I have a terrible resume.
It lists exactly three jobs, one of which I’ve had (in some for or fashion) for over twenty years, some meaningless corporate jargon, an award I won in college, and as little as possible about my unimpressive college career at a couple of unimpressive state universities. I tried to add some flair once by with a section where I said Iiked rhinestones, unintentionally homoerotic religious art, urban decay, socialism, pirates, and local politics. All of those things are true, but a person that didn’t hire me once confided that the list was doing me no favors. So I just left it at “books and music,” with the hope that it would make me sound demonstratively dull enough that I wouldn’t freak out Janice in accounting. In the two and half decades that I’ve updated and tried to use it, it has worked exactly thrice for an interview and never for an actual job offer.
It’s not just the poor contents but the flavor and form of the thing. My resume is a head scratcher, a collection of vague and coded language insubstantial and unfulfilling as a water mirage on a hot summer highway. It’s a bulleted outline of a middle-aged writer with serious credential anxiety who will write just about anything for a buck or two, the middling stats of twenty+ year copywriter who’s never quite been able to decide if she wants to be more than that, and a collection of what ifs, maybes, and almosts that constitute the full portfolio of an author who probably ought to amend the Would-Be to Probably Not. It’s the kind of thing that causes eyes to glaze over in HR departments. And, in fact, in the two and half decades that I’ve tried to use whatever version to achieve gainful employment, it has worked exactly thrice for an interview and never for an actual job offer.
On the plus, I haven’t been on the active job market for a while, which is a good thing. The last time I was in desperate need of work even the ice cream parlor turned me down (I live in a college town, they ended up hiring a kid with a law degree). I like my job enough as is. I hope it lasts, because it allows me to feel pretend at stability in the critical areas that don’t rhyme with either “current apocalypse” or “mental health.” On the minus, my freelance life has included some number of “revisions” and ghostwritten cover letters, resumes, application essays, portfolio submissions, and personal statements for other people. I have a pretty good track record getting anyone but myself a job interview or a place at graduate school, which makes it a teense ironic (tragic?) that I can’t seem to do so for myself.
Of course, plenty of jobs don’t come from resumes, which is thing I tell anyone who has ever asked me for help with a resume and the very first thing I tell everyone who wants to know how to pick up paid writing gigs. I like to think I get writing jobs because of my sparkling wit, keen fashion sense, interesting digressions about history and pop music during important meetings, and a solidly B+ work ethic that means I can meet deadlines and (mostly )manage to hold my tongue if an authority figure tells me to do a thing. I also know people, not necessarily people that “know” people in either the secret agent or Hollywood lunch kind of way, but people who would rather have someone else write a thing for them.
And many of those people also know me, which is to say they know something of what I consider to be my real resume. This isn’t a document so much as a character sketch. It can be filled in with broad strokes: I like people. I feel more comfortable in a crowd. I own far too many cocktail dresses, books, and records. I spent more years working at a record store than reasonable for an adult woman (and loved it). It includes whimsical flourishes: I give all animals, even wild ones, first names. I like to arrange flowers. If I were the sort of person who didn’t have to work, I’d hole up in some creaky old villa on the Mediterranean coast and write plays and stories in between hosting parties, and floating around on blue, blue water reading and trying to learn what cool new shit the nereids are getting up to these days. And if you really “know” me, or are perceptive, you’ll know some portion of the flaws and foibles section of real resume. Like that I have a pretty wild, if very short-lived temper. Or that the afore-mentioned authority problem is 1000 times worse if the authority figure is male. Or that I love spontaneity in part because I’d rather have to make a quick decision because otherwise I will mull over it forever. Or that my worry-to-daydream ratio is pretty well balanced, but usually doesn’t leave much time for practical stuff. Or that I spend a lot of time pretty sure I’m pretty bad at anything useful and not even halfway decent at all the trivial shit I choose to do instead.
2020 was a serious Real Resume-builder of a year. I got to add things like survived not seeing family for months and months, utilized the risk-averse side of myself like a rock star, worried like worrying was a full-time job and learned how I functioned and handled stress alone (not so well).
In the first week of new year it feels like every conversation I have is about some point or another of real resume material, whether it’s friends half-joking (only half now) over Zoom beers what they would do if an actual Civil War breaks out (I’m going with pacifist who edits the resistance paper because I don’t like hurting people and I’m not giving my temper any extra air), or planning on how to handle a Covid outbreak among family, or listening to a friend facing an almost unimaginable barrage of troubles and crediting her ability to endure on lessons learned by taking big swings and stupid risks when she was young.
That’s the something else about my real resume: I didn’t take the big swings or the stupid risks. I made friends with and wrote stories about people that did. I played it safe and gave myself all kinds of practical justifications for doing so. I stayed close and did such a good job convincing people it was what I wanted, I managed to convince myself. So even when I did crash and burn, I didn’t have very far to fall, and I always made sure there was convenient fire extinguisher once I got there. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why I don’t handle hardship well, that I’m not handling hardship well. That it’s not that I’m somehow congenitally ill-equipped for the difficult , but that I’m a coward and a softie and that maybe the worst of what I’ve experienced barely counts as hardship at all.
Or maybe (more likely) that which does not kill us does not make us stronger, it simply leaves us more battered, exhausted, furious, and sad. We’re lucky to come through at all. I’m fragile af these days. We’re only eleven days into 2021 and even if I could conjure up a solid “Rocky” montage, I’d be in no shape for a title fight.
And here we are on the front lines of history. I don’t know what’s coming. I don’t know how in hell I will handle it, or if I even can handle it. At least half the time, I’m quite sure I don’t want to. But we all have terrible jobs on our dockets and this one? This one sucks.
Still I try to stay optimistic. You never know. Maybe I finally figure out what I’m good at. Maybe I learn to do something useful. Maybe the New Yorker finally calls. Maybe the after the chaos and the heartbreak, after the smoke clears, there’s a space for me and a novel on a raft in the blue, blue sea, and maybe a passing Nereid who just wants to swim over and chat about important stuff like HBO shows and Elena Ferrante novel.
I think I have the skill set to handle that job.
Picture today is of the Mediterranean at peak float.
As of this writing, 65,208,512 people have recovered from COVID-19.