Saturday, April 11, 2009
Pandora, That Ignorant Slut

When I was a little girl, I had an illustrated book of Greek mythology that I loved. One of my favorite pictures in that book was of Pandora opening her box, and all the kid-cartoon evils flitting out, labelled with words like "sickness," "poverty" and "war." And as the story goes, she slammed the lid back down on the box just in time to trap the last one inside, "hope." Even at nine years old, the ambiguity was delicious. Is hope the lost antidote to evil, or is it just another hazard of living? Maybe it says something that to this day that image is still in my mind, although the nasties in the box have acquired subtler, more grown-up names over the years. Names like "ambivalence," and "self-doubt." But hope is still in there, and sometimes I still wonder what side it's on.

A month on, we're almost completely moved into the new place -- I've still got 17 boxes of books stacked up against my bedroom wall, but I'm trying to devise a way to get them out of those boxes at last. It probably says something about how I've been living the last X years, though, that the idea of actually unpacking all those books makes me vaguely anxious. I've been living such a transitory life, a life in which most of my belongings were always packed away in boxes, that settling in (and accepting the risk/hope of staying put for an extended period) makes me nervous.

I woke up last night wondering what I'd do with the boxes my books are in -- keep them or throw them out? Most of them are structurally compromised at this point, and even if I were to move again, I'd have to get new ones. But I seem to associate stuff in boxes with a different kind of security: the freedom to leave for something better. I've lived the whole first part of my adult life on the lookout for something better, and even though I'm now genuinely content with where I am and the choice I've made to stay, it's a hard habit to break. There's a part of me that hungers for permanence and says, "wait until you have a place all your own, wait until you're sure you can stay." But that hunger for permanence seems to translate into anxiety about being tied down. Funny, right?

I'm not actually struggling with the question itself. The books are coming out, the boxes are going away, sooner or later. And some of this is a reaction to my roommate's mother, who's currently here to help unpack, and is a lovely person but sort of overbearing -- especially, it seems, where my stuff and my stake in our shared space is concerned. But I'm still curious about this tiny anxiety I feel. It's an odd thing.

Yesterday was my new-hire orientation at PCM -- I got keys and access codes and the employee handbook, and filled in a fair amount of paperwork. It was all pretty casual, just a quick tour around the facilities and "any questions?" If I'm not mistaken, the other person taken on as a part-time educator is a guy I met and worked with very briefly over the summer, when I subbed in for a sick co-instructor one day on a different Project Youth Doc class than the one I actually instructed. From what I saw of him that day, this guy has immense chops. On the one hand, it pleases me to think that PCM considers me on a similar tier as him; on the other, I feel a little intimidated because I believe he's better than me. I know that I know this stuff; and I know that the bits I don't know, I'll pick up quickly. And I know I can teach it, because I've done plenty of that before. But always there's the doubt in the back of my mind, the voice that tells me I'm not good enough yet, that even though I never so much as hinted at over-stating my skills, my fraud will be discovered, especially next to someone so obviously masterful.

The self-doubt, it's awful. Why couldn't I be one of those arrogant assholes who will assume that he naturally knows how to do everything, even when he's at best one step away from incompetence? Do I ever just get to relax in the knowledge that I'm finally good enough? Does that point even exist for me, or is the doubt so ingrained that no amount of validation, internal or external, will ever convince me?

But still. The next few weeks are apparently going to be all training, so I'm aiming to just go in every day, throw my full effort behind whatever they ask of me, and trust that whatever they saw in me that convinced them to take me on is really in there. I realize that it's irrational to worry that I'm going to fail even before I've been given a task, so it's best to set it aside and focus on moving forward.

Waiting at the bus stop yesterday, on my way up to the studio and quietly fretting to myself, a sort of tweedy man came to the stop, sat next to me, and asked if I knew when the next bus was due. Fourteen minutes, I told him (as I'd just checked). We then somehow (mostly by his volition) fell into a conversation that ranged from colored staples and why don't they exist yet, to the necessity/seeming futility of independence in film and/or publishing, to antiques dealers who covertly deal in nazi paraphernalia. Portland has a way of bringing on these conversations in a way no other place I've lived has done. It's enough of a city that you come into contact with a lot of people, but it's small enough (on various geographical and philosophical levels) that those people talk to each other. I've had a few memorable discussions with random people, usually on public transportation. One night I was waiting for the train home when a middle-aged black guy toting an enormous upright bass sat next to me on the one bench and we ended up talking for nearly 45 minutes about Obama and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Another time, I talked with a little El Salvadoran guy about the photographs he takes and sells as souvenirs at suburban latino clubs. There have been a handful of conversations with various guys about their adult children, their time in the military, assorted chitchat. None of them ever want anything, and it never has that tone of ulterior motive -- I mean, sometimes it does, but I can usually sniff that out immediately and dodge the conversation before it begins. But generally it's just people being friendly, and there's something to be gained by being friendly back.

It's funny that's it's virtually exclusively men initiating these conversations. Though it's understandable, I expect -- striking up conversations with strangers is often too fraught with social tension for women. The most I've ever heard from non-psychotic, non-intoxicated women is "I like your shoes, where did you get them?" But it's sort of a shame, isn't it?

Anyway, this guy turned out to be a publisher, and he gave me his card. What I'll end up doing with it, I don't know, but he seemed like an interesting person, and it would be good to know a few more people in the city who don't work at bookstores. Maybe sometimes interesting opportunities just walk up to you at bus stops and start chatting.

Lastly, so far it seems that having the new revelation of a better job elsewhere is only making my time at Fnorders seem worse. Being treated decently at the new job brings up a lot of suppressed resentment at being treated badly at the job I've had for the last year and a half. One day earlier this week, I was standing at my post suddenly seething, thinking "I could just leave. I could just quit right now, go to the back, grab my stuff, clock out, and leave. Fuck these people, fuck this shitty job. I'm worth more than this." It's not the first time I've had that impulse, and it certainly wasn't the first time I've stuffed it back down. But as the company flounders and flails, the anger is getting worse. And it's not just me -- everybody I work with is also worth more than their jobs, all of us are daily degraded by our employers, our customers, and all the people who look down on us for doing what we're stuck doing for the time being. But having a new window onto how things should be makes the contrast that much more obvious, and the discontent that much more keenly felt. Hope does sometimes have a way of making some things seem worse than they did when you were thoroughly demoralized.

But whatever -- it's what I have to do for now. I need more work, not less; and the truth is, from Fnorders' perspective I am infinitely replaceable. There are hordes outside eager to find any job, no matter how shitty, and would happily take my place and my paycheck. I'm fortunate to have what I do. So I'm not leaving yet. But there are days when it takes every scrap of will I have to stay.

Sometimes you just do what you have to do, I guess.

PS: I'm happy, really. Life is good. I'm just impatient to get to better and more interesting things.
1:29 PM ::
Amy :: permalink