Saturday, February 14, 2009

Taken Down A Notch

Jay Farrar--"Damn Shame" (mp3)
Richard Thompson--"I Misunderstood (live)" (mp3)

Getting taken down a notch is not really a bad thing.

In the past few months, both my wife and I have tried for new jobs--she for a judgeship, me for an upperschool head position at a school in New Orleans.

Neither of us got the job. Neither of us got to the final round of three. Both of us were told, in one way or another, that we were fourth from the top.

And there's the beauty of the whole "didn't get the thing you were trying for/hoping for" system. Unless you're talking about the Olympic Games, where positions and medals are determined by sophisticated machinery calibrated to 100ths of a second, anyone can come in fourth. Let's say that 50 people applied for the job that I did--everyone of us, if we aren't told by someone else, can tell ourselves that we were just a hair's breadth away from getting to that final round, from securing, if you will, at least the bronze medal. And, in our minds, we then can tell ourselves who knows what might have happened if someone had had the good sense to tap us for the finals. I mean who's to say that we might not have won the whole damn thing--salary, benefits, new workplace, new city? Or, that we would have enjoyed for a few days the ultimate luxury of deciding if we even wanted the job at all.

But, then, in our quiet moments, we have to remind ourselves that we didn't get to the final round, that we probably weren't really fourth, but that even if we were, it isn' a whole lot different from 49th.

Having been taken down that notch (or two), I'm here to argue that it was a good thing. In order to function in this competitive, capitalistic society, we have to remain champions in our minds most of the time. I couldn't imagine that they were looking at a better candidate; I couldn't imagine that I wouldn't get asked down for an interview. But the groundhog did see his shadow, and a cold winter gust of reality has blown through the house I was readying up for spring.

I almost dodged the brutal truth. The school had been so bad at communication that, after nine weeks and only one communication from them, I gave them a deadline (in my mind) that if I didn't hear from them, I would drop out. This just a little over week after I wrote them a 1500 word document of "vision" at their request. But when you lay it all out, you want either praise or a good smackdown, not silent indifference. So I wrote them a note and drop out: "Dear ___________________, I wish you the best of luck in your search. Bob."

At that point I should have been free of it, but by 5:00 AM a day later, and no response to my dropping out, I woke up with the situation gnawing at me and wrote a letter taking the school in question to task. A kind of "damnit, I matter, and I will be heard" mentality had kicked in. Well, as far as I can tell, the headmaster took the search committee chair to task, and the search chair got the last laugh on me by laying out in fairly elaborate detail that, though they'd just been looking at my file the day before, they'd elected to invite down three other finalists and those visits were going on right now. Sorry, you can't drop out of the process, we had already dropped you. Double-secret rejection.

So, yeah, I felt kind of bad, and played a number of the mind games mentioned above, but, really, I was glad for the closure. Friends, because they are friends, have said and will say a number of nice things to me and will make disparaging remarks about the school, but it was my search and I'll be doing a variety of self-evaluations and recalibrations of who I thought I was versus who I probably am. And that's a good thing.

On this Valentine's Day, it's wonderful to be loved, but it's also helpful to get an email from someone who isn't quite so enamored. I was reading in Harper's magazine index today that 94% of Americans think that "their lives serve 'an important purpose.'" At the same time, the head of Russia's foreign service academy says that "the United States will have totally disintegrated by 7/4/2010." I certainly hope that the former is true, but a comment like the latter suggests to me that we need to do a bit more self-reflection to figure out what we're reaching for and why and what will happen if we don't get it, because there are outside observers who don't see the same rosy picture we see of ourselves. Believe me, at a couple of notches lower than I was last week, I'm already doing my part.

"Damn Shame" comes from the Jay Fararr cd, Sebastapol. I will be seeing Jay and the boys from Son Volt tonight in concert. The cd is available at Itunes.

1 comment:

jed said...

great thoughts, as always. i look forward to seeing you at son volt.