Life After Luxury

17 11 2014

Starberries

I am writing this on a new computer. I am writing this on a new desk. I am a different person, writing.

I think we’re all pretty self-aware of our romanticisms. We day-dream about things we would like to have, places we would like to live, and the people we would someday like to become. But this is a confusing internal process. We make excuses, reason with ourselves, and attempt to justify our limitations with sudden bursts of comfort that never last long enough to matter. Sometimes, we share these secrets, hoping for encouragement to settle the dispute of insanity—rarely gathering the courage that people so often see in others, and never within themselves. To change is the ultimate journey—to let go of yourself, long enough to feel alive. I can feel it in the marrow of my bones and it’s metastasizing. It hurts and it’s uncomfortable and it’s wonderful and I hate it. When I quit my job in August, I left like I was going to die. Then suddenly, I realized I was already dead.

There was once a time, while making introductions, that I would introduce myself as a workaholic—a person that braves a 15-hour day without breaking a sweat. I indulged in the thought of slaving over my profession, and wore my disciplined dedication like a suit of armor. It was a safe and metallic suit that made me feel like I deserved more than everyone else—I deserved to be successful. And it was more exceptionally true because I wasn’t always rewarded for my effort. On paper, I had the best job in the world. However, while working for a luxury publication, my skills became stale and expected, eventually agitated and angry. One day, I decided I didn’t really like that.

But that was a difficult conclusion to draw. By all accounts, working for a luxury brand has its perks. I interviewed celebrities, went to fancy parties, and got to drive exotic cars. I traveled for free, stayed in nice hotels, and everywhere I went doors would open because I had an official press pass. The company’s brand was so strong, that I often felt like my life was becoming just like it—an illusion. There are too many tired euphemisms I could use to describe the gold and glitter. Suffice it to say, the underbelly of this dream was a sober awakening.

Slaving over work is not something to brag about. But at the time, I was surrounded by people who fed on this distinction. For a long time, I never sat down to consider how I felt about what I was doing and to what end. For a long time, I assumed that what was around me mattered a lot more than it actually did.

The truth is, I don’t want to work 15-hour days. The truth is, I want to work as little as possible.

There were logistical problems. I had no idea how to start a business, or generate income. I was not a legal entity, nor did I know how to go about becoming one. But I read some books, talked to some people, and figured all that out. The resulting education was exciting, liberating, and terrifying.

Sometimes, I go to bed and just sweat anxiety—milling over the insurmountable burden I have placed on myself. In the morning, I’m overwhelmed by the potential each new day brings. I feel bipolar. I get scared that I’m not good enough. I worry that the people I love will think I failed. I am afraid to fail.

When my family asked me what I wanted to do while I sorted out my future, I told them I wanted to pick strawberries. In hindsight, that was a fairly romantic response. I imaged the sun and the clouds. I’d wear a hat so that my face wouldn’t get burned, surrounded by people who don’t speak my language. I would listen to music on my iPhone and dance when necessary. This was my fantasy. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to be away from conversation, away from the clatter of bodies hitting the steps as they fall from the corporate ladder. I wanted to come home after a long day of using my hands and know physical exhaustion, instead of feeling mentally ill from philological warfare.

But I’m a realist. And I’m also compulsively dramatic during times of transition. So, I got a morning job at a warehouse.

My hands are cut, my manicure is ruined, and my arms are strong. After I got the hang of things, the warehouse crew gave me my blade—which is really just a box cutter, but I call it my blade. I was surprisingly humbled. They even taught me how to drive a forklift.

I don’t go to parties. I rarely wear makeup these days, and I really don’t give a s*** about San Diego socialites. Instead, I have focused my effort towards building my freelancing business, and after four months of uncertainty, self-doubt, and more rejection letters than I care to mention, I am finally ready to leave the warehouse and work full-time for myself.

Just last week, I secured the first three contracts for Butler Ink & Media, and I got notice from the San Diego Reader that my latest writing project may be an upcoming cover story. I have checks coming to my house in my businesses’ name.

I’m doing all right.

My old boss use to tell me, “There are a million girls out there that would die for your position.”

I guess I don’t feel like dying.

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Whitney’s Electronic Christmas Party

19 12 2013

And a happy new year.

electronic christmas copy

‘Don’t Be Afraid’ by Redshirt Theory.





Talent Show

7 01 2012

I was born assuming the world revolved around me. And while there  is no evidence to the contrary, besides all that science stuff, unemployment has provided abundant opportunities to reflect, and question the nature of my universe.

In the last three months, I’ve suffered through a dramatic bust to my ego. I haven’t felt this way since I lost the talent show in 7th grade. Niya was the only black girl at our school, and a gospel bomb-shell at her church. We were the choir directors irrefutable favorites, and expected to win the whole damn thing. Teachers doted over our talent, which gained us a reputation we both reveled in. I remember thinking on the way to the evening throw-down, that it was in the bag. I was almost  sure I didn’t need to show up. We had practiced for hours through several weekends in her garage, where her father directed us on how to work a crowd, handle a microphone like a pro. We covered, The Boy is Mine, by Brandy and Monica. It was a popular song at the time, but a strange choice on our part. What the hell do two 12-year-old girls know about fighting over the affection of a playboy? Maybe more than I give us credit, but still. He drilled that song into us like Joe Jackson, and on the big night we gave a dazzling multicultural performance, complete with backup dancers in sparkle tops and suggestive choreography.

When we didn’t place, I was embarrassed, emotionally busted, scraping my self-esteem up off the stage. I thought I would never recover. Niya was cool and collected. I was shocked. It was the first time I expected an outcome, something I assumed was possible, because I had done all the right things.

Unemployment has cut  me down: like a drunk lumberjack wielding a rusty axe to my core. Please excuse the dramatic hyperbole, but this is emotional! My edges are jagged, bleeding, and on the verge of timber. I’m close enough to a breaking point, that it reveals how high I’ve grown with ambition, and what a long way down it seems. I am humbled. Countless interviews concluded I was too young, too inexperienced, bleeding all over their office floor, not passionate enough, and a list of other things that made me feel like garbage. But I feel genuine in saying that it’s been a good thing, a reminder that sometimes when you expect something, even when you do everything you think is right, what you think you know, doesn’t mean jack.

When you spend hours working on a resume, cover letter, networking or whatever bullshit that’s supposed to matter when you attempt to impress an employer, you inadvertently inflate your expectations. My generation was promised that college was the gatekeeper to our wildest dreams. So in typical center-of-the-universe fashion, we graduate assuming, even expecting certain doors to open, calling us forward by our names. The gap between academics and corporate America is  becoming dramatically more divided, resulting in the degradation of young professionals who question their skill set in a flooded work force. 

I get it. The world doesn’t revolve around me. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that idea for 25 years or so, and still I have incredibly self-centered moments that would make most people red in the face. So okay, I get it. In respect to the unfortunate circumstance of unemployment, I want to acknowledge the bitter truth that maybe, just maybe, it has made me better.

I started working full-time this week. I am no longer unemployed.

Life is a talent show- Oh! A metaphor! Everyone wants to win, but it doesn’t matter if you practice all night in the bathroom mirror, have a Master’s degree in some obscure academic discipline that nobody understands or cares about. The only thing you can do: never quit. The year after Niya and I lost the  talent show, I took first place. Though I may be humbled, I still sing.





Bloody Knee

21 12 2011

I was late. The merge for the 8 was blocked, probably because the city transit workers knew I would be needing it and decided to test my punctuality. So I redirect the GPS on my phone and get to my interview with two minutes to spare. Whitney 1: city transit workers 0. I jumped out the car, portfolio under one arm, purse under the other, and I trotted like a horse in 5 inch heels down a steep, black driveway, simultaneously trying to pump myself up before I went in, get my mo-jo ready, flip my hair out, chin high. Then, quicker than I could yell any profanity, I was knees flat on the asphalt. The pages in the folder flew up in a confetti of mockery. I pulled my feet under, and popped up as fast as I could without dislocating my ankles. I looked around to assess the damage. I was so stunned that I didn’t even know if I was injured. I was going to be late. Dammit. I picked up the papers and holding back an anxiety attack, tried to reconstruct my confidence. I looked up at the windows to the building. Did anyone see? There wasn’t anyone else in the parking lot, thank God, but I feared that someone above had witnessed my crash. I could just see it. I walk in, and someone says to me, “Hey! Are you okay?” And if that did  happen I would have no choice but to chuck my portfolio of dreams at them and scream, “No! I’m not okay!” Then run out the door crying.

I was in the elevator when I realized something was wrong. My left ankle was throbbing and my right knee was sore. I was too nervous to look. For all I knew I had two inches of tibia sticking out my calf. What a first impression I would make! That’s dedication! I greeted the receptionist and took a seat to wait. Maybe I wasn’t as late as I thought. Now that the adrenaline was slowing, I began to feel pain. My knee was on fire, so I took my hand and pressed it over my thin black slacks. There was blood all over my hand. Perfect! So the entire time I was being interviewed I had blood running down my shin, sticking in coagulated pools to my pants.

I didn’t get this job, but now I kind of wish I had brought up this spectacular display of commitment and self-control. Lifting my pant leg up and revealing that mess of flesh would have definitely been memorable… or gross. Whatever.

I slipped down the stairs yesterday. No one saw that either.





Insurance Cult

3 12 2011

I should have known god was trying to tell me something this morning, when in a haste, I realized I had locked my keys in my car. Fantastic. Somehow I managed to struggle my right arm in through a crack, jump the jam up, and unlocked. So against the universe’s attempt at stopping me from going to this interview, I willed myself determined that this interview would be both successful, and worth the effort at 8 in the morning. I don’t believe in fate, but I’m beginning to question my beliefs.

I decided to wear the nice Ralph Lauren outfit that makes me look expensive and smart. I had opted-out previously and learned that interviews are the kind of deal that befit from some sparkle, so I left the leather behind. I didn’t have time to do my hair which really pissed me off. I really like wearing my hair down when I need to do something important. I like the way it feels on my cheeks, and more importantly I like the way I feel when I know I’m having a good hair day; which is pretty much any time I wear my hair down.

So, I hop in the car and head for Sorrento Valley, with no reservations. After a few of these things you start to lose the jitters usually induced by too much caffeine. But I resisted my anxiety over one minor detail: I didn’t really know anything about this company. I was just going to wing it.

The second I walked into the building, something was clearly amiss. The building looked to be under construction. It was cold, I imagined somewhere a plastic tarp was fluttering open and letting that cool air in. A makeshift sign at the end of the gray atrium pointed to suite 206. I followed. Six or seven people were behind the door I pushed open, filling out forms on clipboards. I told the receptionist I had an appointment with Kristen at ten. At this point I’ve completely checked out. It was a frenzy. People were coming in and out, one at a time being called to the back by various people I assumed were conducting interviews. Everyone was in their Sunday best. I knew I should have done my hair! But the more I sat there, the more I got the feeling that these people had just been picked up from downtown, I thought maybe Occupy had found somewhere else to occupy. Something was up. This was bullshit. But that’s the funny thing about unemployment: I have nothing better to do than stay in potentially time-consuming, superfluous activities, that wont help me get ahead in the slightest.

Whitney?

I ran up to the woman who called my name, deciding I was really going to give it my all, and by that I mean I clearly had nothing to lose.  As far as I was concerned there was nothing professional happening in this building. We sit down and she asks for my resume. Wow, you worked in South Korea?! This woman was not Kristin. Did they even look at my resume? She continues to ask me questions that were completely irrelevant my skill set, focused more on personality traits. Another red flag. So, when she asked me to describe my dream job, I just let it fly. I want to be a writer! I love creativity and being part of the creative process. I love to travel, so if I could fit that in there somehow that would be awesome. Oh! And I want to make a lot of money, I also really enjoy working with social media and networking. Kids are great too. I like leadership rolls. Anything creative. She just looked at me. Well, you wont be doing any writing with us, and I wouldn’t call what we do creative. I grin. I tell her that that’s perfectly fine because I know that writing isn’t going to pay the bills and I understand that working in the insurance business must also be personally rewarding. They weren’t the only ones full of shit. Then she proceeds to tell me that she would like to move me through to the next step of the interview, which at this point could have been a pit with a bunch of snakes in it, I don’t know. We walk down a long hall to a conference room where she says I am going to have an orientation, so that I can get an idea of what the company is all about. I wait, and I wait, and I wait. Free coffee, thank god. The room slowly filled. Ten, fifteen, forty people.

I was kind of hoping that the presenter would be dressed like a wizard, or something more impressive than a middle-aged man in a cheap suit. For forty-five minutes he explained life insurance policies. He used the phrase, ‘mortal remains’ several times to describe dead people who need to be buried or whatever. Something about that phrase gave me the creeps. He talked about his love for all people; his greatest joy is seeing people happy, he’s a people person, and so on. What the fuck planet are you on? You’re in the business of making people pay for medicine so they can stay alive. He showed us something called a ‘decline certificate’, which basically alleviates a families burden to pay the people who get rid of dead bodies. I guess usually these companies want the money up front, and expect the insurance companies to reimburse the family. I mean come on!  Nothing about this guy said to me: You know what? He must really care about people. I hope my mortal remains are as well taken care of as those he looks after. I was beginning to think that this guy didn’t want to offer anybody a job, but instead, had cleverly gathered an audience of forty people into a room and was actually selling life insurance policies. Some of the people in the crowd looked like they could use it.

But it gets better. He asks his staff in the back to come up and introduce themselves. He consistently refered to them as ‘managers,’ which was also the way he described the job being offered. How cleaver I thought. Build everyone up with a fake ‘manager’ label and watch them drool over the bone. No thank you. I’m totally not into that. The managers come up to the front, and the freak show continues. But because I myself am a freak, I can’t look away. Six young-ish looking people stood in their Sunday best. What followed were six short introductions into these people’s lives that went way too deep for professionalism. She’s a single mom, and he hated his job, and he was a bartender through college, and her life has never been the same since, blah, blah, blah. But they spoke with such conviction that I almost believed them. Good god. At this point, I was pretty sure I’d figured it out. This is a cult. These people could not be seriously that jazzed about selling people life insurance, going door-to-door with a memorized script like some Jehovah Witness. At least it all made sense now. We were all going to go to a happy place together, drink pink punch, watch the sunset hand-in-hand, and die with really good life insurance polices. Utopia. My mortal remains were saved.

I got up. He was talking about salary and inflating the hell out of commission. I left. I don’t know if anyone starred me down, gave a shit that I was leaving, because I never looked. I just felt really bad and wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. Not only had they wasted my time, but even worse, I had finally seen my people, people surfing through unemployment. It was depressing. I drove home with the radio loud enough to blow your eardrums, I’m use to it.

This was the first time I had ever gotten a good look at someone who, like myself, is unemployed and looking for work in a down economy. It was uncomfortable sitting next to people who I knew were out of work and in hard times. I’m in hard times too. But I got the feeling that hard times was relative depending on the circumstance. We can’t tell in daily life who has a job and who doesn’t. Who wants one, and who needs one. I thought about the people I see in Rancho Bernardo, signs up asking for money. How are they any different?  Here we were all together: young, and old, black, white, asian, mexican. This is my competition. This is who we are.

At about 6:30 that night I got a phone call. I didn’t answer it. I knew it was them. The cult was clearly out to get me for human sacrifice, or maybe they just weren’t going to take no for an answer and I would purchase a life insurance policy. It didn’t matter. But I was rather surprised by the message they left: they were considering me for hire and requested another interview. Are you kidding me? They don’t know anything about me! They have no idea that I’m putting them on blast right now, and they think they want to hire me? What kind of company hires people so recklessly? If I wanted that I would go back into sales or customer service, where tolerating alienation is standard practice. Fuck that.

I didn’t call back the insurance cult. And I’m relieved I didn’t do my hair, that would have put me over the edge, as if I wasn’t there already.

 
Edited by
Rachel Bates and Nicole Rork




Unemployment Soup

21 11 2011

I have officially moved back to San Diego. I live in a house with three roommates. One of which happens to be a one-year-old. There’s nothing sexy about living with a teething toddler, but I myself am dealing with wisdom teeth pushing through my gum line, and with no dental insurance to cover the cost of the minor surgery, I’m in the same boat the little one is: reduced to screaming and crying, annoying her parents, my other two roommates. At least it hurts to eat.

I am currently looking for work in the general field of my degree, mass media, which includes anything from public relations to sign spinning. I’ve sent out about 20 applications and see only about one interview per week. It’s a slow process, but I feel optimistic. I’m holding out for something that really rubs me the right way. I’m not looking for some one-night-stand. I want to take root somewhere, grow and reap the harvest. This is my full-time job right now: looking for work.

But I guess that’s not just it. I’ve also been babysitting for my roommates when I can; learning that small children are not at all as scary as I thought they might be. We actually have a really good time together, singing and dancing in our pajamas while mommy and daddy are out working and being adults. I’ve started my first book, a memoir, and I’m about 50 pages deep into it as of today. I’ve been running, a lot. I’d like to get back into long distance running, and though it’s been absolutely revolting, the thought of 4 to 5 miles a day, I am pushing past it and finding myself totally consumed by runners high. I sing every Wednesday in Carlsbad, I walk the dogs, and I drink tons of coffee. I checked out the complete collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s work. And when I have time, I write college papers at competitive prices for students. Some people seem to think there’s an ethical problem with this activity, but I disagree.  As long as University of Phoenix is in business, I have no problem helping people achieve a bachelor’s degree. If we’re talking standards of excellence and intellectual achievement, today is not the age to argue over who wrote a silly paper about trade, deficits, and misconceptions in our political economy. I’m just saying. I write almost everyday, but lately it’s been geared towards finding employment and impressing those people with the way I use the word. Funny story:

So last week I had an interview with a reputable travel/timeshare company here in San Diego. Now, this was a very important interview because the job itself seemed almost too perfect. I was interviewing with a woman over a position that would basically require me to manage social media projects for resort destinations in Mexico and Hawaii. Writing stories about travel! Yeah I know. Needless to say I was very excited and didn’t want to mess it up. But I was nervous as hell, and totally sweating as I walked down a long hall to the reception desk where the woman sitting there had seen me coming for at least 2 minutes. The eye contract was weird for that length of corridor. Anyways, afterwards it was really hard to say how it went down, because I didn’t do a whole lot of talking. The interviewer talked mostly about the company, citing the abundance of intellectual capital established within the team of people who had been there for decades, which to me translated to: Everyone here is old, and you…you are very young. And I get that. I just turned 25 this month (thank you all for the birthday wishes), and to an established company with lots of money on the line, I don’t know that I would hire some hot-shot who struts up in a leather jacket. Yeah, I did that. I actually changed my outfit in the last seconds before I left the house because I didn’t think the blue Ralph Lauren oxford was an accurate representation of who I am as a writer/employee. So I threw on a yellow blouse, stilettos, leather jacket and eye liner and headed for the door. I thought I looked pretty cool, which in my opinion, is important for any marketing professional. If you don’t look cool, how is anyone ever going to believe that you’re capable of creating coolness? Which is essentially what we do.

Like I said, the interview went okay, but it was hard to read the woman across from me, a woman who I had done extensive Google searches on in the hopes of gathering any personal information that would give me a leg-up in conversation with her. So when I mentioned that I knew she enjoyed photography, and shoots with a Canon DSLR camera, I wasn’t sure if she was impressed or ready to call security. In this economy, even the person being interviewed should come prepared. Know who you are dealing with. Be ready to make small talk if the opportunity presents itself. But with the interview not affording many opportunities to reveal what a super-secret-internet-detective I am, much of what I learned fell flat. At the end of the conversation I had with her, I didn’t know if I had been interviewed or If I had just had a 45 minute anxiety attack; both were possible, but I wasn’t sure. But then, I was totally surprised when the woman brought up this blog. She said that she had seen it, enjoyed the writing/story and gave me the opportunity to meet with her because the blog ‘stood out’ to her. I thought that was awesome. The pet-project I started over a year ago is now working to get me interviews with perspective employers. Who would have thought? In retrospect, it reveals my growth as a writer in an almost tangible form. I can see the transitions, the shifts from one thought to another, and I’m just glad I was able to write it all down. To keep it as record the things that I have done, the  ideas I’ve had, and the dreams that I hope to accomplish in the future. I’m still not sure if I got this job yet, but I have another interview tomorrow, and so on. Maybe it’s not a funny story, but it’s pretty cool I think. And since cool is part of the business, I guess I’m on the right track.

So that’s it. That’s where I’m at. It’s not as adventurous as I wish it was, not as inspiring as living and working abroad. But it’s a new kind of adventure, one I look forward to sharing with all of you.

The man checking me out at the grocery store yesterday says to me, “You sure are buying a lot of soup.”

And so I say, “Well, it’s cheap. And my erupting wisdom teeth make chewing difficult. And, oh yeah! I’m poor! I’m unemployed, and I have no income and can’t collect unemployment! So yeah! I’m buying a lot of fucking soup!”

I have my bad days too.








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