Great Expectations

This is not the way it was supposed to happen.

Today’s blog post – as I started mapping it out weeks ago in my mind – was designed to be unabashedly celebratory. This was going to be the ultimate All About Me™ post, a new high point in the self-adulatory Golden Boy Chronicles. This was supposed to be the post in which I triumphantly crowed, bragged, and boasted to the rooftops of the blogosphere that I’d ARRIVED – or returned, depending on how you look at it – to that charmed place under the sun in which I so rightfully belong, and that all was once again right and good and exactly how it was supposed to be.

I was supposed to tell you that I’d accepted a new job. More than that, one that would make up for the dreariness and drudgery of one that I’ve come to resent for failing to keep me inspired and happy. This new job, I was supposed to announce, was shiny and wonderful, filled with wonderful, dynamic supervisors, and would provide an atmosphere where I could positively flourish. Because of this job, I would do wonderful, fucking fantastic things.

This is what I was supposed to be telling you today.

But you know what? I’m not.

As occasionally happens in life, things didn’t go quite the way I hoped they would. After weeks of interviews and a cautious escalation of hope, I got the final call late last week (on a Friday afternoon, no less. As an aside, who does that??). Apparently, my obvious brilliance was not quite as brilliant as someone else’s.

And just like that, it was all over.

Naturally, I was a little bit upset. (Did I mention that this was at 4:30pm on a FRIDAY afternoon???) There may or may not have been a few minutes of abject pouting (okay, I swore viciously under my breath and almost had to buy the university a new computer), followed by a short period of quiet mourning (in which I may or may not have packed up my entire office in a grown-up version of ‘fuck you, I’m taking my marbles and going home!’). After glimpsing the rosy utopian future promised by the new position, the prospect of returning, beaten, to the day-in day-out existence at my current office seemed too bleak to contemplate.

But…now that I’ve had a solid week away from the office and on the road, my thoughts have settled and tempered somewhat, and…I’m okay with this.

Not that I don’t cringe, shudder, and die a little bit at the thought of trudging back into my same old cubicle – now with carefully blank, sterile walls – come tomorrow morning, because to be completely honest, I do. I can still enumerate the things that fucking irritate me beyond all belief about this place from rote memory. But at the same time, I think I cringe, shudder, and die a little less than I did several weeks or months ago.

See, I’ve been thinking this over. A couple weeks ago, the great Steve Jobs departed for that great iCloud in the sky, and the world all of a sudden went mad. In the midst of the mass gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, and rampant eulogizing, all I could think of was how cool it was that Steve worked to the very end because he loved what he had created, and how lucky any of us should be to find something we’re that passionate about in our professional lives. I mean, he found something he was both brilliant at and loved doing, and he found ways to make sure he never stopped doing them. There might have been a few bumps and obstacles along the way, but he didn’t let them sidetrack him. And right down to the very end, if you believe the reports that’ve recently come to light, he was still hard at work making sure his final products would come out just so.

Not that he needed to, mind you: he had a gazillion dollars, was dying of cancer, and could have simply just said ‘fuck it’ and plopped himself down in front of HGTV for his final days. Or, when he was pushed out of Apple the first time around, he could have sat moping in a cubicle, getting bitter and resentful.

But because he was passionate about what he did, he kept right on going, circumstances be damned.

And that? That’s what it’s all about, in the end. At the end of the day, I should be excited. I should feel like I’ve accomplished something. I should be passionate enough about something to want to do it because it’s gratifying, not because I need the money. I should inadvertently work late most days because I’m caught up in a project I want to finish. I should want to voluntarily come in on weekends and holidays, not sprint out of the office with a sense of relief that another workday is crossed off on the calendar.

If this is where I’m spending forty hour and another ten-plus hours a week in transit to and from, and is eating up time I could be writing or spending with Boyfriend, then it better be worth it. It better not just be marking time.

And maybe I’ve had it exactly backward all this time: maybe it was a mistake to believe it was my job’s responsibility to provide that. Maybe it’s MY job to make sure I’m making the most of every precious moment and getting what I need out of all this. I desperately wanted out because I felt like my job has been utterly failing me: there’s no validation for work well done, there’s no challenge, there’s no motivation to do better.

Well, maybe I’ve just been completely spoiled in the past and have come to expect entirely too much of my supervisors, administrators, and general workplace (Hi Savona, hi Scott, hi Kirsten!). Maybe I’ve depended too much on the thrill and personal gratification and job satisfaction to come from sources external to myself. And maybe, just maybe, in order to regain those cherished elements of my work, I need a little paradigm shift. If I’m not happy where I am? Maybe I need to find something in it to be passionate about.

So thanks to a little posthumous inspiration from My. Jobs, that’s my goal, now. I can sit around spinning in circles in my desk chair, sighing in frustration over the myriad little fucking irritations and disappointments of what I once thought would be the Greatest Job Ever…or I can make it the Best Job Ever. At least until the Next Greatest Job Ever comes along…

So…come tomorrow morning, bright and early (well, not too early, because I’m still wickedly jet-lagged from this latest trip), I’m going to find the things that excite me and thrill me about my current job if it kills me. I’m going to find the challenge. And I’m going to find the gratification; if the job doesn’t provide it, I’ll fucking gratify myself. And I’ll keep on doing it, giving 150% of myself – and not for anyone else, but for myself.

Eventually, another position will come up that sparks my interest and whets my appetite. I’ll go through this whole process again, and one of these times, the job is gonna fucking be mine, and I can walk away knowing that I haven’t been wasting my time here. Because there’s one more enduring lesson we can all learn from Steve Jobs: that some of us are just too fucking fabulous to be kept down in the muck.

Now…if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to get to gratifying myself.

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Of Supernovas and Falling Stars

Once upon a time, long before pro(zach)nation was a blog that billions (well, hundreds) read (and long, long, waaaaay long before I got too damned busy to remember to update this blog more than once or twice every, oh, six months), I was a writer.

And…not just a writer, mind you, but a pretty decent one. Back in the day – when the Great American Novel™ wasn’t only a pet project I was procrastinating from writing by maintaining a blog and working on several silly memoirs – I was a Writer. Capital W. I wrote stuff that was huge, tragic, epic, and beautifully, achingly, heartwrenchingly good. Every evening, a tall glass (or ten) of cheap, really crappy wine (Carlo Rossi by the jug, thank you very much) accompanied me on the patio while I spun pure magic from my keyboard. The words came hard as supernovas and fast as stars spinning and falling from the sky and where they crashed down, there was the brilliance of ten thousand suns. The sheerepicawesomeness of my words gave me a great big literary hard-on. And I was hardly almost never full of hyperbole.

Really.

Fast forward.

These days, it’s hard to remember to write. Pro(zach)nation came about in the waning days of my writing ‘career’ as an exercise in keeping a struggling writer’s flame burning and as a distraction from those aforementioned creative nonfiction projects, which were in themselves a diversion from a novel that was quickly becoming too heavy to contemplate – much less add meaningful words to – on a daily basis. And now, with a career and a busy home life (heavy emphasis on the home with husband, light on life as it once was)…even this humble little blog is lucky to get much action. In the list of life’s priorities, writing – which used to be so essential to my identity – just seems to…slip. Sad, but whatcha gonna do?

Well, in this case, I’m gonna slam and lock the door. Then I’m gonna spend some quality time finding that lost identity.

Tonight – for the first time in I don’t know how long – I am writing. Yes, I actually am (see?! writing!!!). No, there’s nothing ominous or cataclysmic about this: Boyfriend (scratch that…’Husband,’ though after a month that term is still a hard one to etch into my vocabulary) and I are still giddily attached, and I haven’t found myself underemployed and scratching at my navel lately. There’s no existential quacking. But it’s September, and that means that Boyfriend is back in school. And – since travel season at work doesn’t yet have me schlepping hither and yon (stay tuned on that front…I’ve got a doozy coming) – it means that one night a week, I find myself left entirely to my own devices.

And know what? This is a good thing. A very reallyveryfuckinggood thing.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the time I spend with Boyfriend. More than I ever imagined I could enjoy spending time with any one single person, in fact. I love the person I’ve grown to be while with him, even if that’s someone a little different than who I was before. (and come on, let’s face it: I just love me, period). But that doesn’t mean that I don’t equally appreciate the infrequent times I find myself on my own. It’s MY time. I can jam out to MY tunes (not that I mind Britney Cyrus or Jason de Bieber), wander around in my underwear (well, not that I don’t anyway), and drink milk directly from the carton (and eat oreos on the couch, even!). I can drink myself under the table, if I’m so inclined. And yes, I can write.

It’s pure unadulterated bliss.

But also, when Boyfriend is done with class, I will gladly serve dinner (yes, to those longtime readers, the kitchen and I have somewhat declared an uneasy truce), banish the acoustic rock (or what Boyfriend calls my ‘weepy suicide music’) or thrashy screamo (my ‘noise’), and play nauseatingly-doting husband.

See, that’s the key to a happy and healthy relationship, I think. Now that I’m all settled into matrimonial harmony, I seem to more often than not find myself in the weird position of dispensing relationship advice to people. I’m no Dan Savage, mind you, but I can hold my own.

As a coworker and I were discussing today, sometimes you just need your own fucking time. That’s not to say you aren’t completely, blissfully happy with your relationship. It doesn’t mean that you are so adverse to spending time connecting with your significant other that you start developing a rash after spending twenty-four hours together (though if that happens, Urgent Care does offer STD testing). It isn’t a diminishment of your relationship. It doesn’t mean you’re an asshole (even if you are). It just means you’re a healthy, well-adjusted human being.

Know what else? It probably means your relationship will be stronger.

Finding yourself in the company of nobody? Embrace the motherfucker.

Thus ends this week’s little bon-mots in domesticity. If you’ll excuse me, there’s a bottle of wine calling my name and two beautiful hours before Boyfriend gets back, and it’s time to go be myself and try to write something a little bit fucking sublime.

Now, thanks for coming. Go away.

Postscript: in case you haven’t noticed, the look of pro(zach)nation has changed a bit. It will probably keep doing so for a little while until I’m completely happy with the look. Love something? Hate something? Let me know…I might listen.

Flight of the Penguin

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m a fucking rockstar.

Yep….it’s about that time again, folks: time for some good old fashioned navel-pondering. When last we saw our hero getting philosophical, quacking like a penguin, and crowing about being a golden god (three perfectly good and reasonable pastimes Charlie Sheen has now irrefutably rendered tainted for all eternity), it was the spring of 2010 and I was in the midst of a job-hunting-induced malaise of squandered potential.

That was then, when I’d taken so many McOrders and spotted so many bench presses that I was in danger of forgetting that I could, you know, actually do stuff that required complex decision-making processes (or any active grey matter at all, really). And it had been such a long and interesting period that it really surprised nobody that I was wandering around the backyard in my underwear muttering quietly to myself while listening to Mika’s anthem for the young and disenfranchised, “We Are Golden,” on repeat and raking swirly patterns in the landscaping as if the yard were my own giant Zen garden.

Or at least, y’all politely acted as if such scenes were not run-of-the-mill and not vaguely Sheen-tastic.

And this is now, nearly a year later, as I sit happily ensconced once more within the halls of academia — well, the windowless cubicles of academic support, at least. Enough time and distance have passed from my time in career exile (or what I lovingly refer to as the Year of Motherfucking Hell) that the McNightmares have mostly passed and I can almost handle hearing the words ‘budget cuts’ or ‘recession’ without going internally back into that dark panicky, despair place. And I’ve largely reconciled myself with the (many, many) concessions that came part in parcel with re-joining the workforce in an economy that still deserves a Dante-esque warning sign: the massive, almost criminal plunge in salary level; the loss of those fancy titles, posh catalog-ordered matchy furniture, shiny dual computer monitors, and windows (nevermind an office door); and the bitter little pill that was the realization I was back on square one, starting back in a position startlingly parallel to the one I’d started working my way doggedly up from nearly four years before.

Yes. For the most part, I’ve recovered. But still, there are moments of penguin-dreaming and former-glory musing.

If you hadn’t noticed, I don’t talk about my job much here on the blog. Partly that’s been a calculated move. Seeing as I tend to go off on the occasional wild rant like this one (and I’m not crazy and determined to gnaw the hand that feeds me to a tiger-savaged pulp), that’s probably a good thing. Partly, it’s because at the end of work day, I don’t really want to deconstruct it. And finally, a large part of it has to do with the fact that I mostly love my job and coworkers, and rarely have anything much to report on the subject.

Ahhhhh, but perhaps there’s the rub, and the source of this latest round of penguin pondering: there’s nothing to talk about.

Sure, I could focus on the trivial and the inane…but there’s plenty of that material to plumb from the depths of everyday life. (My cooking, anyone??). My current boss isn’t bat-Sheen crazy. My coworkers are (mostly) charming and laugh appropriately at the occasional dumb things I do. (like that time in LaGuardia when…oh, never mind.)(and really, okay, that one’s getting old, guys). And I don’t have to fist-bump my way through an over-testosteroned weight room of muscley, sweaty guys, crowing bromantically and slapping asses. (Wait…what was wrong with that, again?).

And I love that my coworkers are as much my conspirators-in-arms as they are my colleagues. (climbed any good wrought-iron fences while muddy and mildly inebriated lately, Linda?). In fact, I haven’t had so much fun on the job since the olden, golden days with Scott and Savona at TRIO Training, when Ahkmed the Dead Terrorist dismissed staff meetings and management discussions were hammered out amidst nerf wars. And the fact that I get to go on fun little jaunts to places like Philadelphia and Boston and New York City (as well as not-so-fun trips to places that rhyme with ‘El Stabbo’), staying in posh mid-town hotels and charming old New England inns (hellooooo, Connecticut!)? And traveling with matched luggage? Kinda priceless.

So yeah: there’s a lot that I love. Overall, I’m blissfully content. And yet…occasionally, I’m still that penguin that dreams of a time when penguins flew.

Quack.

See, let me explain.

For the past two weeks, most all of my coworkers were out, either with the death-plague or traveling, and I had the office to myself.

And know what? I loved it.

With everyone else gone, all the miscellaneous projects got dumped on my lap. I got to DO stuff. Coordinate appointments for a school visit by out-of-state counselors guaranteed to knock their friggin’ socks off? Check. Impress the Big Boss in the Corner Office With the Killer View with my efficiency and attention to detail? Check again. For the first time since I’ve settled into this position, I suddenly realized, I got to DO something that required actual thought and effort (and just a smidgeon of ambition). I was checking work on my way to and from the office, firing off memos during dinner or at random moments in the middle of the night, and contemplating schedules and plans during my dreams.

It was glorious: I felt a renewed purpose and motivation in coming to work every morning. It was also a brief chance to relive the glory days of my early career, when I was trading up offices and earning plaques and accolades, and when I was widely expected to be on my way quickly to that Corner Office With the Killer View, and when I WAS the golden boy.

It was also a wake-up call: somehow, in the seven or eight months I’ve been back in the trenches of university student services, a cube-drone carrying out constantly-changing directives from above with little to no actual autonomy, I’ve been so busy being relieved to actually HAVE a job again (and adapting to taking my directions constantly from above and forgetting that I’d once had pretty office furniture and relative autonomy) to realize that I’ve become the penguin that forgot how to fly again. Bottomline, I’m just not challenged on a regular basis (and we all know I need challenges in my life), and I can’t think of the last time I’ve been honestly stimulated (the time I walked in on the entire swim team showering in the rec center locker room notwithstanding).

Huh.

If my recent moment in the sun was the catalyst of this little personal gestalt, a message from an old TRIO comrade-in-arms crystallized it this evening. “Hey,” he asked. “Do you have the great position yet? And do you need an assistant?” And I had to reply that no, I did not have the big office, and that — truth be told — I was barely not the assistant myself.

And, like a penguin dreaming of gliding amongst the clouds startled suddenly awake to find himself standing frozen on a cold, barren ice shelf, there was clarity. Boom.

So: what now?

Well, nothing drastic, really. Obviously, I need my job. As much as being unemployed helped jump-start my writing, it’s a state I don’t intend to return to. And also, I love what I do (mostly), and I love the people (mostly). In fact, the Great Compromise — step down in salary and responsibility and go to work in a great environment, or hold out for the great title and stultifying daily social existence? — was something I considered carefully when I took this position, and really, I still have no true regrets about it.

But…at the same time, maybe it’s time to dust off that patina of dust covering the ‘Outstanding Employee’ award hanging on my cubicle wall. Maybe it’s time to remind myself that I AM special, dammit. Maybe it’s time to take a page from the Charlie Sheen playbook and remind myself that I am a Goddamned Fucking Golden God. (with tiger blood flowing through my veins, natch). Because really, we all need to take a big giant leap over the precipice of self-importance and unbridled ego-tripping now and then, I think. It’s what keeps us motivated and, ironically, sanely grounded. Unless you’re Charlie Sheen.

I am a Penguin, I AM a Golden God

Not to make too fine a point of it, but I am a Golden God.

No, really. Allow me to explain.

I made a startling realization the other day: it’s almost June. That means it’s been eleven months, give or take a couple days, since I’ve been gainfully employed. Yeah, I’ve worked for LA Fitness-nazis and McFatties, but I hesitate to call either of those esteemed placeholders as ‘esteemed.’ They’re certainly not resumé-builders, and once I’m fully ensconced back within the halls of academia I’ll no doubt forget them like those many foggy vodka-induced regrettable nightmares.

Anyway, now that I’m back in the swing of job applications and am surely bound to land a job I won’t be embarrassed to own up to any day now, I’ve spent a lot of time considering my not-inconsiderable talents, merits, and accomplishments. And with each iteration of my resumé and each cover letter, I find myself getting a little bit more excited by my own awesomeness.

Two Masters degrees and a progression of university administrative positions distinguished by rapid promotion and a strong performance record? Yup, that’s me.

Responsible for sponsored project planning, logistics, and coordination; prospective, transfer, and current student advising; creation and distribution of promotional literature, and student progress and database management? Whoa, that’s me too.

Organized and hosted public relations and outreach projects, workshops, recruitment campaigns, orientation, commencement activities and departmental tours? Huh, I guess I did do all that. I pretty much rock!

Well, duh. Right?

The funny thing (or not) about extended under-employment is this: there’s always the possibility that eventually, you might start to forget about your own past glories and future potential. Take penguins, for instance: do they ever take a look up in the clear Antarctic skies at terns and boobies (heh) soaring and wheeling around and have even the remotest inkling that they’ve lost something? Do little tiny lizards ever think to themselves, if only I were a big ol’ fierce dinosaur, I’d show that stupid puny mammal something?

Okay, I know they don’t, but still…

The fact is, eleven months of no call-backs, rejection letters, and dead-end interviews do leave one’s ego a bit worse for wear (yes, even mine…though it’s still admittedly quite large and robust). Yeah, I know we’re in a big whopper of a recession. I know I’m one of three hundred-plus mostly-qualified applicants for every position I submit my name for, and that it’s a small miracle when I do make it to a first-round telephone interview. I know I’m good. The last time I found myself on a terminal contract (which was totally not my fault, by the way), I applied for three jobs, was one of the top two picks for two of them, and landed a good position not only before my contract expired, but with two months and a planned vacation to spare. And that was in an already-faltering economy and in a town with a preciously small and competitive job market. Boo-ya.

And finally, in my last position (shortly before the position disappeared, natch), I received a damned mother-effing university award complete with a shiny plaque with my name spelled right on it for my efforts…and I’d only been on the job for six months at the time. So not to boast too much, but yeah…I fucking rock. And this under-employed thing right now? So totally not indicative of my abilities, character, or anything else.

But still, it’s easy to forget I’m not reading a piece of fiction or somebody else’s job experiences every time I go through my resumé. To some extent, I’ve become that penguin.

Quack.

When I was a wee small high school kid, I had a triple-whammy going against me. I was skinny and ugly, I had poorly-honed social skills and no self esteem, and I had a big-ass brain. One fateful day, I realized it just wasn’t cool to be a smarty (especially one with glasses, a wardrobe, and a personality to match Steve Urkel’s), so the summer after graduation, I revamped myself. No glasses, a new wardrobe, a butt-load of false charm and bravado and shiny new grooming habits got me noticed, and a nerdotomy and new smartass personality got me noticed. So did a healthy addiction to the weight room at the gym. As long as I kept that brain carefully hidden, I was the hot popular kid. Somewhere down the line, that persona just…stuck…for a while.

Why the hell did I need to be smart when I had a rockin’ bod and this face??

Fortunately, grad school came along and kicked me in the seat of my complacency, humbled me a bit, and made me remember that this pretty head was meant for something more than a substrate for expensive hair product. Local hair show and freelance photographer model gigs were cool and all, but they didn’t really impress my medieval lit professor (the stupid douche). Brain, welcome back.

Fast forward to now, and…I guess it’s just sorta happened again. I’ve become the snarky smartass writer who blogs about vodka-induced shenanigans (but they’re so fun!), lawn maintenance mishaps (but leaf blowers are so fun!), and the ever-constant quest for better abs (but they’re soooo friggin’ hot!), and who pays the bills slinging fries and selling burgers.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. It’s just that I’ve been out of the smartly-dressed professional role for so long now that it’s easy to forget that I’m pretty friggin’ good at that, too.

And now that I’m hitting the job market hardcore again, it’s time to remember how goddamned golden I am.

I promise I won’t let it go to my head…much.