Friday, January 4, 2013

"I'll have the usual, please."

I sent the obligatory "Just checking in... reminding you that I'm alive and hungry for work... here's a handy bullet-point list of my skills..." e-mails to my two contacts at the temp agency for creative folks, the ones who made my heart swell by referring to me as "talent" when I met with them last month, who are so firmly in anointed creative-people land that they don't even hear about the type of admin and data-entry temp jobs I've been languishing in for almost a year now. 

I haven't heard back from either rep. No "Thank you, Christie -- and how were your holidays?" or "We'll keep you in mind for suitable assignments!", let alone "Here is some paying writing work you can do." I wouldn't feel so bad about not having work yet if one of them had simply taken thirty seconds to write a polite "We acknowledge your existence" e-mail. Today is Friday; I e-mailed one of them on Monday, and one of them on Tuesday. Yes, Monday was a holiday. OK, maybe both of them are still on vacation. Maybe both of them are trapped beneath an avalanche of e-mails they received when their out-of-office thingies were turned on. Maybe their dog ate their homework, maybe they have food poisoning.

But in the meantime, for lack of any other paying work to do, I accepted an assignment from my older temp agency (the one that does deal in admin and data-entry work; I'm still registered with them as well) to go back to the dreary data-entry job next week, do some follow-up work, make some phone calls to help them fill in info that's missing from their database. If you'd like to ascertain the tenor of how I feel about this, read this and this and this

No, I'm not trundling off to a job at a slaughterhouse where I'll be elbow-deep in cow viscera. I'm not some Untouchable descending into the sewers where my society feels I belong and from which I might never truly emerge. I'm not scrubbing toilets, I'm not 13 years old and sewing Forever 21 garments in a sweat shop, I'm not selling my body. I'm not going off to war. I have some perspective. I'm accepting this assignment not to survive or put food on the table for my non-existent kids, or to keep from getting evicted or going bankrupt -- but to make sure, damn sure, that I never start mooching off my boyfriend, to help take the edge off his monthly mortgage payments and sometimes buy us groceries and restaurant meals and gas for our cars. I'm accepting it in order to not be a jerk.

I feel confused. I mean, aren't I supposed to be moving up up and away? Didn't I drive all the way up to Bethesda on a workday, sacrificing half a day's worth of temping hours, wearing my good-luck interview blazer that hasn't actually been such good luck lately, and pay the (unvalidated) parking-garage fee, and fill out a bunch of paperwork, and sit for an hour-long interview that saw me schmoozing with the recruiter about how awesome it is that we not only went to the same college, but also chose the same major and minor? Didn't I play the part society wanted me to play, and shouldn't I get a Scooby snack or something? 

It feels like when I came back home after my triumphant, post-layoff, rip-myself-out-of-inertia's-grip move out West in 2008. Driving back East had felt perverse, like fucking up the mythology -- the adventure-seeking hero is not supposed to just give up on the quest and come home. All the stories we've read have taught us that it's not supposed to work like that.

I was never supposed to go backwards. I wasn't supposed to have to remember the best route (via a morning Starbucks stop) and the Beltway exit to the data-entry place, wasn't supposed to have to remember to take the wooden door not the metal door if I want to go up the stairs and not out the alarm-triggering fire exit. The folks at the local deli were supposed to forget that the roast-beef-and-cheddar-on-croissant sandwich was (is) my "usual." I wasn't supposed to have a "usual" in the first place. I'm a temp. This is temporary. This is not my life. This is just for now. 

I wasn't supposed to have to go back into that office, and endure the CEO's perennially bemused expression, and know that he is wondering why, when I seem so intelligent, when I mention my professional past (having been a newspaper reporter for five years, having walked the halls of Capitol Hill to talk with the staffs of Congress members' offices -- halls he has never walked), I am here instead, punching in room numbers or CAPTCHA codes like a robot, grateful for scraps of work, scraps of payment. Sometimes I wonder if he thinks maybe I'm otherwise unemployable because I failed a drug test or murdered someone or something. But nah, most of the time he just looks at me like I'm a loser, as if there's something defective, in my DNA or in my character, that keeps me from, to use parent-teacher-conference parlance, reaching my potential. Maybe there is. Maybe I'm defective.

When I left there before Christmas, standing in the doorway of his unnecessarily huge office in my bulky winter coat and the strap of my peeling-leather Old Navy shoulder bag wound around me, telling him good-bye (I'd hoped forever) and that I hoped he had himself some jolly holidays -- he'd hollered out that he'd probably see me again -- because, as he put it matter-of-factly and more than a smidge condescendingly, as if he were a king or something: "You need the work."

This is not my life. This is just for now. 

But god damn it, if I don't force myself into action soon, it is going to be my life. 

Yeah, it could be worse. It could also be better. It should be better. I am better than this. I have so much more, such creative and high-level and substantive stuff, to offer. But who cares, if I'm not actively offering it?  

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