A Towering Tongue Twisting Career Turn

career in writingI knew a dare when I saw one.

The big-bosomed, pink-slippered, black-eyed lady stared me down in her small three-story home. The offer of a salary and a journalistic writing career hung in the stale air. (See A Directional Career Curve.)

I took the dare and the job.

Just out of grad school, after dozens of rejections, I grabbed the chance to actually work at my skill of … well, writing? Master's in English, Jonathan Swift

With a Master’s in English I could pen pages about Swift’s satire and write a 100-page thesis on the Literature of Expatriate Black Authors, but could I actually DO anything with that degree?

Pauline’s black-eyed stare asked me that question.

contract, writing careerWithin 15 minutes I signed the contract and, unknowingly, I signed my life away for a year.

Did I feel imprisoned in her third-story small bedroom cum office Monday through Friday from 9 to 5?

Absolutely.

Did I bemoan my decision by Day Two of my employment?

Without a doubt.

But I wasn’t really hired by New Directions for Women. I was hired through a CETA federal grant, which was initiated to “employ painters, muralists, musicians, performing artists, poets and gardeners to work in schools, community centers, prisons and wherever their skills and services were of value to the community.”

As a young, naïve graduate student, I thought I was hired to write articles for an up-and-rising feminist newspaper.

In actuality, I was hired to do whatever the boss-lady needed to help her publish her brainchild.

I never again wore that two-piece navy “interview” suit. In fact, I was overdressed in pants and blouse, but for my own self-respect, I dressed like it mattered.

But I would have been much more comfortable in gray sweats. I sat on a cold metal fold-up chair in front of a pitted wood desk, researching and proofreading articles that Pauline wrote. Every hour, I’d walk over to the one window in the room and look over the rooftops of the neighborhood.the ivory tower

I’d left the Ivory Tower for Rapunzel’s Tower.

Conversations were rare, although I’d hear Pauline talking on her phone downstairs in her radio chair, where classical music or opera wafted up the stairs to my lonely place. The first few weeks, I never saw another soul during work.

Until my second month. I rang Pauline’s doorbell at 9 a.m. (I had been instructed to never just walk in), but instead of Pauline’s face, I was greeted by a Picasso painting. At least, that’s what the man’s visage looked like, with one side upright, the other side curved down in a gruesome grimace.

After the initial shock, I prayed every morning that this man, Pauline’s husband, would answer the door. He’d had a massive stroke months before, but recovered enough to work part time at his firm. I never saw him wear anything but a navy or black three-piece suit.

He had the smile of a crooked angel.

At lunch time, I ate my cheese sandwich at my desk while Pauline enjoyed her warmed up leftovers of beef stew or liver and onions in her kitchen. If Mr. Pauline was home, he’d walk up the stairs to my prison, ur, work space, and bring me cookies or an interesting article from the NY Times.

One morning, I decided to refrigerate my own leftovers. I walked bravely to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door.

And shrieked.

Mr. Pauline – thank goodness he was there that day – raced into the room. “What’s the matter?” he asked in his slurred speech.

career in writingI pointed to a humongous pink tongue sitting brazenly on the top shelf.

Mr. Pauline’s laugh relaxed me. “Oh, that’s just tongue. Pauline enjoys it for lunch. I’m with you, looks disgusting.”

I crossed the date off my calendar that day with renewed vigor.

74 days down. 291 days to go.

 

Thanks to Google Images.

92 thoughts on “A Towering Tongue Twisting Career Turn

  1. A terrific post but one I wish I hadn’t read. The reason? I love tongue, and look forward to seeing the packs of neatly sliced meat in my wife’s shopping bag. After seeing the horror pictured above I don’t think I’ll be touching the stuff anytime soon. Perhaps ever. A well-written piece, mind, and I really enjoyed the ‘Rapunzel’s Tower’ imagery.

    • Thanks for your feedback. I included the rather horrifying photo in this post because that’s exactly what it looked like when I opened the refrigerator door. I’m sure more of us would be vegetarians if we saw the ‘original’ state of our food… :-0

    • How I appreciate your point. Even though, in a way, I did get a job in my ‘field of study,’ it wasn’t exactly what I thought working in ‘writing’ would be like, that’s for sure. Neither was my next job. Glamorous writing jobs? Wonder if there is such a thing…????

  2. I remember tongue ragout from my childhood, although I wouldn’t eat it today, especially after seeing the picture. This reminds me of some of the jobs I had when I was young. Can’t wait for the rest of this story.

    • Dragging out these ‘towering’ memories is a bit daunting. Was I really that naïve and loyal, passive and clueless? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. This is how we gain wisdom, I guess.

  3. That sounds as appealing as some of my jobs as an English major. Especially the one where I branched out to work for an MD mornings and evenings for $22 a day. The mornings were from 9-3, the evenings from 6-12.

  4. You have to be kidding. Rapunzel is right!

    There is absolutely no chance I would have been able to follow through as you did. No way. I kid you not, 74 minutes would exceed my limit, let alone 74 days.

    • Bruce, your comment is so ‘right on.’ I don’t think a man would have stayed more than 74 minutes. But as a young woman in that decade, I was too passive and too unconfident to believe I’d find better. On the positive side (and I always need to end up on that side), I did learn a lot about self-sufficiency, editing, and proofing. And how to stick it out and stay strong within myself.

  5. Never really liked tongue – although it’s just a muscle, and hence meat. I can imagine your fright. Well done but I really , really need to find out what happened next!

    • I wish I had a fun true story in which I stomped out of the house, quitting and taking the plate of tongue with me.
      But in truth, I stayed until the contract ended. In many ways, I was proud of myself for staying sane that entire year.

  6. We all have to start some place. You are so right, you can’t make this stuff up. I have always thought about writing about the recruitment days, like when the temporary receptionist I placed stole the company car etc. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • Write about the stolen company car, Darlene. What a story that will be. The only problem is when readers don’t believe it really happened. But you’re so right, we all have to start our careers someplace, and many of us start at quite an odd angle.

  7. oh pam…what a place for you to begin your work life!!!! makes me
    remember my first employment…with funny memories…please
    tell us more….xo

  8. Tongue belongs in the mouth of a dead cow, not the refrigerator. I like that your descriptions and narrative put us right in there with you. Just a note on something that comes up when I’m writing; I don’t think you have to explain that your “prison” was “ur workspace.” I do it all the time, but when I reread it, I know the reader gets it, and this somehow makes me feel more “led” than I need to be. I agree with some of the other commentors, I wouldn’t have come back on day 2. I would have been MIA.

    • Good point, and well-taken. We never want to ‘lead’ our readers. I think I was trying to be humorous by adding the ‘ur, work space,’ but no, not needed, since the reader definitely knows what I’m talking about. THANKS so much for reading and enjoying and commenting.

    • At the time I couldn’t figure out what lesson I was learning, stuck in that job, although I will admit Pauline did teach me a lot about editing and re-editing to get the words just right. And when I think about the job I took next, it seems I learned no lesson at all. :-0

  9. I don’t know that I could have kept at this one. Or perhaps I would have just avoided the frig and adopted a desk plant.

    • I like to think that this ‘first-year work experience’ was my worse, but I guess that’s all in the perspective. It took me years to find a work place that I enjoyed. How about you?

  10. I remember when I was young and I opened our fridge to see a big ox tongue like that – nightmare image!
    I’ve got a feeling the tongue is very symbolic in this recollection story. I’m really looking forward to hearing more, Pam 😀

    • Although the tongue was literally there when I opened the refrigerator door a few months into my job, years later as I write about it, I see how it was extraordinarily symbolic also. Perhaps I’m now, finally, sticking out my tongue to that boss?
      And now I’m wondering why a big ox tongue was in your childhood refrigerator…!

  11. Yikes — tongue! My dad bought tongue once, and all I can remember is the taste buds were very prominent. Can you imagine if she put it in stew and then offered some to you and you didn’t know!? 🙂

    • I suppose the good news is that my boss never offered to share any of her food. A blessing! Think of those poor cows with big taste buds. I hope they had a chance to enjoy flavorful grass before their ‘end.’

  12. I guess you could say the cat’s got my tongue – well, not *that* tongue, but you get the idea 😉 I would venture to say that this entire experience went on to build character inside you, and perhaps many other “characters” in your future writing! Thanks for the bit of inspiration and motivation to begin my day 🙂

    • Good pun, Dave. As a writer (and woman), I must admit no one has ever thought that the cat got my tongue – I always have too much to say/write. 🙂
      But yes, my character got built that year, one slow endless day after another.

  13. Ah… So I found the rest of the story! Sorry I am commenting so late. I had left your posts in my INbox until I could read them and have time to comment. I started school last week and I am still trying to figure out my schedule and get my calendar under control. We had auditions Tuesday for the Spring musical and call back is this afternoon. I am having to set major boundaries again and that is a difficult task for me because I want to be super woman and DO everything! *sigh*
    I love this story and I want to hear more! 🙂

    • I am honored to be stored in your INbox so that you can read my ‘bon mots’ when time strikes. That’s really nice! Boundaries are always an issue with us women, I believe. Perhaps you can post a blog about that…when you ever find time. I’d love to hear what classes you’re taking, and then a musical too…! Actually, all very exciting. xo

  14. Pingback: Breaking Down Barriers with Billboards | roughwighting

  15. I liked this portion of your writing adventures. So glad you had a gentle and caring Mr. Pauline to greet you, bring you cookies and NY Times articles. He does sound like the silver lining in a very L O N G year, Pam! 🙂

  16. Pauline really took advantage of your youth. I hope we’ll hear that you did have some valuable experience during what sounds like an unpleasant year spent in Rapunzel’s Tower.

    My husband taught me to like tongue. (This was in the days when it was cheap because no one else liked it.) I haven’t had it for a long time, but now I’m thinking of the delicious tongue in a garlic sauce they served in a Spanish restaurant in Manila.

  17. Pam, this is very funny! I know that isolation. I worked in the “office” for a court-reporting firm. It was one big room with no windows. My boss complained that I slurped my tea. But thankfully he was often out selling our services. Part of my job was to call the court reporters to give them their assignments. I got in trouble for talking to them too long and keeping them from their work (Someone was a snitch and I was starving for human contact!). I used to look forward to the bicycle messengers coming to pick up packages so I could see someone. That’s when I realized that despite my bookish nature I needed a job with social interaction…

    • Slurping your tea!!!??? Oh man, that was a bad job with a really bad boss! Yes, we are soul sisters here with our ‘bad isolating job’ stories, for sure. And I agree, we ‘bookish’ ones think we’ll be okay in isolation, but no, we need to interact with others as well.

Love to hear your comments.

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