workzine

Kendra Lyris, 11/23/2009

Current Occupation: Starving Artist and Published Author
Former Occupation: Paid Intellectual
Contact Information: I am a writer and an artist by default, currently living in Washington, DC. My childhood was spent in what I later learned to be a hick town in Northern California, where I spent years perfecting the drawn hand and generally scribbling in notebooks. After the intellectual delight of Reed College and the artistic pleasures that Portland afforded, I’ve switched coasts in search of gainful employment or fruitful insanity. I can be reached at kendralse@gmail.com.

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The Bethesda Interview

“You could always just get married and have kids.”

These words hang in the air like vultures, circling, waiting for me to die.

These are not uncommon words. They aren’t even, of themselves, nasty or degrading. Some women might go so far as to say that this age of post-feminism has allowed a certain amount of comfort and honesty with the phrase that would certainly allow me to suggest, with some seriousness, that a close friend take this approach to life. We are women. We have choices. We continue to struggle and claim ground within the male-dominated work force, but we are comfortable with our familial, feminine desires. Indeed, men have established a hold on these desires as well. The metrosexual man can run a business while dressed in pink with plucked eyebrows. And he can raise a family at home for a while, too. So, these are not words that offend me of their own right.

However, at this instant, I am not sipping mojitos on a terrace, discussing life with close friends. I am not even, as I had been the night before, chatting with long-distance loved ones and contemplating my myriad alternatives to the formal job market. I am sitting in a floral, wing back chair, legs crossed, leaning just slightly forward — showing dedication and enthusiasm — toward the woman who is giving me a job interview. I am looking at this woman in a way that I hope does not reflect my shock and disgust, and though her mouth is closed while she reaches for a pen across her cluttered desk, my ears still register the phrase she spoke moments before.

The woman sitting at the desk wears black stockings, sensible shoes, and a shirt/skirt combo that is nothing if it is not drab. She seems sorely out of place in this office, with its tall windows, fine furniture, and deep wood floors. I had been allowed a few minutes to take in the room upon my arrival and had noticed the gold and black-framed diplomas from Harvard, Cornell, and George Washington University, the four-foot bronze statue of Lady Justice near the windows and the many boring books on the shelves behind her, drably bound with single-word titles of no interest to me. At first I glanced around the room, hoping that, as I sat myself down in the chair she gestured was mine, she was only picking up the phone so that it would stop ringing, only answering to say I’m terribly sorry, but I must call you back. My darting glances became studying stares as her conversation with her daughter about wedding plans devolved into a battle of narcissistic wills, and I focused on deciphering Harvard’s Latin diploma and deciding if a book entitled simply Psychology could be interesting to me, a psychology major.

Thus, it was not just this woman in her drab clothing that filled my mind while her words circled, but her degrees and her decor as well. We had been discussing my resume and specifically the jobs that I had had since my graduation from college a few years before. Though somewhat annoyed that she simply seemed to want me to recite my resume from memory while she stared at the actual document in her lap, I pleasantly recounted my time just after graduation, when I had worked for my thesis advisor, continuing the research that I had completed my final year, the research that had resulted in an 80 page cognitive psychology paper, the research I had defended orally to a panel of professors in order to graduate. I explained that following that year of grueling study, I had moved out of Portland rain, down to the sun of central California, where I had worked for a few months at an up-scale paper supplies store until I found a more interesting job at a camp. I moved back up to Oregon to live in the woods and teach troops of sixth-graders about natural science and to wrangle their high-school-student counselors. After ten weeks of this out of the classroom public school programming, I moved back into Portland and found a job at a local tutoring company where I worked first as an assistant to the director and then as a tutor myself. I also worked part time for a local acupuncturist, doing her insurance billing. After two years, it was time for a change, which is why I find myself in Maryland, just West of DC, interviewing for a job in medical billing, for which I am neither under, nor over-qualified.

“And then tell me, what is AppleTree?” the woman asks. She frowns slightly, but this is not different from the way she has looked for the last fifteen minutes, so I ignore the look and say, “AppleTree is an early learning institute that focuses on giving preschool and kindergarten age children the specialized tools they need to be completely prepared for first grade, with the hope that they will be more able to succeed throughout their schooling if they are well prepared early on. In addition to being a Charter Preschool in DC, they also partner with a number of other DC schools to provide a battery of early math and literacy testing both at the beginning and then at the end of the school year.” I speak somewhat quickly. I’ve explained this before and the psychological bent of the testing allows me to feel comfortable with words like battery.

“And why did you stop working with them?”

“Oh, it was a contract position. I worked for them doing the battery of tests at the beginning of the year and, because they wanted a good baseline measure, they made sure everyone was done in about a month.”

She seemed confused as to why the whole thing might simply end like that. I couldn’t tell if she was bewildered or skeptical of my truthfulness, but I did my best to explain, my best to remain engaged and polite.

“Well,” she said, looking into her lap at my resume, now marked with notes, “it looks like your passion is children. Why aren’t you doing that?”

Maybe I should go back. Maybe this needs more set-up. Here: It’s fall in Maryland, a beautiful, calm time where the colors change at a snail’s pace until the world is on fire. I know, because I can see the change from my apartment window, the street below me lined with trees at different stages of change, while I sit inside writing and rewriting cover letters, perfecting resumes, and waiting for calls. My boyfriend and I moved in August so that he could start Law School and I could be the Provider. It’s a new role for me, having been known to spend months painting for a coffee-house show, writing unfinished novels, and baking layer cakes for no occasion at all. But I find the prospect delightfully new. And our relationship is not one of hyper-sexualized roles. I don’t need to be a housewife. I plan to go back to school. We just realize that we can’t afford to be in school at the same time, and I chose where to live last time. It’s his turn.

It is in this cool, and red-leafed world that I wake up one morning and find an email asking if I am willing to meet for an interview this afternoon. A same day interview, I think. Somewhat odd, but I’m not turning anything down! I periodically find time to contemplate a career in pole dancing, and prolonged joblessness has a tendency to produce that effect, so of course I am excited by an interview, no matter the advance notice. That afternoon, I am in my car listening to 90’s rock from my iPod, singing loudly to cool the nerves and driving, strangely, into a residential neighborhood. I am early, as I try to be for interviews, and drive my car slowly through the winding streets, gawking at mansion homes next to mansions big enough that their servants’ quarters are a moderately sized home by themselves. It is the week after Halloween and I’m thinking how many kids have their parents drive them into this neighborhood every year hoping for the better candy from the rich people. They must imagine, as I do, that none of these homes would offer a Tootsie Roll from their Halloween bowl, but would give king-sized Reece’s and Mounds, or fancy European candy, flown in especially for this occasion. These people are clearly rich in a way that cannot compete with the Santa Barbara hills or the LA elite. East Coast money feels different.

I pull up to 13017 and walk toward the front door. I ring the doorbell and wait for an answer. I contemplate reaching for my phone and attempting to call one of the numbers that was given me in the email that contained this address, but I do not. I continue to wait, to reconsider, and a small dog appears, yapping at the long window beside the door, leading me to decide against pressing the doorbell a second time. A woman appears, wearing black stockings, a knee-length black skirt and a brown top. She opens the door and I smile, reach out my hand, and say, “Hello, Vera? I’m Kendra; I’m here for an interview.” Vera does not smile, though she does take my hand briefly and then lead me into her bright study, showing me to a chair as her phone rings.

So, in a way, perhaps I should not have been shocked when this woman attempted to suggest she had a more complete knowledge of my desires than I did. When she asked me why I wasn’t in school also, I shouldn’t have been surprised to have to tell this woman that money was a factor. And I should have seen it coming when this woman began talking about the office suite in her basement for the medical billing practice she commanded, the dozen or so corporate properties she held (and for which she needed a manager) and the many different Limited Liability Corporations of which she was the head and who’s finances must be kept in order by someone.

Yet, I was. I was shocked that this woman could be so rude, could last a full half-hour of an interview with a pleasant young woman without once smiling, could condescend to tell me I did not know what job I wanted to interview for, and yet could continue to offer me the job. I was aghast when she pried to learn that I was supporting both myself and my boyfriend, and appalled when she proceeded to suggest that due to my qualifications, she would, if she hired me, do so at the low end of her range at an hourly rate half of what I had made in Portland where the cost of living is far less.

In my mind, I explained to her, in the most colorful language possible, that her rudeness would not be borne. I stood and explained in brilliant Austen fashion that her lovely home and obvious financial standing did not make up for her very poor breeding and commanded no respect from this quarter. I towered above her in my black kitten-heel boots and calmly pointed out that she would never see first hand what an asset I am to a business because nothing that she could possibly say would convince me that she was not the vilest, most self-centered woman of my acquaintance.

Then, I stood up from my seat, smiled, offered my hand again, and thanked her politely for the interview.

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