guilt prone employees

Recently, this Scientific American article popped up in my FB feed about mistakes employers are making in hiring. Something about how the current model of relying on a combination of interview performance, length of resume, and whether or not a candidate has ever been fired is, according to research, going about things all wrong.

Then the blurb ended and I needed to pay to read more.

Anyway, I curiously went off to research the issue, because damn, do I perform poorly in interviews! And, as it turns out, the best employees rate high in conscientiousness and are guilt-prone, which is different from having a guilt complex. Basically,

“Guilt-prone people … are simply those with a tendency to be over-sensitive to the opinions of others combined with an over-active sense of responsibility toward others. Conscientious, guilt-prone people believe any poor outcome in work or life reflects on themselves alone, even when others are involved; perfectionists, they believe they can do better… always. They are the kind who undersell themselves on a job interview rather than oversell and disappoint.” — How to Be SuccessfulMedicalDaily

So the exact same personality traits that make me such a good employee are the ones that make me such a shitty interviewee.

I have a deeply internalized need to be 10-15 minutes early (or I’m actually late, goddamnit), which means I’ve developed excellent time management skills and am always on time; but that also translates into intense anxiety and a tendency to blame myself when the schedule goes off track or I failed to anticipate wrenches thrown by other people.

I have an intense internal drive to complete projects to my satisfaction, even if it means I stay a few minutes after my class/ study session/ shift has ended; but this almost compulsive perfectionism has also seen me skipping meals, neglecting my mental/ physical/ emotional health, and ignoring my family in pursuit of my goal. This is, by the way, why I chose not to go to law school: Becoming a lawyer (especially a public defender) sounds fascinating and amazing and challenging and incredibly fulfilling. Also, it would be upwards of 60-70 hours of work a week, and something would have to give. Statistically, that would be my family. Maybe once my son is grown.

When I am working as a member of a team or group, whether its in a classroom or office, I feel a strong sense of responsibility toward my peers and assisting the “team,” which is actually problematic because I have a tendency to say, “yes,” or, “sure,” without hesitation when my assistance is requested, regardless of my workload, and I’ve actually had to start learning to set boundaries and accept that, “No,” is an acceptable response.

But all those traits–that need to be early, and the perfectionist drive to complete a project, and the impulse to help others (a rising tide lifts all boats!)–arise from the same places in my personality that my self-deprecating mockery, cynicism, and inclination to tear myself down comes from. I’m always telling my friends not to expect too much from me, because I’m the laziest person they’ll ever meet. Inevitably, I get an arched, disbelieving eyebrow and amused denials in response, but they’re not getting it.

I really am, I promise–the only reason anyone might think otherwise is because I said I was lazy from the outset, which set the bar so low, that anything I do above that expectation ends up looking amazing.

But you can’t set the bar low at an interview. It doesn’t work like that. At an interview, you’re expected to set the bar really high, then launch over it, and that’s a problem for me. Interviews are sales pitches, with the product being yourself, and I am just not a salesperson. I can’t help but point out the flaws.

I have barely learned to accept a compliment; shifting uncomfortably in my seat and offering a quiet, “Thanks,” with a tight smile. How am I supposed to, “sell myself,” an endeavour that necessitates not just talking about my skills and assets, but pumping them up–explaining why I am somehow smarter, better, preferable than all the other candidates of similar education and background. Seriously?

I’m an anxious perfectionist terrified of failing others’ expectations, and I’m supposed to go into a room of strangers and brag about myself for an hour? Ha. There is no way this situation could possibly end well, and guess what? It doesn’t. One of two things inevitably occurs:

  • One: I undersell myself, and that in tandem with my scant work history causes the interviewer (rationally) to conclude I’m completely unqualified to handle even the most basic secretarial/ office/ filing position, so I’m dismissed from the running.
  • Two: I try to “fake it til I make it,” and put on a facade of confidence, but it feels unnatural and I’m pretty sure I just come off looking like a braggy and insecure overconfident bitch, because that’s sure how I feel. I also feel miserable and slimy when I try to do this, which makes me feel sick to my stomach and sweaty. I find myself gauging the interviewers’ expressions and body positioning; talking faster and faster as frantic terror seeps through me and I’m suffused with the sickening certainty that everyone knows what a fraud I am; that I have been exposed as the weak failure of a candidate I am instead of the confident professional I’m trying to imitate. I panic, and before you know it, I blurt and babble–oversharing and apologizing. It is a mess.

So, first, I do not understand how anyone aces interviews, ever; and second, I would totally crack under interrogation. No need for torture, just, like, a steady stare and a few minutes of silence, and I’d be a babbling mess unlocked by my own neuroses.

But the feedback from professors/ classmates/ friends/ etc is that I’m intelligent, and my performance evaluations would always say something about how my ability to exceed the expectations I set for myself. I was praised by my peers and professors for my teamwork, willingness to assist others, and the quality of my research and work. When I read my student evaluations, or ask my husband and HR-employee friends to assess them as though they’re employee performances, the consistent response is, “I’d hire this person. They’re hard-working, a team-player, and they accept feedback.”

Now, I admit its possible they’re just humoring me; trying to comfort the girl who can’t get a job. But damn–honestly I feel like I’m just shooting myself in the foot with interviews, and all this research is just bringing the issue into sharper focus. Now it feels like, okay, so it sounds like according to research, I am actually a pretty ideal employee … but it doesn’t matter because there’s just no way to get a job without going through an interview.

I wish that all jobs had a, like, apprenticeship interview option. A working interview, I guess–something where I could go in and just work for a day or two, or a week, and they could see how I perform and adjust. Like, they could provide a low-level project and be like, “Complete this objective by X time,” and release the candidate to see how they perform.

Who do they approach with questions? What do they do, immersed in an unfamiliar environment and given a task to complete? How do they handle/ adjust to the unfamiliar computer system in the office?

See, that I could actually do.

But to go into a room full of strangers and convince them I’m awesome? Nah.

the incompetence of me

I thought I would be less busy after school started, but alas, that has not the case. Its sort of my own fault, to be honest. I applied for a bunch of jobs in August and early September, and have been dealing with the repercussions (interviews) of those applications since. This should be good and exciting, but I’m ambivalent at best.

The thing is, I don’t even know if I want a regular job? Or if I’m just doing it because I feel like I should; like freelancing and writing while be a sahm isn’t “good enough.” Ergh. Like, expectations vs. reality.

So, expectations

Basically, I had a few social interactions this summer which were… mostly enjoyable, but left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I found myself thinking, I’d be taken more seriously/ respected as productive adult woman and contributing member of society/ my feminism not questioned at all if I just had a job, in the wake of each interaction, and in the hours/ days/ weeks which followed, I kinda felt like a shitty loser. The cumulative effect of it all, along with the general un-productiveness of trying to write during the summer months when everyone in the fam is home most of the day, was that by the end of summer I had this sense of being nothing but a waste of potential and/or space, not to mention someone betraying my education and misrepresenting feminism, and all these were definitely among the prime motivating factors to my end-of-summer spurt of employment applications to Real Office Jobs.

I. Gathering the first: Brunch in the City

Fun people, delicious food, and sightseeing—what more could you ask? For me, a bit of warning about changes in plans would have been nice. The basic plan was that I was meeting up with someone (“it’s Pat!”) I hadn’t seen in a while for a day-long visit. Because it was just us two, nothing fancy, I didn’t bother dressing up. No makeup, and just jeans, boots, and a black ribbed tank top. About 15 minutes out from their place, Pat shot me a text with this restaurant address a few miles back, saying to meet them there. I arrived late, and everyone else was seated.

Everyone else?

Yeah. Pat brought friends. Three people I’d never met—a guy and two gals. The women were flawless—gorgeously long, curling hair and makeup on-point, with very stylish outfits. And I was seriously undressed for the restaurant, a French bistro. So, right off the bat, it was like ack, panic attack, right? Kind of thrown and feeling off kilter/ out of place.  All awkward and gawky, surrounded by beautiful people.

But whatever, it happens. Roll with the punches.

Pat introduces me around, and as the conversation starts, my self-consciousness faded a bit. They seemed like lovely people, very personable and engaging. There was a bit of a hiccup early on when one of the women tried translate my menu for me, which was weird on two levels. One, because she assumed I wasn’t capable of comprehending enough French to read a menu, and (yeah, I’m not fluent in French, but I can actually read it well enough for menus, maps, and road signs), and two (more importantly), the menu actually had English translations? So, what … she thought I just couldn’t … read?

They were also a bit odd about the food–like, they seemed to think I hadn’t had French food before? And I’m not talking escargot or Jambon persillé or anything even vaguely exotic, I’m talking croissants and omelettes here. Right after I took a bite of my croissant, I looked up to see one of the gals watching me, and I sort of raised my eyebrows, like, yes? And she asked, “What do you think?” in this just fascinated tone that kind of threw me off. I sort of paused, looked at the pastry, looked at her, and replied, “It’s a good croissant?”

“Yes,” she said intensely. “But it’s a real croissant. Made fresh in their kitchen. Here—I like to have them with a bit of jam.” She proceeded to show me how to put jam and butter on my croissant, as though it was the first time in my 36 years of life that I’d had fresh croissants with jam and butter, and I was unfamiliar with the procedure.

Okay…

But. Oddities like that aside, it was generally a nice meal. Good food. As always, the question of what-do-you-do came up during conversation. I said was a stay-at-home, and the unexpected attendees said, “Oh! Pat said you were a writer!”

“Yes, I am,” I said, though I kind of wished Pat hadn’t said anything. I’m familiar with the follow-up questions, assumptions, and unspoken baggage that accompany my response. Before I can change the subject, someone cast it out: “So, what have you written? Where are you published?”

“Actually, I’m still unpublished,” I said. “I’m working on a book at the moment.”

I knew the look on their faces as they made polite noises and ask questions about manuscript they don’t ever expect to see the light of day. I’ve seen it before. Unpublished. Dilettante. Amateur. The guy asks if I’ve considered self-publishing, and I explain that I’m not averse to it, but after weighing the pros and cons of both, I’ve decided to try–initially–for trade. One by one, they recount success stories of self-publishing which they’ve read, or heard second-hand through a friend of a friend, and explain how easy it is. Someone asks me if I’ve heard of Amazon Prime–did I know I can sell books through their program? I smile and nod politely, as though this is all new information to me.

This is why I do not like to tell people I am a writer, or working on a book.

I don’t blame them, mind you. They’re trying to show interest, and, as successful businesspersons, offer advice. And there are two types of writers: Published and unpublished. We may all identify as writers, but until the validation of publication, that self-identification is as useful to the average Joe as saying I am a great singer, or a great dancer (neither of those are true, by the way). Art is subjective, and publication–whether self or trade–appears to offer an objective measure of worth via income–what people are willing to pay for my work.

Ironically, I am actually kind of published–in the sense I’ve been paid for my writing, anyway. Sometimes, for a quick buck, I skim freelance writing sites and pick up a reasonably high-paying job, like the articles that pay $11-$13 for word counts between 500 and 800. I can easily write that 45 minutes to an hour with minimal edits. Do three of those for one week, and that’s $200. Its published writing I was paid for, but its also nothing I can point to as proof of being a writer, since I sold the copy sans byline.

Finally, that line of conversation fizzled out, and they asked what I thought of the big city. This “big city” is about 3 hours away from my hometown, and I visit it a few times a year–as I have every year of my life. I said something about how its a nice place to visit, but I’m never fond of the traffic. They react with surprise: “Oh! You’ve been before? It’s a big city for you, isn’t it?”

Another strange assumption which tripped me up momentarily, and left me temporarily tongue tied. I made a non-committal, polite noise–I live within an hour of another large coastal city, and could probably have moved to one of the two cities at some point in my life if I liked cities, but I don’t. It seems a rude thing to say, though, to people who choose to live in the city. I tried changing the topic by mentioning a tidbit of interesting historical trivia about their traffic zoning laws. It works, and they responded with interest, asking how I learned that. I explained I came across the information while researching an academic paper, and run smack into another surprise when one of them expresses sympathy that I couldn’t finish my degree.

I looked at Pat, baffled. I was kind of wondering exactly what these people had been told– why did they seem to think I was a college dropout who’d never been to a big city or eaten French food?

I explained I had a BA from Evergreen, but they don’t recognize the college, even though its reasonably nearby and has some famous local alumni. I tried describing it–kind of a hippieish, eco-friendly, liberal arts college–and they actually began to name off similar colleges–Was it Berkeley, they ask? Pomona? The one Steve Jobs went to—Reed?–apparently under the impression I’d given a nickname? Like I didn’t know the name of my own alma mater? I was like, um, No. It was Evergreen State College. I went to Evergreen.

They shake their heads, dismissing this school they do not know, and the conversation turns to local rising housing costs. It turns out, they’re are all transplants from LA, which actually explains a lot about their unfamiliarity with the area. I’m told how lucky I am that rising housing costs aren’t a problem for me.

Eyebrow raise. Hmm. Actually, I explained, housing costs have been rising in my state as well, especially in the city an hour north of me, which has been experiencing a massive tech and hiring boom. The resultant high cost of housing has caused a displacement and an outward ripple of effect felt even in my town. I relate an anecdote about a friend whose rent for a 2 bedroom duplex rose $300 in four years, from $800 to $1,100.

They smiled and exchanged looks across the table. Maybe I’m imagining things, but I swear they’re amused. The gal holding Pat’s hand explains, her tone gently condescending, that last year their condo was only $1750 a month, and this year its doubled. This city, I needed to understand, is the new LA.

I felt small and stupid for talking about a $300 increase in rent when they’re paying $3500 in monthly housing costs.

Privately, I also kind of felt like $3500 in monthly housing costs is sheer idiocy and their own damn fault for prioritizing this lifestyle and looking down on anyone who chose not to pursue it. But that also felt like a judgmental/ mean way to think, so I tried not to dwell on it. We finished our meal, and Pat suggested we visit a large outdoor Farmer’s Market hosted in the city. While we walked around browsing the stalls, the conversation ranged through a variety of topics. Mostly from how I knew Pat to what I thought about the big city/ my reactions to the Farmer’s Market, to workplace issues such as salary negotiation and workplace sexism.

On the first two topics, there wasn’t much to say–I didn’t know how much of our shared history Pat was comfortable with me talking about, seeing as they repeatedly expressed surprise Pat even knew me. And I’d lost my patience with their whole shtick of acting like the “big city” was an exotic experience for me a while back and long since abandoned any polite rebuffs or pretenses at ignoring their questions. Instead, I settled on either not-so-veiled reminders that this wasn’t my first visit to the city, or unflattering comparisons to Seattle, which I prefer.

I knew I was starting to get snippish, but at that point it’d been several hours and I hadn’t spent any time with just Pat (as planned). I was worn thin and exhausted by a full day of socializing, and the effort of answering the same questions over and over left me feeling scraped raw and exposed. I just wanted to go home.

On the workplace topic, there was no point in contributing. I did try, out of politeness, but my only touchstones/ references were current readings, my undergrad education in labor law history, and previous employment experiences. The two attempts to engage were met with a blank stare, and a patient explanation that I didn’t really get the nuances of this particular company, and normal laws/ policies didn’t really apply because reasons. After that, whenever the conversation trended toward their various workplace issues, I’d just awkwardly pretend to examine knick-knacks in the stalls. Like, oh, these chunky wooden necklaces are just amazing.

Later, on the drive home, it dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t anything Pat said. Maybe it was the way I was dressed–the jeans and scrubby tank top; the lack of makeup. Maybe that, plus being transplants from LA and generally unfamiliar with the area (and towns) meant that when I said I was a stay-at-home mom, they assumed I must be a poor, uneducated country girl from a small town, and assumed I was trapped in my hometown, lacking an education or any opportunity to travel.

A slow burn of humiliation crawled over my skin, and I thought, If I had a real job, like Legal Assistant or Paralegal, or Office Assistant, at a place with Department of Something or Other, or Firm of So and So, then it wouldn’t matter what I was wearing. They wouldn’t assume I was stupid, because I’d be employed, and that’s shorthand for value and purpose. Stay at home mom is just unemployed—not valuable.

Tears stung at my eyes, even though I knew it was stupid to be upset. Even though I knew I’d never see those people again.

II. Gathering the second: A book club

I invited a friend—a former professor—to a book club at a local wine bar. It’s an enjoyable event that I attend regularly. We go, my friend is a hit because she’s amazing. Everyone loves her.

During the actual book club session, while reviewing books, I make a reference to some legal/ historical trivia that’s related to one of the books reviewed. This is not uncommon for me. It’s also a behavior my friend is very familiar with from when I was in her class, and we kind of riffed off each other for a bit—she does it too. What is uncommon is that one of the attendees—“Maura”– followed the reference by teasing another book club member (“Terry”) with a joke about warning them they were going to be surrounded by legal-types if they came. Maura then stated the room was “filled” with lawyers, and I realized with some discomfort she assumed I was a lawyer or otherwise employed in the legal field. I consider correcting the record, but decide not to bother—the joke wasn’t addressed to me, and perhaps I misinterpreted it. Besides, the conversation had already moved on, and it would be awkward and pedantic.

In the conversation afterward, Maura asked which firm I worked at. I told her I was not a lawyer. “Oh! So you’re in law school, then? Where are you going?”

“No,” I said with an awkward laugh. “Not law school, either. Just a nerd.”

“But she could have gone to law school,” interjected my former professor, in a tone that indicated I had rejected law school, rather than the other way around, as she directed as smile in my direction. It made me feel better; like I had an ally. I smiled gratefully at her, and Maura—perhaps sensing this was a line of questioning best dropped—suggested a list of books she thought I would enjoy.

Somehow we got to discussing The Feminine Mystique (I’ve only read the first few chapters; not super relevant to my life), and Maura said, “I thank god for our mothers, giving us the example they did. Can you imagine? If they hadn’t left the shackles of the home behind and marched into the workforce, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we enjoy today—we might be stuck at home, doing god-knows-what. Thank god for them, right? Thank god for our mothers, who were brave enough to stand up and say, no more.”

I mumbled something non-committal in response, thinking of my own wonderful, college-educated mother who left her position on the staff of the Idaho state Senator to marry my dad and be a stay at home mom to five children. In a fair world, my mom would have been recompensed for the labor she performed, but we do not live in a fair world. We live in a nation which pays lip service to the value of stay-at-home mothers, but devalues them in every material way.

There are no tax benefits for a stay-at-home partner. No basic income for adults who manage the household. No respect associated the work. Mom worked hard for over 30 years managing a household, a daunting task with or without children. Add children into the mix, and yeah. No wonder rich people hire maids and nannies and cooks. No wonder those who can’t afford to outsource the costs opt for a stay at home partner.

I thought, If I had a job, my feminism would never be in doubt.

Maura left shortly after. My friend and I began heading out to our cars, Terry dogging our footsteps. He asked me, “Where do you work?”

“I’m a writer,” I replied, sidestepping the question. I felt safer giving this reply to Terry than I had with the group in Portland, because Terry was also a writer. I knew this because, in the three months he’d been attending the club, the only books he’d reviewed were his own self-published texts. He’d also offered to host a how-to seminar on the topic of one of his books in lieu of one of our meetings. To my surprise, however, the response didn’t satisfy. “I mean, what do you do to pay the rent?”

I shot him an irritated look, so caught off guard by the rude directness of his query that I didn’t immediately pick up on what was perhaps an unwitting revelation regarding his own success in selling his work. The question stung, coming so soon on the heels of my conversation with Maura, and I spoke more bluntly than I intended: “I’m married.” My husband supports me.

He stopped in his tracks, his eyes going wide with surprise and confusion. “I thought—someone as intelligent as you—”

“Nope,” I said, walking a little faster. “My husband works, I manage the household and work on my book.”

He quickly recovered, and the conversation came to a limping close.

Later that week, he actually emailed me. He wanted my thoughts on his latest draft. I was busy, and a little irritated at his apparent presumption that I had nothing better to do. Still, I was willing to help out a fellow writer–at least glance it over. I left the email in my inbox to attend on the weekend, when I would have more time to read it.

Two days later, he emailed again, wondering if I’d gotten his previous email, as he hadn’t gotten my thoughts on the draft yet. I shot back a quick reply telling him I’d look it over and let him know in early September (a month and a half out).

He sent about one or two emails a week for the next three weeks, which I read but did not respond to. Mostly nattering about his drafts, thoughts, and future book ideas. I was developing the strong impression that to him, “stay at home mom/ writer” translated to, “well, she’s sitting around with her thumb up her butt and nothing to do, so I’m probably doing her a favor filling up all that loads of free time.

In late August, he sent me “research survey” for a book he was working on about generational attitudes. I love surveys–total sucker for them–so I did respond to that. To my surprise, he responded with an email quizzing me on my replies. Then he replied to that with a response that picked apart all the places my responses seemed to contradict one another. I replied, basically explaining, well, a) these views are all subjective, b) I did say at the start of the survey that I’m uncomfortable generalizing beliefs for an entire group, yet you continue to extrapolate my replies into such generalizations, and c) Macro and micro worldviews can appear contradictory, but still mesh together. For example, someone convinced we’ve already irreversibly killed the planet with climate change (a macro worldview) can still go to work, pay their bills, tend to their family, vote, and invest in their community (a micro worldview).

He responded, somewhat pompously, that our personalities did not mesh, and we couldn’t be friends, and I was just kind of wtf at that point. I sent a quick, terse response which politely explained I’d provided answers under the impression this was for writing research, not some sort of friendship interview. I rescinded the permission I’d previously given to use my name and responses, and asked him not to contact me further. He replied somewhat bullishly, telling me it was his pleasure to delete every correspondence we’d exchanged and that I was a real disappointment.

I thought, If I had a job, none of this would have happened. People wouldn’t look at me like I’m wasting my degree. My feminism wouldn’t be in doubt. My time would be respected.

III. Gathering the third: Music show

We are with a group of friends, mostly my husband’s co-workers and their SOs. They range from their mid-20s to mid-30s. I like this group—we’ve socialized before. They’re working class people earning middle class incomes, and degree valuation is not a thing in this group. Its something I like. No-one here cares about who has a college degree and who doesn’t, or where its from. Some have high school diplomas, some have AAs, and some have BAs. No-one here is impressed by fancy job titles with shit pay and long hours. When we hang out, conversations run the gamut—from politics to pop culture, history to current events. I love these guys, and we don’t see them nearly often enough.

My husband and I enter the bar we’re all meeting at and find our group when they start shouting our names. There’s someone new with them, someone I’ve never met. Soon enough, we’re introduced, and I learn “Greg” has actually worked there for a while and heard all about me (said with a flutter of eyelashes at my husband). Greg seems pretty flamboyantly gay in his speech mannerisms and few other affectations, as well as the constant flirting and references to crushing on various guys in the group, but I’m not making any assumptions. I’m a short-haired woman who frequently eschews make-up and rides a motorcycle; I am aware that people can make mistaken judgments about sexuality based on appearances. Eventually, though, Greg tells me he’s gay. Cool.

We end up spending most of the night in conversation, and get along well. Near the end of the evening, Greg says (fairly drunkenly), “You’re so smart—so smart! What are you—what do you do? I mean, for a living? What do you do?”

I pause, caught by the question I’ve come to dread this summer, and my husband catches my eye across the room. His eyes widen, and he jumps in to answer for me. We both speak at the same time—me, with flat sarcasm, and my husband in a curiously upbeat tone.

“She’s a writer!”

“I’m a kept woman.”

Greg’s eyes widen comically, and he almost falls off his chair. “A kept wo—whaaaaa?”

“I’m a stay at home partner and mom. And a writer,” I clarify, shooting my husband an apologetic look as I realized how my snark had demeaned us both. “It was a joke. A bad one.”

“No you’re not,” Greg said, shaking his head. I lifted an eyebrow, bemused. “Sorry?”

“No, because–you can’t be! You’re all, like,” *snaps fingers* “In charge! And smart! And take charge! You don’t take no shit from no-one, I can tell! So, you can’t be, like, some little-miss-stay-at-home, because that’s just not—” He waved his hand expressively, wrinkling his nose at the mental image he’d conjured up with those words. Submissive. Obedient. Religious. Quiet. Oppressed. Ignorant. Pitiable. “You’re not that.

I wasn’t drunk, just buzzed. Buzzed enough to burnish the edge off my hurt, to laugh off the offense. To toss my head, lift one shoulder, put on a careless smile as a I laughed and snarked off some response about how it was hard, but somehow I managed to possess brains and the ability to manage a house.

But it stings. The next day, when I recount the incident to my best friend, I tell her that I’m going to start applying for jobs–that I’m tired of this bullshit.

“What about your book?” she asks.

“I dunno,” I said. I was frustrated. I’d hardly been able to work on the damn thing all summer, anyway, and I was so tired of being dismissed and devalued. I thought, If I had a job, people would take me seriously. I would have a daily schedule. People would respect my time. I wouldn’t be wasting my degree. I wouldn’t be betraying feminism.

~*~

So, in a flurry of fury, I applied for dozens of jobs, then … kinda forgot about it. Got over it. School started, and I got back to routine and started working on my book regularly again.

Except when I was interrupted by interviews.

My husband laughed at my irritation. “You do this every summer,” he said. “You get frustrated with the lack of routine, the lack of production, and you apply for a bunch of jobs. Then you spend a few months half-assing interviews.”

“I don’t half-ass them,” I said indignantly, side-stepping his other observations. “And at least this year, I applied for positions that make it worth it.”

He didn’t say anything, but I could see his reflection in the mirror as I applied my mascara–the way his blue eyes were lit with laughter, the amused affection at my predicament. I wrinkled my nose at him.

~*~

vs. Reality

The thing is, the last full-time Real Office Job I had, I was paid $11.50/hr, no benefits. Long story short, our household income actually decreased by an average of $300/ month while I was working, despite the fact my take-home paychecks were about $800 each, so an extra $1600 a month. Over the long term,  the costs of me working outside of the home (commute costs, vehicle maintenance, car insurance; childcare; and outsourcing or neglecting budgeting/ financial chores/ tasks normally performed by me) added up. As counter-intuitive as it seemed, when we looked at our household budget before, during, and after my employment, the math was clear: I was more of an asset to the household and household income as a stay-at-home parent and/or partner than as secondary income, unless I could get hired by an employer who would pay a living wage for our area (which the MIT Living Wage calculator currently puts at $15/hr).

Last summer, I was actually offered a full time position for $15/ hr. However, I was concerned about the stability of the position–it was a small business employer (fewer than 15 employees), with no HR, high position turnover (1-2 per year), and they didn’t offer benefits or retirement plans (ie, did not  value investing in their employees). I also had a surgery scheduled in 6 months, and kind of suspected I would find I’d been replaced when I tried to return to work after the recovery period. After discussing the pros and cons of the position with my husband, we decided it sounded too much like a repeat of my 2012 job (also with a small business employer)–a toxic work environment with high turnover, no employee protections/ job security, and no indication of willingness to invest in a loyal and trained long-term term staff (although they often, unrealistically, expect their underpaid and understaffed employees to perform work as though they’re highly skilled acolytes of the company).

Honestly, I think small businesses, with their high taxes and narrow operating margins, are just bad for employees. They don’t mean to be, but when running such ships through such shallow shoals, employees end up being the ballast. Its not that small business owners mean to be shitty bosses, its just that they’ve got super intense pressure to do everything they can to keep the business running and hide that mad scrabble from the clients—to project this image of success. So they’re sacrificing, which ends up with them expecting their employees to sacrifice/ invest in the business, as well–and resenting them when they don’t. And they inevitably seem to end up cutting costs in ways which negatively affect the employees.

So I swore I’d never work for a small business employer again … but it turns out all the jobs around here that I qualify for with my education and work history are either small business employers or government. So I applied to a bunch of state jobs, and now–about two months later–I think I’m finally done dealing with the repercussions of that ill-thought temper.

The last position actually had a civil service test aspect to it, which I thought meant would make the process less biased than the usual interview process (basically a Very Important First Impression on steroids merged with a sales call where the product is yourself–a situation I do not do well in, given my high anxiety). Well, I passed the exam part just fine, only to get rejected on the next phase due to “financial mismanagement.” Specifically, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy and times I’ve been referred to bill collectors.

Apparently, it is acceptable and conceivable that the President of the United States could potentially be a person with multiple bankruptcies and over a decade of unpaid taxes due to exploiting tax loopholes, but gods forbid someone with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and/or collections activity (due to the accruing costs and damages of a FEMA-recognized natural disaster) end up working an administrative job with the local government department—even if it was half a decade ago and they’ve managed to repair their credit.

So, that happened. However, I realized … that’s the last one. Last of August applications. No one else will call me for an interview. I’m done, which means from now on (until the next spate of idiocy) I can just focus on the actual work of my day-to-day.

The Myth of Manufacturing in America

Personally, I think the next president was decided ages ago, by people with far more money and influence than the average American. She’ll oversee the next 8 years of (yes, eight) increasing wealth divisions in America. There will probably be a brief economic uptick at the half-way mark of her terms. Things won’t change much.

The US will continue to decline as a world power, primarily because we do not invest in strong social nets that benefit our citizens through tax funded programs such as equal-opportunity education, social aid for needy families, on-the-job training and in-company promotion, paid vacation policies, requisite living wages, and labor protections for all residents regardless of citizenship documentation (if you protect all workers, regardless of their citizenship status, then it makes it easier for workers to organize and increase their wages and protect their benefits, which makes it harder for employers to fuck them over).

According to the July 2016 report from the International Monetary Fund, US growth is lower than before the Great Recession, and the USA needs to invest in policies that incentivize work, raise productivity by investing in infrastructure and innovation, and reverse the wealth income disparity.

Although the IMF survey says the US economic forecast is good in the short-term, in the long-run our decreasing labor force participation, low productivity gains, and increasing wealth disparity/ high poverty levels is going to fuck us over. The IMF report did not say “fuck us over.” It said, “solid continued growth hinges on addressing long-term issues of falling labor force participation, weak productivity, rising income polarization, and high poverty rates.”

Basically, if we want our economy to continue to grow, we have to stop fucking over the working class.

One problem (as noted in the IMF) is the lack of production/ innovation. Although we’re slowly rebuilding (largely machinated industries, now), the USA doesn’t have the infrastructure for manufacturing that it used to. Our factories, long unused and fallen into disrepair, are out of code and filled with machinery that’s out of date. We outsourced manufacturing to other countries for lower costs, and as a result are two generations behind every other manufacturing country.

I’ve heard people say the solution is to bring manufacturing back, and sure, I agree. That’s definitely one solution, and one we do need to invest in over the long term. What bothers me is when its presented as the only solution, or as though manufacturing alone is a panacea–like manufacturing and high wages go hand in hand. As though service work, retail work, domestic labor, restaurant labor–these things are somehow not “worth” high wages, benefits, and secure hours in the way manufacturing is. See, service labor is here, now. These jobs are available here, now. They don’t have to be “brought back”. The infrastructure doesn’t have to be rebuilt. All that has to happen is:

  • Increase wages to a living wage
  • Write schedules two weeks in advance–no more of this on-call shit. They’re service workers, not medics.
  • Provide benefits and paid vacations.

But manufacturing/ factory work is hard, and dangerous! It’s skilled labor! That’s why they got living wages, and benefits, and protections!–is usually how the arguments goes.

I kind of want to scream when I hear it. Because first off–that wasn’t manufacturing. That was unions. Employers didn’t give those benefits out of the compassionate goodness of their hearts. Workers fought for those benefits! They were dying in the factories and mines–they lived in corporate towns, where the employers paid them in “company money” that could only be spent on company grounds and on company goods! The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was an industrial disaster that helped launched the workplace rights campaign into the mainstream US consciousness!

Hell, since Reagan broke the unions, a lot of manufacturing jobs today are shit-work! Employers abuse their workersdeny them breaks, and nowadays will even outright sell the company and void the union contract/ gut the pension. It’s not like manufacturing work has some special protection from employer abuses.

Once, manufacturing was seen much like service work is today–as something low-skilled, that uneducated people did when they had no other options in life; not as a means to a middle class life or long-term job security. When contemplating the history (and present) of manufacturing, and the attitudes of people toward so-called unskilled labor, it’s almost laughable (in the laugh or cry way) that people look at our current situation–having outsourced all our productivity infrastructure and set our manufacturing tech back by generations–our national response is to say, “You know what? Instead of giving service workers living wages, predictable schedules, and benefits, I think we should do our damndest to get manufacturing back over here,” like that’ll help. Like it’s a magic wand that we can wave and make everything better. Like we’re not still actively fucking over manufacturing workers right now, in this day and age.

The manufacturing industry isn’t a magical bean that equals living wages and a middle class life! That was unions. It’s unions people are really thinking of when they say “manufacturing.” They’re thinking of organized labor, of all the things unions won in the manufacturing industries. They’re thinking of pensions that allowed their grandfathers to retire at 50, their bodies bent and broken from years of labor, but their finances secure. They’re thinking of affordable healthcare plans, of companies that trained their own workers (instead of requiring them to go outsource training, and pay for it out of pocket), and then promoted from within, and raised their wages annually according to cost-of-living increases. That’s what they’re thinking of.

But instead, they say, “manufacturing,” and think they mean factories and skilled labor, as though people who stand over boiling oil or work on warehouse floors with electric pallet jacks and forklifts aren’t doing skilled labor. As though people who deal with the daily psychological abuse of entitled customers aren’t engaged in skilled labor. As though the presumed lack of a college degree somehow, someway means the person behind the counter deserves poverty wages, unstable hours, and no benefits.

Fuck that. All labor has value. Someone who thinks that burger slinger at the fast food place doesn’t deserve a living wage? They need to go home and make their own goddamn burger. Spend their own precious time and materials making their own food. Don’t demand the labor of other people if you’re incapable of even respecting or valuing the fact that it is labor–human labor–that is being purchased.

All labor has value. Any labor purchased is purchased because, for whatever reason, the customer does not or cannot do it on their own. They don’t have the skill, the materials, or the knowledge, so they are buy the labor/ skill/ knowledge of someone else. People denigrate service workers all the time, but I tell you what–service workers are the fucking backbone of our society.

Service workers dominate the labor industry. Nearly every US household is touched by service work–someone in their family has worked, is working, or will work in the service industry. They face psychological abuse on a regular basis from entitled asshole customers, and often lack protection from management. Worse, service workers often find themselves on the receiving end of bullying and abuse from coworkers and management, as well, without any sort of substansive corporate infrastructure set up to help mediate the situation.

We’re told this is a “new, mobile workforce,” and that people don’t “like” to stay in one place, with one company anymore. Meanwhile, HR representatives in reddit threads discuss the problems with hiring and promotion: Companies will offer large entry offers, but small or nonexistent wage increases over time. They don’t tie wage increases to performance, either–the most effective way for an employee to increase their wages over the course of a career is to bounce from company to company, as an employer will “match and increase” with their entry offer the salary of the previous company.

Obviously, that doesn’t really work at the service labor level, where wages are set according to state hourly wages, and employees are hired and fired at the whim of management rather than moving according to their own needs or desires.

I smile darkly at the assertions that we in the US are a new and mobile workforce. It seems to me that our employers just stopped investing in us, and got the right to fire us when-the-fuck ever. It’s not that the American worker is “mobile,” (which sounds so free and breezy), it’s that we’re cast adrift.

We were told to get college diplomas to enter the middle class, and now people with Masters and PhDs are applying to service-level jobs. College diplomas are the new form of job training. Now most jobs have substantial job training; just an afternoon or a day with a more experienced employee who shows you the ropes and then abandons you to find your footing.

Bonus for the employer: They don’t bear the costs of job training. Too bad for the employee: They are thousands in debt for a degree they don’t need, because they’ll learn on the job.

We were told 401ks were better than pensions, and employers all shifted into 401k/ stocks, and now we’re all fucked for retirement. Bonus for employers and the banking industry: Modest cost savings! Too bad for the workers: No security for retirement.

We were told unions were stealing our wages, and employers want to give us our whole paycheck; that they want to negotiate employer-to-employee. Bonus for employers: No unions to negotiate with! Too bad for workers: No consolidated power and voice to negotiate with the powers that be.

We were told at-will employment was beneficial to both parties, because it allowed either the worker or employer to terminate an employment contract for better opportunities at a moments notice, for no reason whatsoever. It allows for a more mobile society, see? But in practice, workers don’t have quite the access employers do. Workers provide 2 weeks notice, and train their replacements. Employers fire, and escort their discarded employee out with guards.

This is a mobile society, yes, but largely not by the choice of workers. It was because, for the most part, employers chose to stop investing in workers. They chose to stop training them–requiring, instead, that workers bear the cost of their own training. They chose to stop promoting from within and offering good benefits–forcing workers who wanted higher wages to seek work elsewhere, bouncing around their industry in an attempt to increase their wages and benefits.

Basically, USA employers (by and large) chose to stop investing in their employees, and then have been shocked by decreasing labor participation, an increasingly unstable/ mobile labor market, and an ever-growing wealth disparity, then scratch their heads and pout at each other as they hrrrm and huuuuuhhhh over how on earth such a thing could have possibly happened.

Like, wtf? Big picture, people! Do you ever step back and look big picture? Ever? For a moment?

summer days

Last summer was a long stretch of heat, burning through the days in a glare of endless sunshine. This year, the days are greyer and softer–a lazy passage of time, often humid with rainshowers. It’s hard to believe we’re still in the midst of a drought, when the sky is horizon-to-horizon with clouds.

For past week and the next several weeks, John has been/ will be scheduled frequent long weekends, which is nice–little mini-vacations, almost. We popped down to Portland on a whim this last weekend and wandered around the city, window-shopping and catching pokemon, before eating at an insanely delicious Greek food truck and heading back home. The next day, we took the dogs out to Soap Lake in Eastern Washington.

About once a month, we have a family game night with the in-laws. I was hoping we’d be able to do it more often in the summer, but somehow work schedule hadn’t lined up that way until recently–hopefully we’ll get a few more game nights over the rest of July and into August, although there is camp and our motorcycle trip in August.

Usually, we play Catan, but recently we picked up a copy of Munchkin, as well as the card game Gloom (based on recommendations from Tabletop). I do feel kinda bad, because I think my niblings are a little bored while the adults are engaged with our board games (based on the question my niece asked me: “Why do you always bring board games when you come over?”).

I think I have a solution, though–when I was a kid, mom had an activity bag to entertain us during sacrament meeting, and it was actually pretty effective. Also, the toys at our sitters house–despite being pretty objectively ho-hum–were freakin’ amazing to me, as a kid.  Why? Because they weren’t regular-time toys. Mom wouldn’t let us touch the church activity bag anywhere except church, and the toys at the sitter’s house were only available at the sitter’s house. So I have this little doll suitcase/ trunk, and I’m going to start packing it with a rotating surprise selection of toys and activities for my niblings. Hopefully it’ll keep them occupied and happy until they’re old enough to play the big people games with us.

Kidling is old enough now that he’s asking me to drop him off with his friends, which is both cool and heartbreaking. Also weird, to ferry him around town and drop him off at the places I used to go, to do the things I used to do. Skateland, Lakefair, Library events–ha, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I am trying to work on my book on the days John is working. It’s difficult to focus. It took a few months to get the drafts/ feedback back from my readers, and in that time I had a lot of ideas on how/ where I wanted it to go.

I feel like my biggest problem at the moment is that I wrote it on a computer, honestly, without an outline. It feels unwieldy. From now on, all books I write will have outlines. My next four are already outlined by hand, in notebooks.

So I finished the whole thing, and it’s a book. It has a plot, with a beginning, middle, and an end … but I hated the end. So I rewrote it. Then I cut the wordcount down from insanity to manageable, and chopped the first three chapters of backstory. Sent the resulting draft to my reader volunteers. Specifically, I asked for feedback on:

  • Readability
  • Character development/ growth and relatability
  • Subplots (too distracting? Barely noticeable?)
  • Worldbuilding (too much foreignness? infodump problems?)
  • Overarching plot (hints too obvious? too subtle?)
  • Overall impression?

Each reader called/ messaged about a week after receiving their draft and said they’d finished it and really loved it, found it very engaging, and now they were going to re-read it and notate it fully and send me back a notated copy. About three to four months later was when I began getting more specific feedback, most of which aligned with my own concerns/ issues. Primarily, I didn’t like the beginning (I’ve since rewritten it). It felt choppy and info-dumpy, and I just … I was really dissatisfied with it.

There was also an incident that happens about 1/3 of the way in and then isn’t addressed again, and I felt like I’d kind of brushed off the significance of it, initially–that it was just hanging there unresolved and weird, and it needed to be either addressed or completely removed. None of my readers mentioned it, but when I asked what they thought of the incident, they did all say, “Oh, yeah–that was weird … why did they just ignore that?”

And, universally, everyone hates the title–which is fine, because it’s a working title. I’ve given up trying to explain that titles are nearly always decided by the agent and/or publishing company, and the shit title on my draft is just a placeholder. I think next time I’ll just call it Working Title, or Placeholder, or Shit Title.

So now I’m engaged in yet another round of edits, and it feels just endless. Like swimming through jell-o, honestly–but I have a vision in mind, a set end point. I know what the final book is supposed to look like. I know where these characters are going. I know the plot, the world, the story arc. It’s just frustrating, because it’s a lot of rewriting–which isn’t as fun as writing–and I feel like I’m re-treading ground I’ve already walked when I’d hoped to be moving onto the next phase by now.

Also, my work schedule is the same as John’s work schedule–he’s at work, I’m writing. He’s at home, I’m not writing. On one hand, this is great (excellent family time!). On the other hand, summer scheduling is super uneven and apparently ADHD brains work best on consistency, haha. I keep joking about renting a hotel for a week straight and unplugging all the phones so I can blast through these edits. The only concern is that I forget to eat when I’m writing.

lil old outspoken me

It’s funny, sometimes, how the way we see ourselves and the way other people see us can be so radically different. This is something I’ve often pondered, since I was a teen–the old song line, You never know just how you look/ through other people’s eyes comes to mind–but it was recently brought home again when I attended a recurring social event and someone (who’s only met me twice, and in the context of talking about books!) referred to me as a person with “strong opinions.”

It’s not the first time I’ve been described as such–though mostly since my mid-to-late 20s–and it always makes me laugh, because it’s really not how I think of myself at all. I guess when I think of people with “strong opinions,” I think of people who aren’t willing to listen to guidance, or cede an argument when presented with new information? Or, maybe, people who enjoy arguments and intentionally try to foment dissent at social gatherings as a form of, like, amusement, and that’s not my bag at all.

I consider myself more of a pacifist–a mediator and negotiator in personality, someone who prefers to avoid conflict if possible, but if it becomes unavoidable, I prefer to opt for communication resolving in peaceful resolution first and foremost. I have what’s often been called a naive belief in the innate goodness of humankind, and I truly believe the majority of people mean well, it’s just, we have different ideas of how to achieve it.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize the behaviors I exhibit which are often described, “bold,” or “outspoken,” or, “strong-minded” are just enthusiasm. I get really enthusiastic about things … books, Harry Potter, income inequality, motorcycling history, labor law, Star Trek, board games, writing, the publishing industry.

Like, super enthusiastic. And when I get enthusiastic about a topic, I research it backwards and forwards and up and down, like a super nerd. I read about it, I think about it, I talk about it. I daydream about it, come up with theories, and link it to other things I’m enthusiastic about.

Now, just like anyone else, I don’t randomly bring up this stuff at inappropriate times–I’m not sitting at, like, work functions rambling on about esoteric factoids regarding labor law history to a bunch of dull-eyed coworkers and/or clients. No.

But … I mean, yeah, I have been at, say, book club, and waxed intense about my feelings on a book. Or book series. Occasionally in a very detailed breakdown of the plot structure and the flaws therein (like writing a book where the overriding relationship question was resolved in the first THIRD of the book, thereby completely nullifying any plot tension for the remaining 2/3 of the book, OUTLANDER 2). 

Also, I’ll plead guilty to, say, standing around at some dull social function, participating in make-nice chit-chat, and I hear someone make a reference to a shared topic of interest, so of course I gravitate over, because hey. Interesting conversation thataway.

And sometimes I’ll share an interesting factoid–like, maybe telling a fellow motorcycle fan that the Indian Motorcycle company was a casualty of WWII, and explaining why; or mentioning in addendum to some anecdote about marketing or customer service that, The customer is always right is actually based on a 1920s marketing slogan rather than any sort of overriding consumer ethos, because my general assumptions are that history is cool, trivia is fun, and most people enjoy learning new things.

I think this is where the bold/ outspoken/ opinionated impressions come from. It’s interactions–like casual social gatherings, or seminars where we’re explicitly discussing reactions to readings, or classroom settings where discussion is encouraged–where I feel comfortable, because of the context of the situation, in voicing my opinion and why I believe as I do.

When I was a kid/ teenager, whenever I wanted to do something my parents were uncomfortable or ambivalent about, my dad’s thing was for me to argue my case. I guess it’s a lawyer thing. He would tell me if I could come up with a convincing list of pros and cons–because a good lawyer has to understand both sides of the situation in order to rebut the opposing argument–then he’d consider my request. That’s actually how I negotiated most of my teen concessions.

So I do feel pretty comfortable examining an issue thoroughly, from all sides, and coming to a conclusion regarding my stance. Thanks to great parents and some fantastic professors over the years, I’ve also learned how to organize my supporting arguments when participating in a discussion so I can support my stance, and I’m comfortable revising my stance in light of new information which may alter my perspective.

All that said, I really do not like debate or disagreement, especially outside the specific parameters of the classroom (where it’s moderated and all are working from the same base reading material). This is one of the factors in me deciding not to pursue a law degree (though hardly the only).

I know that might seem incredible to someone who’s only knowledge of me is this blog, but it’s important to recognize the words on this screen are on stream-of-conscious, largely unedited personal blog–this on-the-fly verbiage represents my internal world, and while the values of fairness and equality espoused herein aligns with my real-world values, beliefs, and general behavior, there’s a pretty key difference–I’m a lot more polite and in real life.

Call it esprit de l’escalier, or a lifetime of gender conditioning, or empathy from having been bullied myself. Whatever it is, the sometimes pointed language I use on this blog when venting about disagreements doesn’t come into play during personal disagreements. I believe there’s no need to get insulting or derogatory during a conflict–any resolution to the disagreement will hinge on the facts of the situation, not he said/ she said opinions on character.

So it’s funny, because when someone describes me as, “bold,” or “opinionated,” or “outspoken,” I hear “argumentative,” or “rude,” or “disruptive,” and I automatically flinch away from those descriptions–they feel weird and uncomfortable to me. I pride myself on my ability to be civil, pleasant, cordial, and generous in personal interactions. Sure, I’ve sometimes felt frustration at walking away from an encounter where someone was rude or derogatory to me and I didn’t yell back–I’ve thought to myself, coward, wimp, chickenshit.

But far more often, I’ve felt satisfaction at my ability to not only remain calm and collected in response to instigation, but when I’ve successfully de-escalated a potentially explosive situation. Sometimes I feel bad that I’m not more of a fighter. But mostly I’m glad I gravitate to peacemaker. But I suppose it’s all in interpretations–here I’ve been thinking bold/ opinionated/ outspoken equates to argumentative, when really, those could just as easily describe traits of enthusiasm and mediation. After all, enthusiastic people will come across as opinionated and outspoken, and a mediator personality has to be able to have strong boundaries in order to mediate–its impossible to mediate if you can’t negotiate, set, or enforce fair boundaries. So those are strength characteristics, too.

random thoughts | 2 months into 2015

I’ve been spending almost every spare writing minute working on my book. It’s coming along. My goal is 4k words/ week, but I’m usually hitting 3k. I’m currently sitting at 63,906 words total (first draft). The first draft is going to be a bit long, I can already tell — I would say that plot-wise, I’m maybe mid-way through. Word-count wise, I should be in the third act, nearing the wrap-up. I want it to be a 70k word-length book, 80k max — appropriate for YA. So I know the first draft will need to be heavily edited down.

~*~

Kidling turned 13 this month. I should probably start calling him Kiddo in the blog, because he’s definitely not my baby boy anymore. He’s growing into quite a mature and thoughtful young man. I’m really proud of him, and I feel so lucky to have such a great kid.

~*~

Lately I’ve been missing my mom. I wonder what she would think of my life. I bet she’d be super proud of Kiddo. I wonder if my parents would still live nearby if mom hadn’t died. I wonder if Jonathan and I would still talk. I wonder if Jonathan still would have made the mistake of marrying Ronelle. I always felt like he married her partly out of grief, in a weird backlash against mom’s death. Maybe just because he introduced Ronelle to the family the same week mom killed herself, so the two events are inextricably linked in my head. Mom dead/ Jonathan introduces first girlfriend. It’s probably just correlation. I feel like mom would have seen through Ronelle, though, and would have stopped Jonathan from making that particular mistake. Mom was a perceptive lady. And if Jonathan hadn’t married Ronelle, would he still be on speaking terms with the other family members? Was it Ronelle that made him hate us all so much, or was mom just the glue that held our family together, and without mom Jonathan went looking for a new family?

I suppose it’s better that he was with her for however long or little — Jayden is worth putting up with all the Ronelle’s in the world. I miss that kid. I miss my brother. I hope they’re both doing okay. I hope my brother moves back to town soon and takes his house and kid back. I know Ronelle has poisoned the well there and my brother is avoiding any relationship with me at her behest, but that doesn’t mean I wish them ill. I worry about my nephew a lot. Poor kid, surrounded by druggies and alcoholics with his dad gone half the time. At least mom doesn’t have to watch that misery play out.

~*~

I’m thinking about applying to be a paraeducator. Apparently one does not need a Masters in Teaching, just a BA (or AA, depending on the position). I could fit it around my writing schedule and Kiddo’s school schedule, it would be a way to keep my resume update, and it would be some income to sock into savings.

coming up on the end of the year

This has been an interesting month. John has been promoted, which means his schedule has been upended. This is good (more time with husband!) and bad (less time to write!). Luckily, the good more than outweighs the bad, and I have an amazing son and husband. They’ve done their best to create space for me to write.

In fact, my son and I agreed that on Sundays, we would turn off the tv and gaming systems and focus 100% on reading (him) and writing (me). This last Sunday, I wrote 2000 words. Today I wrote 3000, when my husband left the house for the entire morning to get some shopping done. They’ve both been incredibly considerate and helpful in doing what they can to help me reach my goal of writing and someday publishing a book.

John is helpful in other ways, too — a week or so ago, I was venting about how I’d lost the thread of my story and it had become a dystopian action adventure. I said I needed to backtrack about 25,000 words and start re-writing. He asked why, and I explained that about 25,000 words ago, I had taken a lazy shortcut and said something like,

It didn’t take long to settle into a routine, especially with such familiar work to do. Merci often griped that they weren’t allowed to go on patrol yet, but Bex was secretly relieved at the extra time it meant for research. She managed to wrap up two unsolved cases by the end of Harvest, much to Merci’s amusement.

Obvious shortcut is obvious. With three short sentences, I manage to skip past months of character development and world-building, and my entire plot suffered because of it. I’m not trying to write another futuristic dystopian sci-fi about a corrupt totalitarian government, but by taking that shortcut I ended up having to manufacture action and drama in order to try and flesh out the plot. It jumped from a sci-fi vision of a future with a functioning government worth defending to another generic no-hope post-apocalyptic fiction, all because I got lazy one afternoon.

So I was bemoaning the fact that I would have to backtrack by about 25k words and start over, when my husband made his brilliant suggestion. He said, “Why do you have to start over? Just go back and add in the character and plot development for that time frame, then use what you have for the conflict arc, then wrap it up. You don’t have to tank 25k just because it doesn’t work right now.”

It was perfect advice. Whether or not I end up trashing those 25k words of plot, my husband took the weight of making the decision at this point in the process off my shoulders. My daily writing counts skyrocketed after that — I was trailing down to about 1100 words a day when I was struggling with the realization that I’d lost the plot, but now that I have the story back to where I intended, I’m averaging about 2500 words per writing day. I’m feeling pretty stoked right now.

Aside from writing, life is going well. I’m still walking the dogs every morning and trying to get in regular every-other-day exercises (squats and push-ups). I’ve lost about 15 lbs since I started my #exercisealifestyle goal in September.

My sister in law has inspired me, too, and I’ve begun making homemade yogurt after she posted her results online. We both like canning and home food prep, so it’s pretty cool to follow her recipes and see what she’s trying. It gives me some new ideas. We went shopping together last week and I picked up some kefir grains so I can try that too — I’ve recently realized I’ve developed lactose intolerance as I’ve gotten older.

It’s cool, because I never really liked milk in the first place, but it does mean that I can’t eat cereal or drink milk with cookies/ cake when I wish to. That’s kind of annoying. Also, ice cream appears to be a bad idea. Mostly I’ve dealt with it by … not dealing with it. I and my family have been subjected to my intense gastrointestinal distress the rare times I do drink milk. Then I discovered kefir at the store, and when I realized it was essentially drinkable yogurt, I figured I could make it at home just like I can yogurt. I’m super excited to try this.

I signed up to volunteer at my sons school, too. I did it partly because I want to contribute to the school, and mostly because I felt bad that John is always surrounded by people. As an introvert, I get the necessity of quiet/downtime, and how even when other people are simply being in the same room (or house), there’s still a sense of … personal intrusion. Of expectation. Of needing to be “on” for other people. I get that you can love/ adore someone, and still need space away from them, time to mentally and emotionally recharge.

Recently, I realized that while Kidling and I both get quiet/downtime to mentally and emotionally recharge, John doesn’t. He gets up in the morning, and we’re both here. He goes to work, and is surrounded by his coworkers. He comes home, and both his wife and son are here. All day, every day, people surround him. There is no privacy, no sweet solitude. So I signed up for volunteering at the school to give him at least an hour a week of time alone.

The days are odd and jagged, stops and starts of busy quiet. I will have no plans for days on end, and then abruptly discover I have a full calendar of appointments and social activities. I often whittle away the hours on things like shopping, baking, and writing, and when the sun sets I wonder where the day has gone. I don’t feel particularly productive, yet an assessment of my activities composes a satisfying list of daily accomplishments. Or minutiae. I’m not entirely certain.

For example, today I vacuumed, washed/dried/ folded two loads of laundry, took out the trash, emptied the little box, walked both dogs, took a 2.5 mile walk with my husband, baked a batch of cookies, wrote 3k words, crocheted two rows on an infinity scarf, oversaw Kidling’s homework, and cooked schnitzel and spatzle for dinner. I also plan on making yogurt tonight.

So was this a waste of a day? Minutiae? Or were these necessary and useful activities? I often wonder where the line is. All these activities are rolled into the useful and bland title, of “homemaker,” which calls to mind anti-feminist stay at home moms enjoying leisure hours.

But these activities are also things that are outsourced or abandoned when I was working. When both John and I were employed full time, the daily chores slid. We often debated hiring a weekly housecleaner to handle the chore load while we worked 40+ hours/ week each. Neither of us created homemade meals, either — the closest we came to “homemade” were quickly heated freezer or deli items from Costco, like their pre-made frozen lasagna. Now, I make lasagna from scratch. It saves money and is healthier, but it takes an investment of time and know-how. There is a trade-off to be made.

When I worked full time, my writing and personal interests suffered. Rather than craft homemade gifts and spend time with my son, I came home and napped on the couch while my son played videogames. His homework suffered as both John and I were too distracted by the demands of work and household to maintain a regularly watchful parental eye to keep him on task.

So when I fill my day with these tasks, I am aware that the investment of my time, talent, and skills is saving our household money. I am aware that I am not, in fact, wasting time and filling out days with minutiae. I am aware that if I were to disappear or cease existing tomorrow, somehow that slack would have to be picked up. Perhaps my husband would hire a maid, perhaps he would find another partner. I know I am not useless. I just don’t really get that message from our culture.

In America in the 21st century, the middle-class stay-at-home parent is many things: A status symbol signaling financial stability; almost necessary to the smooth running of the household; a replacement for outsourcing cooking and cleaning. What the middle class stay at home parent is not is valued by our culture. Sure, certain conservative religious factions praise the stay-at-home mother for her fortitude and maternal nature, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not bemoaning a lack of benevolent sexism in the culture at large; I am bemoaning the fact that being a stay-at-home parent is still so often seen as (somehow) a cop-out, a lazy shortcut. I am bemoaning that it isn’t validated and financially reinforced through workers’ rights legislation, targeted tax rebates, and similar measures taken by other developed countries to support families and stay-at-home parents.

what dreams may come

Since Kidlings been back in school, I’ve been focusing on writing a book (finally, ha!). I mean, I’ve known since I was knee-high to a grasshopper that I’m a writer at heart, and that someday I will write a book. It used to be a deeply held dream of mine, a necessity of validation to prove I was “really” a writer.

Then, at some point in the journey of my life and the various sidetracks I ended up on, I realized it doesn’t matter if I am a published author or not. That’s not why I’m a writer. I write because I have to. It’s how I relate to the world; the lens through which I view it. I write because without the written word, the world around me becomes dull and flat and incomprehensible.

Strangely, realizing that I’m not doing this to make tons ‘o money or get published provided me with the freedom to focus on my writing without fear of failure. Unfortunately, the arrival of said freedom pretty much exactly coincided with my time at Evergreen, so it took me another two years or so to find space to write full-time. Right now, if I keep up the pace I’m at, I hope to have the first draft done by late January or early February. Then I need to run some edits and look at releasing an ebook copy by June or July. Maybe I’ll try cold submissions to publishing houses, but I don’t know how valuable that method is anymore.

I found a quote somewhere online that says,

“Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day. Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” He finishes a 180,000-word novel in three months.”

So I set myself a Jack London-sized goal, with aspirations to meet Stephen King levels of production. There’s just one teensy difference — I only write on days that both John and Kidling are out of the house. So it’s usually just Tues-Fri, when Kidling is at school and John is working. Right now, I’m meeting or exceeding my daily word count goal, which has me stoked.

When I’m not writing, I try to keep myself engaged with the book and the world by sketching. These are three of my characters:

bex Lash Merci

I swear, the drawings look better in person. I think.

characterization and blah de blah

So, I graduated. Well. In a manner of speaking. I went through the graduation ceremony and completed all my credits … but due to unforeseen circumstances (unexpected death), I have not yet received my final evaluation, credits, or diploma. That’s just a paperwork delay though — all the courses are completed and requirements fulfilled. As a result, my days are no longer filled with classes and homework and commutes … which I love.

My son is in school. My husband is at work. And four days a week, I have almost 7 full hours of completely uninterrupted time to write. Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays are still an utter wash when it comes to having uninterrupted time to focus on writing, but Tuesday through Friday are fantastic.

So I’ve been averaging between 1000 – 1500 words a day on the work in progress. It’s a sci-fi/ futuristic thingy, which has spun me for a bit of a loop in terms of diversity. I was reading something online, I forget where, about diversity in characterization. The problem, of course, is that you can’t simply call Dr. Smith a different name, like Dr. Yu or Dr. Tanaka, because it’s all about social location.

Consider that Dr. Jane Smith, raised in 1940s America would be different from Dr. Jane Smith raised in 1940s England. One would have been raised at a distance from a war that devastated the world, while the other would have been in England during the infamous London Blitz. Consider how changing Jane’s gender to John also changes the dynamics and background of the character; how they would have been raised and the expectations put upon them by society.

Writing Jane or John Smith is still something that comes easily and naturally to me, with minimal research. British Jane likes eggy bread and coffee with milk for breakfast. As an adult, British Jane still remembers the way the wool stockings of her school uniform itched at the back of her knees as she waited on a crowded train platform to be shipped out to the country.

American John doesn’t like to eat breakfast, but his mom used to insist that he eat a bowl of Cheerios every morning. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she would say. His mom was full of sayings like that. He can still remember her carefully counting pennies to purchase war bonds, telling him that a penny saved is a penny earned.

These are historical narratives I was steeped in my entire life. They are the stories of my parents and grandparents, the storybooks of my childhood, and even though John and Jane are not me, they share a cultural background with me. This makes them easier to write, like slipping on a new coat. It’s different, a new color and a cut I don’t usually wear, but it’s still a coat. A coat is a pretty basic garment. Not hard to figure out.

Now, consider that simply shifting the time drastically alters the character background, not even taking into account location and gender and class and education. By bringing Jane or John forward or backward 50 years, their entire upbringing and expectations shift … yet it’s still a basically familiar cultural background to me.

Now add a twist. What if Jane’s last name is Tanaka? How do I write an American Jane Tanaka in the 1940s? She would be in the American Concentration Camps. Is she a first generation Japanese immigrant, or a second-generation one? Does she come from California, which had more intense discrimination, or Washington? Which camp did she stay in? All these factors influence Jane’s experience, background, and character. They change the level of suspicion she was treated with, both by the government and other Japanese Americans. It even changes how long it took her to be released. And on top of that, I need to know the culture of her family, and how it infused her worldview.

Again, to draw comparisons, consider my own background. People look at me and see a white American girl. They do not see the Norwegian flags that were strung on my childhood Christmas tree, or the dirndl or bunad that I used to wear to church for fun. They do not taste the weinerschnitzel and spatzle I ate at family dinners. They do not know that my worldview, my character, my interactions with the world are infused with a deep love and connection with my personal family history.

I speak a little bit of German. Not enough to really converse, but a little bit. My parents lived in Heidelberg for 5 years, and my German accent comes from that area. Apparently, this is subtly different from the dialect/ style of German that is taught in most German courses. If you’re an American, consider the regional linguistic differences between North and South America, or the West and East coasts … it’s not simply accents, but colloquialisms and localized slang. And even though I haven’t been to Germany since I left 4 months after my birth, the little bit of German I know carries the localized accent and slang from my birthplace.

So if I am writing Jane Tanaka, or John Tanaka, I need to figure out things like that. If I write a Jane Smith from London or a John Smith raised in Birmingham, Alabama, I don’t have to think quite so much about their linguistic history and colloquialisms … these speech patterns, while not inherently natural to me, are closely aligned enough with my own experiences that it’s just less challenging to write.

But for the Tanakas, I have to learn enough about Japanese culture and history to write their background, without getting lost and overwhelmed in the research. I need to take into account their social location when I write their characters — how the social structures would shape their personalities, like ivy forms to a wall. Or, perhaps more aptly, how a bonsai tree is shaped by the restrictions of the environment and the needs of the socially powerful (the artist).

Anyway, I guess I’m thinking about all this because … well, because I’m not sure how the setting in my book affects the character building. It’s a diverse cast, but the social location is so entirely different as to render a lot of these concerns as moot. It takes place on a different planet, almost 500 years in the future.

Think about that for a moment. Five hundred years ago, it was 1514. Slavery as we now understand it, with its distinctly racial component, had not yet been invented. A successful colony had not yet been established in the Americas. It would seem, from the present state of research, that the plague which wiped out up to 90% of the Native Americans prior to European colonization had not yet occurred.

In 1514, King Henry the VIII was still married to his first wife. He had not yet split with the Catholic church to create the Church of England. Hell, most of the current map boundaries we think of when we imagine the European countries hadn’t been formalized yet. The world of 1514 was so completely different from our modern world as to be unfathomable. They pretty much did not even speak the same language as us! If time travel became a thing, communication would not be easy or intuitive, and the social mores and expectations were just eons apart from our modern beliefs. If time travel became a thing, we would be further hindered by our mistaken beliefs about the past, especially in regards to race and gender.

So as I write these characters, 500+ years in the future on a different planet altogether, I don’t really consider our current social location in their character development. The ongoing disparate impact of racialized systems of control in the 21st century Western hemisphere is an extremely minimal factor in who they are and how they interact. It is a thread in their shared history that is woven through the tapestry of humanity and influenced their current place, but it’s one of those threads that is worn pale and thin in seeming importance by the winds of time.

The planet these characters live on was colonized roughly 300 years before the start of the book, with a formalized government coming into play within 75 years. This is roughly analogous to the timeline of the colonization of North America and inception of the U.S. government; an intentional parallel. Similar to the myths, imagery, and debates regarding our own (highly documented) national backstory, the everyday lives of my characters are heavily influenced by the founding events of their society.

The thing is, my characters are predominantly people of color in a position of social privilege. This creates a bit of  quandary for me. On the one hand, I strongly believe in the value of a diverse cast of characters for readers to identify with. On the other hand … am I taking the easy route and participating in cultural erasure by creating a situation where the current expectations of discrimination and social privilege are upended? Do the same rules of character development apply in futuristic sci fi?

I dunno. Honestly, I’ll worry about it later, during revisions. Right now, I want to focus on finishing the book. Then revising it and editing it and revising some more. Then submitting the manuscript to publishing houses and dealing with rejections until I can’t anymore, or it’s picked up by someone. If it isn’t picked up, then I plan on revising and editing it some more for self-pubbing.

reassessing my future (again)

So, as anyone who has spoken with me in the past 3 months is aware, I decided to give law school a try. One of the professors (a lawyer and former judge) in my Law and Outlaw class was very insistent that I am an ideal candidate for law school. She really strongly encouraged me. I was a little on the fence, because I’ve heard some rumors about the state of the legal field … but then again, maybe they were exaggerated. And this professor seemed really certain that I would be in the highest percentage of my law class, a contributor to the Law Review, and that I would get a judicial clerkship. It was flattering.

I spoke with a recent law school grad who cast cold water on my budding inclination by telling me the cold hard facts of the matter. Jobs, she said, were thin on the ground. Debts were high. She had a scholarship all through law school, and through her LLM education. She was top of her class, and a contributor to the Law Review. She was everything my professor promised would ensure success, and she was struggling to find work. It sounded grim.

More accurately, I hate being homeless.

But then I had the opportunity to set up a few informational interviews, and after speaking with numerous government employees the State Attorney General’s Office, I decided I’d go for that degree after all.

I figured I’d just get a job with the government, earn some experience as a prosecutor, and have my debt forgiven through the Federal debt forgiveness program tied to public service. Every lawyer and secretary I spoke to assured me it was the quickest route to success, and they should know! They were wrapping up 30+ year careers!

So I purchased some books, began studying for the LSATs, and happily began informing people of my now-arranged future.

Law school!

Then I read this article by Paul Campos in The Atlantic, titled, “The Law School Scam.” It echoed everything my recent law-school grad friend had been telling me. Kinda freaked me out.

I visited his blog, Inside The Law School Scam, and that sinking sensation in my gut got worse.

I bought his book “Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk,” ($4 through the Kindle app, $6 paperback — unfortunately, not available through Nook) today, and read the whole thing in an hour.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Holy shit.

As it turns out, the availability of legal positions has actually been shrinking over the past 30 years (yes, including for lawyers). A lot of stuff lawyers used to do is now done by paralegals or technology, or (even worse for the profession) DIY legal work by those who used to rely on lawyers — for example, when that guy hit John and broke his jaw, and I filed the restraining order request and both parties had to present their sides before the judge? People used to hire lawyers for that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, law school tuition and class size has been increasing, while standards have … dropped somewhat. A little. The ABA holds law school to some basic standards, but the rise of for-profit colleges and their willingness to allow low-LSAT scorers into their ranks has resulted in a correlating decline of LSAT score valuation at nonprofit schools. So, basically, law schools are churning out more grads than there are jobs, and those grads are carrying massive and non-dischargeable debt.

Oh! The debt! Campos explains that really well, too. Those so-called “scholarships” are apparently just higher-tuition students subsidizing the costs of lower tuition students. It’s this whole thing where if the tuition is actually $100,000/year, but half the students are offered a scholarship that allows them to attend for $50,000/year, then the reported “average tuition” would be $75,000/year … but really it varies wildly, and the scholarships are often tied to performance. Plus, the average reported debt the law schools usually quote to potential students doesn’t include the 3-4 years of accrued interest acquired by non-subsidized loans while in school. 

So all that is super duper discouraging on its own, and then you get into the fact that apparently government work — promising both stability, experience, and loan forgiveness — turns out to be incredibly in demand! Starting wages of $60,000 is nothing to shake a finger at when it includes loan forgiveness!

So, to recap: My plan is basically the plan of most potential lawyers, meaning the competition is intense, and most lawyers are unemployed.

New plan, new plan.

Apparently law schools are trying to combat this by trying to claim that a law degree is totally versatile … like, you can be a journalist or a writer or any number of things that don’t require a fucking law degree. Because the only, I repeat only thing you need a law degree for is to practice the law. It’s like getting a medical degree to become an aromatherapist, by all the gods.

At one point in the book, Campos points to a bit of data that compares the graduation/ employment rates of doctors vs. lawyers over the past 30 years, and a depressingly high percentage of bar-accredited lawyers are unemployed — something like 60%, if I recall correctly — but pretty much everyone who studied to become a doctor is currently practicing as a doctor.

Again: DEPRESSING.

Speaking of depression! Campos then cites data that law students and lawyers are more likely than any other profession to develop severe and debilitating depression. I was like, “Pshhh, my daddy was a lawyer, and he’s the happiest man I know.”

Then I read this bit (bolded parts mine).

“Why are law students and lawyers so prone to develop depression? The literature suggests numerous causes, most of which have something to do with the effects of an intensely hierarchical, competitive, emotionally cold, and high-stress environment.”

Holy shit, that sounds like the law office I worked in through 2012.

  • Intensely hierarchical? Check — they even paid the BA-toting paralegal more than the HS diploma-toting but longer-employed paralegal.
  • Emotionally cold? Oh, ye gods, check. Ms. Boss was worse than Elsa’s emotional breakdown in Frozen.
  • High-stress environment? Let’s just say that after 8 months dealing with Ms. Boss, I was literally contemplating hanging myself in her office.

Wait, the quote continues? Okay, then. (Fyi, this is just like a word-for-word description of Ms. Boss’s personality, and it kind of makes me nauseated to remember how suicidally depressed I got working for her).

” … in which people are socialized to obsess on external status markers and to minimize or ignore things such as learning for its own sake, doing intrinsically valuable work, and maintaining healthy personal relationships.”

Swear to gods, not exaggerating — my coworkers and I used to discuss (in whispers!) the idea that Ms. Boss might either have aspergers or be a sociopath. She sneered at anyone she considered beneath her (ie: Anyone who was not a lawyer.).

I don’t ever, ever want to be like Ms. Boss. I would seriously rather die. She was, literally, the worst human being I have ever had the misfortune to know — and that’s including some seriously fucked up racist misogynistic assholes I’ve known. Ms. Boss tops them because she was elitist and evil despite having studied social justice and labor law while she was in law school.

She wasn’t awful out of ignorance, like so many of the racist, classist, sexist idiots I’ve run into over the course of my life. She was awful knowing full well the repercussions of her behavior, and believing that her “superior” education entitled her to treat people like shit.

So, I finished the book, and all information considered … I think I’ll just keep looking for entry-level government work, and take the time to focus on writing while I have it. ‘Cause that shit? Is cray.