Friday, March 18, 2011

Return to the Scene of the Crime - Fiction Friday Challenge #199

*The Fiction Friday prompt was "The one thing your character regrets learning the most is……" and while this story is about both learning and regret, it doesn't follow the prompt to the letter, so I hope you're okay with that.

“I don’t remember you,” the wizened old professor said to her.

Why would he? She wasn’t surprised. She had dropped out of the fiction writing program after one and a half less than illustrious semesters, her inner muse having succumbed to a fatal case of writer’s block. But that was a decade ago. In the ten years that had passed between then and now, the fiction department sent her invitations to their annual festival of creative writing. Every year she declined.

It was hard enough still living in the same city as the school she dropped out of. She never knew when she’d see a news item about it, or discover that some once-vacant building in its vicinity had been taken over by the school and was now full of students working on something edgy and avant garde. Now that it no longer mattered, she had a firm grasp of the bus and train schedules that could get her to campus on time. Now that it no longer mattered, she had a thick enough skin to take constructive criticism. Now that it no longer mattered, she had enough life experiences to write the novel that would have been her thesis project.

It was quite possible that ten years ago today she was sitting in the very same classroom she sat in now, anticipating the beginning of the 2 hour writing workshop the old professor would be teaching. More students filed in. Their faces were unfamiliar to her, and too old to have been the faces of any of her former classmates. She had enrolled, under duress and pain of parental cajolement, right after completing her Bachelor’s in a torturously rigorous program. All she had wanted was a year off to rest her brain from the strain it had endured. But she ignored her own instincts, followed orders like a dutiful daughter, and enrolled here at 22. Most of her classmates were about her age, though most of them were undergraduates. Which posed a problem, since they were her peers and yet not her peers at the same time. What separated them was that she had a degree they were still working on. She often forgot that she was being held to a higher standard than they were. There were older graduate students in the program, of course, but she hardly saw them because most of them took the evening classes while she preferred attending during the day. So perhaps that was who she was surrounded by today, the older students she had not met before.

Today there would be no grades or standards to worry about. The professor had the group arrange their chairs in a circle. She remembered sitting in circles like these. Unlike the other writing courses she took, the ones here required that she and her classmates exchange stories and read them aloud. So someone else was always reading her writing back to her. Hearing it come from someone else’s mouth, cringing at the typos Microsoft Word somehow let slip through spell check, she wished she was not sitting in a circle so she could bury her head in her desk. Something about the setup made her feel small somehow. But she was going to confront her past today.

“Take a sound.” The professor said. “Listen for it. It could be a sound here in the room, or a sound outside the room.”

Ah, yes, this dumb writing exercise. She remembered now. This was the type of thing they did in Fiction I to spark some sort of inspiration. But the inspiration never came for her then, not this way. Nor was it coming now. None of the sounds inspired her to see an unrelated image in her mind’s eye, create a gesture for that image, then a story to go with the gesture. This was not working for her.

Next they took turns reading aloud from Proust. At least it wasn’t “Bartelby the Scrivener” again, or some dreadful Kafka story. If she had to read about Gregor Samsa one more time, she’d send the Orkin man after him. After they’d read for a while, the professor asked them to share what images they remembered from the story. Then there was another story to read aloud, a surreal piece by a professor whose name sounded vaguely familiar. Could she have been one of the instructors teaching a class she dropped out of halfway through the semester? Perhaps.

At last, with only 30 minutes remaining, it was time for the writers to write. She hadn’t thought of herself as a writer for a very long time. But that’s who they were in this room now, writers, all of them.

“Take a place,” the professor said, “a space, a room. Picture this place, this room. What’s in this room?”

Her mind again went blank for a while, until an image came to her, something that held the clue to one of her deepest secrets. Oh, that secret just begged to be made into a novel or screenplay, if she only had the nerve to disclose so much about herself. Of course, she could always use a pen name. Not that it mattered now. These people didn’t know her. She never saw them before and probably wouldn’t see them again. She told them what the item was when she was called upon. There were a few blank stares, but a few more writers leaning forward with interest. And instantly she recalled how she’d felt ten years before, when her roman à clef was being read aloud in class, typos and all. Her field of vision throbbed in time with her pounding heart, and she knew she wasn’t ready to share the story yet. Not with them, not this way. Her fear of exposing so much personal detail about herself was another contributing factor to the death of her muse. How relieved she felt when, at last, she no longer had to sit in classrooms encircled by strangers who knew her fictionalized secrets. Now was not the time for this, she decided. Now was the time for pure fiction. Now was the time to write a scene for the story she abandoned.

He was determined to go through life as though his frailties did not exist. No one had asked, so he could write his own story. He could be the hero instead of the victim. He could be the doctor now and not the patient.

When she read it, the professor nodded kindly and said it was a good start. She could sit a little straighter in her chair now, and hear the words of the other writers better. She could tell now what was truly a first draft and what was most likely prepared ahead of time. She would not be fooled this time as she had been before. She did not compare herself to anyone this time. She had her story, they had theirs.

Again the professor asked them to recall the images they remembered most. No one remembered anything she’d written. When that had happened before, back in the fiction program, she had been mortified. If no one remembered what she had written, did it mean she was an unmemorable writer? If it had been based on her real life, as was the premise of the Story and Journal class, did it mean that she lived an unmemorable life? If no one remarked on her writing, did it mean that she herself was unremarkable? These were the fatal blows her muse was dealt. Or perhaps they were near-fatal wounds. Her muse was not dead. Simply comatose. A crime had been committed here, a crime against herself. She was the perpetrator, her inner critic the accessory to it, her own words her weapons. She was the one who had subsequently forbidden herself to write, told herself nothing she had to say was interesting enough or good enough, seen her life as a forgettable bit part in the theater of the mundane.

This time, as before, she did not leave the class having made any new friends. But this time, unlike before, she realized that she wasn’t a bad writer at a good MFA program, but a good writer at a good MFA program that just hadn’t been right for her. So many times she had blamed herself for not having more exciting experiences to write about. She had actually envied the intrepid classmate who ventured to New York in October 2001 to see Ground Zero with his own eyes. Once she dropped out, she took a series of retail jobs and got all kinds of stories from neurotic shopping women who seemed to frequent high end department stores in lieu of psychotherapy. Besides the vicarious dramas, she’d experienced many of her own in the ten years that she’d left. But now she saw that her lack of life experience had never been the problem. Instead it was her lack of faith. The comatose writer inside of her was awakening, and she could feel its presence in its insistent narration of the story of her life as it happened to her, here, now, in this room.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Paris Vignettes

In the summer of 1999 when I was 20 years old, I went on a study abroad trip to Paris with my cousin Danielle, sponsored by her school, Tulane University. During the month I spent there I learned a lot about Paris, and a lot about myself as well. Here are some excerpts from the journal that I kept.

…and all Paris belongs to me
and I belong
to this notebook and this pencil


Right now I am about to descend from the clouds into a city where no one knows me. After 7 hours of racing against time & space, we have flown into the sun into tomorrow. In a way, planes are time machines. I just hope that the little bit of French I’ve learned will do me some good when we get down there.


Perhaps I’ll make a little more sense now, though the reality of Paris still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It seems unreal to me, like a movie. And at times I still feel like I’m back in the states. Thankfully, I don’t really feel homesick. I was starting to get so bored with Chicago and my life there that I’m glad to be thousands of miles away. I don’t miss it yet.

But so far, I just feel like I don’t have much in common with the people I’ve met here. Not like I really care.

But I did a lot of things today: hunted for an adapter to work with my computer, rode a Ferris wheel from which I could see the entire city (and cured myself of my fear of heights), saw the outside of the Louvre, and had a picnic on the Seine.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones


I had a fabulous day today. I shopped on the Champs-Élysées and got all this great stuff. I used my credit card for the first time. I also got to check my e-mail. I sent out a little message bidding all my friends farewell before I left. I’d hoped I’d be able to have access here on the laptop via a French access #, but of course ne marche pas. So I bought 5 hours of access at Le Jardin de L’Internet, right across from Le Jardin de Luxembourg. Looks like a certain Mr. Somebody messed up big time. He didn’t even write back to me. It’s getting clearer & clearer to me now. And even though he’s on the other side of the world, I don’t even miss him. Perhaps I can just walk away from it all without even shedding a tear.

Enough contemplation. I’m going to dinner now.


I find Parisians to be difficult to figure out. They can be such snobs sometimes, though their snobbery is often easy to forgive because they are such stylish and beautiful people. Their prejudices, too, are also often difficult to determine: are they rude to me & Danielle because we’re Black, or simply because we’re foreigners? Like today at the boulangerie we went to. Why’d it take 15 minutes for us to get any service?

Anyway, here’s a summary of what I did today:

- worked out in my bed (quite a feat, doing butt crunches on a mattress)
- searched for a good boulangerie in the rain
- bought 2 brioches and ½ kilo of cherries
- had lunch and read Hemingway
- searched for a good restaurant in the pouring rain
- went to dinner and had great French fries & yet another awkward experience as a foreigner & felt very stupid
- had a conversation with a bunch of people with whom I have nothing in common
- came back in the pouring rain from dinner only to have another convo with people I can’t relate to
- discussed a 4th of July party at the U.S. Embassy that may have never taken place
- watched Danielle stress over what she’d wear for going out tonight

So what am I doing right now? Chilling. Listening to this mad tight Jamiroquai song that they were blasting at a party across the street. I never noticed it before.

I just wish I didn’t feel so uncomfortable wit people who aren’t on my wavelength. I no longer even look for common ground. I just shut them out of my life. I never let them into my world because I figure they’d make fun of who I really am and I’m sick of having to endure that.

Why should I be laughed at? Why should I be ridiculed? Why not just be alone and be happy? Because that’s exactly what I am right now. And I don’t need to drink, nor do I need anyone’s approval. I’m stubborn, I’m hardheaded, I’m Tiffany. And I don’t wanna change any of that.

So I came here as a student. Not just studying American Expatriates in a program sponsored by Tulane, but as a student of the city of Paris. I came hear to learn whatever life lessons it has to teach me. Paris is an enchanting seductive place. It draws you in and won’t let go.


So here’s what I did today:

- saw Ernest Hemingway’s apartment again (took a picture of it this time)
- had class in the splendor of the Luxembourg Gardens
- was annoyed by a girl named Molly* who asked the prof. to do the cakewalk
- had a chicken sandwich and fries that would have been so much better with BBQ sauce
- was followed by a strange man who was singing & playing acoustic guitar
- checked my e-mail (same old same old)
- went on a wild goose chase to find out if Lauryn Hill will be here (but she won’t)
- sat on the balcony & sketched while listening to Jamiroquai
- had pizza without cheese in the front window of a restaurant and was stared at by a crazy man
- hit on by a French waiter who wanted me & Danielle to play bee-yard (pool) with him at some bar
- drank a cappuccino, which is why I’m still wired at 2:10 A.M. French time

That’s all for now. I’m about to call my mom.


- woke up with 2 cups of strong French coffee
- had class in a café & drank more strong French coffee as Prof. Smith imparted his fascinating wisdom
- came back, read some articles and fell asleep
- found out that Lenny Kravitz was just here last week so we can’t see him in concert
- got a great mozzarella, tomato, and basil Panini from across the street (my only meal today porquoi je suis au régime)
- had a discussion with Danielle and Carubie about how everyone at Tulane is just alike
- saw a KFC on a street corner that reminded me of Harlem
- was harassed by a crazy guy on the Metro on the way back. He actually touched Danielle so I guess now she has to cauterize her face.

7/8/99 (forgive me for skipping a day)

Anyway, you’d think I’d have written in here last night since we went to the Eiffel Tower. It was cool, but not as breath-taking as I expected. Maybe I’m just jaded now. It’s amazing how quickly the “Wow! I’m really in Paris” feeling wears off and the reality of it all sets in that I am an American, a foreigner, unable to communicate with most of the people we meet. Like today, I met these 2 Black guys, Africans I guess. They were fairly nice, but me & Danielle could barely communicate with them. And then at the music store, there were a bunch of fine-looking brothers. After my first disappointment, I pretty much gave up on trying to talk to them. Not that it matters; I’m not even that good at flirting with guys in the States.

Well at least classes are going well. But what’s crazy is that we keep waking up later & later. Today I didn’t even get to finish my coffee at breakfast and them even worse, I forgot 2 of my books.

I really like it here though. I just worry sometimes about the food. How caloric is it, really? When I stop and think about it, it’s not much different from what I usually had at school. I’m going to stop worrying about it on paper because it is so frustrating.

The strangest thing is not feeling homesick in the slightest way. The distance has no meaning for me.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones


Yesterday (before I forget)
- went to a great museum of African art
- went to Champs-Élysées & found Zara paradise (now the joy of my world is in Zara)
- A man at the Gap said, “Hello, I love you,” to me. He worked there.

So now for today:
- got up way too early for a trip that’s lasted way too long (I’m on the way back as I write this)
- got a croissant & a Sprite at a French truck stop
- had a really annoying tour guide who talked too much about too little
- saw the quaintest things I’ve ever wanted to take pictures of: fields of sunflowers & haystacks; French country cottages
- saw a castle
- had lunch inside a cave
- saw another castle & was stalked by French madrigal singers in funny masks & capes
- saw Leonardo DaVinci’s brilliant inventions
- saw houses carved out of caves
- had a rendition of a similar meal to lunch inside the cave (quiche & fish again?)

And how could I have forgotten that yesterday I discovered Kinder Eggs, chocolate egg-shaped candies that have plastic toys inside. They’re quite intriguing and now there are is a substantial number of us who are cult followers of this exciting confectionery wonder. They can have the chocolate; I just want the little toys inside. We must be bored, or crazy, or both.

I did take a lot of great pictures. Hopefully they’ll come out well & I can prove that taking photography class wasn’t in vain. Sometimes I still feel bad about that, though it’s hard to say exactly why.


Interesting things I’ve seen:
- French kids playing rock-paper-scissors on the Metro (they said un, deux, trois)
- guys with Spice Girls shoes on
- fireworks over the Seine
- Naughty by Nature encouraging French people to yell “F*** the police!” at their concert
- a French girl who couldn’t rap and got bottles of water thrown at her during the freestyle contest
- a restaurant with American food
- a cook in the restaurant eating a French fry off someone’s plate when he thought no one was looking
- French MTV
- a girl told by Frenchmen (2x in one day) that they could be her destiny


Things I’ve done today:
- sent postcards
- found cool store that sells action figures from Austin Powers and The X-Files
- lunch: cheese, tomato, & avocado on a crêpe with a chocolate shake
- rode out to the French countryside
- saw Barbizon, birthplace of pre-Impressionism
- saw Fontainbleau
- dinner at Le Donjon, an abandoned restaurant in an abandoned town across an abandoned road from an abandoned castle
- visited Vaux le Vicomte, saw it all lit up by candles. Quite possibly the most romantic place on earth. And now I’m inspired to read (and see) The Man in the Iron Mask because it was filmed there. I think that if a man brought me here (and brought a little Neruda to read aloud) I’d be his forever.


- took the Metro to the Louvre
- I was impressed but didn’t sketch because I just wasn’t in the mood for some crazy reason
- saw the Mona Lisa surrounded by swarms of tourists
- rode back on a Metro train that reeked with sweat and was hot enough to make people cuss in many languages.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones


There is a certain restless beauty about today. And it’s not because I might now be (or was once) in love and it’s not because the sun is out and it’s summer. It’s because it’s Paris and I’m 20. I came here knowing only 1 other person, making it wonderful. To be in a city where no one knows you, where you never have to worry about meeting up with people from your past… it’s liberating. And somehow it makes me feel beautiful and exotic, more like myself. In the same way, I suppose, that I feel more like myself when I am alone, or at least away from the forced interactions of others.

There is something seductive about this city. And I’m glad I’m here to experience it. Twenty. Alone. Without the interruptions of social obligations. No longer beneath the overly watchful eyes of worried parents. I love Paris so much that I must come here again, and soon.

- had class at Sacre Coeur
- checked out a few shops on St. Michel
- finally got a strapless bra; it cost a small fortune, but it’s French
- had dinner at our Italian place: pizza without cheese; spinach; the best chocolate ice cream ever


- found a real mall!
- met a Frenchman who said, “I am boyfriend for you, yes?”
- found a cute hoodie & some funky pink pants at H&M, where a big sale is going on
- came back here & chilled with Danielle

Now I need to go to sleep so I can be rested for the field trip tomorrow.
(we leave at 7:30!)


Giverny was beautiful. It’s where Monet lived and its gardens were the inspiration for so many of his paintings. The American museum we went to after that made me homesick for the Smart Museum. (I really do want to work there again after we get back.) But the castle we went to after that was totally pointless. It was practically falling apart, was totally irrelevant to everything, and besides on the way up the mountain I thought our bus was going to take a dive over the edge. I’m just thankful to God I survived that harrowing experience. So now I’m back in the room and the bells of Notre Dame are ringing. I don’t feel like today was a total waste of time, although I do wish the trip could have been cut short because I really want to go back to that mall again.


- got up really early to go to Giverny
- saw the gardens, Monet’s house, his blue kitchen, his yellow dining room, and the Black men tending to the flowers and chickens outside; saw a real, live turkey. It communicated with Danielle.
- got my mom prints from the gift shop
- saw the broke-down castle
- threatened in French by a crazy old guy who thought he knew karate & tried to do that lame Karate Kid tsuru dachi kick thing.
- found a French/African restaurant with great food, music, and a little black poodle that hid under our table while we had dinner


How sad that this time next week we’ll be leaving. Sadder still are the credit card bills I’ll have to pay. Oh well, like Granny used to say, there’s a 1st time for everything. Still, I must admit that I am very much excited about all the great finds I have now. I think I’ll make my mother proud (well, if you don’t account for the pink pants & crazy shirt I got) I’m trying to develop a better sense of style.


Today’s events:
- went to the Champs-Élysées, the Elysian Fields of fashion & got some great stuff
- saw a cute clerk at the Gap who asked me out (I turned him down)
- finally went to the “bright color store” as we called it and found that their prices were way too high (but I loved their clothes)

So right now I’m actually about to go out. Can you believe that? Even more stupefying is the fact that our professor is taking us out. I’ll have a whole lot to write about when I get back.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones


I had so much fun last night that I wonder if it’s wrong. In my defense, let me first state that all I did was dance & all I drank was Coke. And besides, my professor was there. And odd scenario, wasn’t it? To think an English professor would call us up and find out if we had plans for the evening, and then suggest that he take us out. Actually, both Danielle and I appreciate it because we’re sick and tired of having everything we do ruined by the presence of crazy people. And surprisingly, I found the men at the club last night (well, with the exception of a Senegalese lunatic) surprisingly tame in comparison to the crazy, overly-eager Frenchmen who’ve been trying to get our attention.

The weird thing about the club (which is called Java) is that almost every dance requires a partner. So I was constantly being asked by men who are my dad’s age. The first one was old and ugly and I thought there was no way I’d dance with him. But when I went out on the floor so we could hear the band better, I realized that’s the way things are done there. So I danced with at least 5 guys who completely repulsed me. One of them had hands so sweaty that they felt like he’d just dipped them in water. But each one taught me a little more about salsa dancing. At the end of each song I’d usually trade partners, working my way up to the one really fine guy I saw there who looked like he was about my age.

Anyway, like I said before, I had a lot of fun last night. The music was funky and soulful, I met a guy who was really fun to dance with and learned how to salsa, and I got a little peek at Paris nightlife. Still , I wonder if it’s wrong for a Christian (the bells of Notre Dame are pealing as I write this) to go to clubs, even if for the sole purpose of dancing. Everybody knows C.O.G.I.C. dogma is completely against the very idea of dancing (other than when people are shouting). Is it possible for a Christian to enjoy themselves in a secular setting with impunity?

- got crêpes
- went up to Sacre-Coeur & ate there ( It was soooo crowded)
- met two nice guys who spoke good English (one is a linguistics major)
- had our first almost uneventful Metro trip since we got here

Still thinking about yesterday and hoping what I did wasn’t wrong. I don’t want to worry about this because I worry entirely too much. And I want to be free of the burden of worrying. But I just need to know whether it’s right or wrong because if it’s wrong then it must be terrible for me to want to go there again Thursday night. But if it isn’t wrong than I just need to stop worrying about it and free my mental energy up for the tests I’ll be taking. I wish I wasn’t so stupid about these things.


- went to class
- took a nap
- hung out with Rodney from my figure drawing class last year (he’s here to study French)
- got panini & read a little
- got dressed to go out (broke out with the funky pink pants)
- went on a wild escapade in search of Afro-Brazilian music

So sad to think that this time next week I’ll be back at home again. What will I be doing, anyway? Will I be condemned as a poor lost Jezebel? Will they tell me, “woman, thou art loose” because I danced with a lot of guys? I am anguished.

So we leave next week. It’s so odd to think of that. In some ways it’s like we’ve been here forever, yet at the same time it seems like a day. Somehow the whole experience had been both enduringly eternal and fleetingly temporal. And there are moments when I felt like I’d always lived here and knew nothing else but Paris. There were, of course, other times when it would suddenly hit me, the reality of being a foreigner here. But now I realize I’ll miss it.


- had classes for the last time today, the second one in the Jardin de Luxemboug. Our prof. congratulated us on our fortitude ( as well he should have cuz we’re working 2x as hard as the rest of them)
- got crêpes
- tried to study on the balcony but got distracted by everything
- finally started writing take-home essay answers
- got dinner at the Italian place for the last (?) time
- finished take-home test

Now I plan to study some more then go to bed.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones


I’m so restless now that I can’t study anymore. I just want this test to be over with. I feel bound and tied—wanting to get a perfect score on the test, wanting not to care. My ambivalence has got me all tangled up. I’m so scared I’ll blow it. In some ways I’d be happy with an A- or B+; in other ways I wouldn’t be. And I’m just crazy anyway. If I were normal, things would be different. My mind keeps wandering off.

Ever since I went out dancing I haven’t been the same. I want to dance every time I hear a salsa beat. I want to grab the nearest cute guy and dance with him. See, it didn’t take much to send me over the edge. Sometimes I think I am on the border of being borderline. I need to stop writing in here because I came to this café (ostensibly) to study. But I can’t anymore. I am too restless, too distracted, and too confused
It’s funny to sit here & think that I am once again sitting in a windowsill after finals. Only this time I’m in Paris, and it’s a balcony with French doors and wrought iron, not at all like the ledges I’m used to. Finals are emotionally painful for me. All through high school, it just kept getting worse and worse until I finally had that MI-4 final.

I was never really sure how I did on it. I never could be sure with math or science, which is strange considering the fact that in both disciplines right and wrong answers are so strictly delineated. I left the final with a feeling of anguishing uncertainty that grew as I traveled further & further away from IMSA down to Texas and back. I couldn’t enjoy my Christmas break. It was like I already knew.

And then, when I got back home and sat down on the couch beside the Christmas tree, I got my gifts: a leather jumper from Saks and the news that I’d failed. I’d already bargained my life; if I didn’t pass that class I was going to kill myself. But I’d failed and besides I didn’t really mean it.

So now I’m in the windowsill again. Just like when I was 17 and stood in the 2nd floor windowsill and looked out into a bleak, snowy wasteland. Just like when I was 19 and listened to Collective Soul sing about “the world I know” in as 6th floor window that overlooked an alley and the fire escapes that zigzagged the backs of the buildings facing the alley. Now I am in Paris. I am overlooking a bright & mostly cheerful street, save the known derelicts. There are couples and students and little kids and bakeries and fruit stands. And I don’t want to jump. I’m not even contemplating the act. It’s just that I hate finals. I hate their finality and their uncertainty. Every time I take one I feel as though I’ll fail. I’m forever contaminated by the residue of that poisonous experience at IMSA.

For me, finals are an experience of terror, or of life & death. And I know what it’s like to have one take my life. I haven’t been the same since then. The depression went away after 5 months, but every time finals come around I find myself in a windowsill, it seems, then down on my knees crying to God for mercy.

The stakes are always so high. Always, it seems like the fate of the free world has been placed upon my shoulders. And my parents say, “we’re counting on you,” and somehow I accept that accountability though I know I’ll collapse under its staggering weight every time. I can’t blame them; they mean well. But this time I think it’s just the psychological contamination of the terrible experience that has gripped my senses this time. I feel my eyes ready to melt into tears at any second. I feel the need to shove all other people away, to pretend no one else exists or better still erase them from the sketchpad of the world so that I have a nice blank sheet all to myself. I want silence. No birds singing, no Lauryn Hill, no cars. Finals always leave me like this, already bleeding and an easy target for infection. I wish I wasn’t like this. I wish things like this didn’t affect me the way they do. I had a knife pulled on me once. I’ve been accosted by strange men in scary places. I’ve seen & experienced many things that should be much more terrifying. But somehow this seems much more deadly, the idea of failing a final. Why am I like this? What exactly am I afraid of? Not being perfect? The death of my mind? And if I re-read this right now, I will most certainly cry. And I can’t let anyone else see me do that.

What I did today
- went to café & studied
- took the test & felt horrible afterwards
- went to Chatelet for the last time
- went with Danielle to get her nose pierced
- went to Hanes for soul food
- went to some club I forgot the name of that had Afro-Cuban music but not as much dancing as Java, although there were 2 FINE brothers there (and a few cute White boys, too)
- came back here sad ‘cause I realized that I didn’t do as many things as I would have liked

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones


Now I feel like I have nothing to go back to. The “city that works” can’t even compare to the “city of light.” And what happened last night was the epitome of the experiences that have passed me by . While we were at that club last night, I saw this FINE brother sitting over at the bar. Then he came over to the dance floor where we’d been standing. He was right in front of me, close enough to touch. But of course I was too shy & tongue-tied to speak to him. Soon after that, he was gone and I thought he’d left for good. But no! On our way out, once we’d decided to leave there he was, sitting near the door, smiling at me. That was soooo frustrating. I could have kicked myself.

But that is the story of my life. I’m too afraid to even try sometimes, unless I’m in a rare extroverted mood. And last night I just wasn’t feeling it. I was bored the second I walked into that place because I didn’t hear any music. (But at Java, you can hear the music from down the block.) And I gave Danielle my drink ticked because I knew I wasn’t gonna dance enough t get thirsty. And I kept worrying that maybe just being there was wrong, even though I just came to hear the music.

I wish I could just be free of this madness. Why does their opinion matter so much to me? Why do I even care what they think? I’m 20. What my parents want me to do shouldn’t even matter. Maybe it’s because I doubt my own judgment and despise the lapses I’ve had. (which they are always so quick to point out) I feel like I’m at a crossroads right now. But not between right & wrong. Just between my way & their way, my conformity to what I think they expect of me and my freedom of expression & individuality. Why do I just go along with so much? Why do I let them persuade me so easily?

I just can’t take it anymore. I can’t go on like this, having to do so many things in secret that aren’t wrong anyway. Things have got to change now. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m getting my license, I’m getting a job, and I’m looking for a place to live before I completely go out of my mind. I am no longer content to resign myself to a non-existent realm because I can’t deal with reality. I can actually do something about reality and change it if I try. I guess I never tried before because I never cared that much. I never cared that much because I had never found anything to strive for. But now I do. And when I get back, I’m changing my whole life.

Today (our last day here so we tried to cram as much into it as possible)

- breakfast: brioche fresh out of the oven
- McDonald’s for lunch (don’t even ask why)
- went to African Art museum again
- went to Champs-Élysées for the last time
- back to Sephora to get Dad some cologne; got a free henna tattoo & a henna kit
- went back to Louvre & Tuileries
- got a few souvenirs
- got crêpe mix, Nutella, & Kinder Eggs to take back
- went out to dinner at the African restaurant with Danielle, Carubie, Brooke, Rachel, and Amanda
-went out to Java for the last time

Leaving Paris is going to render me heartbroken & I know it’ll take a long time for me to get over it.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Vanishing Point

She measures herself against a tall supermodel
And wishes she were much smaller
Every morning before rising
she gauges the thinness of her forearms
with her hands.
Hunger is her constant companion
her dress size
is more important than cheeseburgers and fries
No point in eating breakfast lunch or dinner
she has an inner voice that whispers,
thinner, thinner, thinner
Who needs food
when all that matters is looking good?
She’s running on empty,
she knows that fullness is her enemy
She’s not good at math,
but she’s the skinniest girl in calculus class.
She goes to the gym and does anorexercise
She’s got no hips, no butt, no thighs
She’s a starving artist
Trying to get to the vanishing point

She calls it anorexorcism,
systematic self-starvation, self-prescribed
ready to rise to the challenge
from anyone else who dares
to lay her fork aside.
An implicit competition
to be the first to get to zero
Annihilation by design..
Drawn nine heads tall,
one head wide
First it was a Coke bottle
and then it was an hourglass
now she wants to be a pencil
drawing perfectly straight lines
toward the vanishing point

Momma’s perfect little girl,
Daddy’s little darling
Looks forever prepubescent
starving, starving, starving
Her grades may not appease them
but her slenderness could please them
Calculated calories, measured in her head
Any fewer calories and she’ll end up dead
You want me to be thin?
I’ll show you thin!
But when, when, when,
When does it end?
How long before she gets to the vanishing point?

©2006 Tiffany Gholar

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I Would Prefer Not To

When I was 17, I was planning to kill myself. Well, actually, it was more of a dare, a threat, an ultimatum to force myself to do better in school. I had applied to 11 colleges. All 11 were, according to U.S. News and World Report, top-tier schools. So everything I did had to be absolutely perfect. I was in danger of failing a pre-calculus class. It was an experimental class our math teachers were making up as they went along. Our high school was a laboratory; we were its guinea pigs. There were no odd-numbered problems in the back of the book with their answers explained because there was no book. I was in danger of failing, but my math teacher, Dr. Cobb*, smiled and told me not to worry about it. She was a blonde with medium length wavy hair who could have lived in a Pottery Barn catalog. And I believed her.

I had to do well. I just had to, and if I didn’t, then my life would not be good enough to continue living. But unfortunately, I didn’t pass the class. And I couldn’t bring myself to commit suicide, either. I began trying to convince myself that the trials of my present teenage life would pass, that things would get better, that I would be rewarded for staying in school, for going to whichever of those 11 colleges admitted me despite failing pre-calculus.

But since then, there have been numerous times when I have thought that if I was still 17, if I knew what life had in store for me, that I would have just gone ahead and jumped out the window and gotten it over with.

I have watched my dreams get hijacked by other people. I have been shut out of entire industries for lack of experience. I have been offered jobs I don’t want and subsequently taken them just to pay my bills. I have missed out on so much because of my masochistic devotion to school. I have suffered through jobs that were not right for me simply because I wanted to have a particular title on my resume. I have collected unemployment and food stamps. I have deferred and downsized my dreams. This is not they way I thought my life would turn out to be when I was 17.

Sometimes, I see that part of my life as the beginning of something. Sometimes I see it as the end. I did what I was told and was expected of me. But not willingly. Not completely and not entirely. It is no different than now, I suppose, as I work at a job I despise.

It took me 41 interviews to get this job. The 41st was the one in which I had to come crawling back to the boss to ask to get my old job back.

I have been on every kind of interview, it seems. I have interviewed in the fall, at an office campus in Lincolnshire where the leaves of the maple trees turned a rich red delicious apple skin color. I have interviewed in searing summer heat. I carried my suit jacket and didn’t put it on until I got into the air-conditioned elevator of a Gold Coast high-rise. I have interviewed in the winter, carrying my fancy aluminum-clad portfolio amid the burgeoning snow drifts. I have interviewed for positions I found on Craigslist, by people who met me at Starbucks for reasons they never fully explained. I began going on interviews months before graduation. I was afraid I’d end up unable to find a job, which is what happened when I got my first degree, which was why I went back to school again to study interior design. I have interviewed, and interviewed, and interviewed.

I got my hair done for my interviews every time I possibly could. One former co-worker called my hairstyle perfectly professional. Nothing that would make the cover of Hype Hair magazine. Respectable. Inoffensive. Straightened my the searing heat of expertly wielded blow-dryers.

I have taken tests: AutoCAD tests, intelligence tests, personality tests, even drug tests. I’ve had to draw floorplans and once I even had to re-arrange a suite of furniture and determine just the right amount of rubber grapes and plastic croissants and fake champagne glasses to make it look appealing.

I’ve been turned down. I’ve been told I applied too early, or too late. I’ve been called overqualified, or else told they went with someone with more experience. Some people have even asked for my GPA. I was once berated for the way I drew an arrow pointing to something in an AutoCAD drawing.

I’ve been asked many questions. Questions like, “What do you have to offer?” Or, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Or, “Why have you had so many jobs?”

I’ve been let down easy. And hard. One woman, most likely too racist to hire me for the measly little entry level position I had applied for, complimented my smile, my skin, said I was beautiful. I knew I’d been killed with kindness as I walked out the door. I knew I was never going to get that job.

I have sent out thank-you cards, even to the architect who insulted me for the way I drew the arrowhead.

“Thank you, Mr. Egotistical Prick Architect for insulting me and making me cry all the way home on Lake Shore Drive. Please let me know if you decide to hire me so I can come back for more insults!”

I have been desperate. I have gone back into my old revolving door job at Nordstrom. I have been reduced to manual labor, unpacking boxes , hauling trash, sweeping backroom floors, counting and re-counting pairs of Christmas socks.

When I was 17, it was bad enough that I had gotten a “D” in pre-calculus, bad enough that at my high school a “D” was a failing grade, and bad enough that I would have to take the class over again, but making matters worse was Mr. Stone*, who was to be my teacher when I took pre-calculus over again. “D’s” are not to be taken lightly at a school like mine, which proclaimed itself as a “pioneering educational community,” and considered itself more than an ordinary high school. A “D” in a class was a felony charge worthy of a staffing or whatever the heck they called that ridiculous public shaming which I, my disappointed parents, the principal, my resident counselor, 2 social workers, and Mr. Stone had to attend.
“What happened?” They asked.
We were sitting around a big conference table in some sort of a boardroom.
I was painfully shy, especially in the presence of angry and disappointed adults. But still I tried to speak up for myself.
“I tried so hard. I don’t understand. I went to tutoring. I really did try!”
Then Mr. Stone broke in:
“Nobody cares how hard you try. All they care about are results.”

I can’t remember if I cried. I know I wanted to. I have the kind of anger that turns inward very fast. It turns to grief, to shame. I never direct it towards others. It is a knife that I point at myself. But I can’t remember if I did cry in front of them. It would have made me feel even worse about myself, like a baby. 17 is too old to cry in front of disappointed adults, even if you’re a girl. So maybe I didn’t cry.

Nobody cares how hard I try, I learned from that exchange. And since I had no results to speak of, I felt even more desperate. Desperate enough to take a job with a leering, sneering, conniving, general contractor just so I could call myself a designer. I have put up with having to arrive at 6:30 a.m. to a dark and drafty old building where the upstairs was kept like a bachelor pad and the kitchen was too filthy for me to use the microwave. I have held my peace when assigned duties that shouldn’t have been in a designer’s job description, from writing checks for the tile-layers, to babysitting the boss’s son for six hours while he took care of business downtown. I even put up with harassment and verbal abuse when I voiced my displeasure with having to babysit his son and not getting paid for training. Finally, I had enough.

I finally fled my evil boss. Out of desperation I took the job I have now, the only other job I had been offered in all those months: selling carpet at a store 25 miles from home. I had nowhere else to go. Everyone else had closed the door in my face.

So I came here, where the carpet comes in every conceivable beige, where there is no music, where we must wear all black all of the time. I came here because no place else would take me. No one else wanted me. I came here a pariah, a leper. I came here, but my heart was never in my work. I came here, but I kept looking for work everywhere else.

I started looking here. Why not cross over and work in the interior design studio? Well, because they had a hiring freeze, of course. I tried other places. I persevered. Or perhaps perseverated, like an autistic child who can’t stop beating her head against a brick wall.

I got bad advice. A former co-worker of mine, now a self-appointed career guru, condescended to give me her services for free out of pity. She, the same woman who told me my resume was “unimpressive” before she condescended to hire me, (for half of what my predecessor had been paid) was no more impressed this time around. In the 2 years since I had worked for her I’d had several jobs. She crossed things off my resume that “nobody cares” about, like my full academic scholarship and my National Achievement Award. She berated me for not getting a Masters’ degree in interior design and tried to sabotage my plan to get one in art.

“It’s just a hobby, Tiffany. What do you need it for? Haven’t you ever heard of starving artists?”

Of course I have. And if I had a nickel for every time someone told me that, I wouldn’t need to worry about being a “starving artist” because I’d be a millionaire by now.

She told me I should work on my interviewing skills. She said I was “too serious.” She had no idea that my alleged “seriousness” only masked my inner fury. And she, who sat in derision and judgment of my most precious dreams, had the audacity to assign me an exercise in which I would write down my goals for the next few years. And I left that meeting thinking that if I did that exercise, there was no way I’d show her what I came up with so she could criticize that, too. And so the damage had already been done.

Driven on by her barbed words about me not even working in the field” and “just selling carpet,” I could no longer even pretend I enjoyed the work I was doing. I had to show her I didn’t need her help. I had to do something to make my resume impressive. And then, the next thing I knew, I was talking to the management across the street at Ethan Allen.

We sat there, June* and I, just after closing in the darkened front lobby.

She said, “When I saw your resume, I could see so much of myself in you.”

She, too, apparently, had made a career switch to interior design. How amazing that a woman who barely knew me, of another race, could so easily identify with me, yet a woman of my own race, a friend of a friend of the family, never really “got” me at all.

June told me all about the great things they were doing. There would be tuition reimbursement and a substantial discount on furniture after a year, and a trip to Connecticut for a week of training. She was so eager that she tried to get me to leave my carpet selling job right away. But I decided to be fair, to give them my 2 weeks’ notice. And Tim*, my boss, who’d fought so hard to get me to begin with, tried to get me to stay. He offered me what I’d been wanting all along: State Street. But I said no. I turned it down. All for a chance to call myself a designer.

And so I drove to training sessions 40 and 50 miles from home. I made sure I dressed professionally. Made sure my hair and make-up were just right. I tried to make friends with my new co-workers. I never really had a problem making friends at work before. But they were standoffish. Cold. The only time they ever spoke was to compliment me, not without a note of envy, on my clothes. Only one was every truly friendly to me. The rest, like the customers, either eyed me with suspicion or looked right through me. In spite of this I tried to have faith in myself. I prayed to God each day before work that I’d get customers. But they only bought small things from me. They took their time. There was no way to rush them. And when they called me back, and I wasn’t there, there was no way for me to check my voicemail. And when it came time to show them a computer rendering for a sofa with the upholstery fabric they liked on it, I couldn’t use that program either. The first issue was resolved after a month. The second never was.

A lot was going on at our store, as June, who had interviewed me, had stepped down from management to be a designer again and a designer, Hillary* was promoted to take her place, and an older woman named Candace* was brought in to be our project manager. And somehow in the transition, my trip to Connecticut fell by the wayside. And with all those managers running around our store, someone was always lurking in the next little display room and listening in to what I said to customers to see if I used the key words and phrases they told me to say. I was chided every time I didn’t use the standard sales script and was expected to do a quick floorplan sketch for every customer, even if they were just trying to buy a flower arrangement for their dining room table. It made me feel like I was under constant scrutiny. I tried to watch every word I said. But in spite of this I tried to be positive. I tried to set goals. I found a condo I wanted to buy.

I had taken on a lot. I had made a list of what I wanted to do, 25 goals for my life. And I was trying to accomplish most of them at once. I had started my art classes the week after I started at Ethan Allen. I divided my time between work and school. I had the art classes Tuesday and Thursday nights in the south suburbs. And on Tuesday mornings I took a refresher course in AutoCAD downtown at Harrington. When I wasn’t at work, I was at school, and when I wasn’t at school, I was at work. My downtime at work was spent learning about furniture. It wasn’t like the carpet department, with long expanses of time that could be filled with homework. My mornings were filled with meetings, and my nights were all too often occupied by appointments at customers’ homes. And my mind was all too often occupied with visions of my own home and how I could renovate, reconfigure, or otherwise tweak some sad little foreclosure (which was all I could afford) into a masterpiece for Cameron and I. Art history and painting were relegated to the few Thursday mornings I wasn’t otherwise distracted by lunch dates with Cameron or house hunting with his sister, a real estate agent.

The week of finals, everything came to a head. First I got a frantic phone call about the condo. They needed me to sign a contract. They wanted to close on the property ASAP. Then I realized I was running out of time to get my paper done. Time had gotten away from me. Reluctantly, guiltily, I decided to call in sick so I could finally buy myself the time I needed to go to the library and get the last few books I needed. I wasn’t lying. I really wasn’t feeling well. I felt feverish and my head was pounding from the stress of so much happening at once.

Thursday, the day of reckoning, I had to turn in my paper, take my final exam, and have my final painting critique. I wanted to cry at the critique, looking around and seeing how much good work everyone else had managed to do. I have had my critics before. I have been told I needed to draw a thousand shoes because the 3 or 4 pairs I had in my high school portfolio were not enough. I have been told I had no sense of composition and forced to take a remedial college art class we nicknamed “cut and paste.” I have been accused of being too cheap when I buy my paint by an instructor who then proceeded to take my brushes and paint half my painting for me.

But in this critique, the comments were actually positive. In this critique, I was told, for once, that I had some good ideas Unfortunately, this critique lasted for all of our class time. There was no time for me to cram for the final exam I had in the class that I had right after it. The last time I’d studied had been sometime during the previous week, at work, on the sly, while waiting to be called to the sales floor. The images that appeared on the projector screen before me grew increasingly unfamiliar. And it was then that I knew my grad school career was in serious trouble.

I have had that feeling before. In high school, when I failed the final exam in pre-calculus. In college, when I got so mad at the physical science final that I stormed out of the lecture hall and slammed the door behind me. But now when I know I’ve lost the battle, I can leave quietly, respectfully, and without tears of remorse.

I did not sleep well Thursday night. I woke up too early Friday morning, put on a nice outfit, and had enough time to stop and eat breakfast on the way to work. While having my French toast sticks, I read my brand new Ikea catalog, which had arrived on Thursday. I was saving it for this moment, once my tests were over. I read through it and imagined buying a few pieces for our condo.

It was sunny and bright, and not too hot. I went to work. I got there early. At the morning meeting, I did my best to participate. I met a new customer who had come in with her middle-aged daughter to replace her Ikea dresser that was falling apart. The mother talked like Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island, or any other blue-blood rich lady caricature you might imagine. Everything about her was haughty, even the way she pronounced the word “bonnetière.” She bought a chinoiserie drum table from me. It had bamboo legs. Her daughter wanted to go home and take measurements to see if she if she had room for a dresser or a bonnetière before making a decision.

Another woman came in, talking on her cell phone. Unlike most cell phone customers, she was very kind. It turned out she used to work at our store a long time ago, before it became a corporate-owned store. She said I was helpful and gave me her phone number so I could call her in case any new chair and a half sofa beds came in. I still remember her name, Frances. Then one last customer came in before I had to leave for an appointment. She had actually been working with another designer, and I knew that from the beginning. Still, I answered her questions and even helped her pick out fabrics. She said I was so helpful and that we worked really well together. She thanked me several times for making it so easy for her, and even said she would leave a positive message for the store manager about me in the comment box at the front desk.

Then it was time for my measuring appointment for a client’s window treatments. I felt like she didn’t want me in her home. I felt like she thought it was somehow wrong of me to be standing in her kitchen with one hand resting on her cold granite countertop on the center island. Still, I made sure she was getting the right valances for the windows in her living room.

When I got back to the store, I went to the break room and had the lunch I hadn’t gotten a chance to eat. Then I took a look at the new wallpaper books and got ideas for my future living room. And then I was paged to the managers’ office.

I had been in a meeting like this before. Earlier this month, actually. Two weeks ago, to be precise. Then, as now, they were talking about my sales. They congratulated me on the $200 drum table I’d sold. But their praise quickly turned to criticism. What next steps had I taken to follow up with the daughter, who wanted to buy the dresser but needed to measure first to see if you could fit a dresser, or 2 dressers, or a dresser and a bonnetière? Why hadn’t I set an appointment to go measure it for her?

And at that moment Hillary’s already fine nose, thin lips, and beady eyes hardened into sharp-edged shapes.

“You should have set a next step with her. You aren’t making enough connections with customers. This isn’t working out and it’s not a good fit for you here, wouldn’t you agree?”
She nodded the way she’d taught us to, a manipulative and disarming gesture. Nodding, she’d told us at one morning meeting, made people agree with you.
Stunned, I said yes. Nobody cared how hard I tried. All they cared about were results, and mine were not good enough. Why remind them that most of the customers I’d started big projects with in June were on July vacations and would be back to seal the deal in August? Why beg to stay at a job where I clearly wasn’t wanted? Why stay where I felt betrayed by managers who had always faked niceness until now?

They told me Candace would go with me while I gathered my things.

I have lost jobs before, but I was only fired once in my life before this. It was my first job. It was an internship that went badly the second year, and I was not invited back. The second summer, weary from a long and terrible freshman year in college, I was not pleased to be trapped inside a cubicle all day. The college I attended was dry and academic; the company I worked for was dry and bureaucratic. Was my work suffering? Nobody told me. I didn’t ask. I never thought I had to. “Perfect! Right on time! Just what I needed!” My bosses would say when I’d hand them the vanilla-colored folders that contained whatever finished projects I’d done for them. There was never any mention of typos I’d overlooked, line spacing mistakes made on memos printed on the company stationery, or projects that were incomplete… Until my review at the end of that second summer. My boss was in tears when she fired me. She just didn’t know how to manage a 19 year old intern, I guess. And when I went home early that day on the Metra train, I looked around at all the other commuters on the platform, the men in suits, the women trying to stay comfortable by wearing sneakers with their suits and carrying the torturous pumps their jobs required. And I thought about the fact that all these people had jobs to go back to, and I didn’t. I had never felt so alone in all my life.

I lost another job 2005, the only good job I had while I was in design school, when Home Depot decided to close most of its Expo stores and the one where I worked, #1972 in Lincoln Park, was one of them. It was announced 5 months after I started. It happened just after I was becoming familiar with the fabric and wallpaper samples in the décor department where I worked. It happened just when I began to dream of making a career there after graduation and becoming a window treatment designer. I lost my job, this time through no fault of my own, as well as the benefits that came with it. I lost my chance to get tuition reimbursement about a week before the summer semester was over. I lost my job just after getting a taste of what I really wanted.

It was because of this that I lived the next 7 years of my working life in constant fear of getting fired again. I went out of my way to dress professionally, investing hundreds of dollars on work clothes I could wear when I got my “good job.” I came early and stayed late. I trembled in fear of the slightest mistake and apologized profusely. I followed all the rules, no matter how stupid I thought they were. Because everything I did had to be perfect, otherwise I’d be gone. They’d get rid of me.

After those 2 bad experiences, I never felt safe at work again. I never brought any personal items to work and left them there. I never bothered to decorate my desk or try to make an office “homey.” I never saw the point. Never—until Ethan Allen, of course.

Laboring under the delusion that things would work out this time, I actually took the time to select and bring color-coordinated desk accessories for work. I’d gotten spiral bound graph paper notebooks for sketching, and a pack of 20 fine-tipped Pilot pens. I’d brought my favorite design magazines and books from home. I had a lot to bring home with me. Perhaps too much. Candace stood over my shoulder, watching my every move. I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. I was afraid to take my notebooks. But I should have. They had all my clients’ information. And so what if that would be technically stealing? Following their rules was pointless now. Following their rules had gotten me nowhere. Why bother with rules and formalities? Well, unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who does.

They made me exit through the back door. Candace walked me to my car.
“You’re a great lady.” She said. “Good Luck.”
“Thank you.” I don’t know what I thanked her for. “I thought I’d have 90 days.”

She didn’t say anything. She just walked away and prepared to go on a trip to Connecticut, the trip I never got to take. The whole situation felt completely unreal and even alien to me. Nothing made sense. I was let go at 5 p.m. There was too much traffic and it took me 2 hours to get home. In those 2 hours, I talked to many people.

My friend Samekh was the one who told me Tim was looking to fill this position again. So I called him. At least I could still get the condo, I thought. After all, I had gotten prequalified while working here. I had time to think of a cover story: I would tell Tim I’d left because of schedule conflicts. He, for some odd reason, thought I was a good salesperson, so why ruin things?

When I got home, I checked my e-mail and discovered I’d gotten an e-mail from my painting professor. He’d given me an incomplete. I have until December to finish my paintings. And it was then—only then—that I truly felt a sense of grief. Nothing I’d done or tried to do the past few months was working out. I’d tried to do too much and gotten nothing accomplished at all.

Saturday I called to see if I could pick up a few things I forgot at Ethan Allen. Monday I went to pick them up. Well, first I had to talk to Tim to ask for my old job back. It was stark and still in the carpet department. When I arrived, the furniture floor seemed darker and more cluttered than before. I dressed as though I was going to work—not in retail black, the standard attire of Macy’s—but in the kind of creative business casual I’d worn to Ethan Allen. Tom was on his cell phone when I got there and had secreted himself away in the back of the department for privacy. In the 15 minutes I waited for him to end the call (which, if you ask me, is rude and not very professional considering we’d set an appointment) I was pestered by the other Tim, a mischievous and nosy older gentleman from the furniture department. He wanted to know why I’d come back here.

“I’m just visiting.” I lied.

Finally Tim, my boss, was off the phone. I gave him my little cover story about the schedule. He said he had no problem giving me the days I needed. But State Street was off the table. If I wanted a job, I’d have to drive all the way out here every day just as I’d done before. And things had changed. The pay was lower. Now instead of $12 an hour, it was only $10.50. Commission had been increased to 7.5%. But when business got slow, as they clearly were, I knew it meant I’d only be earning $10.50 an hour. So much for buying the condo.

I went across the street to Ethan Allen one last time. They refused to give me my notebook, saying it was their property, not mine. So I had no new drawings to add to my portfolio. And then on my way out, I saw a customer I’d been working with, just back from her vacation. She was ready to finish her living room—an $8000 project—now that I was gone. And stupid me, I didn’t have the nerve to steal her to be my own client.

When I was 17, that was the first and only time I had the nerve to steal anything. After I failed pre-calculus, at that dreadful meeting where the adults in the room got to decided my fate, it was decided that I ought to work in the math office. Everyone at our high school was required to do work on campus, 3 hours a week. I had been working in the library, a job I actually liked, a job where I got to work with a congenial group of ladies, a job where the other kids I worked with also loved reading. A job where I got to discover all kinds of wonderful books that I had never even heard of before. A job that would have been one of the highlights of my second semester of senior year, which was crowded with graduation requirements that didn’t interest me at all. A job that might have eased the pain of a life after failure and almost-suicide.

But the adults around that table—in utter disregard of my own impending adulthood—took it upon themselves to decide what was best for me. And because, they said—though they had no right to pretend to know—I was afraid to go to the math office and ask for help, I should work there. So now I’d get to see good old Mr. Stone every day, during and after class. How wonderful. Now I’d have the privilege of working for the teacher who lied to me about passing her class and the teacher who told me nobody cared how hard I tried. So as it got closer to the end of the semester and I was still dangerously close to getting yet another “D,” I did what I had to do. I used my access to the math office to steal the answer key to a problem set. And I gave Mr. Stone the results he wanted. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done that I do not regret. But my defiance has been worn down by all my recent failures.

And now I am back here. Now that I finally had a taste of what I really wanted, only to have it snatched away from me. Now that my dream of making enough money so that I can buy a condo for me and my fiancé has been destroyed. Now that my career as a designer has been derailed from its track once again.

This is the stone I roll constantly uphill before it rolls down on me. Sales are the thing just out of reach and always receding. This is my life in Retail Hell. I cannot use the Internet. I cannot check my e-mail. So I can’t use this time to find a better job. There are hardly ever any customers, and the ones that do come like to blame me for things that are not my fault. I can only take a 30 minute lunch break. We are always having a sale and opening early and closing late. It is a miserable place full of miserable people...
Well the ones they haven’t laid off yet, anyway.

If things still don’t work out, I may have to try another line of work, like art forgery or jewel thievery or something. I have tried to be honest, responsible, pleasant to customers, and professional to a fault. But nobody seems to appreciate what I have to offer.

I have been overlooked. I have been typecast as a salesperson when I am not even all that good at sales, and I don’t even like selling things to people. No one will hire me for the jobs I really want because I have no experience, but I have no experience because no one will hire me. Everyone else wants to rip me off and use me as an unpaid intern. But I have 2 degrees, and am working on another one. I am worth more than $10.50 an hour.

*I have changed the names of the people in this story to protect myself from a defamation suit, but this is what really happened. If, after reading this, you think I am crazy and don’t want to have anything to do with me ever again, that is your problem, not mine. So let the bridges burn. I don’t want to cross them again anyway.

©2007 Tiffany Gholar