, she wrote, "9:30 am." I nearly broke into hyperventilation. "9:30?" I asked. "I said 9:00!"

"Oh, OK," she said, quickly changing the 3 to a 0. Then she put down her marker, leaned across the counter, and took my hands in hers.

"Everything be OK," she said, looking into my eyes.

I'm going back to that dry cleaners today, since another three interviews have passed and it needs another round of sprucing up. I feel calmer now, but in a tired way, weary of people leaning back in their chairs, waiting for me to say something winning, memorable. At yesterday's interviews I dug for my most charming anecdotes, scrambled to connect. I felt it showed that I was tired of having to explain myself, prove myself in one hour and do it again an hour later. I'm glad I have a break for a while, if only so that I can get started on all the side projects that I have piling up.

It's not over. I'm in the final round for four jobs, all of them quite different, and there's only one I want. But that one job, I really, really want. I know I'll have to meet with more people should most of these jobs proceed. So the suit will need to get spiffy again, and I'll have to wipe the dust from my eyes, too, clear out my throat, and go in again, looking confident, together, ready to get what I want.


Not Exactly Altruism

Our upstairs neighbor periodically leaves us little gifts, like bottles of wine or fine hardwood charcoal, so we try to reciprocate when we can. I find it's a convenient way to dispose of those "extra" baked goods that sometimes accumulate, like when I make a few too many brownies or pumpkin bread. Still, though, he's notoriously ahead in this game of gift-giving (he took a substantial lead when he began bringing us summer tomatoes from his country garden and leaving them at our door).

The other day I took a stack of homemade chocolate chip walnut cookies, and had the brilliant idea of putting them in a small Ann Taylor bag to hang from his door. I felt very pleased with myself. I knew, of course, he would enjoy the cookies, and yes, that's great, but more importantly, I was inching our side up a notch in the unexpected-generosity wars.

The next morning, as I opened the door to leave, I noticed the same Ann Taylor bag, now positioned in front of our door. Inside was a bottle of fine red wine. No way, man. I had some of the red wine last night; it was delicious, of course. So this afternoon I carefully filled the Ann Taylor bag with miniature pumpkins. We'll see who wins this time, my friend.


The Secret Service: Watching You Through Your Printer?

Does everyone know about this crazy story about spying printers and little yellow dots? It seems to be true, and even seems to have been out for a while, which makes me wonder what on earth is going on, and where have I been, and so on.


Saying the words

I'm really enjoying somebonnie's latest entry, from 10/15. It's a story about having fun buying a coat. One thing she does in this entry is explore cultural differences (well, and connections) via vividly descriptive speech patterns, and they stand out in her blog. Last night a 1990's monologue by Chris Rock on what white people say about Colin Powell ("He speaks so well. He's so well-spoken!") reminded me of an issue I've considered recently at the gym where I work.

The inner-city gym serves a population made up overwhelmingly of underserved African-American women, and I am generally the only white person in there. Being in this wonderful place has reinforced for me that concerns about mortality, parenting, relationships and one's own body basically cross every racial and economic line I can think of. I know I stand out there, but as months pass I have become more able to connect with these women, to really sit down and listen, and learn, and sometimes teach what I know, and even to be trusted.

The one remaining hurdle to just being there, to being a part of the environment without having to stand out, is my speech pattern. I notice that the fantastic front desk staff will turn to me and have a conversation, and then use an entirely different pattern of speech with the gym members. Similarly, the members slightly alter their speech with me. It makes me feel weird mostly because I don't mean to encourage that. I really want people to be themselves. At the same time, there's not much I can do. This is a communication boundary that can't be bridged. It's most evident in the use of "be" as a verb; the staff might say of a male celebrity, colorfully and with lots of passion and brightness, "He be HOT!" whereas that would never sound right from me. Still, I find myself weirdly envious. All the restrictive grammatical rules that govern my communication...I think sometimes they shut me down.

I brought a gym member to my own mostly-white gym, where we are in training together, and she had everyone talking in minutes. This time is was she who stood out, of course, as different, and she had her own issues with that, but she brought in a flavor that was free, open, and involved lots of talking and laughing that never existed in all the moments I've stood around at my gym without her. Of course, as an individual, she brings her own talents as a communicator, but I notice that she just doesn't expect people to stand around in awkward silence, and I think that's derived from cultural expectation. We just don't talk to each other as much, we white women. When the teacher talks, we don't talk back. We just listen, and then quietly, individually, try to do our best.

At the inner-city gym, the dominant cultural expectation is that we will all talk to each other, exchange ideas and experiences, we will be relaxed about communicating and sharing, without a conscious adherence to rules, grammar, tone. I, too, talk and talk, but even when it's painfully obvious that I don't have the right language to fully participate in the exchange, I admire...no, I love...this spirit, expectation, and I learn from it.
The Suit

On Sunday, I bought my first suit. It snuck up on me. There was a snowball of important/second interviews suddenly scheduled for this week, the most exciting one being more formal, and on the phone I began to moan that my tried-and-true turtleneck-&-sportcoat ensemble wasn't going to cut it. "Time for a suit," said my friend Jen. I hung up and went straight to Ann Taylor, where I bought their most expensive black suit. Yesterday, I wore it to an interview. It made me feel very confident, even though it cost about half of my unemployment check. I should have bought it long ago.

For the last five or six weeks, I've averaged 4-5 interviews a week, with a ratio of 50% being informational interviews. But this week, all four interviews are job interviews, two of them very competitive and promising. It's very exciting. I've also found that the pay that's being referred to in my interviews has increased by about $30k over the course of the last three weeks. Maybe I've become far more selective, or even aggressive, but it feels like more like an accidental evolution. I'm still looking at the same small pool of universities and organizations.

The biggest lesson I've learned from all this job searching (besides the one profound surprise, as in, it matters not what the content is, but INSTEAD: is the work challenging? do you like your coworkers? does your boss respect you?) is that the best way to find a job (and again, no job yet) is to say yes to everything.

There's a tech gathering you don't feel like attending? Attend it.

There's a boring job that invites you in? Take them up on their invitation.

Someone suggests---just casually in passing---that you might want to talk to someone else. Write to that someone else, mention you were referred by the first person, and that you'd like to talk to them, tomorrow or the next day, as soon as possible.

What do you say when they agree and you both sit down and look at each other for the first time?

Thank them profusely for their time, and then ask: do you like your job? why? what do you think of my resume? do you think I could do your job? do you like your life? why? what do you eventually want to do? can I run jobs by you to see if you know anyone there? And finally, is there anyone you think I should talk to?

The next day, never fail to thank them. After all, the best jobs never get advertised, and just by meeting you, those people have given you an "in" to some of those best jobs. Not to mention the fine, gradual art of making you into a better interviewer.

Though I dream of the day that I'm free from the need to sell myself on a daily basis, I have resolved to continue building these sort of connections once I'm employed. Not as frequently, perhaps, but continuously, being open as possible, saying yes more than usual. Not only is it interesting, but it gives you a chance to keep your career in check, constantly assessed, well-considered, ultimately dynamic.



Again, today is not a good day for posting, with the day cluttered with interviews, errands, feeling excited about certain second-interviews, and learning how to teach a boxing class at an inner-city gym (seriously! me!). But it's a rare day that I can't make time to enjoy the spare ideas and sentences found as I troll the Web.

"People say 'come hell or high water,' but both came for us," Judge Calvin Johnson, the senior judge on the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, said in an interview.

"I'VE been worrying about God a little bit lately. It seems as if he's been lashing out, you know, destroying cities, annihilating places. It seems like he's been in a bad mood. And I think it has to do with the quality of lovers he's been getting. If you look at the people who love God now, you know, if I was God, I'd need to destroy something" — Salman Rushdie on "Real Time with Bill Maher"

It's hard to tell, and harder to care, as Mr. Bloom distinguishes himself, in this performance as in most of his others, by his steadfast reluctance to explore his range as an actor.


Not your usual entry

I don't have time to post today, so I'm posting what I wrote instead: a short bit for our Foundation newsletter about a very strong, smart, courageous volunteer.

Five years ago Ann [last name redacted for Web publishing reasons] approached the front desk of the Cambridge HW club for the first time. She picked up an application, suddenly felt intimidated, turned around and left. "I get very easily intimidated by starting things like that," she says now. It was two years before she returned to the gym, and this time the front desk staff wasn't going to let her leave. "I know if you leave, you're not coming back," said the member liaison. She stayed.

"When I was growing up, gyms were never a part of our life," says Ann. "We exercised by hiking or being outdoors. A gym felt like a luxury. I thought you had to be fit before ever going in the door. It sounds crazy, but it's what I thought."

Ann had experienced a pregnancy loss, and she badly wanted to transform her post-partum body. "I was completely out of shape," she says. "HW really helped me get my body and my mind back together."

In fact, the HW gyms may serve this role for many women. "For many of the women who go to HW, pregnancy is a major motivating factor," she says. "And [addressing] those post-partum issues. I can really identify with wanting to focus on abdominals and core strength."

Once she began working with a trainer, she began to feel more comfortable in the gym, especially benefiting from the woman-only environment. "I like having a space where it's all women. It's wonderful to have a place to go where you don't have to feel self-conscious in any way, in classes or in training. You don't feel like you need to compare yourself to other people quite so much."

She slowly developed an enthusiasm for the wide range of classes. There was a familiar sense of intimidation at first, she says. "It took me a long time to join classes." But now she's an enthusiastic participant. "Spinning is especially great for working off frustration." She laughs. "And, for getting a different kind of intensity and workout. Mat pilates is also great."

After three years of membership at the Cambridge club, Ann decided to investigate becoming a HW Foundation wellness coach. "I'd always seen the ads and read the newsletter. I know how much I've gotten out of being a member and feeling fitter."

Last spring, she realized that no certification is required to volunteer. She called Keyona [redacted], club coordinator, and visited the non-profit gym in Dorchester to receive training to coach the members of the Foundation. She began to work one-on-one with the members as they focused on achieving their wellness goals.

It was then that Ann's old feeling of intimidation about the gym became a powerful tool to connect with others. "I feel like that's another way I can identify with people and their triggers for not going to the gym."

And she also connected with women who wanted to strengthen and tone their post-partum bodies. The women who come to the non-profit gym share many of the same wellness goals and issues as those at the for-profit gyms, and yet often live in shelters or other environments in which significant energy is required just to accomplish daily tasks. Nonetheless, they are committed to learning more about their bodies and their health, and volunteers like Ann are there to help them along the way.

"It's really rewarding to impart any knowledge I have about health, wellness and nutrition to the Foundation members," she says. "They are so appreciative of any information you have to give them. I get so much out of working one-on-one and learning about their barriers to coming to the gym, their goals, and learning more about their lives, and figuring out together how exercise and wellness can work for them. Some of them are so motivated. It's amazing and impressive."

Those hurdles to getting to the gym can sometimes seem insurmountable without someone else's encouragement. "I just feel like there's such an enthusiasm that people have for getting started, and the goal for me is helping them stay that way."

Ann's work at the Foundation is supporting her burgeoning interests as she takes time to reorient her career in public health. "I'm thinking about furthering my education in nutrition. The volunteer experience is a good way to try some of this on. It's helped me to see that you really can't separate nutrition, exercise and general health."

Being a volunteer at the Foundation has also deepened her understanding of HW as a dynamic, enriching organization. "It's a wonderful vision that Kim [redacted] has, and it makes so much sense. The way it's attached to HW is a good thing also; I don't know if enough people know that a small percentage of their dues go to supporting the nonprofit gym. It is just another added benefit to being a club member of HW."


Entries Like Buckshot

Lately I've been running a lot in heels. By "heels" I mean that my heels are slightly elevated by ergonomic, futurist contraptions from Jasmine Sola, but those are heels to me. By "run" I mean a light jog, often clutching a purse, a backpack, a portfolio, and keys or bus fare, trying not to wrinkle my H&M blazer or muss my little-used makeup. Inevitably my run is brought short by me grabbing a passing stranger, trying to catch my breath, and asking almost indecipherably for directions. As a result, many strangers have watched me run, occasionally one way and then back the other way a good five minutes later. They've answered my questions, and sometimes performed generous acts of kindness, as one woman did today as I shot down my street at top speed while she held the bus door open for me for a solid two minutes.

It's just a consequence of being perpetually overbooked and over-interviewed. Yesterday I called a man from my car, sweat running down my forehead, as I swerved through a construction zone. "You know," I said, "if this interview were in Medford Center, I would have been on time." He paused. I was testing him. His patience, his sense of humor. "But you're in Malden, which, it turns out," I continued, "is a different town altogether."

"Ah, you're a mere ten minutes away," he said, laughing, thank god. "I'm closer than that," I said, flooring it as schoolchildren leaped for the curb.

Not ten minutes ago, I spoke to this same man again. He was very nearly offering me the job, a contractor position for the state, and I was doing something I never do: turning down an exciting possibility before I even had an offer. It's so confusing. There are so many out-of-pocket expenses for a position where I'd be required to drive to Malden everyday. I'd actually have to pay $4,000 just to hire someone to *pay me*. I feel like those kinds of restrictions should mean that I have total flexibility. If you don't have the right to a maternity leave, then you shouldn't have to punch someone else's clock.

One thing I've learned is how many different work situations people create and accept. Having just left a job that was essentially a dream come true, I understand how good it can get. I also place an emphasis--too much?--on environment. Yesterday I met a group of people sitting in a basement. They'd hung portholes over their desks featuring images of tropical destinations. I complimented them on their gorgeous view. And I really did like it, and their spirit. Their manager confessed to me that life can get very hard without benefits, especially, he said, when you have a kid. "Do you have any kids?" he asked. No, I said. "Oh, OK, then," he continued. Quietly, I knew I had my answer.

Wanting a family has profoundly reshaped how I jobhunt. Now I sniff for clues I never even knew were there. A university downtown is thinking of making me an offer. I don't like the commute (among many other factors). After my second interview with them, I waited for the elevator to the parking garage. A beautiful young woman waited with me, talking into her cell phone. "Oh, no, really?" Her voice was strained. "She what? She just cries? Oh gosh. Would you mind giving her another bottle?" The anxiety in her voice struck me. "Well, I'll be home soon," she continued. "I'll be home in about 40 minutes--" here she glanced at her watch. It was 6pm. "Oh god," she said, almost tearful. "It'll almost be her bedtime."

That was fate, I thought, as the elevator door opened. I don't want to work too far away from home, if I have the option not to. She closed her phone as we stepped inside, and I caught her eye and we smiled, sharing a moment as she eased her worry aside.

Frenetic job interviewing is also an exercise in the variety of agenda-ed discourse. Over the course of the last 30 hours, I've had three interviews, all radically different. Each personality must be matched and accomodated. What to do with the person who just talks alot and never wants to put you on the spot? I think to get a job, you have to be on the spot. In those cases, I must break in and put myself on the spot. What to say to a pessimistic HR person who wants you to believe you can't get hired? You must be upbeat. You must say something memorable. You must believe you can get something out of the situation. What about when a person wants to talk about everything except what you expect? Yesterday a man wanted me to talk about my children's book manuscripts. I wasn't prepared. It was off the cuff, but minus the easy confidence and jokes I usually intertwine with my personal narrative. Later he asked me to send them to him, and now that's the job I want, the job where the person wants to know what I really love. Without meeting him, without seeing the workspace, I'm ready to join, even if it's lower pay. I didn't say as much, but I wrote him an email tinged with an honest, quiet, painfully vulnerable hope.

It's really happening: Our tickets to the Amazon Basin are secured for a Christmas sojourn. We fly into Lima and then we'll be off, I imagine to Manu via the Andes. Manu has more biodiversity than any place on Earth, if I understand correctly, and being married to a biologist, I think it's a non-negotiable when it comes to destinations during our almost-two-weeks in Peru. Pouring over field guides this morning, I was delighted by the photos of many things (the fabrics, the food, the ruggedness, the animals), and I feel fondly about the prices, as well. Lodging is considered expensive when it gets to $33, and meals above $12 are pretty rare and fancy.

I've never been south of the equator. Summer there is from January to March, the wet season. It'll be spring in December, and though some of the roads wash out in the jungle, I'm ready for the mud. And the macaws, cougars, mountains, wildflowers, people living so far away.


Meet My Friend Madonna

Madonna was pregnant with her third child, and I helped her (and her lost entourage) find the hospital. In my dream last night, that is. She was gracious, welcoming, familiarly gap-toothed and with steady eye contact, and she laughingly invited me into the car. The young professionals with her were very cool to me, but needed my help. After I saw her to her room, I wanted to stick around, but once we were clear of the doors, the entourage made it clear, coolly, that I would not be getting clearance to return. Dejected, I decided to lie down and sleep in one of the beds in the hallway outside Madonna's hospital room. She wandered out that night, pregnant and lonely, and fell asleep next to me. The next morning, her entourage returned. "Madge," I said, because that's what you call her, when you're her friend, "I don't have clearance to get into your room." She reached for some paper and wrote a note that I was to carry with me. I felt a true closeness to her, and a surprising loyalty.

That evening her entourage and I walked through her hospital. It was half avant-garde museum, half functioning hospital. Sometimes staircases were too thin to use, simply for the art of it. Sometimes strange contraptions from an earlier medical era hung from the ceiling. I stopped to admire these strange things. As we approached her room, I saw more and more celebrities. I'd already caught a glimpse of Roseanne Barr waving from a car window, and now there was the entire cast of Sex & the City, walking down the staircase. And...why, it was Debra Messing, from Will & Grace, drinking a glass of wine in the hallway and laughing.

We turned into her room, and I was breathless. There sat pregnant Madonna, with Guy Ritchie at her side, Rocco and Lola at their feet, all laughing, a few people milling around, a smorgasboard of hor'dourves on one side. Madge was holding someone else's baby. "Look, Cedar," she said, smiling and holding him in front of her. "I could have a baby that is THIS cute." Did the baby have gray hair?

Then I woke up to an early alarm, and though I badly wanted to return to the room, I could not fall back asleep. I felt warmed by the joyous comfort of Madge's life, and as if I'd truly connected with her in my dream. An odd thing, since I haven't given the celebrity Madonna a conscious thought in quite some time. But it's true that during that day, in real life, I'd been honored to be supported and vouched for by the two most powerfully magnetic personalities I've ever come across in my life. These two people, totally unrelated and in different worlds, both have wonderful, strong effects on other lives, mine especially, and yet are often surrounded by cold people who fend me off. I suppose we all know a Madonna.

As I went about my day today, I was struck by a strange and relaxed familiarity when two pictures of Madonna jumped out at me from magazines. Later in the afternoon, while sitting in my hairstylist's chair, a man walked up holding a video in his hand. It was Madonna's tour documentary, "Truth or Dare," which, to be honest, I did see three times in the theater. When it came out. Quite a while ago.

"Woah," I said. "Is that your movie?"
"Yeah. He's just returning it," she said, from behind me.
"I had a dream about Madge last night," I said, and gave her a synopsis.
"It's so strange you should say that," she said, spinning me around in her chair to face her, as she sometimes does. Sometimes she stops cutting, scissors in hand, makes eye contact, and tells me a story. "We know someone who knows her---stay with me, it's my cousin Bobby's brother-in-law's sister's cousin's neighbor Darrell---he used to be her macrobiotic cook, and he might be able to get me backstage passes so I can meet her when she goes on tour."
"No way."
"Way." She went back to cutting.
"When is she going on tour?" I asked.
"Next year. And there's no way I'm missing it."
"Me either!" I said, and meant it. We're friends now, after all, Madge and I.

Then I confessed I was spending Halloween at the Gwen Stefani concert instead of handing out candy to children. "Oh, awesome!" she said. And the Black-Eyed Peas are opening.