I want to tell you about shopping for work clothes today at Forever 21. I don't know why. Surely there are better, more poignant, less chick-lit opening images to present to you. I guess it just seems like as good an intro as any, literal though it might be, for an update about how things are going at my new, honest-to-God, look-ma-no-quotation-marks job.
I went to the disposable-couture emporium after saying good-bye to my boyfriend at the start of the out-the-door line at the inside-the-mall DMV (he had to get some gravely official paperwork processed and obtain new license plates for the new-to-him Prius he's now driving, bought from his folks after they got a newer Prius; long backstory that's not relevant here), and after talking to Kier on the phone for the better part of an hour while sitting on an upholstered mall bench and drinking a frappuccino. By the way, Kier is another one of those subjects that, for many reasons, I can't discuss here in the frank manner in which I've talked about other things (temping/work, drinking, nude "modeling," volunteering to "fix monsters," lying everywhere except in fiction). He does (and will surely continue to) appear in my creative writing, though.
Inside the pupil-obliteratingly bright, dual-level Forever 21 (a name that never fails to make me feel utterly ridiculous at the age of Temporarily 34), additional time warpage was to be found among the 1980s-as-interpreted-by-whatever-the-hell-we're-calling-this-decade clothing, the shrieking neon and the acid-washed denim, the Brat Pack prep-school blazers and the Michael Jackson leather jackets. I breathed in deeply whatever invisible mind-control fumes were being piped in through the vents, and wandered the store's two floors in an opiate haze. Which is nothing new to me; I've been shopping there, on a blissful contact high, for years.
But this time I didn't alight on a single sparkly, nightclub-worthy skank dress, and instead looked for work clothes suitable for my new job that, while undoubtedly corporate and at a place so bureaucratic that it sometimes feels more like a sit-com about a bureaucratic place, nevertheless falls decidedly within the taxonomic classification of "Creative Professional." Meaning, my new co-workers and I sometimes set aside as much as an hour at a time for "brainstorming" sessions, and most of the department uses Macs instead of PCs (except for me, but then, I'm a writer and not expected to know squat about design or anything visual; see the image I created above for proof). Meaning, last "casual Friday" I got away with wearing low-rise jeans, a hot-pink blouse with a silver Michael Jackson-esque jacket, a necklace with a heart-shaped "mood" charm that either matches my outfit or not depending upon my body temperature, and an aqua purse (and rainbow-colored leopard-print sunglasses during lunch).
So I bought some things (all within Forever 21's magnificent teenybopper's-allowance price range that rarely exceeds twenty dollars) that are both appropriate for a plucky new Creative Professional and accidentally -- as a consequence of the store's surely market-research-supported-nostalgia-borne decade-of-the-season -- neon-colored and '80s-prep-school-tastic. Because around the time I started sitting at my new desk in the anointed, enchanted forest of Marketingland -- on the opposite side of my building's sixth floor from (and metaphorically in a different cranial hemisphere than) the rule-maker, tattletale domain of the HR folks, where my old desk was as a temp -- I decided to (at the risk of sounding like some insipid, LCD women's-fashion-magazine article) have a little fun with my work clothes. To not just show up, clock in, do enough work to safely avoid getting yelled at, and clock out -- but to, as my poetic writer's soul has so eloquently chosen to put it, actually give a shit.
I'm even thinking of bringing in my collection of (three) souvenir snow globes, to add some "flair" to my desk, for crying out loud.
These accessories, these accoutrements, might seem silly to fixate on, and to some this fixation might betray my deep-down terribly bourgeois little dreams and strivings. (The fact that I used two French words in the same sentence just now should let you know how badly I want you to think I'm smart, think I'm cultured, bless my little bumpkin soul. The fact that I italicized them should let you know that I'm aware of how lame that desire to seem cultured is, and that I'm hoping to mitigate some of that lameness by pointing it out and being ironic about it.) My writing about these things -- the blazers and the desktop baubles -- indicates that I've serenely bought into the popular notion of success, a fish hook through my cheek that I don't feel because I'm all doped up on opiates and shopping at Forever 21.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm thrilled to my ironic core that I have a job now. It's a good job -- I get paid to be creative, to sit there and write things all day long. I'm regarded with respect, even by the very I-est of VIPs, as if I'm some oracular little wordsmithing Yoda. The pay is great for a writer (54k, my second-highest-paying job ever; the first-highest-paying [62.5k in 2008] really paid me more than I was worth), the benefits are phenomenal (health insurance, including dental and vision! free on-site gym! they pay for my Metro commute!), I get to work one block from my beloved Union Station.
My boss and closest co-worker (I work on a two-person team with a graphic designer, a sweet and quietly brilliant Asian girl who shares some nicely spaced-out cubicle walls with me) are nice, and my new boss (unlike my old boss) dislikes "micro-managing." It would have been a big-enough step up if I'd started working here directly after my last full-time job; coming on the heels of a year-plus of temping, during which I was making as little as thirteen dollars an hour pre-taxes for answering the phone or performing data-entry drudgery, it's like some huge Olympian pole vault forward.
So don't think I'm not grateful.
A few weeks ago I met up with a friend whose perspective and worldview I hold in high regard. He was in town for business meetings at his company's HQ in Gaithersburg, and we were hanging out at his hotel, catching up. We'd gone to dinner nearby first. He asked me about my life, and I chattered about my job (back then I was just a temp), about all the interviews I was going on, this never-ending series of flaming hoops (OK, that's exaggerating a lot) I had to jump through in hopes of attaining the anointed title of Communications Specialist and moving over to MarketingPeopleCrazyZanyFunTimesLand. I went on for a bit, and then he said -- as always piercing through the self-deceiving spin and rhetoric I tell myself when I really want to believe that things are happy in my life -- "How are things going with your real life's work?" He meant, of course, my creative writing.
And then I stopped talking. Because other than attending a weekly writing workshop, at which I share a few carefully selected short stories, sometimes getting usable feedback (and sometimes not), I haven't done a thing. I've been saying for years that one of my big goals is to get some short fiction published in some actually-read-by-people magazines, or even some only-read-by-writers-with-stories-in-them magazines just to start out. I'd like to win a little contest or two. I'd ultimately like to publish a book of short fiction. But what have I done on that front, other than pat myself on my soon-to-be-neon-colored back for sitting in a writing workshop every Thursday night? Zilch.
It's fun to play like I'm Creative-Professional Barbie and put on bright little blazers, and contemplate whether to bring in souvenir snow globes or some sort of unobtrusive potted succulent or pictures of me with my boyfriend or all of that stuff to personalize my work space. But I'm not so charmed by the trappings that I've forgotten what I really want to look back from my deathbed and be able to say that I've done. This job is great, it's good news, it's a welcome step up from before, but it's not the prize at the end of the race.