Help and Punishment

February 24, 2009

Dear Stella,

Today, I decided to apply for Welfare. Yup, that’s right, ya heard me. I figure, if the great JK Rowling can do it, then so can I. Actually, I am trying to apply for welfare, but apparently you have to have a Ph.D or something (wait, that’s me, never mind) because it’s like this 2000 page document and it keeps coming.

But what really gets me is that even though I’m applying for myself, it asks for all personal and financial information for everyone in my household. And when I say “all,” I mean all. Like, what’s in your checking account (surprise! nothing!), what are all the account numbers of every account you might have an account in or thought about having an account in or someday might want to have an account in, what is your parents’ information, what is your relationship to the people in your household, when was your last period, how many sexual partners have you had, have you been a good girl this year because Santa is watching you, and do you have an alcohol problem.

About halfway through (around page 1000 to be precise), the document stops referring to me or any individual and addresses, instead, “The Household.” Here are some of the questions the document asks The Household, or might as well ask The Household given its obvious prying nature.

  • Has The Household lived in Pennsylvania longer than 12 months?
  • If no, where has The Household previously lived?
  • Has The Household ever partaken of The Reefer?
  • If yes, what was it called and how sweet was its bud, man?
  • Has The Household ever snuck into the kitchen in the middle of the night, hovered over the ice-cream tub, and “double-dipped” while everyone was sleeping?
  • Has The Household ever dabbled in “lesbian” sex acts, or acts that might otherwise be deemed “freaky” by the United States government?
  • If yes, please send evidence (video tapes) to the following address on or before March 26, 2009
  • Has The Household ever done anything it regrets, ie. cheated on a partner, stolen a friend’s lover, or blacked-out at a party?
  • If yes, shame on The Household. Tsk. Tsk.
  • Does the Household feel appropriate embarrassment at having to apply for Welfare? Especially with what The Household marked under the “Highest Educational Level Completed” box?
  • Has the Household ever had any negative thoughts about “our” government, especially as it pertains to certain long, perfectly “justifiable” wars?
  • Does the Household think it’s funny to mock important government documents?

Apparently The Household has been very naughty, very naughty indeed. No Food Stamps for you, Naughty Household!

Love,

Stephanie

Big Pimpin’

February 23, 2009

Dear Stephanie,

I’m feeling incredibly lazy today. Maybe lazy is the wrong word. Uninspired might be more where I’m at. I’m trying to figure out from where I will find my inspiration.

I’ve been trying to write an article (part of my endless quest to count myself among that enviable category of “employed persons”), but I feel blocked. My favorite! (Not really.)

As I was saying to you the other day, at the risk of sounding immodest, how can I be so darn clever and so darn ineffectual? I look around at all these people (so many people!) who have accomplished stuff, and I wonder how it is that they manage to get so much done in a day. Then I try to figure out, why is this not me? Why have I not accomplished anything? Why has no one hired me? As you know, I have applied to a vast, vast number and range of jobs—even ones that require 0-1 year of experience, like child-care worker—and yet, I’m sitting here at Starbucks, writing to you about how I have no job.

So, of course I realize that I have, in point of fact, accomplished stuff—like, I have a PhD. This impresses people in the abstract. Yet I remain jobless. I have been raising a small child for seven years. This has been very time consuming. Also, I am very well-read, and I spend a lot of time self-reflecting. Also time consuming.

But need these preclude me from being a productive member of society? I don’t really think so, but maybe. Anyway, I feel the need to ruminate on the causes of my ineffectualness, because confession feels so good.

Is the problem, as you so eloquently put it, “the devaluing of the intellectual in the modern world”? Nobody gets it, or maybe I mean: nobody gets me. And that’s a downer. Better to curl up with a good book as I have very little fight, and books don’t judge me.

Is it that I’m too good-natured and complacent for my own good? My vast reserves of agreeableness are so irritating. Must put locating my inner bitch on my to-do list.

Is it my perfectionism that’s the problem? Because I realize that I can’t make anything perfect, I loose interest in everything?

Is it that Pamela Anderson published a novel? I fixate on this, and even though I know she didn’t actually write it (I know it!), it still causes me profound despair.

Is the problem that I’m bored with everything? I mean, surely I have the intellectual capacities to succeed in business, but why would I want to do something like that? I regard the perfectly coiffed, made-up, business suite-attired women who breeze through Starbucks in a cloud of perfume as utterly alien creations. When I eavesdrop on their conversations, it is as if they are speaking a foreign language. It’s like the first time I overheard people speaking cockney: the words were familiar in isolation, but in long strings, the relationships between the words failed to register meaning with me. My eyes glaze over. My mind goes blank. …zzzzzzzzz… Though I do admire these business women’s sense of purpose, even their sense of self-importance. They have places to be! People to see! Deals to close! They are important!

Is it that jobs for which I am qualified—like, for example, university professor—fill me with dread? Am I too picky, maybe? I taught, and it felt like prostituting my talents. I wrote promotional (or, as I like to call them, porn-motional) materials for business professionals, and it felt like having my soul split apart, a la Voldemort. Does everything have to be meaningful and fulfilling?

Perhaps my potential future employers sense my ennui. But it’s not as if I am without my passions or an impressive employment history.

My most impressive past employment (none of which made me feel remotely whore-ish):

  1. instructor at a Research 1 university
  2. executive editor at a magazine
  3. published essayist

Things I’m passionate about:

  1. our friendship
  2. beauty (a very broad category)
  3. goodness, generosity, and love (insert smiley-face here)
  4. meaningful relationships

Alas, I have yet to discern how to transform these into marketable skills (and I so thought I’d hit on a goodie with the whole child-care worker thing). But on an uplifting note: I have much to contribute. And I do still have faith that I will find meaningful and fulfilling employment. So maybe I do have a little bit of fight.

What it’s all about…

February 22, 2009

Dear Stella,

Funny how we intended this blog to be about our “Work,” as in, what it means to be an artist/intellectual in the world (or something like that), and instead, it is about our “work,” as in—we gotta find us some jobs!

This premise might seem depressing to some (two Ph.Ds adrift in the world, trying to get a job), but today, I’m on the optimistic side. I was talking to a friend here in Pittsburgh this morning about uncertainty. He said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next year or where he’ll be, but there’s something exciting about not knowing, of letting go of control, of imagining new possibilities.

As I said to you tonight, I have high hopes for this blog—I hope that it can help keep me in that place of openness and curiosity. Or at the very least, it can help me laugh at myself, or it can help me humiliate myself publicly in order to get others to laugh at me. I tend to dream big, what can I say?

When I decided to leave teaching (hmmm, perhaps not the best idea in retrospect?), and when the dissertation monster was finally slayed, I felt much like I feel perched on the Brooklyn Bridge, between boroughs, looking out over the expanse of the city—I had the kind of clarity that can only come from being separate from everything, unaffiliated. I was excited then, to see what I might become. What books will I suddenly discover I like to read? What new passions will I discover that I never had any time or energy to unearth? What new skills might reveal themselves and what, oh, what do I want to be when I grow up, this time?

It is easy, under the stress of economic, shall I say, “desperation,” to become too serious about all this job stuff, to give it too much weight. When I am rejected from, say, the gas station down the street (hypothetically speaking), it is easy to make the leap from I am not even good enough to be a gas station attendant to that ever-familiar refrain, Why am I here on earth? What is my purpose? What do I have to give, anyway? And while these are certainly important questions, they are dangerous ones. I’d like to avoid them, for at least a day, if I could. I’d like, instead, to gain some of that levity I had when I was just out of college contemplating what was next (except… I was a sad gothy girl with a penchant for Joy Division and cutting, so maybe that’s not quite what I’m going for). I’ll just say this: I want levity, freedom, possibility.

So…our blog. If one were pessimistic, one might say that it’s about the current economic crisis and the devaluing of the intellectual in the modern world. But I prefer to think of this blog as a testament to the human spirit (cue Olympic theme song). That’s right, it’s about dreams (dare I say the American kind?) and daydreams and fantasies and yes, even good old fashion pipe dreams. It’s about what we can become, not through external markers of success, not even through what we do—our jobs—but about what we can become in the act of dreaming—and imagining—itself.

We may not have jobs, dear Stella, we may not have cash, but by God, we have Words (giant cymbal crash here).