So, where was I? The Rise and Fall of Me: Chapter 20 of 20. The End. The Big Finish. El Fin. La Endo. Done. – 30 – . (That’s a journalism thing). Drop the mic and walk off stage. Teaching is over, has been over for two years now, but what’s happened since? Let’s start here, with writing.
Over the past two years, I’ve done a lot of writing including film reviews, book reviews, more than a dozen short stories, two novels, critical essays, a series on writing, and – obviously – this autobiographical series that we are finishing up now. I stress the “we” because it was only written due to the reaction from readers. When I wrote the first chapter, it was midnight on my 50th birthday, so it was rather self serving. Also, I was Freshly Pressed® (a WordPress thing) last spring and have since gained over 2,000 followers and am closing in on 3,000 total, but what about a “real” job? Yeah, that’s where things have not gone well.
Last summer I was hired as an editor for a southern New Jersey magazine that I won’t name because they are assholes. Here’s what happened: I was in a doctor’s office waiting room and found something called Jerseyman Magazine, a publication aimed at “guy” things like sports, wine, cigars, casinos, mobsters, and other “guy” things. After finding too many errors, I emailed the publisher, a former player for the Philadelphia Eagles, to point them out. He immediately replied, “Thanks. Can you point out all these errors?” So I immediately replied with a list of about 20. He immediately emailed back and said, “Would you be interested in working for us?” And I immediately said “yes.”
A few weeks after an initial meeting, I received an email with all of the coming month’s stories, and I was to read through and mark changes, for which I would be paid $100 per story. There were about 15 stories, so that’s about $4 million, I think. Anyway, I did as told, emailed them all back, and I was thrilled to have not just a job but and editing job. I mean, wow, really wow. Magazine editor? Just, wow. Things were turning around. Unfortunately, the turn was a 360º. For those mathematically challenged, that means it didn’t turn around at all. Well, it was a full turn but ended up in the same direction. You see, if you – aw nevermind.
About a week later, I get another email that says, “Thanks for your help, but we won’t be needing you anymore.” I was greatly disturbed. I replied, “Can you tell me what I did wrong?” The guy replied, “We’re just going in a different direction.” I said, “I appreciate the sports analogy, but it would be great if you could be honest and explain the problem.” The only reply I got was instructions on how to file the paperwork to get paid for the one month, but I deleted it. I didn’t want his money, but I did want to call him a low-life chicken shit.
I’m not certain as to what happened. However, I might have bragged about the job here online, and maybe my stalker had something to do with it. Sometimes I think I should have taken the offer from my very large friend who wanted to beat the crap out of my stalker. He went into great detail about putting nails through a baseball bat and pounding the guy’s head. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Hey, it was either that or he wanted to burn his house down, but I was afraid that might hurt someone innocent. I just wish the stalker realized how nice I am to have held back the gorilla. However, he is a really nice gorilla.
Back to the writing, the encouragement of my friends at the South Jersey Writer’s Group pushed me to continue the query process, this time with results. Although I have not yet found an agent, I have found a small press that agreed to publish two of my books. I suppose I can now consider myself a “published” author, even if there’s still a “but” attached to it.
The first book is When the Mirror Breaks, my collection of 13 short stories about people who suffer from bad luck, bad choices, or what some people might refer to as karma. It’s available in print now on Amazon, and the ebook will be available this coming spring. The second book, coming this summer is Connecting Flight, my novel about two people killed in a plane crash. When the “light” of the afterlife beckons them to follow to the next dimension, these two spirits refuse to go. They aren’t sure why, but eventually they realize they have unfinished business in this life, and they can’t move on until that business is resolved. However, what these two strangers do not realize is the problems each must solve are directly connected to each other. Should I see any money from these books, it won’t be until this coming fall.
That’s nice, but one needs to work and earn a living. I’ll save the details, but I’ve had the great fortune to have a very close friend who has been more or less taking care of me all this time. A “benefactor” if you will, but just like Lord Voldemort, it is someone who – by her choice – shall not be named.
I spent two years applying to many different jobs. During the first year I was only applying to creative things, jobs that involved writing, editing, and proofreading. There were also jobs that involved educational testing, such as writing and editing questions for standardized tests. It seemed perfect – I write. I edit. I proofread. I revise. I know education. No brainer, right? Wrong. Towards the end of that first year I started to apply for office jobs, like secretarial and office manager positions. Nothing doing.
What bugged me the most about all the jobs I did not get that first year was a local company that specialized in publishing newsletters for other businesses. This company would get a pile of documents each month, compile them into a small paper of anywhere from ten to fifty pages, complete the layout and editing, print them up, and send them out to the clients. That would have been a great thing, and they advertised for editors and proofreaders several times a month. I must have applied fifty times, but not once did I get a reply. I even emailed the human resources person asking if they could explain what was lacking in my background and abilities, but I didn’t get an answer to that either. Very sad.
After the first year, I had applied to roughly 200 jobs and was invited to absolutely zero interviews. During the second year, I started to branch out. I applied to type medical and legal transcripts in which you listen to a recording and type what you hear. Never got a reply. Eventually, I even applied to be a customer service operator for Capital One Bank. I took an online assessment and apparently failed.
I tried retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Kohl’s, and Wal-Mart but oddly enough they were not hiring in my area. I tried Bed, Bath, Beyond and Barnes & Noble, but they had nothing. I applied to be a custodian/maintenance guy at an apartment complex and a person who goes into stores and counts the number of items from certain companies on the shelves.
I applied to work at a summer “resort,” which was really a trailer park near a beach town that closes during the winter. The two positions open were an activities director and a groundskeeper. Sure, I like working outside, yardwork and stuff. It’s a no pressure job with some physical benefits, like going to the gym while working. For the groundskeeper position, they said “no thanks.” For the activities director, they sent me a questionnaire to complete online. There were 100 questions that all pertained to only three things: when it is okay or not okay to fight someone, how often I used drugs, and how often I steal things from a workplace. They asked in every way imaginable, 100 times, only about those three things. I basically said I never fight, I never use/used drugs, and I never steal from a workplace. I failed the assessment. Apparently they wanted me to do at least one of those three things, and I assume it was fight.
Then I saw a job that I would never have expected to apply for, but I applied, was interviewed, and was hired: debt collector. I thought it might be interesting to learn about that much-hated industry, the people who call and remind you how much you owe on your credit cards. Maybe there would be a cool story to write about it, sort of an exposé about collection practices. Or, maybe I was just desperate for a job and found an angle to make it seem a little cooler than it really was.
I was in the middle of a three-week training period when during lunch I noticed a missed call. I checked my voicemail and found a message from an agency I had joined about two years back. Their job was to connect creative talent with businesses that were hiring. It was a Wednesday, and they asked if I could attend an interview Thursday. I immediately said “yes” and lied to my supervisor at the collection agency about why I would have to miss the next day. However, they were open on Saturdays, and I agreed to come in then and make up for missing Thursday.
I drove about an hour to a Thursday morning interview and, as is my thing, I was roughly 20 minutes early. I left my car and ran into Bad Omen 1. I was swishing some mouthwash through my teeth and attempted to spit it out in the parking lot. Unfortunately, the wind blew my tie up, the mouthwash splashed all over my tie, and I was heading for an interview while smelling like Listerine.
I entered the building and eventually found Bad Omen 2. I took a seat and noticed one other person waiting. Not a problem, but then another, another, and more people showed up. All except one seemed much younger than me, I’d say in their 20’s, and it seemed like a rather progressive place, which made me feel like a dinosaur.
Bad Omen 3 arrived when more and more people were approached by an HR person who took them for their interview, but I was still sitting there an hour after I had arrived. At this point I was so certain I was not getting any kind of job that all pressure escaped me. A little gas too. Then a woman approached and asked if anyone had spoken to me yet, to which I said “No,” to which she sent someone over immediately. I felt slightly better.
She guided me to a computer at which I was provided information for a pretend roofing business and had one hour to create an advertisement for them. After that, I was brought to another room and given a copy of an advertisement that was full of errors for me to find and circle. Then I was also given a multiple choice test of 25 proofreading questions. After that, I was sent back to a waiting area. After about five minutes, someone took me to another room to answer some questions about myself. The most important question, after all the unnecessary ones, was “Can you start Monday?” I wasn’t ready for that one.
Before I could make sense of the situation, I was listening to information about salary, benefits, vacation time, holiday pay, personal and sick days, and more. It was not easy to play it cool, but I was beyond thrilled. However, something arrived for which I was not ready. “Oh, one more thing,” said the human resources guy, “I’m emailing you a link to a background check. It’s a minor thing, but we outsource to a company that does an employment check, criminal history check, a credit check, and a few other things. Just follow the instructions where the link takes you. Thanks for coming, and I’ll see you Monday.”
Background check. Oh, lovely. I mean, I’ve never broken any laws, never been arrested for any kind of criminal thing ever, but I did have something that was open to interpretation, and I was pretty scared. I’ll summarize and let you know it all worked out well, although the references were not thrilled with the inquisition they received in order to help me out. Something like 30 questions that might have required a full sentence for each. Thanks to those three. You know who you are.
On my way out, I saw the woman who had given me the two proofreading tests and asked her how I did. She said, “Great. You found everything except one, but it was kind of a tricky one.” It was an ad for an automotive service company. One of the pictures was of two kids in a kayak. Dammit.
A few things in conclusion. Depending on your personal values, being unemployed makes one feel very useless and unwanted. It’s as embarrassing as hell, regardless of how much money one collects while eating nachos and watching movies. I can’t say exactly what I’m doing or who I’m working for because you might recall that I have a stalker. And if the stalker were to know where I’m working, he would probably contact them and try to cause problems for me. No doubt whatsoever. I chose an option on the company website that prevents anyone from outside the company finding my name in their staff listing. All I can say is the job involves writing, editing, and proofreading. It’s also a company whose name would be nationally recognizable.
It’s a very cool place where jeans are always okay because everything is web-based, so we never actually meet the people for whom we write. There’s a gym on site, a great cafeteria, and free coffee and tea all day long. Once a month, there’s a pile of cupcakes in the break room as a way of celebrating anyone’s birthday. At random times you’ll hear a slow echo of laughter when someone emails a joke to everyone, and slowly everyone catches on to check your mail.
The only drawback thus far is I’m on the second shift, which is basically from about 4pm to midnight. That part sucks, but eventually, should I prove myself worthy and/or enough people leave, I will move up to first shift. The good parts about 2nd shift, never any traffic to deal with, and all the big shots are out of the building. Also, there’s a fabulous golf course adjacent to the building, and I could easily imagine a round of golf at about 10 am before going to work at 4 on a beautiful spring day.
Speaking of “building,” there are some firsts for me. It’s a big, cool office building, the type in which I’ve never worked. I’ve always been in old, outdated schools. Another first is I have a cubicle. For many of you that’s “ho hum,” but for me is something new. The walls are only about shoulder-height while sitting, so I can easily see everyone else while still maintaining a personal space. There’s that covered material where you tack up pictures of cool pictures and you put a Darth Vader version of Mr. Potato Head next to your computer. Those things are new to me, but they’re not the best part.
This is the first job I’ve ever had for which my evaluations (I assume there will be evaluations) are based on MY performance and not the performance of 120 kids. My professional life as a teacher was not about how well I did but how well the kids did, and you know for sure there are some bratty, rebellious, stupid kids out there who just don’t care. When they don’t care, their grades suck. When their grades suck, teachers get the blame, and dammit I can’t tell you just how much I hated that. Another cool thing is I’m surrounded by smart, creative people. Everyone is doing the same writing and editing, so they’re all of the same kind of mindset. They know language and grammar, but they also know creativity and art. Not many teachers are like that. Seriously, they’re not.
Here’s how I’ll compare it to teaching: This new job is twice as many hours at less than half the pay. But this new job is twice as much fun at far less than half the stress.
This for me is a new chapter – literally – and a new chapter – professionally. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. I thank you greatly for your encouragement through this series of revelations, recitations, regressions, progressions, aggressions, transgressions, transmissions, transpositions, impositions, compositions, compilations, contemplations, temptations, and – you get the idea. Talk to you later, and I will leave you with this feeling of good feelingness…