Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Ghostly Self

I’m currently working my way through Rags and Bones, an anthology of short stories written by various authors and edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt. Each contributing author was asked to take one of his or her favorite stories, strip it down to the essence—the rags and bones—and use that to write a new story. To date I have read reimaginations of “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster, “The Man who would be King” by Ruyard Kipling, and “Sleeping Beauty”.  Actually, I’m not 100 percent sure if that last one was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty or Snow White—Neil Gaiman employs both characters in “The Sleeper and the Spindle”.

One story in particular caught my interest—“The Cold Corner” by Tim Pratt, a distant cousin of “The Jolly Corner” by Henry James. Both stories explore a darker side of my theory that our experiences shape who we are. Instead of focusing on the current person, both James and Pratt focus on the “ghosts” left behind by the decisions we didn’t make and the experiences we never had.

"The Jolly Corner" and "The Cold Corner" reminded me of these houses near my grandmother's farm. The ghost of a farmhouse stands right next to a living, breathing model.

“The Jolly Corner” and “The Cold Corner” reminded me of these houses near my grandmother’s farm. The ghost of a farmhouse stands right next to a living, breathing model.

“The Jolly Corner” follows 56-year-old Spencer Brydon as he returns to his childhood home [read “mansion”] in New York City after having spent 33 years abroad. Once home, Brydon begins renovating the larger of his two (yes, two) family mansions into an apartment building. Brydon finds, much to his surprise, that he is actually pretty good at this. He becomes reacquainted with childhood friend Alice Staverton and wonders aloud what he would have been like had he chosen to remain in New York City and become a business man rather than seeing the world. Alice hints that she knows exactly what would have happened—she has seen him in her dreams, but won’t give Brydon details. Brydon becomes obsessed with the idea of who he might have been and begins prowling the Jolly Corner—the smaller boyhood mansion which is not being renovated—at night in an attempt to catch his other self. I won’t give away the ending here, but “The Jolly Corner” is in the public domain and can be downloaded or read online for free.

“The Cold Corner” takes a different approach. Tim Pratt wrote about his adaptation, “It seemed to me that, if it were possible to meet the ghosts of our possible lives, there wouldn’t be just one ghost—there would be dozens, scores, maybe hundreds, sharing some essential qualities, but radically different in other aspects” (Rags & Bones 113). Terry “TJ” Brydon is a “six-foot-three, former-high-school-football-playing, Southern-food-specializing [bisexual] chef” who returns to his small North Carolina hometown after placing fourth (a.k.a. losing) a popular reality TV cooking show in California (Rags & Bones 90). Once home, Terry finds himself face-to-face with himself not just once, but three separate times. Each apparition is slightly different from the “real” Terry—one has a beer belly, one is dressed in a flannel lumberjack shirt, and one has a wife and baby. The third apparition directs Terry to a bar called TJ’s Place. Terry does so and finds a building full of himself: pool player TJs, former pro-footballer TJs, carpenter TJs, even a meth head TJ. Terry finally gets an explanation from the bartender—yet another TJ: this is a place where all the variations of Terry “TJ” Brydon get together, compare notes, and discuss the versions who are either dead are have moved too far away. Get your hands on a copy of Rags and Bones to find out what happens next.

I found the idea of ghost selves intriguing. It also got me to thinking—what would I be like if I had grown up in a different town or attended a different college? What if I had not joined the AmeriCorps or decided to move to Green Bay? How many ghosts of me are there? How many more are to come with choices I make in the future?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

Not a Cog in the Machine

Logon to a job website. Search for recent jobs.  Find one with potential. Scroll down to “requirements”: 3-5 years of experience. *sigh*

Other times I seem to find the perfect entry-level position. I send them my application and wait. I dream peacefully of a more certain future. I wait. I find more jobs with less potential. I apply to a few. I check my email multiple times a day just to see if that perfect employer wants to set up an interview. I receive “not selected to proceed” notifications from other potential jobs, but no matter, because the possibility of that perfect position is still alive. I keep waiting. I don’t apply to anything for a week or two, because really what’s the point? Then one day, about a month after I applied, an email pops up in my inbox. “Thank you for your interest in our company; however the position has been filled.” Disbelief. Disappointment. Realization that of course I didn’t get an interview—I applied to that job ages ago. The next few days pass in a haze of frenzied job searching. I apply to jobs that I don’t really even want because I don’t know what else to do.

Sometimes it feels like the job I'm looking for doesn't even exist.

Sometimes it feels like the job I’m looking for doesn’t even exist.

So it made for a nice change when a potential employer actually contacted me. My online resume had hit buzz words on some HR search engine and he sent me an email. A new position had opened up at his company. It wasn’t exactly close to home, but it wasn’t that far away either. It would mean some commuting, but that wouldn’t be so bad. What kind of job was this, anyway? A marketing job. Marketing—maybe it was writing commercials, designing billboards, maintain social media—I could do that. I decided to accept their request for an interview. I felt powerful, valuable, worthy.

It made a nice change when a potential employer contacted me. I felt powerful, valuable, worthy.

It made a nice change when a potential employer contacted me. I felt powerful, valuable, worthy.

I walked into the lobby for my interview and found myself in a room full of well-dressed people. “Are you here for the job interview?” asked the woman seated behind a small desk in the corner.  The interview? “Yes, I am,” I replied. “Okay. Find a seat and fill this out.” She handed me personality assessment. There weren’t actually any seats to be found in that lobby, at least not any that didn’t have someone in a suit-jacket filling out a personality assessment. There had to be about 20 people in that little room. What kind of interview is this? I filled out the paperwork and handed it back to the receptionist.

After a few minutes, we were herded into a small conference room and debriefed: this business sold life insurance and was looking for a few new salespeople. This would involve travelling to private homes and selling policies to people in their own living rooms.  Umm…what? I am not a salesperson.  I do not like forcing people to make decisions. I am also very good at getting lost, so asking me to drive around to unknown locations probably wasn’t a good idea. Why am I here? The current employees finished with their presentations and opened the floor for questions. Then they let us go saying, “We will call you sometime this evening if you are chosen for a private interview. I crowded out the door with the rest and drove off with one thing on my mind: I do not want this job.

I did not get a phone call that afternoon. I wondered if they would call those who were not chosen to let them know. I did not get a phone call the next morning.  Maybe they would send me a rejection email. I’ve received lots of those. That afternoon, however, my phone rang: I had been chosen for a private interview, could I come in tomorrow? Yes, I could. The internal argument started once I hung up the phone. You don’t want this job. But the job wanted me. You aren’t a salesperson. They thought I was. Maybe they were right. You have no experience with this. I had no experience with anything. Why not give this opportunity a chance?

The next morning I chose a professional-looking outfit, straightened my hair, and even dabbed on some makeup. I drove back to the life insurance office and walked into a much emptier lobby. I was told that of all the people who had filled out the personality assessments, I was one of three who had made it this far. That’s pretty cool. Perhaps I was valuable.

I was led into a small office where I was interviewed by a balding man in a dark suit. I have since forgotten the majority of the questions he asked me, but one stood out: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What drives you? I don’t know. That’s why I am writing blog: I am lost, at least for now. I do not know what exactly I want out of life or what I want to do with it. I do not know who I want to be. I skirted the question, but my interviewer kept coming back to it. Finally, I told him I was motivated by what I do not know. The search for who I am and who I am becoming is my reason for being. I get out of bed in the morning because I want to see what little discoveries are in store for that day. Also, if I stayed in bed all day I would be bored out of my mind.

My interviewer did not like that answer, “But what drives you?” he repeated. That’s when it hit me: he’s going for someone who wants to make money. The ideal candidate would be someone who could be relied on to make sales simply for the commissions. I am not that person. I am not right for this job and I definitely do not want it. I told my interviewer that I was driven by the desire to make my parents proud of me. He nodded. It wasn’t the answer he wanted, but it would do. He had discovered what he needed to know. A few minutes later, he walked me out to the lobby. I thanked him for his time and strolled out the door, never to be heard from (or contacted) again.

I’m glad, now, that I did go to that interview. Not because I wanted the job, but because it made me realize what I didn’t what and who I don’t want to be and sometimes that is just as important.

I found this on the floor one day. It felt like the Universe was speaking to me.

I found this on the floor one day. It felt like the Universe was speaking to me.