I've only been working at the new gig out by Union Station since mid-January, but it's crazy how fast a thing becomes your life. It's crazy how fast you form a routine. At some point I jotted down this line, which seems to apply to many facets of my life: "I fall in love with my circumstances." It's like a survival thing, protecting against disappointment. What do I want my life to be? Why, this, right here! I'll take it! It's not a grueling, one-sometimes-two-hour, pre-dawn, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"-style commute to a temp job for a big boring bureaucratic corporation in DC -- it's a daily adventure, an evocative, sunrise-tinged journey, during which I am alternately absorbed in literature and people-watching, to the bustling and glamorous Union Station, peopled by evanescent, frenzied travelers and poignant homeless reminders of how lucky I am, near where I get paid to engage in wordsmithery for an international organization that takes care of good, hardworking people (I am apparently prohibited from mentioning my organization by name on a personal blog, but they manage retirement plans for public-sector employees). Like the unnamed hideous man on the responding end of the fictional interview above, I can fall into a sort of dogged, determined love with things when I really want (or need) to.
I want to have a job so bad that I have pretty much convinced myself I have a job. That's what it feels like right now, even though I know better. Since January 19, I've done my tri-colored Metro commute (Blue Line to Yellow Line to Red Line, reverse to go home) enough times that I could probably do it in my sleep (and do pretty much do it in my half-sleep, in the morning at least). I know that, once I get to Union Station, there's almost never any line at the "secret" Starbucks -- the temporary, "portable," lemonade-stand-style one they've erected while the "real" one just behind it gets a make-over, all gauzed over in waxy clear plastic. (Forget about even trying to stand in line at the conspicuous Starbucks by where people catch their trains to NYC, because you will turn into a Halloween-decoration-style skeleton before you get to the cash register.) I know all the homeless people I'll see each morning: the woman in the Army jacket and pink scarf, the friendly fellow who blesses everyone who walks past, the mysterious woman in the Canada-maple-leaf jacket and the sign that says: "Traveling." I know that, come lunchtime, a long line of intriguing food trucks -- proffering such foodstuffs as crepes and Cajun BBQ and, my favorite so far, a truck peddling Pinup Panini -- will appear parked in front of The Irish Times, which I have vowed to hang out inside (maybe I'll "grab a pint"!) some evening after work.
I know all of that stuff, but I know other stuff, too -- such as where to use the restroom in my building without the awkwardness of having to make chitchat with my boss (or her boss) at the sinks (third floor, three floors below mine and the realm of a whole different organization; their ladies' room is always unlocked). I know that I'm "on time" (i.e. at least half an hour early) for work if, when I get into my car in the morning, Garrison Keillor is doing "The Writer's Almanac" (around 6:37 a.m., give or take a couple of minutes).
I know all these cool things and all this dumb stuff that I very well might no longer need to know in a couple of months.
Lately I've surrendered to this dreamy lull, this ersatz respectability, this pretense of "having a job" when technically I don't. I mean, I do -- but it's just for right now. It's still, after all, a temp gig. It's easy (and tempting) to forget about the stigma-riffic tempy-ness when I'm actually doing productive, legacy-leaving things -- writing their training manual for how to post content on their new corporate Intranet, gearing up to train department "webmasters" to manage their own content -- instead of just clocking in and reading longform.org and answering the occasional phone call all day. When I'm writing feature articles for one of their cooler websites, and my boss says she's urging the joint to bring me on full-time. When some dude in "Talent Acquisition" approaches me and says he's heard that I "do things with content" and urges me to formally apply for their Communications Specialist job opening. When I have a work e-mail address with the same post-at-symbol suffix as everyone else's, and a name badge that gets me in the building lobby, and the elevator, and into the office's front door.
I start to take it for granted. I sail past the girl at the front desk and -- god help me -- I wonder what her deal is. I give her the benefit of the doubt because I'm nice and I've been there; I wonder if maybe she's still going to school, or has family obligations that eat up her would-be-bettering-her-life time and energy, or some absorbing outside creative endeavor, because surely this can't be what she ultimately wants to do with her life. You just don't go to school for years and years to become a receptionist. I hate that I think that, but I totally do. The main receptionist in particular is sort of passive, except when I hear her gossiping on her cell phone with her friends, so part of me wants her to be more serious, more career-oriented, more "proactive." I walk past her on my way to where I sit doing "real" work, and so help me, I judge her.
But here's the funny, or the sad, or at least just the humbling thing. Her gig there is probably her job, no qualifiers or quotation marks necessary. Me, well...
Here is how I see myself there, a smiling creative professional, writing and editing and managing content and developing written materials, doing something corporate, yes, but vaguely fulfilling. Challenging and stressful sometimes, even. I see myself as the totally legit girl on the name badge that I had to go down to the security station on the first floor to get, led down there by the VP of Marketing who'd hired me. Of Marketing, not of Temping. Of creative intellectual endeavors, of wordplay and puzzling out the human psyche so as to spur it into action:
And here, so it seems, is how they see me:
I had to edit something in their "Associate Directory" the other day; this is an area of the Intranet that I -- not being a "regular," full-time employee -- don't have a designated username and password to grant me magical access to. My boss logged me in there (so I could, you know, do my job), and I was looking some people up. It was neat putting names with faces. I thought it'd be a tiny rush to see my face in there, as if I were all bona fide, a feeling I've missed for a long time. I had assumed that I'd see the photo from my badge. But no, some policy somewhere stipulates that temps don't get the same treatment -- why add them only to take them away, or to forget that they're there and then you have all of this expired food in your virtual fridge? So instead of seeing the girl on the badge, I saw this. It's not even a chick. It's fucking creepy. It looks like I'm on some TV show about child molesters and they're doing one of those interviews in the dark where they disguise the person's voice and put quotey marks around a fake name.
Today I had to critique a new orientation video that my boss's office-mate helped create for new employees about their benefits. I'm sitting there watching the thing with my boss on her computer monitor, poised with my pen and notepad to take dutifully constructive notes, listening to the disembodied man's voice talk over culturally and generationally diverse stock photos about how much the organization cares about its "associates," how it would never want its precious employees to go through life without insurance and safety nets of all kinds, how it's so freaking great to be a fully fledged, welcome-aboard, "regular," "real" full-time employee there, because "you are what makes us great!" and blah blah blah, so of course it's the organization's moral imperative to take care of you. I'm sitting there, listening to the man go on about the rich bounty of the organization's benefits package (there's reimbursement for Metro commuters, they can sign up for programs that get them legal resources, programs that provide counseling for them and their families, they can probably pay into programs that get them juggling lessons for only a small co-pay)... thinking, "Well now, this is just cruel."
I have no health insurance. No sick days, no vacation days. I'm not guaranteed income past April. I don't even get a goddamn non-child-molester picture in the employee directory.
But I'm working. For now. Last night I went ahead and filed and paid both my federal and state income taxes. (I owed, of course, because I did a fair amount of freelancing last year.) I also paid my agreed-upon share of the monthly house-related expenses to my boyfriend, ostensibly a sort of rent for letting me live in the townhouse he bought back around Halloween (not that I think of him as my landlord, but you know, this is the fair arrangement, and it's really a very generous one from his end). In fact, I started paying a higher amount this month -- I offered to do that, so I could pay my fair share (or something approaching my fair share) of the utility bills, and also to pay him back for letting me piggyback on his car-insurance plan. I still have never lived a month with him that I haven't paid my agreed-upon part of the rent or mortgage, in all this time that I've been spottily employed. (Although, OK, some months it was really late.)
So there's that. And I know that there are jobs out there that I have a reasonable shot at attaining, especially now that I'm adding all of these rock-star, corporate-ninja job skills to my résumé and LinkedIn profile and have new job-reference offers (from my current gig) coming out of my yin-yang. Other jobs in the professional sea, where I bet they'd even acknowledge that I have a face.