Friday, October 20, 2006

Existential Crisis 2.0

First, a little domestic tranquility. What have I been doing with my spare time of late? Yesterday I started a batch of sauerkraut. It's amazingly easy. Basically, you shred up cabbage, and add salt. Uh... yeah, that's about it. Then you have to weight it down a bit to squeeze out the liquid, which combines with the salt to make a brine, and you check it every day or so, to skim off the... well, the stuff that grows on top. After about three weeks, you've got the most delicious tasting sauerkraut you can imagine.

And today... I started four quart jars of kosher garlic-dill pickles. Yum. This is my first time (uh... this decade) making pickles. I'll let you know how they turn out. But I'm pretty optimistic. So, call me weird... well, to be honest, call me Ashkenazi. It's tradition, you know.

These little things bring me great pleasure. There's something about being self-sufficient to an extent, or as Emerson put it self-reliant. I remember a lesson my step-father (er... ex-step-father) taught me years ago. He's a writer, cum college professor of writing. Back then, my folks had an old row house in Baltimore (three stories tall) with a gorgeous old oak banister. Only... it had been painted over, numerous times. For perhaps two years, it was a work-in-progress, being stripped, and stained.

Stepdad's remark was, you know, I realized somewhere along the line that I wanted to be a writer, not a home repairman. It made me rethink my self-reliant posture. But, I've come back to it of late. There is something truly rewarding about doing it yourself, satisfying in a way that paying someone else just can't touch.

And, I like our new home (even if we don't own it). I like it more than our old place in Paradise. I'm enjoying the kitchen, and looking forward to the garden that I will create. I keep thinking about eating out, then opt to cook something at home. That's a good sign.

This afternoon, while driving back from the greengrocer's (where I bought the kirbies for pickling), I got a callback from the national sales manager for Big Academic Publisher. I said that I had called him mainly just to get a better sense of how things stand. His response was essentially: management has decided to keep the post open a bit longer, until January, to expand the pool of candidates. As I interpret it: "we're hoping something better will come along, but we'll keep you in mind."

I kept talking, and listening, however. I was frank in my apprehension, but also clear in my confidence that were it something I chose to do, I'd have utmost confidence in my ability to hone up on the needed knowledge and experience.He clarified a bit that I remain a strong candidate for the post, but that I lack the sales experience in publishing, and that with their present small pool of candidates, they're uncomfortable making a choice.

Like the color of my skin or my gender, there are things I have no control over. I can't fabricate experience I don't have. My question for you is what can I do in the present to allay your concerns? In the end, he suggested that I come to an upcoming conference in the area, where he himself will be representing the firm, so I can get a better sense of that aspect of the job, and so we might be able to meet face to face.

Alright. I could do this. Selling textbooks, while not my first pick in careers, would at least maintain me in education, and wouldn't feel like selling my soul, since we all use textbooks. It's just a matter of which ones. Assuming I do show up at this conference, I'd think my persistence would likely impress them, perhaps enough to garner me an offer. Who knows? But the question remains, what do I want? I keep thinking of my 5-10 year goals. Those remain. How do I get there from here?

I never thought I'd be one to say this, having lived much of my life below the poverty line, but not needing the money, in some ways, is harder than needing it. (At least, it's harder in terms of the present questions I deal with. Trust me, I don't advocate poverty as a lifestyle choice--though, come to think of it, I'm sure there's some researcher out there convinced of finding the poverty gene some day, just to prove it's not a choice after all.) We live comfortably. If my wife retained her career, and I made not a dime for the rest of my life, we might not be able to buy a house again any time soon, but we'd not go hungry or homeless.

In terms of getting a job, I don't really need one. So, what is driving me to it? To some extent, it is the money. In our society, money is the ubiquitous form of applause. I want the validation that comes with someone paying me to be me. Of course, in a way, my wife does that. I cook, she buys the groceries. I'm not materialistic enough to think that's all there is, but neither am I so un-self-aware to think it's irrelevant. With a second income, we'd have that much more to save, or spend, or donate, as we saw fit.

As Pooh would say: Think think think. What do I want? How will what I do today get me closer to that plan for 5-10 years from now? I'll work on it. Monday, it's back to the dissertation-to-book proposal. I'll have to make some decisions about conference abstracts after that. I'll need to decide whether or not to attend this regional conference to meet the national sales manager and whatnot. One thing at a time.

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