July 24, 2014
… was a black cocktail dress with spaghetti straps, a chiffon shrug, my mother’s gold bling and a sixties updo.
The party was in a function room at the Sheraton in Weehawken, New Jersey, where the Hudson River laps gently against the edge of the parking lot. The birthday boy himself drove us there from the Hoboken apartment. It was a six minute trip in his Toyota people mover but all told it had taken a lot longer than that for me. There was a transatlantic flight. There was the task of packing for a multi-faceted trip, one that encompassed festivity, work and the pea soup heat of a New York summer. The pug and all her meds had to be temporarily disposed of, there was that to do, and all those zero hour chores — bills, calls, lists –to check off before double locking the front door of the Cambridge house and climbing into a waiting cab.
You’d think I’d have the whole business down to a science by now.
The problem, of course, the self-imposed stress factor, is in the packing. My friend Claire — another American based in Britain – says I pack like a Victorian spinster on the brink of a perilous sea voyage.
She may be right. It’s not as if I seal the lid of my perfume bottles with wax or sew my money into the stays of a corset, but I do approach each trip as if it’s my last, a journey into the unknown and exotic.
And we’re talking flying over to New Jersey.
Even so, and even now, 20 years after moving to Britain, two decades of going back and forth, each trip seems terribly important, the distance vast, the differences even vaster. The process of readying myself for these visits is an acknowledgement of how important they are, these occasions that bring me back to what was once my home. And, the last ten years or so, the particulars behind these jaunts, the defining elements, have been momentous, tied in with all the big stuff: illness, death, marriage. (I can’t remember a time I came over just to bop around.) Given that, the weight and attention I accord to packing, the time spent pondering what to wear when, makes a certain amount of sense: I’m suiting up for ritual and ceremony, a process that demands more than just tossing a cardie and a pair of jeans into a carry-on bag.
This trip the occasion was joyful. My father’s 90th. There were close to 120 of us in the Sheraton function room and the dance floor was packed. The D.J., a sedate middle-aged man, played dreamy standards from the 30’s and 40’s, jazzing it up every now and then with a little something from The Platters. There were toasts and a master of ceremonies. The mood was mellow and affectionate, the average age 70. I drank far too much vodka and discovered my friend Tom was a wonderful dancer. It was the nicest party I’d attended in years and the black cocktail dress and chiffon shrug were absolutely right. I had packed well.
July 14, 2014
I actually put some thought into this get up, hoping the right ensemble would turn things around.
Because these job interviews have not been going well.
I walk into the interview. We shake hands. They ask their questions, I give my answers. I ask my questions and then … nothing. Dead air.
I’m a little hazy on what goes wrong, why it always turns so flat and sour. Is it me (the interviewee), them (the interviewers) or the situation itself?
Here’s the situation: for the first time in years I’m looking for a staff job. The time is right — our daughter’s now at university. While she was growing up I worked freelance. I did corporate writing, magazine articles, the occasional newspaper feature. People hired me to name things – products and companies. I moved on to fundraising projects, still freelance. It was all about the holy grail of balance. Raise the child, run the household, earn some money and maintain the semblance of a professional profile. There were dry spells of no employment and there were periods of far too much of it. I remember one vacation in New York where I worked round the clock for two weeks with my daughter parked in front of my parents’ TV. But then, nothing’s perfect, right? What mattered, I stayed in the game. And I did my weekly stint in the kid’s classroom, joined the PTA, helped run a local youth club. To my way of thinking being a mother actually augmented my skill base. After all, who’s more efficient, more proficient than the person who’s been keeping all those balls in the air, all those years, right?
It seems no one’s buying it, not in my case. Or to put it in another context: no one’s booking that second date. (I mention this because I’m convinced interviews are a lot like dating. In fact, I’m convinced everything is like dating.)
Admittedly, there are all sorts of valid reasons I’m not getting these jobs, not even making it through to the second round of interviews: The wrong qualifications. Not enough experience. Sometimes the chemistry’s wrong, which is fair enough. What’s not fair is being told I have too much experience. That’s the work world equivalent of the perennial break-up line, It’s not you, it’s me (#everythingislikedating).
If my interviews were a graphic novel, the thought bubbles over the heads of the interview panel — it’s always a panel — would read, “Oh God, another one of those opt-out-revolution mothers.” “She can’t do the job.” “ She’ll never fit in.” My thought bubble would say, “Of course I can do your fakakta job. What I can’t do is the interview. I’ve lost the interview knack. “
I used to sneer at the random Hollywood star who refused to audition after making it big, who found the idea insulting. Self important, delusional: that was my assessment. I get it now, though. The star is good – great – at his job, which is acting. Everything he has, his energy, his time and talent, went into achieving that and along the way and of necessity, he lost his auditioning skills, discarded them the way a snake sheds a redundant skin. Then some director calls and demands he go back to square one. The actor stands there, looks at the phone in his hand and thinks, Do I really have to do this, this stage of my life, go out and audition like a novice?
There are courses out there targeted to women like me, mothers returning to the full-time work force. Lots of articles as well, tons of them on-line and in magazines and all of them can be boiled down to one collective title: Re-Entry Strategies for Moms. They always feature a section on the interviewing process, with its comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts. Every time I flick through one of those lists, what to say, what to wear, the art of eye contact, I can’t help but think, Do I really have to do this, be interviewed like a newbie, this stage of my life?