Career counseling

[Below is another tiny excerpt from my novel project – Wonderland. This post serves as a tribute to the modern, post-recession job hunt. For those job seekers out there, find a handy, middle school-esque career quiz at the end of the post. It’s simple: Download each of the songs loosely based on an occupation. If you like the song, that means that you should pursue that career. Yes, it’s that easy! Enjoy, and hang in there, job hunters.]

Pen against face = anxious job hunter? Maybe. They look like Vampire Weekend.
Pen against face = anxious job hunter? Maybe. They look like Vampire Weekend.

I’m a perfectionist.

What do you consider to be your biggest weakness?

Really, honestly. What is it?

And I’m not talking about the stock answer that you provide in every job interview – you know, one of the following required responses, all of which can actually be spun into positive things: “Sometimes, I don’t take enough time for myself, because I work too hard… Sometimes, I care too much… Sometimes, I’m too much of a team player.”

My biggest weakness at the moment, as it seemed as I was getting dressed before hopping on the train en route to my interview downtown, was being able to find a matching shirt and pants that were (a) clean, (b) not wrinkled and (c) coordinated with the one suit jacket I owned. Deciding that the slightly crinkled pale blue shirt would do, I headed out to the train station in a dash, convinced that I would be late.

Interview number one, as it turned out, was for a canvassing director position with an environmental non-profit organization, Green Illinois. The position did not pay well and demanded long, exhausting hours and I doubted that I would accept an offer even if it were granted to me. That said, I figured that it was worth the practice, and I was certainly not in a position to be turning down interviews from anywhere, anyone.

But then again, a job is a job…

Ding. Daydream over. I was now in an ornately-decorated elevator and had arrived at the floor of the office where I was to be meeting with Harrison Davis, an executive with a sister organization of Green Illinois’.

As I stepped out of the elevator, I glanced at my phone – 2:54 p.m. Six minutes to spare! Walking into the office, a group of three casually-dressed possible environmentalists turned simultaneously toward me with looks of disdain at being interrupted.

“Hi,” I said, with my voice cracking. “I’m here for the – the interview with – um, Harrison. About the canvass director position that you, or, the Fund has an op–”

“Interviewers go over there,” said a brunette wearing trendy Dolce & Gabbana frames a tight-fitting gray cashmere sweater, tweed skirt and hooker boots. She did not seem to be impressed by my inability to spit out a complete sentence explaining my presence in the office.

I walked past the cubicles and piles of boxes of sheets of paper and approached Harrison Davis, a somewhat gawky, awkward-looking man with short mousey brown hair, wearing a gray pinstriped suit and a purple striped tie. His initial expression toward me was only slightly less annoyed than the welcoming committee head that I’d encountered upon entering the office. I sat down on a metal folding chair after handing over a clean copy of my resume.

He looked it over pseudo-pensively for several seconds before launching his first question.

“So, it looks like you don’t have any direct campaign experience here. What makes you think you can just walk in here and do this job? Do you understand that this is difficult work?”

“Well, yes, I understand that there are a lot of responsibilities involved in the position, and that it is probably quite challenging…” I began as Harrison sliced a hole through my forehead with his menacing stare. “When I was in my undergrad in Madison, I learned several lessons right away, while trying to balance school, work, internships and volunteer work. First of all, it was that priotizing was crucial. Second, that sometimes you need to ask for help and build coalitions. For example, in one of my jobs…”

“No, I mean, you can’t just waltz in here and think that just anyone can do this,” he continued, staring at the wall while avoiding my eye contact until he suddenly shifted his gaze back in my direction. “Really, what skills do you have?”

“I have good organizational skills, can run meetings, have recruitment experience…” I slowly realized that I was growing increasingly sweaty – I felt my chair sink in the floor as I faced cross-examination from the defense stand. “And on my resume you’ll notice the computer programs I’m familiar with are quite numerous. And –”

“OK, OK – Got it, you’re not a moron. Super.”

“Um, yeah, I guess,” I replied, as face deepened to a medium shade of pink. “I mean, what I’m getting at is that I have employed many leadership skills in my previous positions, actually including quite a bit of volunteer and intern coordination, in addition to fundraising and team-building. I–”

“Okay, well… I have a meeting coming up, so let’s just get this over with. Would you relocate?”

“Honestly, probably not,” burst the words from my mouth before I had even given them a thought. I began to sweat. My face: From pink to a light red – what shade would they call that? Suddenly, the job I was barely sure I even wanted in the first place seemed bigger than the room. Bigger than the entire high-rise office tower. Bigger than the world. “I mean, I just moved here from Madison and have a one-year lease I was planning to live out. I live in Andersonville, it’s a really nice neighborhood and–”

“Right, right. We’ll see what we can do. How about you fill out this informational sheet. Be sure to list the places you would be willing to relocate to right here. I’m sure we’ll be calling you later this week, I think you’d be perfect for this job.”

“Oh, um, thank you.” Confused.

“Yeah. You can show yourself out. Nice… meeting you.”

He tentatively extended his hand while standing up, before leaving the room.

The next day I was offered the job for which I was (apparently) completely unqualified for.

Maybe it was pity, or maybe it was a fluke, but whatever the case may have been, I turned down the offer for a position entailing 70+ hour work weeks and a fair share of street canvassing, which is only a few steps above panhandling.

CAREER QUIZ MIX — The song you like most represents your ideal future career! (Sorry, no one sings about accountants..)

Download: St. Vincent ‘Actor Out of Work’ (mp3)
Download: Garotas Suecas ‘Ghostwriter’ (mp3)
Download: The Barmitzvah Brothers ‘Thrift Store Owner’ (mp3)
Download: Final Fantasy ‘The Butcher’ (mp3)
Download: M. Ward ‘Underaker’ (mp3)
Download: Tori Amos ‘Waitress’ (Live in Chicago, 11/6/07) (mp3)

Wonderland: Intro; Tape 1, track 1 (A work in progress)

As some of you reading this may know, I have been at work on a novel for some time – since last fall. I’m still in the very early stages, but it – working title: “Wonderland” – is beginning to take shape as a semi-autobiographical series of literary mixtapes. It tells the story of a queer twenty-something college graduate named Ryan who moves to Chicago in search of a fresh start. In the first tape, Ryan is just beginning to meld the shape his life will take – finding a job, regrouping after a breakup and beginning to build a new network of friends and acquaintances – all amid an ever-changing and enriching/crippling web of social networking tools.

Anyhoo, I’ve decided that I was ready to begin sharing my progress with some fresh sets of eyes. Shared below is the current shape of the piece’s introduction and first “chapter.” I would love any and all feedback that you may have. ^_^


drawn-out, instrumental intro:“what is this noise?”

I sat at the window of his newly-rented flat — empty, with the notable exceptions of two twin tabbies — and stared at the wall. My mind should have been focused on securing a position on something resembling a payroll as the end of my first complete month of Chicago residence quickly approached. But I couldn’t help but drift from productive endeavors, choosing instead to count the freckles on the living room ceiling. The day to its current late-afternoon point had consisted of:

9:34 am: A light breakfast of Corn Chex
9:47 am: A morning hello from Seth, my boyfriend of two months: “Are u happy w how things r working out?”
10:27 am: Segue to a light, 21-minute long phone conversation with Seth, now re-identified with a brand new sub-title on his name tag: most recent ex-boyfriend
11:11 am: The first of a series of text messages from a former best friend and roommate laden in accusations of poor character following an as-of-yet unresolved, move out-related squabble

An early afternoon lunch of a delectable hummus wrap over coffee with Julie, my new roommate and already long-time friend, helped slightly to lift my spirits, but shortly thereafter, it was back to my current position, lounging in a surprisingly supportive beanbag chair listening to the end credits of The Devil Wears Prada, the first in what would likely be a lengthy mindless romance-comedy movie marathon at 1742 East Magnolia Street, Apartment 1, party of one.

Looking outside the sparkling front windows between glances at Rudy’s peaceful nap atop the scratching post, I’d just noticed that a sunny sky had emerged to replace the mid-August, mid-day rain shower. The rays of light illuminated countless rows of flowers on the tree-, brick house-, happy family-lined street that I now called home, and the undeniably pleasant view did nothing but deepen an already down disposition.

‘What is,’ I wondered, ‘these peoples’ secret? How did they do it?’ By ‘it,’ of course, I meant a myriad of things, all of which had felt just at the tips of my recent college graduate fingers just weekes before: The dream job, the attentive and attractive lover, the perfect apartment. The perfect life. Could it really be that difficult? Maybe all that was needed was a how-to guide book, if only I could afford that…

Money. A sensitive subject. A first night out at the bars in Boystown two nights before had eaten away at my last bit of cash and it seemed doubtful whether the checking account held enough to cover a soon-to-be-due credit card bill, let alone money to eat, drink or — more or less — leave the apartment and do anything other than to wander the unfamiliar streets aimlessly.

Let me go ahead and do your inner dialogue for you:

So, who needs another whiny story of a bitchy queen who just got dumped and lacks employment?

That’s not what this story is about and that’s not who I am. This story is about my journey. A journey to etch a place for myself in this world. To risk losing it all for the sake of maybe making the world a better place. Or at the very least, finding my own piece of happiness amongst the shards of disappointment, scraps of clarity and slivers of insanity scattered along the way.
— August 13, 2008, 4:13 pm

tape 1, track 1: “21 text messages”
sounds like: fiona apple meets elliott smith, with a hint more desperation

The next morning, I awoke to the realization that my status had shifted from “in a relationship” to “single” just twenty four hours earlier, as I curled up in the corner of my queen-sized bed draped in newly purchased Ikea finds. Although I had been sleeping alone for the past two weeks, the bed seemed especially too-large at the given moment, given the isolating events of the day before — adding boyfriendless to the pile of jobless and sexless.

A firm believer in a proactive approach in life, I first assessed my present situation. In terms of jobs, I’d already applied for dozens without many leads — and would likely be spending the entire day sitting at the side of my phone, waiting for a call back from the tapas restaurant at which I’d interviewed for a serving position days before. A freelance writing opportunity had also recently popped up, which was all well and good, but would not make much of a dent in monthly rent payments, unless I managed to write at a vastly increased, perhaps humanly impossible rate.

The man hunt did not appear to be any more promising, at least not immediately. And that was probably for the best. Just last night, Julie, myself and Beck, our third roommate, a beautiful Uma Thurman look-alike whom I had known since my freshman year of undergrad, had ventured out into the neighborhood to see what surprises the bar scene held in store for us. Although both stops along the mini-Andersonville pub crawl were fun enough, as I looked around, I noticed that each group — ours included — was completely inwardly focused. No one was approaching strangers with small-talk; no hope of meeting the elusive “anyone new,” but instead, these places had the definite vibe of a friendly neighborhood watering hole — at least on a Wednesday night, that is. Unless the atmosphere was considerably different during the weekend, these would not likely be sources of date-worthy individuals.

So, it appears the search would have to go online. A rough mental calculation earlier in the week — with a little help from the myriad of web journals and social networks that I’d maintained during the five years since coming out as queer to myself, friends and family — revealed that I had met nearly 40 men — strangers — through such avenues. Of the 40, five had become boyfriends (of the seven total relationships I had been in to that point) — a figure which roughly calculates to the lucky 13 percent. Most — roughly 80 percent — had resulted in at least a second date, however, at this point, these odds were good enough for me. I had not had sex for exactly three weeks and that needed to end ASAP.

Enter Ferdo. A 5-foot-4-inch mohawked dynamo with sun-caressed skin that I’d encountered through an online dating site. Ferdo, too, was new to the city, coming fresh off of a year spent in China teaching English to children, not exactly putting his degree in film to use, but proving to be a genuine do-gooder nevertheless. He had a air of quirk about him, and reminded me to some degree of a slightly less loopy Sufjan Stevens, or even Chris Garneau, sans lampshade collection. And, he even came complete with that air of a tortured artist’s soul. Maybe a little damaged, but in a sexy way. File under: “My type,” whatever that means.

Although Ferdo and I had not made set plans, a flirty phone conversation days before had confirmed that he would call on this day to set something up, and I could not have been a stronger mix of excited, nervous and even slightly intimidated. I had been so busy completing my final year of school and working dead-end jobs waiting tables and answering phones to [attempt to] build up an income cushion for my move that I hadn’t spent much time on dating before I drunkenly fell into my newest ex-boyfriend’s arms at Milwaukee Pride on a rainy June afternoon.

I wasn’t sure if I remembered how to date — if that was what this even was — and suspicions of the previous beau’s wandering eye had left me falling slowly into a self-conscious and decidedly less confident position along the totem pole of our it’s-a-small-world-after-all queer community. I wondered, as I sipped black coffee in a newly discovered Swedish cafe and typed away these very mutterings, if he would call at all. Even if he would, would I really want to bring my total of online meet-ups to 41, likely bringing the relationship quotient to an even-more-paltry 12 percent? As Thomas, my blissfully-reflective-though-painfully-arrogant friend from Madison, would have put it: My stock value was going down — falling fast — the great gay stock market crash of oh-eight.

Thomas is a an epic novel in and of himself, which I could hardly attempt to do justice in the midst of this narrative. For that reason, I will deem his stock market theory as questionable at best, pending further research. Pre-breakup facilitating text message the morning before, I had awoken to not one, two or three messages from my friend; but instead, twenty-one. They went a little something like:

1:09 am: I’m at club five and i hate everyone but i miss you hardcore.
1:14 am: I HATE GAY MEN. UGH UGH UGH UGH UGH…sad, so so so so sad.
1:15 am: please come to madison, i miss you hardcore. I hate so many gay lifestyles here. Our culture is so broken.
1:17 am: BITCHES ARE FEEDING ME DRINKS. I CAN’T TAKE ANYMORE. PEOPLE ARE HUMPING ME, and I can’t handle it. Ugh. Gross gross gross, I wanna dance w friends.
1:18 am: Ryan come home please
1:18 am: Please?
1:19 am: I can’t exist without real people
1:20 am: people are humping me. Thomas is not a happy panda. Thomas is a sad, sad, sad missing his friends panda.
1:25 am: There is NASTY NASTY NASTY gay porn on the tv’s everywhere I look. LIke, honestly, WHO has sex like THAT. Sorry I don’t [fuck] bitches LIKE THAT.
1:31 am: There aren’t real gay men. REAL GAY MEN DON’T NEED THIS… Garbage. To live. I’m sorry i’m text bombing you.
1:33 am: THE VIDEO they’re playing is FEATURING a bleeding asshole [Didn’t really need that visual…]. Wow. That’s monumental!…not.
1:34 am: there two bews[?] asked to fuck me.
2:02 am: MADONNA IS MY BITCH!!!!!
2:08 am: Thomas = Worst sex life ever.
2:16 am: Let’s blast Madonna… Right………….. NOW!! RAY OF LIGHT! VOICES! HUNG UP! SORRY% DIE ANOTHER DAY!…i sense a marathon!
2:33 am: PERKINS = BAD JOB = SO GLAD I DON’T WORK HERE. HA! NASTY!!!!…..Gays gone wild! … Not in a good way.
2:35 am: Gays wild anywhere is GROSS. Unless they’re as hot…as us ;)… I should stop drunk texting! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha sorry.
2:39 am: I’m allergic to Perkins.
2:40 am: I THINK I’M ALLERGIC TO GAY MEN……no, seriously.
2:46 am: Honestly, though, I don’t think I’ll ever find a gay man who is… With me. Spiritually, emotionally, etc.
3:40 am: Look at the stars, look how they shine for you and everything you do.

As I reflected on the series of messages, performing them for my roommates as a dramatic beat poetry-inspired monologue and contemplating whether it was appropriate to quote them in this log, I wondered if, buried among the alcohol-induced it’s-so-difficult-to-be-as-attractive-and-meaningful-as-I-am-bleeding-asshole gobbledigook, perhaps Thomas had a point or two. ‘Our culture is so broken…,’ he had typed between sips of vodka-cranberries and Jaegerbombs. ‘There are no real gay men.’ What does the phrase “gay culture” even mean? Could that possibly be agreed upon by any group of reasonably-minded individuals or was it just another undefined, even romanticized concept lost in translation between sub-communities? And don’t even get me started on what a “real gay man” would do, say and think.

Somewhere along the way to the dawn of a new media world where near-instant sex was available any time, any where, and sales of botox, bronzer and brow-lifts burst to the brim, perhaps we had lost that sense of community that we were always said to have. Maybe we’d never even had it, at all; always lost in a mess of caricature from an overpowered, tyrannical artist – the beast fueled by capitalism, conservatism and consumerism. Maybe the term “LGBT community” had been designed by a by-now-very-rich advertising executive who had decades before discovered a group of misfits that could be loosely grouped together in order to desire and buy products and services.

Or maybe it was just another meaningless, drunken mess of a night at the club for Kyle and I was reading too much into it.


It was Ferdo. Friday. Drinks in Boystown. A distraction from the increasing feelings of disappointment, and perhaps even a shot at something meaningful. Or at the very least, maybe a make-out session. Score.