Last week I stepped backward in time into a house I hadn’t entered in two years and yet lived in for a long time. It seemed home to a self that I had long abandoned; that I tried to shed through experience and travel, through constant movement.
I ransacked the house, pulling up every small token of my old identity: pictures shoved into white drawers, worn notebooks that had my penciled feelings, small trinkets that once held meaning and letters from people who once loved me.
There I was, a map of life pointing to my identity that I wasn’t; it was me and yet it wasn’t. I was a stranger to myself, and yet looking backward into the telescope of my past I saw shifting slivers of what’s part of my now.
It made me think of identity and self because I didn’t identify with the self that I was, and then I was sitting in an environment that identified me that way; that told others the stories of me over and over again.
“Remember the time Sam had that head on collision? Or how about the boy who brought a flower to the door and Sam refused to answer him? Or remember when you went to Spain? Or how Mike had to teach you how to drive? Or if I don’t check the room you’ll always forget something.”
Yes, that’s me now. I’m not the best driver, I lose things, and occasionally there are boys who send flowers that I don’t want, but none of this, none of these memories feel present to me; feel like they inform my current reality that I’ve created for myself.
It made me wonder how my former environment shaped the self that I was and how that informs my present.
I believe we’re all made up of each other’s perceptions, but are we folded in on ourselves like those old wooden Russian dolls; seven and eight, layered on top of the other, or are we a patchwork quilt; where at certain times some squares shine more brightly then others depending upon what light is shone upon it.
Are we being constantly made new by new perceptions or do we make ourselves new? Are we ever really new, or just our kaleidoscope self in a different arrangement?
When I look at my second grade report card and see the teacher’s writing, “Sam has the tendency to jump into projects without always thinking them through and then sometimes has to start over. It would be better for her to take a few minutes before she starts to plan; otherwise she’s a wonderful student,” and it is in this comment that I see the pattern of my whole life.
Is this the soul then; the essence of self that always brings you back to YOU; the you that you are no matter where you go, or how you’re perceived by others and self because how can one really see what one is.
That’s why we need each other; to let us know who we are because we are always trying to find out; that is why we tell stories, so that we can reach back and forth into life as if we have some real destination other than death.
I don’t always like the way I’m perceived then and now; I don’t like revisiting a being that I was, and reverting back into the same thinking and patterns in that same environment when I’ve come so far; when I must believe I have evolved on some level.
Then I tell myself, “neither perception is true; both good and bad, just a flash of what is in that moment that I’m standing in,” and yet in that moment it is real.
There I am nine years old smiling wearing a necklace made of lipsmackers; there I am again at eight years old scribbling in my notebook, asking the teacher if I can take home the class hamster; suddenly years pass and I’m standing with my second kiss on the way to homecoming; what’s left is a picture of myself staring into our hallway mirror.
The face toward the reflection; the unanswered question, and if we have a soul; then the soul is made up of those things that follow us around forever; the way that we love, the risks we’re willing to take, how we cry, and how we be.
I sat down to write an advice post. I wanted to share the story of me being laid off in 2008. This was inspired by a USA Today headline, “Grim prospects could scar today’s college graduates.”
However, I’m having a hard time accepting myself as someone whose expert enough to dole out any advice. When I watch the one YouTube video of me sitting on a panel, talking about my professional expertise, I want to burst out laughing. Who is that person, holding the mike, pontificating about the future of publishing as if I really believe I can predict the future of anything.
Still, that headline (as well as others) inspire me to share, though I can only speak from my own experience.
I know I’ve gotten hired because I’m a good talker and a fast learner. That I wanted whatever I was after with a laser-point tenacity; that I’ve been willing to take a lot of small steps and sacrificed salary for experience; that I’ve been willing to take risks, walk blindly into new cities and industries; that I haven’t let my own failures completely shatter my confidence, only ruin it for a while.
I would like to pass that along to those who might believe they have “grim prospects.” I did too, so did those who graduated in 9/11, so did those who graduated during the economic crash that occurred in the 80s, so did those who graduated during the oil crisis, and yes. I know it’s worse out there than before, but it’s been just as bad.
I think it all comes down to grasping onto the air; about being willing to take that air and know that even if you can’t see, it can turn into ice; that it can even be water.
It is so very hard to begin. People say, “you need experience,” and are unwillingly to give it, and the available jobs seem miles away from any dream, but all things can change shape; that is inevitable in a shifting environment and atmosphere.
Under constant heat, under pressure and the cold, after (maybe) years of waiting, there will be that one opportunity; that job you thought would never come your way, and you’ll get it then soon ask, “what’s next?”
I remember when I heard the word, “Katrina.” I was in college and wrapped up in myself; like many college students. If I’m honest, I didn’t really care about Katrina; she seemed like an inconvenience. I said the right things like “oh what a tragedy,” but I wasn’t using my Spring Break to hop on a bus and clean up the wreckage – my friend Kate did that instead.
Now it is seven years later, and I just finished Salvage the Bones. I could say that the book is about Katrina, and that the author is a Katrina survivor, but it is so much more.
It is a snapshot of the rural poor in 21st century Mississippi, a subculture that gets very little notice. Where people live in trailers that get swept away in storms and the white families still sit inside their houses, refusing to offer shelter to the drowning blacks. It’s a world where people make money from dog fighting and girls get pregnant at 13; it’s a world that has no health-care, so women birth their babies alone in their homes.
A place that takes the flesh and rips it away, leaving people stripped to their literal bones.
I believe it is our responsibility as humans to look at parts of life that make us feel shame; that are painful to acknowledge. To be honest with ourselves and what we’ve done and haven’t done, and how our society treats those in need.
This book cultivated an understanding and empathy for a world that is very different than the one I live in, yet we share the same nation. There is more than before; another layer of compassion has been added to my life, and this is one of the many reasons I love reading – even when it forces me to see things in life and myself that are hard to acknowledge.
I highly recommend this book, not just for the learning (if that’s there for you), but also for the stark celebration of language’s beauty; how it can take the dirty, the dying, the unloved, and reveal their fierce triumph of making it through their unseen lives; making it through their personal and actual hurricanes.
You think that you’ll never end up in the pit but you do; that’s where you begin. It’s called the pit because that’s where all the interns sit; they never want you to forget what you must dig yourself out of.
There are six other girls in the room. They do not want to be your friend. In fact, you all want the same job: Assistant Account Executive. There aren’t enough spots for everyone, so happy hours aren’t exactly happy.
However, some girls do manage to become friends. It’s like they have this chip implanted in them where like recognizes like, and it’s clear they don’t like you. Maybe it’s because on your first day of being a professional you wear an outfit that causes your boyfriend to say, “so you decided to wear what all the other guys are wearing,” meaning you look like a male waiter.
“But it was 80 degrees,” you protest, “I had to put my hair in a French braid,” and you thought you couldn’t go wrong with a white, three quartered length sleeve button down tucked into your newly bought black dress pants; of course the ensemble was finished off with a belt.
Somehow it is all wrong. You spend most of your time being bored, trolling the internet and listening to music. You’re not sure if this is what adulthood is supposed to be but it feels miserable.
Each morning you wake up at 6:00 a.m. and are hit with the realization that you are living in your parent’s house. You take the same train that your Father took to work; you never knew his commute was so long. All of your other friends convince their parents to put them up in downtown apartments, but yours want you to learn, “how to stand on your own two feet.”
You always get lost on your way to work. It’s supposed to be a 20 minute walk from the station to the AON building, which sits magnificently on Wacker drive. Somehow you always take the wrong way on the right street, and you wonder why you were gifted with such a terrible sense of direction. This causes you to be late most days and you stand there praying for the elevator to descend faster so you can make your way to the 62nd floor; the view is beautiful.
You’re given a list that’s 10 pages long with people that you’re supposed to call: editors of magazines like Vogue, Family Circle and Redbook. You’ve spent your life reading many of these magazines and you can’t imagine actually convincing any of these people on this list to do anything for you.
For days you avoid this task and instead try to figure out how to email. Yes, you know how to use email, but it seems that everyone knows this “professional speak” that is the opposite of anything you’ve learned as an English major. It doesn’t take long to realize that:
Dear Ms. Burger,
How are you? There were many interesting headlines today in the news that I feel would be relevant for our clients, and would connect to our products to the people who would want to buy them, if they so choose. What I found most compelling was how prices are rising, and I know a concern of many people is the fact that disposal diapers do add to our general waste as a society. To be frank, they are bad for our environment. If we could find a way to convince the public that, in fact, the new Kimberly-Clark brand is biodegradable I think it would help increase sales. I don’t have a clear vision yet of how we might do this, as it’s just an initial thought that is percolating in my mind. What are your thoughts on this matter?
Your boss stops by to suggest you copy your colleagues’ email style; those that sit above you, which is basically everyone. You start to have email anxiety, stressing out if “hi” or “hello” is the better beginning.
To avoid writing emails you decide to take on the task of pitching. You pick up your ten page packet of people (who are both older and more established than you) and you proceed to call them one by one to try and convince them to write about Butterball Turkey.
Soon your new prayer is that no one picks up the phone when you call, but some people do, and you launch into the script you’re given:
“Hi, my name is Samantha with Edelman Public Relations, and I was wondering if now is a good time? Oh, great it is.. well I’m so happy to hear that because I’d like to share some information about Butterball Turkey? You know, Thanksgiving is approaching and many people are not sure how to cook a good a turkey. I know I am one of those people (hahaha). We have these Turkey Talkline ladies who I’m sure your readers can benefit from. They can call them with their Turkey emergencies; do you want information about them?”
This is a torturous task and it makes you feel like you don’t know how to speak the English language, mumbled words fall out of your mouth at a ridiculous rate, yet you do get some smalls bites (bites is interest for those who don’t work in PR).
In time things slowly start to get better, you begin to flow; to build confidence that you could actually be good at talking on the phone, a skill that most people once thought you were an expert at.
One day you make a call and encounter a haughty voice on the other line. The type of voice that F. Scott Fitzgerald would say, “sounds of money.”
Your master media list has her marked as a freelancer. This is where you always start because these people are often nicer than those who work for established publications; often they need you as much as you need them.
“Whooo are you?” the voice sneers
“ I’m Samantha with Edelman Public Relations. Like I said, I’m calling about Butterball Turkey.”
“Hoow old are you?
“Umm, old enough.”
“Where are you cooming from?”
“Obviously from under a rock.”
“Well, I have to tell you that I hate Butterball Turkey. I am not a fan, and I do not write about this stuff.”
“Well I don’t like Butterball either, so we’re agreed.”
“Normally I would never pick up the phone, but this has been a very booring day for me and you’ve amused me.”
“Well you’ve also amused me too so thanks,” and the other six interns who are eavesdropping laugh in the background, shocked that you went off script.
After you hang up you immediately Google this woman. You learn that you called Gael Greene, an iconic New York food critic who coined the term ‘foodie’; her new book Insatiable just hit the stores, chronicling her appetite for food and sex.
You learn that she’s slept with Clint Eastwood and Elvis. You pitched this woman Butterball Turkey; the humiliation is complete.
A few days later you get in trouble because the intern gossip was overheard, and those from above learned about your script deviation. However, once you turn around and say, “Gael Green was on my Butterball Turkey list labeled as a freelancer. What else was I supposed to do?”
Yea, that shouldn’t have happened and you know it. You give yourself a point for making your boss blush and you decide to leave on time that day.
Hello Readers, Followers and Friends,
As some of you may have noticed, my blog has a new look. This new style might not be here to stay, but I felt that the old one was not the best representation of me. I do think that I’m still on the search, but I’d love your feedback regarding which style you like the best (or worst).
Using WordPress has been an entirely new experience for me, and there’s still a lot for me to learn; that’s why I’m looking forward to the WordPress class that I’m taking in July.
In the meantime, I’m doing my best to learn on my own, but it’s definitely a slow process – especially for someone who struggles with patience.
Also, I want all of you to know that your comments and feedback are welcome; however, I do get final approval. My two basic guidelines are, “is this too personal?” and/or “is this abusive?” If the answer is no on both counts then the comment will get approved.
Thanks for all your support and happy reading!
I envy Sarah Key. Sometimes I ask myself, “Why am I not Sarah Key?” and I’ve only known her for four days. I know it’s crazy to want to be someone you’ve never met, who you’ve basically only “known” for four days, but I am crazy like that.
Aren’t we all? Don’t we all encounter someone we admire, even just on the internet, or via TED talk (like how I met Sarah) and think: Why am I not this person?
Why didn’t I scale a mountain, or start a company, or like Sarah, find my vocation at 14?
These lucky, impressive people are here to inspire ‘the normals’ like me, and maybe you. Knowing that they exist can make life seem pretty overwhelming, and the internet is really to blame – or there’s always Zuckerberg.
However, all envy aside, I’d like to introduce you to the person that I’ve most recently stumbled upon and admire because maybe you’ll feel like me and want to be her friend too…or, at least, want to be her.
Obviously, her name is Sarah Key and she’s a spoken word poet. Last March she did a TED talk, which started with one of her poems called ‘If I Should Have a Daughter.’
Her words vibrated within me because I hope the same things for my potentially future daughter. I harbor similar feelings about myself, life and poetry. I believe in it passionately, its necessity to say the things that regularly structured sentences cannot always say because they are just that – structured.
Sarah said that, “poetry helps me figure things out,” and while this isn’t an exact quote, the sentiment is true.
I turn to words, in stanzas, shouted across rooms. Words that don’t makes sense to help me arrange and perceive the world around me; to help me break the rules of my mind so I can let the feeling roar out; to pour out my fingers tips, so I’m not left carrying it all around.
So, in the spirit of Sarah and the spoken word, I’m going to tackle the first assignment that she gives her students to trick them into poetry (because people fight against it), and her TED talk follows.
10 Things I Know to Be True
- The clutter of my room often symbolizes how cluttered my life is: clean room, calm mind; messy room, total chaos
- Awe-inspiring natural beauty is an anecdote to most everyday sadness
- For some reason practices that make you most happy can be the ones that are most difficult to integrate into daily life
- One of the best things to give yourself is sunscreen; it definitely gives back, if applied properly
- It is impossible to live life without conflict but it never feels good
- The people you love the most are always the ones who leave scars, but never forget that you probably give them right back
- Things you think you’ll remember forever are often forgotten and things that you want to forget are often remembered forever
- A phrase that I’ve said one too many times is, “Upon reflection, I probably shouldn’t have done that,” but it’s made for some great stories
- We’re always telling each other stories without even realizing it; it’s how we connect, learn and relate to one another
- Words can be liars, but they’re what we have, and it’s a life-long journey to make them always communicate your truth