Thursday, 1 May 2014

Sometimes It's Good to Come Home. Sometimes It's Good to Leave Again.

Or, How I Got Sent to the McDavid-Brodie Mission-Home for Wayward Folklorists

So, after my amazing sojourn in Iqaluit, I decided to come home. Ill and depressed at cancelling my New Orleans trip-one that would have been both fieldwork and AFS meeting combined-I headed to Kamloops, BC (after a lovely weekend with friends, and a reunion with my pal Crystle, in Ottawa--can you say hello Dinosaur Exhibit!!). I arrived depleted, mentally, physically and emotionally, and found some comfort in the bosom of my family. It was not my intention to stay. I was merely visiting on the way to a job and a place of my own, and I wasn't even supposed to be there until Christmas, so that's fine, I'll just have a nice visit and move along.

19 months later, I'm heading out.

I have never felt so unmarketable in my life. Dumbing down my CV (Curriculum Vitae for you non-academics, a compendium of a good majority of your work in teaching, publishing, grant-getting, jobs, etc., and the more on there--within reason--the better), I attempted to make a good looking resume. I applied to a plethora of jobs at the local university in admin, library work, curriculum development; and then I applied to a plethora of jobs through local, provincial and federal government sites, at museums, at other universities and colleges, at large mining companies, at hotels, all looking for administrative work, teaching work, cataloguing work: all the work I know I can do. No calls.

I dumbed down my resume and sent it out again.

A local bakery called looking for data entry for their very busy and growing business, and it would be my duty to ensure that all the next days orders, which come in from stores, restaurants, etc. the evening before, would be entered correctly, thus ensuring the computer program would tabulate the correct amounts of flour, yeast, etc. needed for that day's bake. I would also make invoices and packaging labels, and send the yummies out with appropriate labels to their various destinations. No sweat!! The woman who owned the bakery looked askance at my enthusiasm for the work, and said, "But your resume says you're very educated." Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand?????? Were you looking for the village idiot to saunter in, snatching buns and cookies off the shelves screaming, "YESSSSS!!" before devouring them faster than Cookie Monster can mash cookies into his cloth face, and then tell clients that bread makes you fat and mangle the entry program while kicking holes in the office wall?? I replied, "I can't think of many instances where having a good education would be a bad thing."

"Weeeelllllll," she replied slowly, "The job is very high stress, and let me tell you, it gets HOT back there, like, humid and hot. Because of the ovens. The bakers will pester you as they have to get dough proofing at night, and then come in at 5am to bake, and they will pester the life out of you asking if the orders are in, are the orders in. Then you have to shut the door, and it's just SO HOT. And if you get the orders wrong at all, it could lose us business, so it's EXTREMELY important you do the job right. If you don't, we could go down the drain."

I made a joke about wearing short shorts in the summer, we both laughed, and I said, no seriously, I was fine with the heat, a bunch of swearing bakers (did I mention they apparently all swear like sailors? Well, change that saying to swears like a baker!) didn't concern me, I was very detail oriented, and it would all be well. I would ask lots of questions at first, but one thing that fancy education taught me was cognitive thinking, and I felt sure I would be ok.

She started hemming about a trial, and then said, "Well, ok, if I call you, we'll have you in for a trial run, and see how you do. Oh, the job pays $10/hr, you work from 2pm to midnight every day except Sunday, you are not permitted to take holidays as there's no one else to take these orders, and if you don't have a car get one as we don't tolerate lateness and no busses run past 11pm."

Now, I've never been great at controlling my face. I know I can get all kinds of squiggly eyebrows, largened (it's a word!) eyes, strange grins, even an occasional double take.

She looked at me where (reading upside down is a skill I've developed) she had written "looks great for the job" she added "not sure." I asked her what the woman who was currently in the position was doing, and she said, "Oh, she wants to go back to being an accountant because she makes more money." Yeah, no shit lady.

I did not get a call back.

I put out more resumes, fine-tuned cover letters, asked friends and colleagues to look around for me, joke-pestered friends in the lower mainland to get me jobs, and asked about dossier writing. My mom, a dyed-in-the-wool, cradle-Catholic who has been a member of her (and my as a child) church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH, or as we used to call it, Old Ladies Play Hockey) got the Sunday bulletin and discovered that the admin woman in the Bishop's office, located only a BLOCK away from me, was going on maternity leave and would need a replacement. The only major obstacle was that you needed to be an ACTIVE member of the church.

Not only am I not currently attending OLPH, but I do not identify as Catholic. Though I know it breaks my mother's poor heart, I doubt I'll ever identify as Catholic again, and have my own spiritual beliefs that are quite a bit outside her doctrine. However, when we talked she said, "Look, God knows you need a job, and that it would be healthy for you to be working. Maybe this will even bring you back to the church. If you say that you're a member, I'll back you up, and you were baptized there, so, there we go." So with that great mom-logic, I applied.

I had an interview the next week, and it was with Gary, a man my mom knew (not as a good friend or anything) through the church quite well. I went in and we had a great chat, lasting for over an hour. He also said, "As I look at this resume, I'm realizing you're quite educated (I had dumbed the damn thing down again!!), and I'm wondering if you would like this job." First of all, I love administrative work. I know, it's sick. But I do. So it was no lie to say that I would love the job. Second, I thought it would actually be an interesting experience to work there. I wasn't planning on taking down the Vatican from the inside, or anything, but seeing the workings of the business end of a local parish would be kind of cool.

He was lovely. Kind, funny, and he was FROM NEWFOUNDLAND! Why, Gary, I just spent ten years in Merry Newfoundland going to school. He had even hauled up a record of some 60s Newfoundland singing group he found in the church basement and was showed it to me. He told me how proud he was of my mother's accomplishments in the church (she used be quite the decorator, and made a multi-story painting of Mary for a jubilee year that was astonishing!!), etc., etc., blah, blah. I was positive I was a shoe-in for the job, and then as I was getting up to leave he said it.

"So, just to be honest, I already have someone in mind for the job, and am introducing them to the Bishop later today. I've known the girl all my life and know she'll do a great job, but it was mandatory we see other candidates, so.... Please extend my heartfelt thanks to your mother for all her years of service."

Nothing like being metaphorically crotch-punched by an administrator for a Catholic bishop.

After that, I'm not going to lie, I was desperate, on a pittance of student loan money, dealing with my family getting sick of my joblessness and depression, and was just kind of done. I shut down and didn't put in resumes, started doing whatever bits of work I could do for my dad, and just existed.

I'm kind of scattered and that whole, "If you want something done, ask a busy person" thing kind of sucks--that person is busy, let them get their work done for Pete's sake!! But, not having a regular job was actually crushing my spirit to do anything. Breathing was getting hard, to be honest.

But, much like a movie, like a heroic novella, like a heart warming tale in a doctor's office Reader's Digest, at my lowest point, help arrived.

Talking to Ian Brodie, old chum, former sessional prof, great folklorist and all around good egg, about applying for teaching jobs, and about how his folklore program at CBU came about, through messages and a super long phone chat it was revealed that I was doing terribly, at my wits end, and didn't think it was even possible to finish my thesis because I'm an idiot and didn't have enough information. Thanks to this righteous dude, I was quickly acquitted of 56 Counts of Idiocy (though 26 were left standing for the nonce. You heard me, nonce) and disabused of my notion that I had no research. I felt more positive and capable then I had in years, and started plotting some writing. (I should mention my awesome thesis group here as well: formed through AFS and the interwebs, Olivia, Tara, Amber and I are kicking ass and taking names!)

A few hours after our awesome convo (and after hearing Ian going to the wrong pizza place to pick up dinner, which was hilarious), he called back.

"I was talking to Wifey, and I know it's kind of crazy, but we think you should come to Cape Breton, live in our house, and we will help you to get working on this thesis. What do you think? Wifey says we can make this happen."


Yes, what do I think, indeed? Brain explosions and weirdness. Who would want me in their house for months?? Who would invite an interloper to come and live with them and their almost (now) six-year-old-child?? Didn't they have enough on their plates with a kid, house, jobs, research projects, etc., etc.?? And then the blessed darlings actually started SELLING ME ON THE IDEA!! We live in walking distance from this, and there are jobs here, and we'll give you a nice room, and there's space for everyone, and all will be well!!

I did need about a week to really think it over. It means leaving family--who can be crazy, but who I love. My mom, who has been alone a great deal of her life, has taken comfort in my being here to help. My brother, who can be a turd (he is my younger brother after all!!), has been happy to have a movie watching buddy and joke partner. My dad enjoyed that I worked with him, and I think we had some fun tooling around the Okanagan together. My parents are aging, I worry about my brother, I love BC. I just got back to BC from years away. But, I can honestly say that I have (and sorry for the intensity here) NEVER been more depressed, felt more defunct as a person, worried more, did less, got this sedentary and unhealthy, and cried like a little bitch. Not even my divorce broke me this much.

So, realizing I would be 50 times the fool to not take up this offer, I said yes, and started having anxiety dreams that everyone would hate me creaking around, and that I would lose this 6-year-old boy as he flees into the night, and that I would get in trouble for pooping too much. But I also started having all these thoughts about my future, and hope, and friendship, and passing in a finished thesis, and working and being functional, and returning home with a job already set up here and a more positive attitude. All that mushy stuff.

And so in a few short hours I need to get up, get on a plane and endure about ten or so hours of travel, and have a rockin' weekend with my good pal, Anya in Halifax, and then head with Ian to Sydney for two whole semesters. Jodi (Wifey, folklorist, old pal, former sessional prof, grant writing diva) has helped me secure a Research Assistant position with a cool-seeming professor, and I'm teaching Urban Legend later in the summer. I'm teaching two courses in the Fall, which is an embarrassment of riches, and I'm working on sundry other tasks for Room and Board, and, most importantly, WRITING. I'm not even sure what's happening, but I guess when you're both very, very bad and very, very good you get sent to the McDavid-Brodie Mission-Home for Wayward Folklorists.

Stay tuned for adventures!!

And it's so fucking great to say that again that I have to damn well swear like a bloody baker about it!