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)

Big city livin’

A lot of people have been asking me what life has been like since moving to the “big city” [i.e. Chicago] and I suppose the time has come for something resembling a more standard update on my life in the past several weeks.

I just yesterday returned from a weekend trip to Madison to partake in the inaugural Forward Music Festival and visit with friends. The festival was mostly enjoyable, effectively satiating my craving for live music, and was a thrifty deal, at $25 for a weekend pass. Tsk tsk to festival organizers for switching the Saturday schedule at the last minute and causing me to miss the performance of The Dials, a Chicago-based band — this was not the only changed or grossly off-schedule occurrence that happened during the festival. That said, Neko Case, Leslie and the LY’s and Flosstradamus alone were worth the price of admission, not to mention the bits and scraps of many other talented performers that I was able to catch over the course of the weekend. And I’m hoping to catch Thao Nguyen (whose set I also, unfortunately, missed at FMF) at the Hotel Cafe stop in Madison later this fall.

For those of you unaware of the grandeur that is Ames, Iowa-bred, gem sweater-wearing Leslie Hall, feast your eyes post haste:

Just a few weeks prior, I was fortunate enough to catch another of my favorite live musicians in a free outdoor show downtown, when Andrew Bird played the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. The selection of songs was spectacular — from the many newly-penned songs played to the glorious ‘Fake Palindromes’, which inspired a mass audience migration to the stage — and were enhanced by both the picturesque backdrop of the park’s scenery and the bottle of merlot that my roommate and I split. The next time this man comes into your town, do not hesitate to clear your calendar and check him out.

Andrew Bird against the backdrop of the beautiful Pritzker Pavilion.
Bird playing against the backdrop of the beautiful Pritzker Pavilion.

My occupation at this moment would technically be “freelance writer,” though this is hardly full-time, nor is it paying the bills, which has made a profound impact on the amount of time I’ve been able to devote to this blog, in addition to my choices of entertainment. If you’re interested in reading some of my work, spotlighting talented queer Chicagoans, check out my recent articles from EDGE Chicago, featuring the co-founders of the Bare Boned Theatre company and singer-songwriter Ian Wilson.

Beyond that, my other work as a writer: (a) Angry insomnia-induced blog rants on a certain hockey mother, (b) Dozens upon dozens of cover letters, (c) The beginnings of a manuscript — yes, a manuscript, tentatively titled Adventures in Wonderland.

The manuscript is turning out to be based very much on my own life, drawing inspiration from everything ranging from Sylvia Plath poetry to subway performance artists. It is about the adventures of a young gay man new to a large urban setting in a world of vigilant social networking, intrusive advertising, online dating sites, divisive and a wilting economy. It’s about disappointment, fear and naivety coming head to head with hope, optimism and love. Wandering lost through the world at the very time when you’re expected to be found. Keep your eyes out for a preview to be released on this blog before Halloween.

In addition to writing, I’ve been spending some time volunteering, which has been a total blast. Two weekends ago — during that freakish flood of the city — I had the treat of participating in the fabulously ornate Aware Affair: Superheroes fundraiser, hosted at the MCA Loft by the Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN). My duty? Wander the glamorous space with a clipboard in one hand and a drink (compliments of the open bar) in the other with my very own personal male-model-hero, as pictured below, in the green briefs at center, at my side:

Male superhero models are fun.  The Republican is on the far right; Greenie in the middle was "mine."
Male superhero models are fun. The Republican is on the far right; Greenie in the middle was "mine." Photo: ChicagoPride.com

This boy — who was STRAIGHT, who knew!? — was just one of many models who showed up for the gig as eye candy for the predominantly male guests. I had to laugh when he expressed concern over the amount of attention that he was receiving from some of the older men at the event — did he not realize that he was covered only in tiny briefs, glitter and body paint? I’m not sure what the expectation was, but I’m thankful that I was paired with this particular heterosexual male model-musician-student instead of the Republican in the red briefs who spent ten minutes explaining to me why John McCain’s military experience alone should be reason enough to secure any vote, regardless of any lacking in the Palin department.

Attacked by the Hulk.
Attacked by the Hulk.

‘Til next time, I’m outzo.