Pandemic Diary: Controlling the narrative, changing the story, again

i

I’m starting a new job next week. My heart is aflutter and my stomach in butterflies. I’m half-excited and half-terrified—no, I’m 90 per cent excited, 10 per cent terrified, and 10 per cent heartbroken—also, 100 per cent bad at math. But the excitement is paramount, and the other feelings remind me that life is complicated and one needs to feel all the feelings to be truly alive.

So, the job—it’s one designed for me, literally, they rewrote the job description after they saw my CV—and the result of that lucky turn of life’s roulette wheel in which, to para-quote Louis Pasteur, chance favours the prepared mind (or, as Seneca less elegantly put it, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”–ok, it might have been elegant in ancient Latin, but in English, I dunno, meh).

(The secondary theme of this story, btw, as per Lennon and McCartney, that we all get by with a little help from our friends.)

So, there I am, suddenly under-employed and in considerable financial strain because COVID, divorce, effective doubling of life’s expenses, also, feeling a little purposeless and unfocused, frustrated with the indifferent performance of my novels, drowning in pandemic (and divorce) accelerated existential angst (also wondering how many mid-life crises can one woman have in a single decade, I mean, isn’t there an upper limit? isn’t there supposed to be just one? surely three was enough, and there really is no need for a fourth and fifth to be happening simultaneously—look! shiny thing! Corvette! And look at you, you sexy thing, come over here and sit in my lap—I digress, point: existential angst), that 50th birthday is now three years and three months away, if I’m going to make a change, leap, move, now’s the time, now’s my prime sell date—where am I going to jump?

Don’t know, don’t know. I pull out my CV, try to craft a cover letter—I’ve had an amazing career, let’s face it, but it’s damn unconventional. I’ve done nothing by the book, and where am I now? Towards what was I building? I don’t want to be an editor or manager, the “natural” next steps… I want to write, and also teach—how is it that I love that piece of my work so much, I never thought I would—but, like, also get paid on a regular basis, and, also, I don’t know, be part of something bigger, I’m so tired of it being just me in my studio with my laptop and the voices in my head, I’m so tired of being my only colleague and employee, and also, I don’t know, I have all these skills, but let’s face it, I’m very, very bad at math—the most basic income/expenses kind of math and, despite writing about them and worshipping them most of my life, not an entrepreneur at heart at all, could someone just, like, take care of that part of things for me for a while, and just leverage, use me for the things I’m really, really good at?

(Words. Story. I know you can’t tell from this post, but words are my superpower and I’m a hell of a storyteller.)

And there they are…

Them: Yo. Over here. You’re what we didn’t know we were looking for.

The company. The job ad. The opportunity. The month-long interview process, during which they revisioned and rewrote the position to better suit what I brought to the table.

The offer.

Wah.

I’m so excited, people, most of the time I’m forgetting to be terrified, and that, of course, is very good.

ii

How I find out about the job: I post on Facebook that I need work. I am, of course, by this point, monitoring Indeed and Canada Job Bank and, yes, there are quite a few jobs for communications professionals and underemployed journalists and I guess that’s what I am, but most of them… a) I could do in my sleep, bored already, b) they’re a step backwards, like, maybe 10 years, more like 15, actually, junior and mid-career positions and, dammit, I’m old and at my peak. Past my peak? Ugh. What an awful place to be, damn COVID and the economy, and I’m broke and stressed—I grit my teeth, send off resumes, think that perhaps I’d prefer working as a cemetery labourer, look at that, the city is looking for one and the pay is actually almost as good as being a mid-level corporate communications flack, and I’d get to work outside, digging graves and pruning bushes, ooh, operating a fork lift to move tomb slabs and gravestones, maybe? Why not? Maybe this is the next life stage: cemetery worker, communing with ghosts on the night shift and spooking canoodling couples behind gravestones at dawn and dusk, hey, how would that work as a cozy mystery–a cemetery worker-cum-detective…

Gravestones on my mind (how heavy are tomb slabs, anyway, and how hard is a forklift to operate?), I post on Facebook that I’m looking for a job. Money, really, a job being the most obvious legal way of obtaining a steady flow of it. “I write,” I say, “but, really, I’m willing to do anything unreasonable.” But dammit, I think, the problem is—I’m a career writer. Like, literally, I have virtually no other skills—ok, yeah, I also teach, and fine, public relations, strategy, blah blah blah, but my particular superpower is story, except at the moment, no one seems to want it and I’m just going to curl into a fetal position and cry, and then apply to be a cemetery labourer, except they’re not going to hire me, because I don’t have a fork lift licence, but maybe, I could go get a fork lift, licence, and…

A woman who’s the current president of a business communicators organization and whom, a couple of years ago, I taught how to plot and write a bad romance novel (set the bar low for your first manuscript, people, that’s how the professionals do it—repeat after me, an amateur thinks it has to be perfect, a professional knows it needs to be done), tells me to connect with her on Linked In. “I get all these communications job alerts all the time,” she says. “I’ll forward the interesting ones to you.”

I send her a request to connect. She sends me two job links immediately. Flags one. “You’d be perfect for this one,” she says. She’s right. They put “storyteller” right in the job description. And the job description—who wrote this baby? I want to work for her. I’m mostly qualified for the job, maybe a corporate gap here and there, and certainly not their typical candidate, but I can totally do this job and then some, and the company hits all my sweet spots too, and also, did I mention, that job description? It’s incredible. It was written by someone who is clearly looking for me.

I shoot my CV and highly customized cover letter off within 24 hours.

Other friends shoot me job links too, and I’m full of gratitude. Send off a resume here or there. But—it’s that job I want. Everything else, it will give me money. This one? I WANT IT. I REALLY, REALLY WANT IT.

The human resources manager calls me within a week. Yes! The following week, I’m talking with a VP, then onward and upward—or maybe, sideways. I’m not quite sure about the hierarchical structure of the company… it’s bigger than any place I’ve ever worked for before, and the hiring process reflects this. There are personality profile tests, and a writing assignment, and a lot of butterflies in my stomach—an intensive background and criminal check and employment verification process (I have no secret Criminal Code offences that I did not know about, phew, but I literally hold my breath for two days until the results come in—I mean, weird stuff happens, suppose someone with my exact name and birth date—it could happen—has defrauded credit card companies, ran a crack house, or laundered money for the local mafia—did I mention, I have a really good imagination, OMG, I’m going to fail the criminal check because of identity theft, my conspiracy theory friends were right, I never should have joined Facebook—what? I’m all good. Oh thank god).

Finally, an offer that kind of makes me pass out with its awesomeness—you’ve got to understand, I’ve freelanced for 20 years, I’ve never had BENEFITS—and after I recover consciousness, I breathe easy for the first time in months.

Except, I’m also terrified.

But, mostly, excited.

iii

I prepare my cover letter and CV alone—but I have an “eye-for-detail, Grammar-Nazi” friend proof it. (That, kittens, is also how the professionals do it—always, a second (fiftieth) set of eyes on the copy—and no, nobody proofs these posts, every single typo is mine, shut up, the blog is a labour of love, why do you always criticize me?) In my interviews I’m alone too—except, well, I’m not. The first interview catches me off-guard. I’m unprepared for the types of questions HR throws at me and it’s been a while (don’t ask how long) (ok, like 20 years) since I’ve been the person answering the questions in an interview.

(When I interviewed for the journalism teaching job at the Poly, we were all just journos shooting the shit together, speaking the same language, more of a conversation about the state of our beloved and traumatized industry than an interview as such. I didn’t stress about it as an interview at all. I sweated buckets over this one.)

I spend a solid week preparing for the second one, with the help of a friend more experienced in the art. The night before the interview, as the final pre-interview test, he throws question after question at me and critiques my delivery of my story for two, three hours—until I’m in tears and I hate him and at one point, I yell at him that he’s really terrible at giving constructive feedback and “That wasn’t good enough” isn’t actually feedback a person can work with—what, precisely, was wrong with it? How would it be better?

My friend calls me in the morning to make sure I don’t oversleep for the 8 am (gasp) interview. No worries there—I’ve been awake for hours.

Practicing. Rehearsing. Kinda panicking, but in the “panic now so you don’t panic when it counts” way.

And so in the real interview—alone but not—I’m confidence personified; sparkly and on fire—I know my story inside out and I’ve got specific examples galore for everything and anything I might be asked about.

I’m not asked about most of it—I tell the stories anyway.

I also do this, on Facebook:

“I need magic tomorrow at 8 am MST. Send ravens, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, prayers, vibes, fist bumps—you know. All your magic.”

My social network obliges.

What? I believe in magic. I’m alone in the ring, on the Zoom call—but not really. My crew’s got my back.

iv

When the offer finally comes, my crew is as much on pins and needles as I am.

Him: Especially me.

Jane: Because you love me and are excited for me and…

Him: Because I just can’t take any more “Why do you think it’s taking so long? Do you think I fucked up the interview? Should I not have told the Brian Mulroney story?” middle of the night texts from you.

Jane: First, they were middle of the day texts…

Second—they didn’t really take that long (and I skipped the inappropriate part of the Brian Mulroney story—but ask me sometime over a glass of wine, it’s hilarious)—less than a month from application to offer, so, really, for a big corporation? That’s moving at the speed of light.

It’s just that… when you really want something?

You: And you really want this?

Jane: I. Really. Want. This.

That’s a change in my story. I sent out those first resumes in January  and February 2021 with a profound sense of… let’s be honest, failure. It felt like failure—I had made a pretty comfortable living writing since I’ve been 17, with only a brief two-year detour into a “real” job, the best part of which was that I met half of my future editors while working it. In 2015, I had given myself five years for the novels and the fiction and that part of my life to become a dominant revenue stream and, well. Seven novels—four of them published—three novellas, and dozens of short stories and anthology contributions later, I have to confess that my ambition outstripped my capability—or the realities of the market—and the financial pressure on my creative work to perform, perform, perform and pay the rent was… well, exhausting.

But… a) I did it (did I mention… four published novels, seven written? Take that and stuff it up your teapot spout, Aunt Augusta) and b) along the way, I discovered… that I have a very deep, innate understanding of the storytelling process, more importantly, that I can show and share this process with others. I’m an effective teacher and I get high on teaching. And—as has been the case since I’ve been 17, maybe even seven—I can turn anything—anything—into a compelling story.

Including the frequently random, occasionally traumatic events of my life.

So, in this story, at a time when I need a career refocus, a new challenge and financial stability—a big company comes to me and says, “Hey! We want you to show our people how to craft effective, compelling stories.”

Sign me up, yes, please, here I come.

v

Him: So, like, you know you’re going to have to work Monday to Friday, eight to five or whatever their hours are? Week after week? Month after month?

Jane: Yes.

Him: Are you going to be able to cope?

Jane: Yes.

Because, truth be told—freelancing and self-employment, for all the theoretical freedom to wake up at the crack of 9:15 am, is a 24/7 hustle. And so is motherhood.

Monday to Friday, lunch and coffee breaks, paid vacation, health-spending account, pension plan, interest-free loan to buy a personal computer, and money magically appearing in my bank account every two weeks?

I think I can handle it.

vi

Forgive the long, self-indulgent dive into my navel—I realize there’s not much take-away here for you for your own current drama. I’m writing this post to control MY narrative—to shape my story. I’m so excited to be starting this new chapter and, as with everything I do—I’ll be doing it full out.

And documenting the process, of course.

So. This is the last entry in the Pandemic Diary project. I realize the pandemic is not over but I’m done with making is the star of my story. Starting next week—a new chapter, maybe even a whole new book—definitely, a new project on the blog. I’m not yet sure what I’ll call it. An Artist in Corporate Canada? Adventures in Storytelling? Madwoman in the Corner Cubicle?

Maybe I’ll just let it flow naturally, each post a stand-alone.

The future is full of possibilities.

I’m so excited.

So very, very excited.

xoxo

“Jane”

A little corporate, a little punk.

6 thoughts on “Pandemic Diary: Controlling the narrative, changing the story, again

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