I was recently terminated after 20+ years with the same educational publisher. I’m not asking for sympathy. I have a generous severance package. My husband owns his own small design firm, and is confident he can ride out the current economic challenges. We re-financed our home years ago when the interest rates were low. We are still seven years away from having to pony up our son’s first college tuition payment. I am now gleefully taking the breather about which most working stiffs fantasize. I’m a very lucky duck.
Although I might have been fairly described as a bit lax in my embracing of the domestic arts during my working life, my current situation allows me the time and brain-space to be the thoughtful, nurturing, engaged world citizen I never knew I had in me. I cook family meals (nutritionally balanced, responsibly grown). I now recycle (comingled, but still.) I lovingly tend to my offspring (just yesterday fixed for my son what I believe is referred to as a “homemade snack”). I read the daily New York Times in its entirety (almost). Thanks to long overdue donations to Goodwill and some elbow grease, my house has never looked better.
My situation, however, has its challenges. First, I do not want to appear the slacker to my friends and extended family (the “dynamo working girl” comprises a larger part of my self-worth than I’d realized.) Secondly, because I fully intend to re-enter the workforce, I am cautioned by my career management coach (another perq of my severance package) that I be able to pepper any discussion of my hiatus with prospective employers with the sorts of personal-growth activities and meaningful volunteer work that speaks well of my “purposefulness.” Apparently, the fact that I managed to include line-caught halibut, ramps and fava beans in a single weekday meal —and compost the scraps — is not going to recommend me for that editor-in-chief position at Knopf.
So I am in constant need of an impressive array of meaningful/philanthropic/cerebral/free-spirited endeavors to relate whenever friends and potential employers ask me what I’ve been up to. I don’t even head down to the local coffee joint for a quick cuppa without having a few pithy lines at the ready. But industriousness, even when slightly feigned, is exhausting. I simply cannot keep up the pace and grow my own heirloom tomatoes. By necessity, I’ve learned to get serious mileage from a precious few activities that in my former working life might have earned only small codas in my Outlook calendar. I tell the truth, but with gusto.
I recently joined local writers and editors from my small Westchester town in presenting half-day language arts workshops to our local elementary school’s 4th and 5th graders. I had a grand total of five bright and adorable moppets in my group. They seemed to like the stuff I showed them on writing persuasive essays. Translation: “I taught a brief course on Aristotelian rhetorical modes at my local school which I understand is being considered for integration into the district literacy curriculum.” The strategy: slight overstatement (“course”) when it counts, coupled with discrete qualifiers (“I understand”) where they’re needed. Perhaps I did read a bit too much into the thank-you letter the committee sent me, but these days optimism is nothing to apologize for.
Next month, I’m signed up to take a conversational Spanish class from a charming local native-speaker. Lucy will teach us the sort of common vocabulary and grammar that will allow us to confidently order Hispanic food and drink in restaurants, speak with shopkeepers and hoteliers when touring, and casually converse with Latin American friends and neighbors. Translation: “I’m studying Spanish.” I find WAYDN statements often flourish with a “less is more” approach; my brevity in this instance somehow conveys a depth and seriousness to my bilingual pursuits. The listener is free to imagine me using my newly gained fluency to, say, secure a position as Deputy Communications Director for the Consul General of Uruguay. Rather than what is probably much closer to my eventual skill level (and aspiration): “Un Mojito, por favor. No seltzer, menta extra.”
I’ve never been good at tooting my own horn (in my Irish Catholic family, modesty was our watchword). My guess is that sharpening my WAYDN skills will serve me well even when I rejoin the ranks of the working folk. You’ve just spent four minutes reading a personal essay by a grateful, possibly self-deluded, unemployed female publishing executive. Or, if you prefer, you’ve “been investigating the psychosocial repercussions of the recent global downturn on the middle classes through analysis of first-person narrative.”
For all your hard work, I think you deserve un mojito especial.