Rejection is a drag

I’ve been looking for a job in my field (art) for a little over two years now. Job-hunting during a recession isn’t really how I had envisioned my post-MFA years, but then I was a little idealistic (okay, a lot). My attitude six years ago somewhat reminds me of those Xtranormal animations that make fun of academic careers in the liberal arts (I finally understand all the weary looks!):

I like to think this hefty dose of reality (courtesy of the job market, the economy, and the nature of higher education) has improved me personally and artistically. It has certainly broadened my perspective.

This economy makes it especially hard for those in the fine arts to find work in their field. But on March 5th I saw a job ad that was so completely, absolutely perfect for me I couldn’t contain my excitement. I spent five days on my application, laboring over every sentence on every document the university requested. Everything had to be flawless. It was by far the best application I have ever assembled.

In early May the call came: I was invited to interview by phone with the search committee! This alone was a triumph. An interview! Finally an opportunity to show people what I can do! Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I prepped for the interview extensively. Over-prepared is more like it. But this obsessive research and rehearsal came in handy, because the next week I received the ultra-coveted invitation: an on-campus interview!

The interview went wonderfully. After nearly twelve hours of meetings and meals and tours, I was released back to my hotel feeling excited and cautiously optimistic. The feedback I received was incredibly positive, leading me to believe that indeed I had done well. Yes, I had made a few faux pas, but nothing serious. Of course, I would spend the next month analyzing those “mistakes” anyway, wondering how I could have done better. But in the end I knew I had done my best to convince the search committee that not only could I do the job, but I would do it with unparalleled passion and excitement.

I had already worked on visualizing the whole thing coming to fruition. I envisioned getting the phone interview, how it would go, getting the on-campus interview and how it would play out. Just to cover my bases I visualized both phone and email scenarios. Now, after the job interview had passed, I had to imagine receiving the job offer. That was where my hopes started to elevate even more. I could really see myself moving there, living there. I knew what salary I needed to justify the relocation. I imagined suitable homes and visualized packing and moving to my new town. And I dreamed of leaving my current job; packing up my desk, saying goodbye to everyone, handing in my building pass, walking out those doors of a place that would no longer feel so familiar. And though it is a job for which I am very grateful (any job is better than no job right now), it is also a place at which my skills are wasted – if not discouraged at times. A place where I stifle who I am so I can pay the bills. I really liked the idea of flipping that scenario on its head. At my prospective job, I could be everything I am and still pay the bills. Talk about win-win.

So, I waited. And waited. One week. Two weeks.

That’s when I became nervous. Had I told too many people about the interview? Did I jinx it? Did I fail to send something the committee needed but didn’t outright request? Was I too wishy-washy about some things, too certain about others? Was I too candid with my prospective boss? My excitement waned as the days passed. It began to seem unlikely I would get the job. Silence has a way of eating at my confidence. But I kept hoping. “You never know,” I told myself.

After three weeks I decided to check on the school’s progress. I emailed the department head and asked after the progress of the search. Four days later came her reply. She had just received an offer acceptance from a different candidate. I didn’t get the job. She wrote some very kind words about knowing I had a bright future ahead of me (which is very nice, as she didn’t need to say anything at all), but I was crushed nonetheless. Truly disappointed. Rejected. And back to square one on the job search. That discouraging, frustrating job search.

Some people say I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up, but it was hard to do when everything seemed so perfect – serendipitous in fact. (And when so many people agreed that this job seemed the perfect match for my personality and skills. Consensus really killed objectivity on this one.)

Many folks say there was a reason I did not get the job (as in – God was looking out for you, or something better is in the future). The jury is out on that one. Meanwhile I am waiting for that wondrous thing called “hindsight” to kick in, but I have yet to get to a place where hindsight applies.

Others say, “This is how it works.” And they are right. It can take years (if ever) to get a position in the fine arts. But me? My thinking is a little different – and still very idealistic.

I’m convinced – based on many blessings in my life – that I can defy the odds.

I believe I can do what other people say cannot be done. (I have done it in the past. I can do it again.) And with that attitude comes a healthy dose of perfection paired with impatience. Not the best combination of traits for someone who feels like that one chance to prove herself lies somewhat in the hands of perfect strangers. Naturally, I needed some space from all this job business.

Lucky for me I had a vacation coming just a week or two after the big “no thanks.” Two weeks with family 1000 miles from my real life. Road trip indeed. Just what I needed.

Returning to work was difficult. Instead of handing in my badge, I was swiping it for another undetermined length of servitude. (Again, not ungrateful for the job I swear! Just hoping for a better one some day….) But a job’s a job, and I was lucky to have it.

Friends showed admirable amounts of concern and encouragement. It was heartening to know just how many people believe in my abilities to manage, organize, network and help others. It was important that I listened to them, not letting my disappointment drown out their encouragement. And of course, they wanted me to cheer up – because that is who I am: cheerful Jen.

So I put on my brave face. I noted the benefits of the whole thing: interview experience, new connections, the benefit of receiving that coveted interview rather than the cookie-cutter rejection letter. I pointed out the blessing in having a job to return to, a job I can do pretty well that also is flexible enough to let me be an artist (woohoo!). Health insurance, vacation time! Air conditioning! A decent pay that covers my day-to-day expenses (do I really ever need to pay off those student loans? Well, at this rate, it won’t happen before I’m seventy, but anyway…). A great apartment, a lovely landlord. An abundance of friends. My art work. My husband. My family (far away but loving!). My health. The lovely cool northeastern weather system. Proximity to NYC, Boston, the coast, Phili…. Yes, I have so much to be grateful for.

And I am.

But having the “right” attitude can be tiring when you feel disappointment. So how do you balance the conflicting emotions?

I’ll take a stab at it with my “Be Nice. solution at the end of the anecdote” moment. This is what I learned from the process.

When you get some unfortunate news (this could apply to other scenarios, not just mine):

Allow yourself to be bummed out. Cry, yell, journal angrily, play endless amounts of video games, live in your pj’s for days straight, become a vegan, dye your hair pink, develop a new interest in taxidermy, whatever. Do what you gotta do, but get the sad stuff OUT. Don’t bury it. Don’t burn bridges. Just feel your way through it.

Reserve the right to tell others you don’t want to talk about it. It’s your life and your bad mood is none of their business if you don’t want it to be (assuming you’re not being a jerk to them, in which case you’ll have more problems – so try not to be a meanie).

Give yourself a break from the job search for a few days, but then get back on it. People deserve the benefit of your contribution in the workplace, trust me.

Be receptive to others’ encouragement. Those words may not feel very great in the shadow of insecurity and disappointment, but they will be useful in the future. So tuck them in your memory bank for a better day, and whip them out when a pick-me-up is in order.

Once you get that crappy-sad feeling out of your system, find a goal to throw yourself into. Distraction is key. It will remind you of what makes you such a great “worker” in the first place. And eventually the distraction will become something else entirely, and you’ll find yourself once again tapped into your genuine energy.

I’ll leave you with something my mother said to me, which I think can apply to so many people who long for the day when their heartfelt vocation has become their work. She said, “That day is coming Jennifer. And when someone finally has the good sense to hire you, they’ll wonder how they ever got along without you!” I like that idea, don’t you?

Oooh vacation

I’ve been gone for awhile. My apologies. I didn’t mean to slack, I swear!

I knew June would fly by, but had no idea how quickly! What was I doing, you may ask? I’ll cover a bit of that in an upcoming post, but the major distraction was a much needed two-week trip to Iowa to see my family and friends – most of whom I hadn’t seen in twenty months. For me, that is just too long!¬† Needless to say, I sadly have seen my vacation come to an end, but have returned much happier and rejuvenated!

A little Midwestern scenery for you, from my road trip out west!

Before I get to one of my planned posts, I’m going to spend a little time sharing a few things that happened in June that I thought were just lovely.

But first! My favorite song about Iowa (funny funny and soooo true!) that I had the pleasure of experiencing on our 18 hour drive west and east again!

And now… on with it!

Story time

Do doctors listen? Do patients know how to tell their story?

These questions have formulated in my mind many times in recent years, after numerous experiences with a variety of doctors and nurses. I’ve encountered all types of practitioners in the last 10 years, some better than the others. But in 2009, it was painfully clear how important those questions are in matters of life and death.

My husband’s appendix ruptured in January 2009. We were on the train from New York City to Poughkeepsie when Jake realized this wasn’t just a stomach bug or food poisoning. Upon arriving at the E.R. in Poughkeepsie, the nurse dismissed the possibility of appendicitis (Jake didn’t have a fever, and pressing the front of his abdomen didn’t send him yowling in pain). Our case was deemed not urgent. We waited almost 2 hours to see a physician, who lazily ran a urinalysis for kidney stones. No blood-work, no scans. With the doctor standing right next to him, Jake says he’s sure his appendix ruptured (as soon as he vomited his guts out, he felt instantly better). The M.D. didn’t see it that way, and confidently gave Jake pain killers and anti-nausea pills with a diagnosis of influenza. Two hours later, we arrived home at 5 AM Friday morning.

To be fair, it seemed like the flu (which was traveling around): fever, body soreness, vomiting, nausea, chills. Returning to a busy Trauma 1 center E.R. in Albany just to receive another flu diagnosis wasn’t on the top of our list that weekend, so we had ignored the E.R. discharge papers that said to return to the E.R. on Sunday if he wasn’t better. We figured instead we’d go to the doctor Monday morning if his “flu” hadn’t broken. Big mistake.

Monday morning, a Physician’s Assistant (P.A.) at Student Health did a basic exam (at this point, Jake’s eyes had turned red with broken blood vessels due to his violent vomiting) while listening carefully to our experiences the last four days. The P.A. had Jake lay on his back and lift his leg to his chest. “Does that hurt?” she asked. “Yes,” Jake grunted. The P.A. explained to us that Jake indeed might have a ruptured appendix or a peritoneal infection. (Pain with that movement and his symptoms is a sign of a peritoneal problem. For the unfamiliar, the peritoneum holds together our abdominal organs, and an infection of it untreated can kill you.) Just to be safe, we went to the E.R.

We arrived there at noon and had our own room and tests being run 5 hours later. By 7:30, the M.D. (remember, this is a different E.R.) returned to us with an unexpected diagnosis: Jake’s appendix had either ruptured or was about to rupture and needed surgery. Depending on the damage, he could have an open wound for months, a drain, or sutures. At 10:30 PM they took him in to surgery, and at 3AM the surgeon came out and described his appendix as “really dead” (she agreed it had likely ruptured in Poughkeepsie Thursday night), and she said his abdomen was “icky icky icky” (no joke – some lingo, huh?). Let me tell you, at this point I had little confidence in doctors. Then of course the nurses who all had different methods of treatment (the rules changed every 8-12 hours), the attempt to feed him 5 hours after surgery when his bowels weren’t moving (he spent the day vomiting), or the lack of care overall, had me losing all hope in expecting good treatment for my husband. After two hospital stays totaling 9 days, failed antibiotics, two abscesses totaling 10cm, and a month with a drain coming out of his belly, Jake was better 45 days after the rupture.

So, why do I tell you this story? Not very “nice” is it? Here’s the thing: we all have a story like this. My sister has a story like this. My mother has a story like this. I bet you know a story like this. Not all of them have happy endings; luckily mine did. But what I learned from it, I feel the need to share here.

I was raised to respect authority, and the expertise of others. So when the first M.D. sent Jake home with the “flu”, I trusted him. When the surgeon dismissed our concerns that the antibiotic pills they prescribed weren’t working, I trusted her. But Jake returned to the hospital 36 hours later with a spiked fever and a second abscess. I was so angry – they didn’t believe us that the oral antibiotics didn’t work. And I was scared: if they sent him home with them again, would his infection get worse? I called my dad, and in his honest approach he said: “Well, you have two options. Either tell those doctors what you want and GET IT, or start digging a 6 feet hole to bury him in.” Just what I needed to hear: the blunt truth. They tested his blood for sepsis, luckily that came out okay. But to the doctors’ surprise, with different IV administered antibiotics both his abscesses disappeared within 2 days. I have a feeling we were right about the prescription they had given us; after repeating “It’s the antibiotics that caused his relapse,” to every one of the 15 doctors, interns and nurses that littered our room for a full day, they prescribed new antibiotics when he was discharged the next morning.

And that’s when I remembered. Doctors are not the experts of our bodies. WE ARE. We know when something isn’t right. We know when it’s not working. Doctors know how to treat illness, but it is our job to be our own advocates. If something doesn’t seem right, we should continue to fight for the tests to be sure nothing is wrong. Sure we might be mistaken or worrying too much, but what if we’re right? Look at my husband. He almost died from peritonitis because we believed a stranger more than our own guts (no pun intended!).

Now, I’m not trying to demean doctors or nurses. They are human, and like all of us they make mistakes. It’s just that their mistakes can be costly.

In January, PBS did an interview with Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee about his new book “The Emperor of All Maladies,” who they quoted as saying this:

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Do you think writing this book has been the kind of experience that makes you a better doctor?


I think — you know, I think — I think one of the most important things that the book — the book made me realize is the narrative aspects of medicine. And that is that medicine is about storytelling. And if you stop hearing a story, the fundamental activity of medicine will change.

I’m told — I had — there’s a wonderful anecdote. It’s a study actually that was performed several years ago in which they asked the question, when a patient begins to tell his or her story, how quickly and on average does a doctor interrupt the patient? And the answer, I — you know, what would you guess?

It’s a surprising number. It’s 18 seconds. So, less than a sentence opens in medicine before the doctor interrupts, and the doctor, he or she, says — you know, starts putting in her own — his or her own story, intervening.

That reminds us that, you know, one of the best things to do about medicine is first listen, shut your mouth, until — until the full story has been told.

And, actually, I’m told that the practice is changing. It is now up to 21 seconds, I’m told.

(You can read the whole story, or watch the interview, here.)

What Dr. Mukherjee said reminded me of a conversation I had with a P.A. from Connecticut last October. After telling him about the P.A. who saved my husband’s life, the man explained that doctors are in such high demand – so pressed for time – that they are not able to listen to the extent that perhaps they should. But P.A.’s have more time, and therefore often listen to their patients more. And that brings forth more effective care.

So what is the point here?

Be your own advocate. Demand to be heard. Ask lots of questions. If the answer is unclear, have them re-explain until it is plain as day. Expect doctors to know all the details. And don’t edit out the details that you think are unimportant. Let them be the judge of what is and isn’t important. Keep timelines – a running log of symptoms, times of day, what you ate, how you felt, what you were doing. Keep notes from your appointments for future reference.

And one last word: Run the tests. I can tell you of at least two women who were diagnosed with IBS by their family physicians without running any tests or dietary adjustments, only to find out that one of them had Crohn’s disease and the other had ovarian cancer. Don’t mess around. This is your health, your body, your life. If you aren’t feeling right, find the answer.

For Muse: Crushes

"The Kiss" by Francesco Hayez (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I had to give this one a lot of thought after a reader asked me to write on it: how to talk to crushes. And this is for a few reasons: first, I talk all the time. So my attentions to a particular crush wouldn’t seem much different from any other day I bet. Second, this isn’t exactly a “be nice” thing, but if put in the right perspective it can be. Being confident in yourself is part of being “nice” to yourself. So I think it fits. Third, I’ve been with the same fella for 6 years now.¬† So, I’ve been out of commission awhile. Now, remember: this is just my opinion. Always trust your judgment first. I’m definitely not an expert. But here goes!

I’ll tell you how it worked out when I talked to my biggest crush EVER: my husband. I met him at an art opening of a show we were both in. He walked off the elevator and it was immediate: I had to talk to this guy. So without thinking I walked right over to him, put out my hand, and said, “Hi! I’m Jen. Who are you?” with a huge smile on my face. Now the key to doing this was no thinking. If I thought about it, I would get insecure and I would not say a word. And getting insecure is exactly what happened that evening.

We had a blast walking around, talking about the art work. I don’t even remember what we said, I just remember making sure I was being cool and not sounding like a moron. Things were going great! It was me and him alone virtually the whole time we viewed two entire floors of work. But then came, as we stood around digesting the show, this little, short-haired, petite cute girl. I was always intimidated by those girls. Here I was, 5′ 10″, at the time I was a size 18, and naturally next to a 5′ 5″ skinny blonde with stylish clothes and that mysterious “cool” vibe, I figured I was defeated by default. I thought, “Oh, she’s pretty, she’s probably his girl friend.” So while he made conversation with her I wondered off, insecure and angry with myself for being such a chicken. He left the party and I was devastated.

But then I got brave again, and found his email on our college directory (slightly stalker-ish, but hey, it worked!). I emailed him with the “Hey, that was fun and I liked getting to know you. Would love to talk about art again. Want to hang out?” And he wrote back, “Yeah! Here’s my number, here’s when I’m free.” (PS–it was fate because he NEVER checked that email, but just happened to that weekend.) So, we hung out. And my insecurity prevailed again because I assumed he might just want to be friends even though we spent 3 hours just swinging on swings at a park talking, plus dinner, plus seeing some art. I should’ve known he was into me when he called each day he said he would (he called every other day), when he picked me up and we went out to dinner. So I told him, “I like you,” on our second date. He was shy, and said nothing! UG!¬† Again, thrown into tumult. What was going on?!!

My friend Michele suggested some “game” type strategies. They didn’t work. Jake wasn’t into “games.” He was oblivious. And playing games wasn’t like me either. So finally, I took some of my own advice. Be blunt. Be reckless. When I don’t think, and speak, it works best for me (with him at least!), so I said, “Look, I like you. And I don’t know if you like me because you haven’t said so. And it’s fine if you don’t like me that way, but I just want to know. Because if I don’t stop liking you this way soon, I won’t be able to be friends with you and I really like to talk to you so I’d like to be at least friends. So do you like me or not?”

And he said “Yes.” The rest, as they say, is history.

My suggestions are these:

  1. Always be yourself, from the start. Be true to your feelings, your intuition, who you ARE. Your love interest will either like you or they won’t. It’s nothing you can change. If you change who you are, eventually the relationship will fail because you aren’t being you. So just be you from the start because that pain is probably less than the pain of being in a relationship that feels like a lie. Want another argument about being the true you? It’s unfair to assume someone won’t be into you the way you want them to be. Give your crush his/her due credit and give them the privilege of knowing the real you. You are awesome, and it’s just a matter of finding some other person whose “awesome” jives with your “awesome.”
  2. Just treat them like you might when you want to make a new friend–at first. It might take the pressure off. Then after a few tries at talking, you can tell them you “like” them. They’ll know you by then and probably have an idea of if they “like” you too.
  3. Talking to crushes comes in waves of pure mindless bravery and bouts of crushing insecurity (if you’re anything like me). The important thing is to always try to defeat the insecurities¬† and go for what you want, even if it scares you. Worst case: s/he won’t “like” you. And what you get out of that is knowing that you care enough for yourself to go after what you want. That is something pretty special. Best case: s/he is into you. That would be sweet.
  4. When in doubt, just talk. Could be about anything. Don’t know what to say? Make a comment about something you are into. They might pick up on it. Still short on words? Ask questions. People love to talk about themselves. Give them a chance, and they might take it. And then you can respond with a story, or another question. It’ll get the ball rolling.
  5. There may never be a day when you feel ready to talk to your crush. Or maybe you just need to build confidence for a while and then you will go for it. You know you best, so trust your instincts and believe in your qualities and go for it when the time is right. If you know that you are a good person worth befriending, that will come across to your crush, and that is a very attractive trait to have.

I hope this gets you thinking. I’m sorry I’m a little out of date on the whole crush thing. Just remember to be safe, make smart decisions, and to be good to yourself. Those are most important.

I’m going to keep you all updated on my Kickstarter project with every post until its deadline in March. This is my first update!

KICKSTARTER FUNDS RAISED: $59! Thanks to those who gave! We’re nearly 20% of the goal! Only 78¬† more days left to support the Be Nice. Guide to Farting and Pooping! Find out more by clicking HERE.

This would change your community. Seriously.

Hour Exchange Portland logo

Listening to PBS NewsHour today as my fingers drummed mindlessly away at my work keyboard, I came upon a most wonderful idea and I wanted to share it with you. This is the kind of thing that could work in any community, anywhere in the country. It would help people keep their professional skills honed while unemployed, and help individuals keep their homes and lifestyles maintained and enriched. The PBS feature “In Maine, service time swapped to help stretch dollars in recession” details a project called “Hour Exchange Portland,” founded by an actual Rockefeller–Richard Rockefeller. Here’s how this thing works: you first make a deposit in the form of your time — donating your skills to someone else. For each hour of your time you volunteer, you earn a “time dollar.” You can spend these dollars when you want by asking for services offered from other members of the program (there are around 600 currently in Portland). By doing this act of “generosity,” people get their leaky faucets fixed, their mufflers attached, their doctors visited. Pretty simple, definitely straightforward. And those are always the best ideas (look at the Post-It). Amazing, right?!¬† How much better off would we all be to have this in our communities?

I encourage you to check out the newscast video (just 7 minutes), and share this with your friends and relatives! (There are “share” functions at the bottom of the post.) Start one of these in your town! We could change the world, our society, and our economy and get back the same that we give and it could be SO easy!¬†

Click HERE to see the video.

Click here to visit the foundation’s website:Hour Exchange Portland

mmmm…. GROSS.

I’ve been wanting to do a post on eating well for a long time, but it is a trite subject. EVERYONE says to eat healthy, so, blah blah blah you know the drill. I even had planned a postcard piece for it, but stopped after a day or two of sewing because I figured it wasn’t very interesting compared to my other planned project. Here’s the rough sketch:

Pretty obvious, right? I’d say so. No need to spend hours sewing that message. It’s already everywhere.

Today, Yahoo featured quite a story. This is something I had actually seen in the special features of the Super Size Me documentary: compared to standard sandwiches covered in healthy fluffy green and white mold, the McDonald’s equivalents oozed and turned black. The fries never molded. (Ever found that rogue fry in the back seat of your car 3 months after you had fast food? Yup, same idea.) Artist Sally Davies did a project documenting how a Happy Meal never molded. Check it out! I don’t know about you, but this just gave me added reasons to stay away from fast food!

Oh, and by the way: I’m on Twitter. Under “Be Nice Project.” I hope you’ll follow along!