Friday, March 8, 2013

With all due respect to Eleanor Roosevelt...

...who said this: 

"Do one thing every day that scares you."


This is perhaps not advice that should be followed by everybody. 

Yesterday was this one-two-three-punch day for me: 1) two-part job interview; 2) standing in front of a super-intimidating conference room and using computer/projector technology for a training session (I'm teaching people how to use the CMS that will allow them to post and manage content for their departments on the organization's Intranet); and 3) an evening visiting someone with whom I had a beautiful, life-changing, and ephemeral (one year, long-distance) involvement. The third of these is significant because this person lives over on the Western half of the country, and last night was only the third time I had seen him since we parted ways toward the end of 2008. There's of course so much more I could say about that, but this isn't the place to do it. So I'll just say we went out to dinner, he drank some Yuengling and I drank some Riesling and we split some crab cakes, then we hung out at his hotel listening to Radiohead on his iPod. We talked about politics, and religion (or lack thereof, to be more specific), and all the things you're not supposed to talk about with just anyone, and about whether we think we will or will not (respectively) someday have kids, and at some point I did an impression of someone speaking in tongues and (not at the same point in the conversation) quoted Forrest Gump, and well, I'll do so again: "That's all I have to say about that." 

That morning I arose before dawn and put on the almighty Interview Suit, my go-to, the black jacket and pants, with the good-quality lilac cotton button-down shirt that I always wear with it. This ensemble has got some pretty heady mojo going on, being a set of garments I only ever wear in highly stressful situations. The shirt's underarms are probably just about singed clean off by now. I grabbed my "portfolio," this black zippered case I've stuffed with writing samples and back-up résumés. On the Metro train to work, my head felt split, part of it resuscitating long-dormant stock answers to the classic interview questions, part of it thinking through the hour-long presentation I was to give for the first partial day of training, and a sort of back-burner part wondering how later on in the evening was going to go (and what I should wear; I ultimately opted to honor the sanctity of my friendship with the person I was going to see, by not making it the kind of night that involved some damn planned outfit, some stupid carefully thought-out combination of flattering clothing and chosen-signal-emitting accessories -- I threw on something comfortable, perhaps a bit inadvertently schoolmarm, but at least not trying to be anything I'm not). 

A gander back at the above two paragraphs will show you to what extent I was trying to only parenthetically think about the third part of the day, and to what extent the parentheses kept either not happening or filling up with more than there was outside them. 

In fact, I am listening to Radiohead right now, and have been since before I started writing this blog post. 

OK. This post wasn't going to be about that. 

I think I did very well during Interview #1, but maybe I just think that because the person conducting it just so happened to be the very editor to whom I submitted a feature article that she seems very happy to run on the main website she manages (in fact, she said she's been holding off on posting it because she wants to see whether I wind up working for them full-time; I reckon it would affect whether I have to sign any extra legal agreement about how I promise that the work is the property of the organization and etcetera). 

Then I had to force myself yet farther out of my natural shell like a stunned and naked turtle to do the training run-through. The actual sessions -- attended by a room full of students, my boss, my prospective boss, the head of all the web stuff, the VP of marketing; NO PRESSURE, Christie -- are three hours each, on Monday and Wednesday of next week. I think I did OK, but they threw a couple of technology curveballs at me and I wasn't really sure how to compress a planned three-hour hootenanny into half an hour (that's all that was left of the hour after we all finished talking about logistics and some other stuff) slot, and it felt pretty awkward pretending to teach my close co-workers who were pretending to be students, a big ol' not-super-fun, corporate game of magical make-believe.

Next I was rushing off to Interview #2, with barely enough time to chomp on a piece of Eclipse "Arctic Tundra XXX-treme Consequence-of-the-Folly-of-Humanity-Induced-Climate-Change Icy Mint Blast" gum, and book off to the FBI-interrogation-room-looking site of the tête-à-tête with a woman who works in the education department, whom I'd seen around the office but had never properly met, and for whom I would be working if I were hired. I think it went well, too, possibly even better than the first one -- I say that mainly because it was during Interview #1 that I had to answer all of the "Why did you leave this job, why did you leave that job" questions that were so very simple to explain early in my career, but which always have me sounding somehow defensive about the general batshittery of all the Whack-A-Mole-style, popping-up-in-surprising-places, post-layoff résumé blurbs. 

After that ended, with still an hour to go in my workday, I sat at my desk for a moment, a bit vegetable-esque, and tried to let the stress drain from me. I wasn't trying to slack off or anything; I just needed to take a little "me moment" and decompress. I flexed my hands and looked at the rake-like tendons. I fantasized about massage.

I drove home, changed out of the redolent-of-stress-hormones, arm-movement-constricting Interview Suit, into the aforementioned comfy but dowdy-librarian outfit, and dove into traffic going north to where my friend was staying in Gaithersburg, in town for work. I didn't even put on any more make-up, except for Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey, which anyone like me who has long been brainwashed by women's fashion magazines can tell you doesn't count. (It's so natural-looking and universally flattering.) I left my rapidly graying hair in its Old Maid bun. Because, again, this wasn't like in some stupid movie where a girl puts on some comically "hot" outfit for a rendezvous with an ex so she can make him see what he's missing. 

We had a wonderful night. 

And then today at work my boss said she'd like to reserve the conference room and do another "dry run" before next week's "real" training sessions, with some different pretend students. In the hours before this impromptu event, I tried. I revised the agenda that I plan to use. I got to the conference room half an hour early to better familiarize myself with the technology (I mean, it's just a stupid SMART Board, but it's something new to me), to make sure I'll be able to access the webby things I'll need to use live next week. And then, maybe fifteen minutes before the "dry run" was scheduled to begin -- I had the sudden but insistent thought that I couldn't do it. Not right then. I could do it for real on Monday -- but for the moment, after the sustained stress and high emotions of the previous day... I just didn't have it in me to fake-present in front of people. My spunk, as it turns out, is a finite resource. 

I shut down. I sat at my desk and felt physical symptoms start to manifest -- an honest-to-god headache and light-headedness that, OK, were maybe attributable to the two glasses of Riesling drunk last night on a mostly empty stomach, plus a desperate night during which I didn't get anywhere near enough sleep. I stood up, and found myself walking into my boss's office. I told her that I was so sorry, but I needed to leave early. I told her how I felt, and she urged me to go lie down in this sad little "sick room" they have, an odd, quarantine-feeling, slate-blue-painted room with a cot that had a paper-covered pillow on it. I lay there for half an hour, blanket-less and curled up on my side, listening to the dull intermittent roar of nearby office printers. I pressed a finger to the pain just between my eyes. I thought about how it reminded me of the doctor's office, the sterile paper-covered pillow, the five minutes or so of waiting time that allows you to think about your circumstances in a rare undisrupted solitude.  

Finally my boss said to go home. She's a good person, and asked me to call or text to let her know I'd made it back OK. I felt bad, as if I'd pulled a Ferris Bueller. But I was just plain tapped out. I'm all for doing daunting, challenging, scare-you-shitless things -- but today I felt like some fragile and depleted oracle, like the Childress Empress or something. Ailing on a clamshell in a nightgown and a funky headband. OK, not like that at all. 

So I think you should do one thing that scares you, but probably not every day. Or at least, don't do three things every day that scare you. Otherwise you might find yourself horizontal on a cot in the sick room, listening to office printers drone, thinking about your circumstances.

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