A Bottle of Pills

It was just a bottle of pills. Thirty while capsules. The pills could not be done without. One would not leave the country without those pills. But they were missing.

They were not on the table where they had previously been. They were not on the floor. No one had seen them. No one had touched them. No one extra had been in the house. There was no evidence that the dog had gotten to them. Yet, they continued not to be found, as if defying the laws of physics.

“They cannot just vanish,” it was said. “Something happened to them. We just don’t know what.” Despite the fact that the bottle was not allowed to vanish and defy laws of physics, it did just that. Though we have looked high and low, it has not been found to this day.

The Cake

A man walks by a bakery and, glancing into the window, sees a beautiful cake. He would like to eat the cake, but the bakery is closed. He continues on his way, intending to visit the bakery later, to see if he can purchase the cake.

Another man walks by the same bakery and sees the same gorgeous cake. He would also like to eat the cake. The bakery is closed, so he smashes through the custom-etched and painted plate glass window and steals the cake.

When the owner of the bakery discovers the theft, he is distraught. He will have to replace the window, but it will never be as nice as the original. He will have to install a more expensive alarm system, the upkeep of which is higher. It’s more expensive and it requires more time to maintain.

The intangible costs are even more severe. The baker owner has been deliberately creating lovely cakes to attract customers, but he doesn’t want to attract thieves. He wonders if he should make his window displays less beautiful, so as not to encourage stealing. But his bakery is his livelihood. If he doesn’t advertise his delicious cakes, he won’t attract legitimate paying customers. There is no solution to the problem. Either he puts beautiful cakes in the window and invites violent destruction of his property, or he hides the cakes and gets less business. In fact, he realizes, someone might smash the window for fun. The thief might not even find the cake itself as irresistible as the taking of it. 

Let us turn to the two men. Is it that the first man simply didn’t want the cake that much, and that’s why he didn’t smash the window? And that the second man was so overcome by desire for the cake that he could not control himself? In a sense, is it the bakery owner’s fault that he broke in?

Not unless you are a witless, morally bankrupt asshole. The first man is a normal person who is willing to abide by society’s rules. Moreover he understands the pain he would inflict upon the bakery owner were he to break in. And, finally, he has some self-knowledge and honesty. Yes, he does want the cake. But it’s just a cake. He doesn’t elevate his desire for a cake into something more than it is. He doesn’t pretend it’s impossible to control his desire. He knows full well that it is possible.

The other man lives in lies. He lies to himself that he couldn’t help it. He lies that he deserves to have the cake, because he’s had less cake than other people in his life. No one ever gives him cakes like this; why should he be deprived? He cannot afford the cake, and it’s not fair that those with money should have it and not him. He keeps from his mind thoughts of the bakery owner’s feelings and the hours spent making the cake. He doesn’t think about what he should and should not do. In this sense, he has abdicated his humanity.

I think he’s a liar. He’s self-deluded. I understand that it’s hard to look at something nice, that you cannot get. A house, a car, a person. However, that’s life. No one can have everything they want. There may be a few people who seem as if they do have everything they want. I bet that it only seems that way.

The next day, the rest of us will see the boarded-up glass and the distraught baker. We have an obligation to say “This is wrong.” The crime must not go unpunished. If you say, “Oh, he could not help it. I would have broken the window myself, heheh!” Then I put you in the came category as the thief: not fit to live in this society. I wish I could put you on an island with the other savages. Let them steal what they want from you with no repercussions. You would see what you so callously destroy.

*Of course, this is in some ways a terrible analogy since “cake” is often not “for sale.” So please bear in mind, it is just an analogy, is not perfect, and does not match the subject in every aspect.

The Journey

When I drive to work, it’s early. The sun isn’t quite up and I am half-asleep as well. I sip hot coffee in the dimness, which despite the caffeine is soothing.  Happily, it’s too dark to see into the few other cars.

My thoughts are obscure, hiding under the covers.  I haven’t yet uttered a word. All is tranquil.

During this interlude I rarely worry about what is ahead.  Pleasant and irritating interactions, entertaining tasks and irksome chores, will come my way. Despite my efforts I will be thwarted by forces. Miraculously I stay in my cocoon until I pull into the parking garage. Once there, overhead fluorescent lights and the cold-water douse of the day’s trials rouse me.

As I drive home at the end of the day, there is no passageway into the Prufrock underwater dreaminess. The sun glares and drivers aggressively and pointlessly maneuver. Everyone is out, it seems, and everyone wants to drive up my butt. The dissatisfactions of the day pursue me.

What Am I After?

The first blog post I ever published was a rhyming couplet that I accidentally said to my cat. It got a handful of views and likes and visits (I don’t actually even know what the difference in a view and a visit is, so un-blog-experienced am I).

I accidentally rhyme when speaking to my cat all the time. Here’s another example:

My little Beppie

Has such soft fur

She’s so pretty

Look at her!

 The point is, it was the equivalent of dipping one toe into the water.

The second blog post (about some parents of sports-playing kids) got another handful of likes and such. So I figured, hey, that’s the way it is when you publish a blog post. The second one was not a throwaway; I worked on it. It also got a few likes.

The third blog post (meant to be a lighthearted portrayal of the absurdities of modern-day job seeking) represented even more work. And to my surprise, that one got no likes or what-have-yous.

I have to admit I was disappointed. What was the difference between the first-and-second and the third? Was the first sentence off-putting? Was it too long? Did it start off with a whiny tone?

A few months ago I attempted to write online on a website that, I quickly discovered, monetized Likes. If you liked other people’s writing, you got a badge or tokens or something that could be used to “purchase” something of “value” on the website. As soon as I discovered that, I turned and fled. I don’t want to give or get insincere likes. In fact, I couldn’t help but be suspicious of the likes I received for blog posts #1 and #2 here, on WordPress. Were these actual indications of like, or an invitation to mutual back-scratching?

Furthermore, I have to ask myself what exactly am I after? The blog isn’t a diary (for me, at least). My diary entries are markedly different from the blog content I’ve created so far, both in subject matter and in tone. And while snippets of it might be suitable for blogdom, most of it isn’t, because it’s far too boring. The blog for me is an attempt to write for public consumption.

I can see that many blogs have thematic unity, while mine doesn’t. I am not providing tips for decluttering closets (for which you should be thankful) or whipping up easy and healthy weekday meals (for which you should be even more thankful). I want to write about whatever I’m thinking about. However, I guess that’s not necessarily the best way to get “readers.”

Writing for no audience is a time-honored tradition, and what I actually expected. I’m guessing that the newness of the blog may have caused it to temporarily appear in some feed to make it visible, as an initial boost.  The likes and views prompted me to have unrealistic expectations.

I have to chide myself because a Like represents the smallest possible unit of non-negativity.  It doesn’t deserve a lot of weight, one reason being it could mean something as uncomplimentary as “I was here” or “I feel sorry for you.”  So I’m trying to adjust my expectations (although, I would be grateful if someone would tell me how to adjust the line spacing!).




Job Hunting for Dummies

I have been looking for a job for 10 months.

Don’t be upset, because I have a job. At least for now. I can pay the bills (sort of). I can put food on the table. But it is my heart’s fondest desire to have a different job, to worry about a different company’s problems somewhere else.

The last time job-hunted was 19 years ago, and during that time, things have changed.

I used to search for jobs in the classified ads of the physical Sunday paper. The application process was to mail a resume and cover letter to the company, after which they would respond via mail, even for rejections.

Today, there’s no need for a newspaper. The jobs are not there; and the newspaper itself hardly exists. But where exactly the jobs are is an enigma. It’s a bit like asking where the leprechauns are. If you went to an amusement park and there was an attraction called “The Leprechaun’s Lair,” you could be pretty sure that no leprechaun would be found within miles of the place, despite its name. It’s a lot like that with job boards. They are tricked out to appear to contain lists of jobs, but they don’t.

While perusing the job boards (Monster.com, CareerBuilder, ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Dice), if you see a job you like, you can apply on the company website. This does not serve to provide basic information about yourself, as you might think; rather, it is a grueling psychological endurance test. The poor—no, atrocious—design of some of the websites may lead you to question whether you want to work for the company after all. I’ve often felt I should get a certification for successfully completing an application. If the company is content to make their applicants endure this torture, or is unaware of it, what would it be like to be their employee?

You needn’t worry about that, however, because the company will never contact you. They might send an automated letter enthusiastically congratulating you on applying for the position, and expressing false gratitude at your interest. You might later receive an automated rejection letter regretfully informing you that while your background and experience are impressive, they are moving forward with another candidate whose skills more closely match their needs. Many companies send neither the initial nor the rejection letter, thoughtfully saving you the time of reading either.

This is the applying-on-the-company-website process: Apply. Do not receive certification. Receive optional automated thank you letter. Receive optional automated rejection letter. END.

In my experience, I need to get “psyched up” about a job in order to soldier through the application process. I need to envision myself in the job, implementing, enhancing, leveraging, executing, considering the impact on, and possessing a proactive mindset, KICKING ASS all the while as I hit the ground running. Otherwise my cover letter, which I have recently discovered is not something the hiring manager cares about, sounds flat and uninspired. The logical thing would be not to worry about writing a dazzling cover letter, and yet it’s hard to abandon the one thing that might set me apart. Unfortunately, all of the visualization and psyching-up is genuinely exhausting. Repeatedly performing it and managing the ensuing torrent of indifference is physically, intellectually, and spiritually draining. It’s giving me chronic fatigue syndrome. But what choice does the job seeker have?

A few weeks ago, I read about an alternative to the traditional cover letter called the “Pain Letter.” In it you are supposed to insinuate a familiarity with the hiring manager’s pain points, smugly intimating that you’ve been there, done that, and can fix his or her problems with a snap of your fingers. I don’t doubt that some people have successfully gotten the attention of the hiring manager, or even a job, via this tactic. But if the hiring managers in my organization received a Pain Letter, they would be ROFL. I cannot bring myself to do it.

I know, it’s all about marketing. You have to play the game. You have to get with it. You have to at least appear to be young and fresh, because god forbid you betray that you are old, out of it,  hopelessly stuck in the 20th century, and therefore useless. I should have five different versions of the Pain Letter going, each for a different vertical, my laptop blazing with hipness and illuminating my nearby corpse (because I would have just died of self-disgust).

But remember, job-seeking advice articles also sometimes tell you to be You, to be genuine. You wouldn’t be happy in a job where they thought they had hired a completely different person.  You have to find a company that specifically wants you, like a date or a marriage. But you’ve got to get your foot in the door!

If you happen to enjoy receiving dozens of phone calls and emails that lead nowhere, another tactic is to place your resume on job boards. You will receive MANY inquiries. Approximately one out of every hundred will be from an in-house recruiter. The rest are from out-house recruiters.

OK, I am being semi-unfair. The non-in-house recruiters fall into two broad categories:

  1. The ones who have not read the job description or your resume very carefully, but who have found a word or two in common between them. “The,” perhaps, or “and.” They have no knowledge of US geography and will contact you about three-month contract jobs on the other side of the country.
  2. The ones who do have a clue and who contact you about jobs that are at least plausible for your skill set and location.

There is considerable variation among Group 2, however. Some of them have relationships with the hiring companies and some don’t (and I confess, how the latter kind get paid is a mystery to me).  The ones that do have much more information about the company, the job, and the hiring manager, not surprisingly. Some seem to be more “opportunistic” than others; as in, why is a recruiter from the other side of the country trying to place me in a job in my state? Don’t you, out-of-town recruiter, think that the local recruiters have already called me about that job? Guess what: they have. Lots of them.

One thing is certain; if a new job pops up that matches your resume, you will get bombarded with calls and emails from near and far.

You may have a discussion with a recruiter about the compensation, benefits, and job duties, why you are looking for a job, etc. Should you agree to allow the recruiter to submit your resume, get ready for…nothing! The days, weeks, and years following the submission of your resume will be jam-packed with an absence of activity related to the job.

Once in a blue moon, you will actually be granted a phone screen with the company. This is a notable event in that it will raise your hopes, and the frenetic onslaught of nothing that follows will be all the more disheartening.

I’ve kept track of the jobs I’ve applied to, the method of applying (actual company website, third-party website that stores your resume and applies for you at the click of a button, recruiter). A few weeks ago, I took a hard look at the spreadsheet and came away with the following insights:

  1. I’ve applied to more than 70 jobs (by the way, I only apply to jobs that I genuinely believe are a good match. It’s simply not worth it apply for a position that has evident problems at the outset).
  2. Of the jobs where I applied directly to the company or via the third-party website, the response rate (i.e., at least a phone screen) does not approach statistical significance.
  3. Jobs from recruiters had a much higher rate of resulting in phone screens or actual in-person interviews.
  4. Applying to a job via a website is an utter waste of time.

That said, waiting for recruiters to call is an unsatisfyingly passive strategy. But how to be more active in a way that is at least not a proven failure? Some of my latest ideas are:

  1. Link to all recruiters I can on LinkedIn who have jobs in my general area of expertise. So far, this strategy has not had a noticeable effect.
  2. Ensure that my posted resumes are overflowing with keywords (I confess I haven’t done this yet. So I don’t know whether there will be any effect).

There was a third strategy I tried, once. It was as follows:

  1. Having found (what seemed like) the “perfect” job, I applied via the company website.
  2.  After receiving no response. I found in-house recruiters on LinkedIn and linked to them.
  3. I sent a message to one, expressing my interest. He responded and somewhat half-heartedly asked for my resume.
  4. I sent him the resume.
  5. He did not respond.
  6. In an amazing burst of awesomeness, I contacted ANOTHER in-house recruiter (it’s a big company).
  7. This recruiter responded and asked for my resume.
  8. Thank you, Recruiter: when I sent it to her she very kindly pointed out that it didn’t seem to match the job.
  9. I had a revelation regarding the extent to which one must SPOON FEED information to hiring managers. They will not read between the lines. They will not make inferences. They will not extrapolate. You must explicitly lay everything out for them.
  10. I redid my resume, still staying very strictly within the bounds of truth and honesty, but presenting my skills as if there were only one job in the world, the job I wanted, and sent it to her. Truth be told, for my current position it’s a peculiar resume. I think others with my title, seeing the resume I sent to her, would be perplexed. That’s the kind of thought one must sweep out of one’s mind, however.
  11. This time, I succeeded in catching the recruiter’s interest. We had a lively and pleasant phone screen.
  12. A few days later someone from the company called to schedule an interview.
  13. I prepped for that interview like a maniac.
    1. I spent hours reading their website content (they have a LOT of information on their website).
    2. I researched the CEO and watched videos of her giving speeches.
    3. I read articles in business publications about the company’s strategies.
    4. I learned about tools used at that company (which I have not used, but can learn!).
    5. I bought a nice dress and bag.
    6. I showed up on time at the interview well-groomed and professional-looking, bearing extra copies of my resume and references and the job description.
    7. I left my phone in my car.
    8. I had a good night’s sleep and a moderate, healthy breakfast.
    9. I knew my resume cold. People, I was prepared for this fucking interview.
  14. The interview was of the marathon variety; it was hours and I met multiple people. As for how it went, it’s difficult to say. Each interviewer was careful to describe how the job would be difficult, ambiguous, and frustrating. I didn’t feel they had doubts about me being able to do the job so much whether anyone could do it.
  15. I sent enthusiastic personalized thank you notes to the interviewers on the day of the interview.
  16. I waited.
  17. After a week, I sent a cheerful note via email to the in-house recruiter asking for an update. She replied via email saying she’d find out more and call me the following week.
  18. She didn’t.
  19. In the middle of the week after the week she said she’d call, I emailed again, with a cordial, non-complaining email inquiring about the status of my candidacy and when I could expect to hear back.
  20. She emailed back saying she’d call me as soon as she had any information. Her tone was professional, yet there was an attendant “don’t call us, we’ll call you; you are now approaching nuisance territory” vibe.

In the end it was an exceptionally disappointing, expensive, and complicated version of the basic process (see above).

So what now? I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep you posted if anything changes.