the operating system of the job interview

Standard

I think we’ve all had job interviews during which red flags were raised and alarm bells went off in our heads, cautioning us to take a step back and consider whether we really want to work with these people. I certainly have. By the same token, I have also had interviews with people who were immediately engaging, whose intelligence and vision made me immediately want to join forces.

I was thinking today about the former kind, the “this isn’t good”-gut-feeling interview. That is, the interviewer is late, is rushed and stressed, fiddles with their phone or email for a few minutes once the interview has begun, apologizing but nevertheless continuing.

I’m thinking: This is a first impression, dude. And it’s not going so well.

Then the discussion begins. I’m thrown off my game a bit because they have already created this atmosphere. The tone is set. They use words that only certain kinds of people use, “Anyone who works for me will tell you this.”

I’m thinking: In this day and age, who really says ‘works for me’, especially when they’ve been touting the flat, almost-non-existent hierarchy and lack of pretense? Yes, maybe I would be part of your team… but say instead “anyone who works in my team or anyone who works with me”… . The use of “works for me” immediately conveys a kind of (possibly unconscious) structure from within that person’s mind, which strives (again, possibly unconsciously) to establish a power dynamic. And yes, maybe that person would be my manager, but I don’t want a manager who chooses that particular language. I am at a stage in my career and life where I choose with whom to work, not for whom to work.

Once the discussion ends, 45 minutes into the appointed time, right on schedule in fact, they adopt a sarcastic and accusatory tone: “This conversation has gone well over time.”

I’m thinking: Oh, I think not.

And… it was okay for you to disrespect my time at the beginning of the interview but then to get an attitude when you mistakenly believe I have overrun your time?

I don’t love being a nitpicking asshole. I don’t love being overly sensitive. In this case, I don’t like being something of an analyst about minute word choice. I have found, however, that when I dismissed these concerns in the past and convinced myself I was being overly sensitive, I have ended up in some of the worst professional situations I’ve ever been in.

And no, I don’t need that.

Writing at turmoil’s gunpoint

Standard

“We’re doing this thing on my timeline. My way.”
He looked at her with avuncular condescension. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Tired of listening to other voices, or writing in them, she walked out.

“My story, Sir Pen, is, to put it briefly: I’m a blank sheet of paper that no one will write on.” -from “Peer Gynt”, Henrik Ibsen

“But in these theories there always remained a void that no one knew how to fill, a zone of darkness between cause and effect; how does one arrive at the written page? By what route is the soul or history or society or the subconscious transformed into a series of black lines on a white page?” –The Uses of Literature, Italo Calvino

Turmoil sharpens syntax and diction, makes the willingness to hunt for the right words acute – heightens the senses like a hunter on the trail of his prey. You will know what I mean if you write when you feel anguish, pain or even the murky mist of questioning. When you revisit those distress-filled writings, you might not find answers, but you may find keen edges on your prose that you don’t find when you’re writing without emotional gags and bindings. It’s odd to consider that turmoil, which can render us helpless and not free, gives us the freedom of discipline (which sounds contradictory). Turmoil forces us to write, and ties our hands and our minds to make us only write about what it wants.

“For me, to write is self-deprecating, and yet I can’t quit doing it. Writing is like the drug I abhor and keep taking, the addiction I despise and depend on.”The Book of Disquiet, Fernando Pessoa

On the other hand, for a person so ‘haunted’ by the demand to write, only by writing through it can you make sense of your experience.

“By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain.” –The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

You may go back, as suggested, and see well-chosen words and sharp edges, but what you read might not fill you with the glee of someone who has written superlative, quality prose. No, in fact, it will probably read as self-pitying, naive, maudlin, even silly.

“There is no separating yourself from the things you make, he thought. If you are a cesspool, what else can your work be except shit?” –Before the Fall, Noah Hawley

You’re not doing it because you think it will be a masterpiece; you don’t even imagine anyone will ever see it.

You nevertheless were held hostage to the need to get it out.

Smash the bejesus out of July

Standard

How, oh how, is it JULY 1?

Already?

Rolling my eyes at people saying, “I just don’t have the bandwidth for that.”

Fucking right you don’t – you’re not a goddamn wifi network. Find some … original, non-corporate-cannibalizing language for being busy. I want to take giant earth-moving equipment, scoop up all the bastardized and meaningless corporate language and dump it in a landfill and start all over again with the basics.

But then lots of words and their uses, misuses, mispronunciations and all manner of language-related things get under my skin. Not always in a bad way. My dear Scots abuse language constantly. My inner grammarian cringed at first, but the linguist took over and fell so much in love with its unique flavor and quirks.

I have written before about how a person, particularly a writer, will get stuck on a word and repeat it (I am not alone in this inquiry) – at least enough times that I think they either have bad or no editing, or they themselves are deliberately reveling in and using this word. That is, perhaps it has a deeper meaning for them, and they want to hammer a point home with its repeated use. Or, as Anne Helen Petersen does in her recent book Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, some version of “abject” or “abjection” recurs, quite deliberately as a key word. She goes so far as to define the word and pick apart its roots to show how it applies time and again to “unruly women” – the subject of her book. (I happen to like the word “abject”, and I was pleased not only to see it here but to notice it in a book I read after Petersen’s.) Perhaps the way my brain tracks individual words reduces the overall power of the theme or the work, but I hope I’m taking it all in regardless of my own obsession with diction.