Tag Archives: insanity

A Heart Two Sizes Too Small

I think it’s safe to say that I don’t “do” Christmas. My lack of participation has nothing to do with religion or any anti-corporate political sentiment. Christmas just never seems to work out for me, but I have no hard feelings. I don’t have any children to disappoint, and traditional Christmas activities don’t hold my interest, so I prefer to just take the day and relax and do what I want. I don’t even know why I should care or feel guilty about it. Most Americans (myself included) have too much stuff anyway, so I’m less inclined to feel guilty about not shopping. Our attics, garages, landfills, and thrift stores are full of crap no one needs. Why contribute? My mother and I used to hit the Indian casino on Christmas –before she was injured, I mean. She was blind in one eye and almost blind in the other, but she could still kind of manage certain electronic slot machines. Me? I’m a blackjack girl.

I actually love shopping. I love buying gifts. I get quite a rush when I find something interesting that reminds me of someone I love. I wouldn’t say that I have expensive taste, but my taste is at least a solid middle-class. At the moment, I am not middle class. I was thankful that I was able to give (and sell) my BFF some things that she enjoys, so I could at least give her something even if I can’t really afford to buy anything. I have mentioned this before, but I was almost certainly a compulsive shopper for many years before I experienced the events that led to my poverty. That’s really the only reason why I’ve been living like this so long and I still had so many things to sell and give away. I am still making sales online. I found a designer purse at a local Goodwill, and if it’s still there this weekend, I may buy it with sale proceeds and try to make a profit. At least I’m considering it.

Christmas was set aside this year because with my current jobless state combined with preparations for an overseas move. Last year I was unemployed and stressed. The year before that my whole team was laid off 11 days before Christmas when our jobs were outsourced. The year before that I spent a large part of Christmas in the hospital after major surgery. The year before that, I had a low-wage receptionist job and I had spent every penny and maxed every line of credit in moving expenses to get my last apartment and away from the apartment with gross people and no hot water.

Being estranged from my family makes any major holiday complicated. I’m completely okay with being estranged from them. In fact, I wish there were more distance. Estrangement –at least in my case– is a very good thing, but being “the orphan” has its downsides. It’s awkward when acquaintances ask me if I’ll be visiting my “parents” for the holiday. It’s even more awkward when acquaintances invite me to visit their parents. I went to my drunk cokehead roommate’s family Christmas celebration in 2004. Her family was very nice to me, but I was out of place. I’d never met them, but they bought me presents. I appreciated it (and still have and use many of the gifts I received) but I felt so guilty. I was stunned by how unappreciative my ex-roommate was of her parents. I had gone to her parents’ house expecting no more than a family dinner and I nearly wept when I saw that they prepared a stocking for me. They filled the stocking  with cute novelty socks, scented lotions, lip balms, and a bottle of wine. My ex-roommate received the same stocking stuffer gifts that I received and all she did was complain about them not being to her taste.

I’m uncomfortable when anyone puts out any effort for my sake, especially if they don’t even know me. Especially if I can’t reciprocate.

My current roommate invited me to spend Christmas with her family but I declined. The last time I spent a holiday with her and family members, there was hitting, slapping, and ultimately police intervention. Oh, and the phone used to call police was smashed to bits. And there was dog poop thrown at my roommate’s car — and this was all after an argument about how often to feed a cat! My family is crazy, but they aren’t that kind of crazy. I thought that things like that only happened in sitcoms. Having the house to myself for a couple of days is far better than any gathering with someone else’s family. Tomorrow or the next day, I will spend time with another friend who hates her family. That’s really the best way to spend Christmas, in my opinion.

Now that I live in a house with cable, I will watch A Christmas Story, which I don’t believe I’ve seen in full since I was maybe nine years old. Such a shame that Flick ended up a porn star.

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Oh, the Guilt

I knew that I was entering a toxic living situation, but did not know what to do about it. I was in a similar situation last time I had a roommate. I had two part-time temp jobs and had to get out of my mold-ridden apartment. A woman I used to hang out with was losing the house that she rented because the owner was putting it up for sale, so we both needed a place to live at the same time. I knew better, but I had very little income, a lot of bills, and nowhere to go. I used to hang out with this woman a few times a week, but I’m reluctant to call her a friend. She was very bossy about where we would go and what we would do and she had a very obvious drinking problem. We would make plans to go to a concert or a movie, and she would invariably say “Let’s have a couple of drinks first.” Then once she had “a couple of drinks” she wouldn’t feel like doing what we had originally planned, and she would sit and have at least eight more drinks (no exaggeration) and argue with people or act like an idiot. I have no idea why I put up with that nearly every weekend for almost two years. We had been friends back in college, but then lost touch for several years then started hanging out again. She had a steady (but low-income) job, and with our incomes combined we could afford a 2-bedroom apartment in the small town we lived in at the time. We rented the top floor of a small house that had been divided into three apartments. I knew it was a bad idea, but I really did not know what to do. The roommate I had before that had moved to Seattle and I was stuck in a small town with no steady income.

We made a deal before we looked at the new apartment — we didn’t have to make a decision right away. If we liked it, then we’d take it, and if we didn’t like it, we had other places to look at. Unfortunately, she liked it and I hated it. I can look back on many times in my life where I needed to be more assertive, and this was one of those times. I thought the apartment was too small for the price and just weird. It was painted strangely and the staircase that led up to our unit was obviously thrown together as an afterthought once the house had been turned into apartments. The staircase was tall, steep, visibly lopsided, and it looked dangerous. Once I saw the place, I was fully prepared to just make some noncommittal comments like “Oh, we’ll get back to you, we have some more places to look at” but the ex-roomie liked it and wanted to take it right away. And because that’s what she wanted, that’s what we did. She was always more willing to fight, and I was always more willing to step back to avoid a fight.

I lived there for six months, and in that time we had exactly one day that the hot water worked. It wasn’t even the whole day, but I was able to enjoy a warmish shower for maybe 10 minutes. I complained about the lack of hot water to the landlord a lot, but nothing was done. The basement of the house served as a laundry room, and often it was flooded at least ankle-high. The landlord wouldn’t do anything about that either. The basement was always trashed, but it wasn’t clear who was supposed to maintain it. We had messy neighbors who would just throw trash in there and no one cleaned it up. Garbage would float in the floodwater. I avoided bathing as much as possible because the shower water was ice-cold. We had to use a landromat because of the flooding. Sometimes, when it wasn’t flooded that badly, I would just do my laundry in the basement, anyway.

My drunk roommate lost her job very shortly after we moved in together. That’s when it got really bad. Around the same time, I got a full-time job just outside Seattle. It didn’t pay much, and I had to drive over 50 miles one way to get there. It was the worst job I have ever had (which is saying a lot) and I was under extreme stress every day. Every day I would just get into my car and scream. If I was lucky, my roommate wouldn’t stagger home drunk and coked-up until I was just leaving for work (or after I had gone for the day). When I was less lucky, she would stagger home drunk and coked-up with several other drunk, coked-up people while I was trying to sleep or just relax by myself in the living room after being yelled at and publicly humiliated all day. There were often creepy strangers milling around our place when I got up in the morning. After dealing with an extremely hostile work environment, living like that wore on my sanity. I still hung out with the roommate on occasion, but she got me into a couple of dangerous situations and I moved out and never spoke to her again. I’ve seen her a couple of times randomly. She looks sick and awful and I don’t feel sorry for her. She’s 32 but could pass for almost 50.

While my current situation isn’t nearly that bad, there are some big problems. I was very nervous about staying with this particular friend because she is such a negative person. She has an ability to take everyday situations and turn them info full-on disasters. Even completely neutral situations that have nothing to do with her somehow become huge crises in her world. I’m beyond thankful that she’s offered to let me stay here, but I just knew I’d spend the whole time walking on broken eggshells.

Weeks ago she asked me where I wanted to sleep when I stay with her. I told her that I just wanted to sleep wherever it was convenient for her and I wouldn’t interfere with her daily routine.

“Oh, it’s your house. I’ll sleep anywhere! Feel free to just boss me around tell me where to put my stuff. I’m not picky.” I laughed, and said it in the tone I use when I’m telling a funny story or making a joke.

Two hours later she called me sobbing because she thought that when I said “boss me around” that I had been calling her bossy.

“Is that what you really think of me?!”

I had said it so casually that I didn’t even remember that I had used those words, and I would have used the same words with anyone else I considered a friend. This is the level of sensitivity I’m dealing with.

I thought that perhaps things might change a bit because a week or two ago, one of her best friends “broke up” with her because of her negative attitude. She asked me to give her honest feedback about her personality and actions. I did, though reluctantly. I named a few occasions where she has shot herself in the foot by being so negative. I also reminded her of another incident –when I lost my keys last June and was stranded and freaked out at 4am, she was angry that I did not call her. She yelled at me over the phone and said “Obviously you don’t think of me as a good enough friend.” I was the one who had had the bad experience, but she was the one who got personally offended. It is textbook emotional manipulation. If I had called her, she would have moaned and groaned all week about how I threw off her sleep schedule. Also, I didn’t call anyone, so it’s not like I called everyone except her. It was a very strange argument, and she actually cried and turned it into her own problem when it didn’t affect her at all. The goal of all of this is to inspire guilt or possibly pity.

I don’t respond well to such theatrics, if I respond at all. The new roomie keeps starting drama, in particular with my cat. She already has a cat, so I don’t understand it. I don’t even want to write about it because it is so incredibly stupid that it hurts to think about. She has said things to me that no sane person would ever say ever. She locks my cat in the freezing basement, then gets mad at me when my cat meows at the door. The obvious solution would be to not lock my cat in the freezing basement, which only became a factor long after she offered me a place here. I don’t even want to get into what she says will happen if she doesn’t lock the cat in the basement, or worse –what she says will happen if the cat doesn’t quit meowing. It’s too stupid to document. I said in my last post that she was worried about the neighbors complaining if the cats fought. That is a true but much less dramatic account of what she actually said. She thinks the letting my cat in will trigger an apocalypse and her life and livelihood will be in danger. I wish I were kidding.

My mother used to do similar things, but only after she had brain damage. That’s probably part of why this makes me so angry at her irrational behavior. My mother’s brain-damaged guilt trips wore me down physically and mentally. I was young and trying to establish my own life, but I got sucked into my mother’s illnesses and divorce on top of her excessive dramatics and manipulative behavior. My new roomie is paranoid about things that will never happen and every day some new drama comes into being. I can’t stand illogical behavior. I found another place to stay, but they don’t take cats. Dogs, yes; cats, no. Every dog I’ve ever known has caused way more damage to their home than my cat, so I don’t get it. Heck, I cause more damage to my home than my cat is likely to. Also, she’s declawed (not my choice, my parents declawed her as soon as I went away to college and wasn’t around to protest). I’ve started the Pet Travel Scheme for my cat and don’t want to leave her anywhere else for a while because I need access to her so I can get her to her vet appointments at the appropriate times.

My cat has actually broken out of the basement a few times, and the results were as uneventful as any sane person would expect. The two cats saw each other, but didn’t fight. Because I’m (generally) respectful, I put my cat back in the freezing basement. She sleeps on top of me every night, and I think it was upsetting to her that I was upstairs sleeping on the sofa. I got a little air mattress from someone on Craigslist so I’ll sleep on that. It’s still very cold down there, even with the space heater.

I’ve given up my car, so I’m going to be stuck here a lot. Also, it’s very likely that I have gout, which would explain my freaky joint pain. The doctor ordered blood tests and X-rays because something was visibly (and painfully) affecting the joint on one of my toes. More news about that on Monday.

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Jinx

Good Luck by Mark Ryden

Good Luck by Mark Ryden

Those I interact with regularly tend to react to me in two different ways: they ignore me or they ignore my problems. For quite a while now, I’ve been somewhat of a shit magnet. Is there more dignified term to express that concept? I can’t think of one. I’m kind of like the jinx in Li’l Abner. When I’m not writing in my secret blog, I generally keep my problems to myself. Once in a while, however, I’ll get into a conversation with a trusted friend and I’ll let a few details about my life slip. They say things like “Oh, I’m so sorry,” or “I don’t know what to say.” Then the phone calls and e-mails stop and I’m left keeping things to myself again. In other instances I have friends who don’t seem to pay attention to anything I say. I was IMing with a friend the other night, and he expressed surprise that I “seemed a bit down.” This friend is aware of my situation, so why would he express surprise? Gee, I’m about to be homeless and lose everything that’s ever been important to me while I admit absolute defeat, I’m in a perpetual state of emotional breakdown, I don’t know what to do, but other than that life’s peachy. A different friend of mine (who is aware of certain aspects of my situation but none of the more recent developments) gets visibly uncomfortable if I speak of anything negative in my life, such as my horrible family. Once when I mentioned that I was worried about having enough rent money, he said “Why don’t you just move in with your parents?” I had previously told him that my mother had been dead for years and I hadn’t spoken to my father in even longer. When I mentioned it the first time, he changed the subject very quickly. He later forgot that the conversation even took place. He doesn’t want to hear things like that because bad parents don’t exist in his world where all the pretty white houses have picket fences made of lollipops. He is a good guy, but he doesn’t understand my situation at all and has repeatedly made insensitive and ignorant comments to me about money. He has never had a real job, but he owns an iPhone and lives with his rich parents. Then he admonishes me for living the only way I can. He also once told me that I “just need to be more optimistic.” I didn’t tell him I quit my job. He doesn’t know I’m getting evicted. I may very well disappear and he’d never know.

Speaking of disappearing, I am at a strange crossroads. I am friends with a guy I used to volunteer with about five years ago. He is a barely functional alcoholic. He is caring and funny and genuinely kind, but he’s trouble. His financial situation is not much different from mine. He is incapable of holding a job due to his alcoholism and (as a former employer of his put it) his “inability to keep his mouth shut.” He did not finish college, he never pays his bills. He can’t even get a bank account because he wrote several bad checks and never paid overdraft fees. He can’t get a driver’s license because he owes $5000 in tickets for moving violations and associated fees. He sent me a text message today asking me if I’d be interested in living in a house with him and a few other people. In Philadelphia. Rooms are $425 a month and I can bring my cat. Tempting. I’ll never find anything like that here. He has asked me to move out there before, and I’ve always said no (for the record, we are not dating). Until now, I had not seriously considered his offers because I had hope for something good to happen in Seattle. I don’t have that hope anymore. Quite frankly, I’m at the end of my rope and I have no idea where I’m going. Moving there is a bad idea, but is it a worse idea than staying here? I get so overwhelmed with choices. I get frozen because there is always something in the way and I don’t know which obstacles to conquer first. I can’t declare bankruptcy yet because I don’t know what I’m doing with my car. I can’t figure out what I’m doing with my car until I figure out if I can move to the United Kingdom or not. I can’t move to the United Kingdom until I get my passport and see if I can get a job and secure things with my relatives. I can’t do all of that until I save money and get a job here. This line of thinking gets me nowhere, literally. My thoughts just whirl around and around and I just stand there, dizzy.

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Who can it be now?

Another day, another knock at my door I don’t answer. I’m starting to think that my landlord and rental agency are as clueless about eviction as I am. It seems odd that they would try to approach me in person when I have not received so much as a phone message from them in about a month and I have received no eviction-related documents since my three-day pay-or-vacate notice. There have been no notes left on my door, which is even more confusing. I live in a condominium with no on-site manager. Why would someone drive all the way out here unannounced without leaving a note? The pay-or-vacate notice was left on my door, but that is all.

I can only assume it is someone who wants to talk to me about eviction. This person knocks on my door persistently, and does not approach my neighbors’ condos. Whoever he is, he is here to see me. The only reason anyone stops by my place uninvited is to get something from me. I tell myself sometimes that I will answer my phone next time a debt collector calls, and I told myself tonight that I will answer the door the next time this happens. But I probably won’t. If I had an income I might have more confidence in this matter, but as of now I don’t.

Today I drank a Diet Rock Star, a drink that can wake the dead. I hoped that by drinking it I would find the energy to pack and clean out my place a little, but I was fast asleep an hour later. I have barely moved on paring down my belongings. I have also stopped applying for jobs. I have reached the pinnacle of my exhaustion. I’m becoming more fearful that there is something very wrong with me health-wise. I have only mentioned some of my chronic health issues here, and it’s not something I really care to get into yet, but I started showing signs of illness around ten years old. I have been diagnosed with a couple of problems, but my diagnoses do not explain many other symptoms I have. I’m definitely not a hypochondriac, even though I have often been treated as such. My symptoms are visible, undeniable, and run in my family, but my medical tests are always negative or inconclusive. These issues only add to my overwhelming fatigue. Despite having a father who was a doctor, I have never had proper, consistent healthcare. My parents never took me to doctors, even when at age 12 I became violently ill and developed vertigo and intrusive pulsatile tinnitus, the latter of which I still have to this day. I still get vertigo on occasion, too, but never to the degree I had it in childhood. There were multiple occasions when I had to crawl because I couldn’t walk without vomiting or falling. I haven’t had an incident like that in about 11 years (knock on wood). By the time I was old enough to go to doctors regularly on my own, I had been disowned by PsychoDad and didn’t have a job that offered health insurance. I finally got good health insurance just in time for my Cancer Scare of ’06, but I lost my job six months after the surgery that left me scarred and hormonally wonky, for lack of a better term. It wasn’t cancer, fortunately, but no one knew that so my stress levels extremely high. Not that knowing would have changed much. It still would have been stressful and life-altering.

One of my biggest personality flaws is that I don’t ask anyone for the help I need until it’s too late. I had this problem in college and graduate school. I have had this problem at jobs. I’m doing it again right now and I don’t know how to stop it. I seem to have personal drama going on all the time, and I will struggle, struggle, and struggle with school or work all the while thinking “I can do this!” and by the time I realize that I can’t it’s too late. I’ve been asked in several situations “Why didn’t you tell me there was a problem? Why didn’t you ask for help?” My response is always “I really thought I could handle it.” But sometimes I can’t. My awareness of this personality flaw hasn’t stopped me from doing it time and time again. I guess I don’t know where the line is between self-sufficiency and foolishness. I can’t stop all of the drama, but I should be able to improve the way I cope.

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Hope in shambles

Today I had the phone interview with the manager at the company that has (once again) been toying with me. I think it went well, except he asked me some very specific questions about Microsoft Excel that I was unable to answer. I was able to answer his questions about conditional formatting, but not the questions about pivot tables. I hope that was acceptable. The pay for this job starts at $14 an hour and it requires 5 years of publishing experience. Jobs of this caliber typically pay $25 to $30 an hour…if not more. When I was hired for my last job, my recruiter told me “I realize that this pay rate is abnormally low, but they know that people will work for it, so they’re not going to budge.” I imagine that this other company holds a similar stance.

The job actually sounds somewhat exciting. They have made a few changes since I last worked there, and there have been some innovations that I would genuinely love to be a part of. I became very nervous when I realized that they want the new hire to begin this Tuesday. That made it much more tangible, more real. My bills are so steep that a $14 an hour job is not enough to save me. My basic bills will not be covered –even if I were to move without accruing any moving expenses, even if I gave up my car. I’m in far too deep.

I had a flexible spending account for medical costs at my last job. I am still eligible for reimbursement. It’s difficult, however to spend money in order to be reimbursed when I don’t have the money to spend in the first place. I sent in my receipts last week, and was expecting a $95 check. I received a $20 check. That $95 would have gotten me out of the red. Weeks ago, I deposited money in my bank account to prevent an overdraft, but I was a few hours too late, apparently. That set off a chain of events and I have been charged $140 in fees just in the past two weeks. That’s more than I made last month. I have not yet deposited the $20, but my current bank balance is -$88. I have fourteen cents in savings. Now I have to call customer service and ask what happened to my extra $75. I have a feeling that they want extra documentation. I wish I didn’t care. I wish that $75 weren’t so damn important. I wish this all didn’t seem so life-or-death, but it does. It fucking does.

Every few hours it seeps in and I become hyperaware of my situation. I’m always aware of it, but most of the time it does not seem real. I have always been able to detach myself from reality to the point where I feel like I’m watching a movie where I am the star. It isn’t really happening. I don’t like it, but I’m powerless as I watch the world interact with me, attack me, reach out to me. And it won’t matter because in my head it isn’t real. I’ll meander around online, looking up resources about panhandling and sleeping on the streets. I remain detached, not even processing it or thinking it through while I do such things. The most mundane activities are always a trigger. I emptied my dishwasher this morning, and as I handled each dish I pictured myself wrapping the clean plates in newsprint to pack away. But after I pack them, where will I put these things? I can’t pay for a storage unit. Although my plates are inexpensive, I don’t want to get rid of them because how will I replace them? I will need plates, just like I will need a bed and somewhere to sit. If I do end up on the streets, I know (hope) it will be only temporary. I can’t get myself to part with things I know I can’t replace. Things I know I need.

My father is a doctor and my mother was a nurse. My father grew up in an impoverished country. I won’t say which one, but it is one of the poorest nations in the world, and my father has known more poverty than anyone who is reading this now. I can come onto this blog and whine all I want about not paying my rent or my car payment, or having to sell my things, or having to go to a soup kitchen, but that’s not real poverty. That’s not what my father’s family went through. He and I do not get along and have not spoken in seven years.

I hate him. I’ve hated him almost as long as I can remember. Sometimes I feel guilty for hating him because I know he has had it rough and perhaps he cannot help the things he does. His upbringing warped him.

He was terribly abusive to both me and my mother. Especially my mother. I don’t want to blame him. He’s hurting. He’s awkward. He doesn’t know how to communicate or express himself. He doesn’t know how to talk and he doesn’t know how to listen. And I don’t think he cares.

I will always remember every hurtful thing he said and every hurtful thing he did. I wrote recently about horrible things said to me in job interviews, and part of me wonders if I somehow project a persona that people want to yell at, belittle, or humiliate. I am more accustomed to cruelty than I am kindness. A friend said to me once “It seems like a lot of people say really awful things to you.” It’s true.

My father always thought I was disgusting and stupid. When I was 13, he physically cornered me and wouldn’t let me walk away as he yelled in my face for nearly 30 minutes telling me over and over that I must be mentally retarded because it was impossible for a normal person to be as stupid as I am. That incident happened in 1992, but it might as well have happened last week. When I was 15, my father yelled at me in front of an entire class because he saw me eat frozen yogurt. He said I was “like a farm animal, always eating.” I couldn’t eat in front of him because he would bring me to tears –even in restaurants. Months after the classroom incident, I ran away from home (however briefly) after he chased me around and whipped at my legs with a belt. Out of all of that I was the one who got sent to a psychiatrist. He told me to change my last name, so that no one would associate him with the retarded girl. He regularly made fun of my face and my voice. He told me that I should never speak again because every word I said made me look more and more stupid. To this day I hate eating in front of people, and I am on a constant quest to prove my intelligence while avoiding conflict. I have a high IQ and a master’s degree, but I would really like a PhD. I don’t have a very good reason for wanting a PhD; I just feel that people would be less likely to treat me like I’m stupid if I have one.

My older brother is a far scarier, more abusive version of our father. The difference is that he didn’t have an upbringing that warped him, at least not any more than I did. There is no excuse for his behavior, and I haven’t spoken to him in nearly five years. If I were to list the litany of crazy, mean-spirited things he has done to me, most people would probably think I was making it up. After all, who is really that cruel, especially to a sibling? Well, my brother is. Two friends of my mother’s observed his behavior towards me and they were absolutely confounded. I suppose one day I will get revenge by writing about his misdeeds in a tell-all book, but until then I’ll just be vague.

But I don’t want revenge. I just don’t want them to win. This, to me, is the worst thing about being poor –the shame of failure. I grew up being treated like a failure, and here I am failing at life. I worked through college and graduate school, put all of my focus on my career in an effort to prove that I could take care of myself and succeed on my own. But I haven’t. They’ve already won, but I’d rather live on the streets than let them find out.

I hope I don’t hate myself for writing this.

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You Are Not Your Job (or Awkward Interviews I’ve Had, Part 2)

“You are not your job. You are not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” --Tyler Durden

Pardon me for invoking the over-quoted Fight Club.

All too often we’re judged not by our potential or our abilities, but by our status. Two of the worst job interviews I have had have been the result of cocky executives deciding that I must be stupid, incompetent, or worthless just because of the assortment of bad jobs I have held. My longest stint of full-time employment was at the most boring receptionist job ever. Prior to my years of poverty, I had been an instructor at a technical college. I taught basic math classes, computer skills, and medical terminology to aspiring medical and dental assistants. I quit this position to go back to school to get my dream job, but my plan completely backfired and I ended up poor. I have not had a higher-level or higher-paying job since. My career peaked when I was 24 years old.

By 27, I’d become resentful of having low-level low-pay jobs I hated. Especially since I had been job-hunting almost nonstop for three years. I am good at writing and editing, and I wanted to work in corporate communications. No one would hire me, so I saved as much money as I could and I enrolled in a yearlong certificate program for editors. I felt that this would make up for my lack of experience.

I received word that the administrative assistant in my company’s corporate communications department was quitting. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to get my foot in the door. First of all, it was an admin position, so it was barely a step up from what I had been doing. Also, it paid more. Best of all, it was in the department I wanted to work in, and I knew that once they saw me at work, they’d realize my potential and I would actually get a job on my chosen career path.  I spoke to the director of the department about it, and she encouraged me to apply and said that I would be a good fit. Unfortunately, she stepped down from her position before the hiring process was completely underway.

As the receptionist, I knew everything about every department at the company. I knew everyone’s names, I knew everyone’s jobs. I was generally among the first to find out company news because a lot of information crossed my desk each day. I thought that this would work to my advantage in applying for a corporate communications position.

I was wrong. The stink of reception work takes years to wash away.

I spoke with the admin who was quitting, and she told me a lot about the job. She was annoyed that it was strictly an admin position, and she did not have much corporate communication work to do. She told me that she had to do things like attach files to the VP’s e-mails, because he just couldn’t figure out how to do it himself.

The VP would pass by the reception desk and give me random tasks, which I assume were just to test me. He asked me to find the phone number for the CEO of a rival company. Thank you, Google. He asked me to compose a press release based on a laboratory study of one of our products. I’m comfortable with medical and scientific jargon, so this was a relatively easy task once I found information about press-release formatting. I did find the VP’s request strange because the admin said that she never once had to write a press release; the most she had to do was proofread.

After a couple of weeks of catering to his arbitrary whims, I was called in for an interview. I was so excited. I dressed up, I studied, and I printed copies of my current resume on ivory resume paper. I had worked so hard to get my resume to highlight my skills rather than my experience. One of my best friends (who is an accountant with an MBA) had helped me get my resume into a better format for highlighting relevant experience.

I walked into his office, sat down, and handed him my resume.

“So,” he said. “What is it about handing out people’s paystubs and bus passes makes you think you’re qualified for a career in corporate communications?”

Ouch.

I laughed –probably because I was nervous and offended, but I tried to play it off as casual. I mustered up some answer about how I had tutored writing for years, written and designed workshops about writing, was a talented editor, and really wanted a more challenging position.

“If you’re so interested in communications, why didn’t you get a job in the field when you were finished with college?”

Sigh. When friends ask me that question, I can answer it honestly, but I had no idea what to say in such a formal setting. How is that even a valid interview question? I don’t even remember what I said. I think I just babbled on about how I was versatile or something.

“When did you graduate college?”

“2003.”

“So I guess you’ve just been screwing around for four years.” He had that “ha-ha-I’m-making-a-joke-but-not-really” tone. I did my best to laugh it off.

Towards the end of the interview, I asked him how he got his job. He told me that he worked at a store that sold stereo equipment, and after college he got some job at a small-time newspaper and he worked his way up. He was in his early 50s, and he’d been in communications for over 30 years. He was coming from a completely different place, and he didn’t understand why I hadn’t done the same thing.

Then he dealt the final blow: “When I look at you and your resume, I think ‘this girl would make a good receptionist.'”

Triple ouch.

I was not offered the administrative assistant job. An HR representative came out and told me that I just didn’t have enough experience, and then she told me about another department in our company that needed “someone to do some filing.” I burst into tears. Later that week, the corporate communications department hired a random temp from an agency, and they paid her more than I got paid at the front desk.

I felt I had been wronged. It was as though they felt it was “cute” that the receptionist wanted a big-girl job. I was more hurt than anything else. It wasn’t even the job rejection. It was that I’d never had a chance.

I complained to my supervisor about how frustrated I was with my experience trying to get out of my stifling job. I was literally and figuratively trapped behind that desk –I wasn’t even allowed to get up and move away from the desk at any time.  I made an offhand comment that “in an ideal world, I wouldn’t be a receptionist another minute.” Two hours later I received a random voice mail from the woman at the temp agency who had placed me at that job. Three hours after that, I was fired. I was unaware at the time that I had already been replaced with a temp, hence the random call from the temp agency.

I was fired for being “unhappy.” They said that it was “risky” for the company to have someone answer the phone and greet visitors when they were so “unhappy.”

They knew I was trying to get a job in another department, and they knew why. I was bored and I never hid that fact. I was there about a year and a half, and I had been told repeatedly that I was the first receptionist to last more than six months. The boredom was excruciating; had I not been so desperate, I wouldn’t have lasted there nearly that long.

I was so bored that I invented games to play with the postage meter. I was so bored that I read the spam faxes just to look busy.

They had known for months, but when I spoke up about the way I was treated, I was “too unhappy.” They were okay with me being unhappy –just not too unhappy.

I was not unemployed for long that time around, and my next job was one that I loved. After about four weeks of unemployment, I got my very first editorial job at a big company. I was getting paid less than I had been as a receptionist, but I loved the work. Unfortunately, I got laid off.

When I found out that I was getting laid off from my first editorial job, I was understandably upset. My pay was terrible, but at least I made it through each day without wanting to bang my head through a windowpane. To avoid a lapse in employment, I applied for an associate editor job at the same company. The company had a very specific hierarchy, and the job I was applying for was one step above the position I had.

I requested an informational interview with the woman who would have been my supervisor if I were chosen for the job. I e-mailed her my resume and she sent me a meeting request for that afternoon to talk to her about the position. I wasn’t dressed for an interview because I had only heard about the position after I had arrived at work that morning, but since it was an informational interview, I was less concerned. I created a list of questions to ask and I brought them with me.

I didn’t ask a single question. The minute I walked in the door, she started grilling me job-interview style. Even though this was a job within the company where I already worked, she was completely unaware of what I was talking about when I tried to explain my job. I had signed an NDA and was not sure if I was allowed to discuss certain details outside of my department. She kept pressing it, and I answered as best as I could, though I admit I remained vague about specifics. If I was going to violate my NDA, I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it in a way that could come back to haunt me.

I failed to answer her questions about my current position to her liking. She then began to tell me that she was looking for someone with a lot of technical writing experience. The job was not a writer position, let alone a technical writer position. It was an editor position, and the job listing did not mention technical writing at all. The job listing also mentioned that all applicants would be given an editing exam. I asked her if I could take the exam. She said “we’re just evaluating people by their experience.”

I told her about my editing certificate program, and she asked me to describe specific assignments I had done. Again, I was expecting an informational interview, so I was not prepared to answer questions about classes I had taken several months or a year before.

We talked a few more minutes, and then she said “I’m not going to lead you on and pretend that we’re interested.” Direct quote.

Hanging on to whatever composure I had left, I asked her if she could think of any departments where my skills would be useful.

“No,” she said. “We don’t hire beginners here. Maybe you should try to get a job at a newspaper.”

I left. I was either going to say something vulgar or cry, so I walked out. I’m completely baffled as to why she requested this interview with me if she saw my resume beforehand. If I wasn’t what she was looking for, why did she choose to waste her time and mine? Her “we don’t hire beginners here” statement stung the most. After all, I already worked there and she knew that.

The following day I went out to lunch with a coworker, and I told him about my ordeal.

“That’s so weird!” he said. “I interviewed with her last week and she was totally nice to me.”

“What?!”

“Yeah.”

“How come she didn’t know what my job was if she interviewed you first?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t ask me too much about it.”

What. The. Hell. He and I had the exact same job on the exact same team. We were hired two months apart, and we were at a similar level of experience.

“Maybe she’s one of those women who just doesn’t like other women.”

Whatever. I’m glad I’m not working for her.  I’d have gone crazy looking at her scowly face all day. My coworker didn’t get the job either.

I’m not sure what I learned from all this, except that people can be jerks. Unfortunately, I already knew that.

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Fortes fortuna adiuvat (or Awkward Interviews I’ve Had, Part 1)

Fortune favors the brave.

Fortune favors the brave.

Tomorrow I have a phone interview with a well-known reputable company.  It’s not somewhere I care to work, actually, but I do think I could handle it. It’s in my career, but I don’t believe I’d be happy with the culture of this company and my commute would be terrible. The pay is decent, comparable to the average for comparable jobs.

While I face this phone interview tomorrow, I am reflecting on awkward interviews I have had. One of my worst interviews was for a temporary receptionist position at a water bottling company in a town I’d never heard of. I got the interview through my temp agency after I complained about their inability to place me despite their constant praise of my “excellent qualifications.” After I whined and complained a lot, they told me that I could go to this interview at 11am.

They told me that the office was near a town called Puyallup, but not as far away as Puyallup. I did not have Internet at home, and I was unable to make it to the library, so I asked the woman at the temp agency for directions. She gave me the address, and told me that the plant was on 155th Street. Just turn right and you can’t miss it. The directions were straightforward and easy enough. I read them back to her to confirm.

I made all the twists and turns as directed. Unfortunately, I had been misled about the distance. The first street I saw was 112th, and so I had to haul ass to 155th in about 10 minutes. I made it to 154th Street at about 10:59 am.

155th Street was nowhere to be seen on the right side of the street. It just wasn’t there. 153rd, 154th, 159th, and that was all. I made a U-turn at 159th. I finally found 155th, but then saw that there was no way to turn right (er, left…since I’d turned around). I went the other way and found myself in a grocery store parking lot. I called the temp agency and told them where I was.

“You were actually supposed to turn right on 115th Street.”

Gee, thanks. I’d passed that 10 minutes before.

Anyway, it was 11am at this point, I was late, and I was 40 blocks away with slow traffic.

At 11:20, I found myself in their gravel-paved parking lot. I had to walk across the gravel to get to the office. My black shoes, black stockings, and black skirt were all covered in gravel dust. I was a mess.

I checked in at the front desk.

“Your interview was supposed to be at 10 am.”

Yes, one hour and twenty minutes earlier. I also know that I was told 11am. I remember her saying it and that’s what I wrote down on the same piece of paper I wrote my bad directions. She had said “11am” at least twice during our conversation, just as she had said “155th Street.”

I will never know if they did this to me on purpose or not. They only gave me this interview after I complained. It’s possible that they wanted to put me in my place.

I showed up an hour and twenty minutes late and I was flustered. The first question the interviewer asked me? “So, why are you interested in working for our company?”

Oh geez. I had never even heard of the company. I had never even heard of the town where the company was based. It’s not like I’d been just waiting for the perfect customer service job at a bottled water plant and was so excited to see this position open up. I did then what no interviewee should ever do –I answered the question honestly.

“The temp agency sent me over.”

The interview continued and she asked me the usual set of questions I hate: How does this position relate to your college degree? If you’ve worked so much in education, why are you trying to get customer service jobs now? We don’t hire people who we don’t think are going to stay with us long, you know.

I asked about “opportunities for advancement,” you know…to show that I was looking for long-term employment. Her response? “Well…I don’t want to use the phrase ‘dead-end job,’ but really, that’s what it is.”

Great. So, they were looking for someone who was eager to stay in a dead-end job long-term.

On three separate occasions, she mentioned my tardiness to the interview, and rubbed it in by saying “If you’d shown up on time, I would have been able to show you around the plant.” I had explained repeatedly that I had been told the wrong address and the wrong time, but I don’t think that anyone there believed me.

The woman was a little nuts and kept telling me random stories and I was never sure why she was telling them. She told me that water delivery men frequently get bitten by dogs, and that I would have to deal with dog owners sometimes. I’m not sure what I would have had to tell dog owners.

She told me about a co-worker whose family’s house had burned down while the teenage daughter had been burning candles. I think she was trying to convey how great the co-workers were in that they rallied around this guy whose house had burned down after his other child had died in the fire accidently set by the teenage daughter. She also told me about the daughter’s descent into madness. Ok, she didn’t say much about that. I’m being dramatic.

It’s probably needless to say this, but I was not offered the job.

I guess that several years of bad interviews have toughened me to a great extent. This interview was frustrating enough to put me into a deep depression. I ended up getting a different job with the psycho, abusive coworker, and I was so distraught with my job search, that I didn’t apply for a single job for months. I still have my moments like this, but I’ve become more tolerant of ridiculous interviews.

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