Monday, June 9, 2014

Making lemons out of lemonade

Must be time to update the blog, since I haven’t posted in a couple-few days, like … hmmm … twelve? Almost two weeks since my last post, which was technically sometime before the calendar flipped months. Huh.

Well, every once in a while it’s good to let the blog sit idle for a bit, to recharge my batteries and avoid scraping the bottom of the barrel and make sure that keeping the blog up and running close to daily is something I’m still invested in, not just doing as a chore out of force of habit. Today, at least, it feels like something I want to continue plugging away at. So here I am.

It would be nice if that were the full extent of my explanation for suddenly falling silent (although that would also make this a pretty low-content post) but of course there’s a smidge more to it than that. The first few quiet days might have been covered by the anti-burnout clause, particularly the very first: Thursday is in effect My Crazy Kids day around here the vast majority of the time, and lately I haven’t had much to say on that front. Or, rather: the little guy continues to be bored and frustrated and apathetic about kindergarten, which I’ve talked about before, and the best that can be said now is that the school year is very nearly over, and that will be a relief. The bino is walking and climbing like a champ and trying to get into everything, and even becoming adept at pointing and grunting and shaking his head to communicate what he wants (or doesn’t want, the child seriously makes a NO gesture that incorporates the entire half of his body from the waist up), but he’s also at that stage where he wants a lot of things he shouldn’t have and doesn’t understand why his desires keep getting thwarted, so he yells and screams and cries in pint-sized fury on-and-off round-the-clock (also he’s teething AGAIN, canines coming in now). And the little girl is potty training, which I’ve also mentioned before when her older brother was going through it, at least mentioned in the abstract insofar as avowing that the trials and tribulations of teaching a toddler to control their bodily eliminations is not something I’m interested in blogging about, nor do I really believe anyone wants to read about.

So, frustration upon frustration, to tell it like it is, and some of it not even particularly post-friendly material at that. Plus at the same time, I recently (finally, many of my friends were quick to point out) got on Facebook. And on the one hand, the feeling of plugged-in-ness, however illusory, afforded by that outlet has lessened somewhat the compulsion to blog. I’ve probably only posted a half-dozen or so status updates in the month(ish) since I created my account, and I know at least two of them have been semi-ironic grumblings about what a collective handful my kids are. And I know I’m only human and I’m allowed to get aggravated now and then but, you know, tossing off zingers on FB and then posting longer screeds on Blogspot, that’s not how I want to bracket my mindset about my own children. So I let it lie.

Skip a Thursday, then it’s Friday and if I don’t have a really good random anecdote at the ready, that’s just as likely to be a silent day as well, as are weekends devoted to errands and housework and family obligations (happy retirement to my father-in-law!), but it was last Monday that things really went off the rails. I took the day off in order to go to yet another interview for the new gig that I’ve been working the angles on in one form or another since last fall. As we all know, days where I’m not confined to my cubicle are not always highly conducive to blogging. But I had a relatively laid-back morning, got to walk the little guy to the school bus stop and everything, and went to my afternoon interview, and thought it went well.

Then on Monday evening I got an e-mail from a small press publisher I had submitted a story to. They are putting together an anthology about superheroes and monsters, and if there is subject matter more zeroed in on my personal bailiwicks, I have a hard time imagining what that might be. So I had written a story specifically along the parameters of their call for submissions, and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, and I had gotten some feedback from another comics/horror loving friend who helped me make it even better, and I was looking forward to seeing it in print. But Monday’s e-mail was actually of the “thanks but no thanks” variety, and that was a bit of a bummer.

Tuesday I got back to work and straightaway e-mailed the HR folks who had set up my interview the day before, and asked if they had any idea what the timeframe looked like for any decision on me. And then went about a normal day at my current gig, and headed home at the usual time, and right as I was getting off the train I got an e-mail back from HR at the prospective employer: “thanks but no thanks”. So that too was a bummer, and more than a little bit. Clearly that crap start to the week left me in no mood for trifles like the blog, and I’m just now getting over it enough (not completely, but enough) to extricate myself from the spiral of rejection shame and anger.

I was so high on the potential of both of those opportunities, and really confident that they were coming my way, so the fact that they both went as sour as possible in rapid succession was rough. Clearly, though, the lesson to be learned here is one of humility. There’s a touch of the tragicomic in all of it, and I feel a bit like a classic character brought low by his own hubris.

The small press publisher, in my initial estimation, did not have a lot going for it other than assembling an anthology that seemed custom-tailored to my interests. Their website is a bit of a mess. Their Facebook page does not have a particularly high number of Likes. They released another anthology e-book a couple weeks ago, and I checked out the listing on Amazon, and I’m pretty sure there’s a huge typo in the blurb. (Something about spreading a “hind” inside a creature’s tracks and marveling at the size, pretty sure they meant “hand”.) So basically I thought of the publisher as low-hanging fruit, a rinky-dink operation that would be thrilled to receive my dazzling prose stylings replete with deep understanding of the tropes of superheroes and supernatural beasties. And that turned out to be a demonstrably faulty assumption. And just to add another layer of ugh, the rejection e-mail was of course generic and unhelpful. If I fail at something, I like to at least know why, so that I can improve and better myself and do better in the future. But no such helpful insight was forthcoming from the publisher, so all I can do is wonder why I didn’t push their buttons.

The gig I interviewed for obviously wasn’t meant to be, and I probably could have rolled with that if it had been a standard situation where I heard about the job, applied, got an interview, went in, did the best I could, and got the brushoff. That happens to people all the time (including me) and while I harbor some delusions of being a good writer who knows a thing or two about certain geeky genres, I don’t think of myself as a superstar at my day job. And in fact, the new job was my attempt at bending the direction of my career a bit by going after something on a different track than I’ve been following. What really stung about the process and its abrupt ending was, first of all, the sheer timesink involved. As I said, it started last fall when my buddy who works at the company in question suggested I take a shot at it. He helped me rework my resume stem to stern, which was an exhausting process. Then I applied and waited beyond the limits of average human patience, finally got the right person’s attention, scheduled an interview, it got rescheduled because of snow, and then went in on a second attempt and ended up meeting with last-minute replacements because the people who were supposed to interview me had family emergencies. I thought the interview went well, although I knew there were moments along the way that weren’t optimal, again mostly having to do with the disconnect between what I want to do and feel (with not unreasonable evidence in my background) that I could do, and what I actually have deep experience in doing.

Then weeks dragged into months and I heard nothing and assumed the window had closed, only to get word via my buddy that the hiring manager liked me and wanted me on board, but thought I was underqualified for the position. But thought I might be a good fit for a different position! But that other position paid less and the hiring manager didn’t know if I would accept that. So my buddy and I talked nuts-and-bolts numbers and I sunk more time into figuring and refiguring the family budget, and I came up with my must-be-at-least salary figure. (Numerous benefits at the job I was angling for were just too insanely good to pass up, paycut notwithstanding.) And I got in touch with the manager and waited to see what the offer on the table might be. And waited. And waited. And finally heard, not from the hiring manager but from HR, that they wanted me to come in for another interview, which I happily agreed to, assuming it was kind of a formality. If the manager liked me and thought I’d be a good fit, maybe they needed to go through the process of interviewing me for this better-fitting position before getting down to brass tacks and making an offer in writing for me to consider.

Except, apparently not. I admit I’m still baffled and a little angry about the way it all inexplicably unravelled. I was honest from the very beginning of the process that I had no experience in the job title I was seeking, but lots of solid experience doing the job duties as part and parcel of other positions I had held through the years. I came with a personal recommendation from someone who already worked there and I brought my A game to the interviews in terms of personality: happy, friendly, positive, team-oriented, deeply interested in the work the company does and sincerely excited at the thought of being a part of that. And I put up with twisting in the wind for months. In the end, I was told that they didn’t think I was right for the job because they wanted someone with more direct relevant experience. And it’s not that I don’t understand what that means or why that would be the right call for them, but it should have been the right call four, five, six months ago, too. If the experience they wanted wasn’t on my resume, and didn’t come up in initial phone interviews or the first in-person interview, was it terribly likely that the deep experience would surprisingly be revealed in a second interview? I don’t understand in the slightest how I went from “manager liked me in the interview and thinks I’d be a good fit for a slightly different opening they also need to fill” to “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”. It doesn’t seem terribly likely that my buddy completely misinterpreted what his colleague said and conveyed a scenario to me with no basis in reality. But it also doesn’t seem terribly likely that I tanked the second interview so hard that it turned everything upside-down instantly. All I know is I feel strung along only to have everything reveal itself as a colossal waste of time. (Like I said, I’m still working on getting over this.)

Oh and also, just to kick sand in my ego’s face, the HR e-mail told me that it was the end of the road for me as they were going to look for other more qualified candidates. Note that it did not indicate that they had other candidates in mind, or that they didn’t have an up-or-down answer for me yet because they had other people on the line to interview so they’d be in touch. There may not be any other more qualified candidates out there, or they may find someone and make an offer but not be able to come to terms and have that candidate walk away. But they’ve already cut me loose from consideration. Basically, they would rather leave the position unfilled indefinitely, rather hire no one than hire me. Oof.

But of course, again, I had gotten kind of cocky over the course of six or eight months or so, especially in light of the mid-point revelation about doing well enough in my first interview to be in contention for a different position if I were open to it. Surely given my in with my friend, my impressively diverse resume, and my top-notch people skills, the employer and I would come to some mutually beneficial arrangement, and the fortitude of spirit I demonstrated in hanging in there since the process began last year was, if nothing else, earning me the good karma points I could cash in to make the leap. And for most of this year I’ve been disengaging at my current job, blowing things off or kicking them down the road to the day when they would no longer be my problem. I’ve been carrying on with one foot out the door, and now I need to get all ten toes back to the line here at the Big Gray. Fortunately, I didn’t burn any bridges in really overt ways, so with relative seamlessness I can go back to behaving as if I need this job, which of course I do.

OK, hopefully this post represents the absolute last of the things I needed to do to exorcise the hobgoblins that last week gave birth to. I’m trying not to feel too sorry for myself, so please don’t feel too bad for me. In the 9-to-5 grind, there are some bright sides: yes I’m bitter that I blew a vacation day on a pointless second interview, but I do still have a good amount of vacation saved up, and I have a week at the beach coming in mid-August. I don’t have to worry about juggling the awkwardness of starting a new job in late June or early July and going on vacation almost immediately after on-boarding. I don’t have to second-guess the wisdom of taking a paycut. Maybe there should have been some red flags raised by how long the multiple-interview process took and how unresponsive the hiring manager always was, maybe the new gig wouldn’t have been so dreamy after all. (Is that a silver lining or sour grapes? Is there a difference?)

And as far as my superhero monster story goes, the upside is that I can submit it elsewhere pretty painlessly. (Granted, that fact and much of the elaboration on it I’m about to undertake apply as well to taking my newly spiffy resume and applying for other jobs, but that initiative is on hold for the summer as far as I’m concerned.) I don’t even have to re-type it or even re-print it since everything’s done electronically online these days. I’ve already shot it off to two other magazines to see if either wants to buy it, plus I’ve got a completely different story submitted for consideration at yet another publisher. All of those may come to naught, but that’s not really the point, either. I’m still writing more and more stories, and that’s closer to the point. A big part of writing and trying to sell what you write is learning to deal with the unpleasantness of rejection. (My wife and I had a conversation Saturday night about the various anecdotes we’ve heard our favorite authors relate about early rejections, from James Herriot to Stephen King. It’s nice to feel as if one is in good company.) Sooner or later something will get through, whether through sheer determination or because rejections are (usually) learning opportunities for improvement.

So, that’s where I’ve been, and where I’m at, and everybody up to speed now? Yes? We good? Next couple of days I’ll get back into obsessively overthought reviews of geeky popcult ephemera, promise!

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