Why It’s Okay to Have Pie in the Sky Syndrome

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Sometimes I come down with Pie in the Sky Syndrome.

Right after I finished my Master’s degree I was, I’ll admit, just a bit full of myself.  I’d just completed a M.F.A. Creative Writing at the University of London, under the Poet Laureate of the country,  and graduated with distinction.  Tack on four years of prior middle school teaching experience on an army base in Europe and I thought I held the golden ticket to jobs.

All the jobs.

In my mind, people would be going out of their way to knock on my door and offer me employment—and not just in my field! Oh, no! There were all types of things I could be doing, now! Pies were flying all over the sky and all I had to do was reach out and pinch hold of the crust.

I started filling out applications with the lack of urgency a billionaire might feel if they decided to break up their luxury cruises with a fun side job for kicks. I wanted to stay in London; that much I knew. Beyond that, I was open to all types of professions as long as they paid me in lots and lots of pounds.

I applied for positions teaching literature at prestigious universities in England.  I applied to run the international department of these same universities (mainly because I thought it would be “cool to travel around the world and present the programs to students.”)

Looking over the employment options, I didn’t give much (if any) consideration to whether or not I was actually qualified.  It was all about what they could offer me.  I had a Master’s degree now–I was on fire! 

In a rush of hubris on the brink of insanity I applied to be—and this is no joke—the HEAD of the University of Liverpool.  Yeah.  I think in my heart I knew I didn’t have a chance.  But, I will say, after I filled out the initial application with misguided zest I sat with the dim worry that I could potentially be hired after all and expected to run the whole damn place.  What then?

We can cross that bridge when we get to it, I thought, and kept applying.

It only occurred to me to rethink reality a little when I didn’t hear back from a single one of the applications.  Actually, that’s not true—I landed an interview for one of the International Office gigs (i.e. the one where I’d be able to travel the world on a university’s dime, talking to students) but I didn’t get the job.  I guess my snazzy asexual business suit and high marks on a thesis about how Jonathan Safran Foer conveys trauma in Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud weren’t enough to convince them I knew the necessary ins and outs of international study.  Go figure.

Any semblance of worry I’d started to feel kicked in to high gear when my UK visa expired and I was suddenly back in Buffalo, New York, living with my parents and 4,000 plus miles away from the place I was sending out applications to.  It wasn’t beyond me that interviewing from there would be hard, and that’s a pretty important part of the job process.

In the next weeks I began to feel the pressure and launched a full-fledged job-hunting campaign that slowly downgraded from pies in the sky to crud in the mud.  I sent out an average of thirty applications a week.  Several months went by.  Crickets. My carefully crafted paperwork burned away in the silence.

Each application I sent out humbled me more and more.  My salary requirements changed.  The preferred demographics were compromised (I was suddenly willing to stay in the United States and forgo my expat dream, after all.)  The grandeur of a job title gave way to the necessity of earning a buck or two—forget pounds.

Eventually and gratefully I landed a job—back at the daycare center I’d worked at when I was eighteen years old.  I loved it there.  But, it was a far cry from where my sights were initially set.

For the remainder of my 30th year of life I slept in my childhood bedroom and worked my tail off earning minimum wage filling up Dixie cups with milk and changing fifteen diapers before and after naptime.

(Luckily, I did eventually land a part-time teaching job back in London, but it took a lot of grit and door pounding and one unfortunate interview where I’d just come in from an exceptionally hot day and sweat ran down over my forehead the whole time I answered questions.  It quickly became one of those awkward situations where the more you think about the fact you’re sweating, the more you sweat.)

A couple years later I leaped towards another Pie in the Sky.

I set out to write my first book.  And, of course, what I had in mind was not a modest first publication.  I planned, instead, to write the next New York Times bestseller, a real classic, one to be covered in American Lit classes circa right now.

Panera Bread was my office for the next few months and I guzzled Hazelnut coffee refills, ate the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad on a daily basis, and befriended the local retirees who spent their mornings there rehashing the news in an American version of the German Stammtisch.  I knew exactly what ‘their seats’ were, and they knew mine.  Heaven help whoever helped themselves to our respective booths.

Predictably my aspirations brought on a serious case of Writer’s Block.  When that subsided what came next was an onslaught of words—so many words!—and I felt deeply excited about every single one of them.

The project lasted several months.  I wrote six or seven chapters and each one was a messy sprawl of at least 60 pages in a style that eagerly and blindly mimicked the voices of all the other famous writers I was reading at the time.  (Let’s just say we see some David Foster Wallace footnotes and Jonathan Safran Foer experimentalism.  And maximalism. Lots of that.)

Well, my own assessment is that the book tanked.  I still go back and try to edit it from time to time, but I get seasick just looking at the thing.

And now I have a third Pie in the Sky story.

After I wrote the blog post about my attack, I decided it was time to do something I’ve been persuaded to do in the past but was too chicken-shit to try.  I decided to send my work out somewhere.  Like, to a real publication with hopes of my writing being, dare I say, shared with a wider audience.

My very first thought was Huffington Post.  I’ve been a fan of their ‘Voices’ section for a while, and I like the quality of the blogs posted there.

In my typical revved up style, I decided to send over my post in all its 2,500 word glory (forget the fact that most submissions that are accepted are pared down to 700 or 800 words.)

And—rather than the appropriate editor of the Voices section at HuffPost—I attached it as a link in an email message directed to Arianna Huffington, herself.  Because…why not? I figured there was nothing to lose by contacting the head honcho, herself.  Just like there’s nothing to lose by applying for a job that is well beyond one’s qualifications, experience, or overall intellectual ability.

(I could mention Donald Trump, here, but I’d never do that.)

Shortly after pressing ‘send’ I did some belated research and learned that Arianna Huffington actually left the Huffington Post to start a brand new company.  Oops! So, I hit myself a few times over my lack of ‘good to know’ knowledge and chalked it all up to an email lost in cyberspace.  I sent it out to a couple of other places, checked my email obsessively a few times, and moved on a month later.

But then this morning, after a very, very, very sleepless night due to a sick toddler with a hacking cough, I checked my email.  And who do you think I saw in my inbox?

Arianna Huffington.

She wrote me back.  THE Arianna Huffington.  The head honcho.  She wrote me back and thanked me for sharing my post.  She also let me know that she’d cc’d the HuffPost blog editor and that they’d be sending me a password so that I “can share my voice in a blog on the HuffPost site.”  She went on to tell me a little bit about her new company and even invited me to visit this pop-up store that will be open between now and January 15th.

All day I’ve been in a tizzy.  I’m tizzying over here.

On one hand, I’m not quite sure what this means.  Will my post be shared as a one-off on Huffington Post? Is the editor going to write me back? What’s with the password, thingy? How does that work?

I’ve done some reading, and from what I gather there is a new platform for the publication.  If you are a HuffPost blogger you get a username and password and have far more mobility/flexibility to share your work.  Is that what she’s saying? Am I being invited to the blogging platform of HuffPost?

I’m confused and elated.  It’s not a bad mix!

Either way, this is a new development here that feels awesome.  I’ll either have something I wrote posted (and I’m sure it could be the start of even more submissions to the web site seeing as I’ll have ‘established myself’ if having one thing published counts as ‘establishment.’) Or, I may be given a password of invitation to contribute more frequently.  This is an idea that gives me immediate Writer’s Block just thinking about it.

As of this morning I’m all-in about pies in the sky, again.  In fact, I’m going to keep going from here and probably embarrass myself and experience dead air and empty inboxes.

But, what this has shown me is that it’s always worth it.  Some pies are more attainable than others (like publication versus heading a university without experience, per se.)  What’s true for both is that there’s truly nothing to lose by going straight to the top, moving in range of the out of range or, to put it nicely, attempting to pick the nose of “this is beyond you.”

Sometimes you’re surprised with a response and validation.

I’m sure I’ll be updating you about my situation and we’ll see where it all leads.

In the meantime I’m off to the States tomorrow for two weeks and couldn’t be more excited. 🙂 P.S. I’d love to hear any of YOUR pie in the sky stories? Let’s talk pie!

Puking, Practicums, Personas

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I’ve learned a few stomach-flu related German words this week. Diarrhea is ‘durchfall’ which literally means ‘to fall through.’ So logisch, this German language.   “Kotzen” is to puke. Anyway, now you’re all set in case you visit and get sick.  🙂

We’ve all taken a turn with it since Monday and since I’ve been feeling so funky, my thoughts have reached out to other things that generally make me want to vomit. Like, canned green beans.  (The fresh ones are fine.)

Another one that comes to mind is student teaching. I’ve been reflecting on that a lot, lately, and I’m not sure why.

At the time, I was twenty-four years old. Talking to a class full of students terrified me. And, you know, that’s sort of a thing you need to feel okay with if you’re in the profession.

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MetaSchnitzel

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When I was a kid, my dad made up a bedtime story every night. I still remember one about this skunk who was always ditched by his friends because he smelled so bad. They liked him, but they’d hang out and eventually the stench got to be too much. So, then the skunk’s birthday came around and everyone felt guilty because, hey, he was a decent guy, they knew they should throw him a party, he always went to their parties, etc. But what about the smell?

My dad built up to the climax really well. He got in to that skunk’s mind and how insecure he was. How hopeful he was that he wouldn’t be passed by on his birthday, of all things.  My anxiety was through the roof by the time the big day came around.

And…we weren’t disappointed! The local owl (who, of course, was super wise) organized a surprise party and EVERYONE EXCEPT THE SKUNK WORE NOSE PLUGS SO IT WAS PERFECT FOR EVERYONE.  God I loved that story.

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Turkish Birds

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Fifteen years ago a carpet salesman in Fethiye, Turkey offered me the strongest, muddiest cup of coffee I’ve ever had. After I was done drinking, he read my fortune in the leftover grounds at the bottom of the mug.

“What does that look like to you?” he asked, pointing.

I peered down, trying to see something clever in the dark smudge, but he answered for me. “It’s a bird. It means you’re flying in the direction of your happiness!”

He was right on two counts. First of all, that clump of grounds really did look exactly like a little bird traveling up towards the rim of my cup. As soon as he said it, the thing transformed, came in to focus. Second, everything that happened in my life after that trip ultimately led to what can only be described as my happiness.

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In front of the carpet shop.

Now, he could have been a bit more specific and told me that it was not going to be an easy journey. I wouldn’t have minded a head’s up that it was going to involve all sorts of things—like, the decision to leave the so-called ‘gravy train’ of teaching middle school on a military base in Germany to pursue a Master’s degree in creative writing in London, subsequently moving back in with my parents when I was 30 years old (single, unemployed, and broke,) sleeping on a friend’s dorm room floor in London while I job hunted the following year, a detainment on my way in to England, a deportation on my way out (both bureaucratic nightmares, neither one my fault, I swear!) There was a relationship with someone twenty-two years older, an attack while riding my bike in Germany, and two rounds of expensive, invasive fertility treatments before we were able to have a daughter.

But…

At this point in life I can say the prophesy has been fulfilled.  I’m living in Heidelberg, the city that first drew me to Europe. My husband is the ultimate life partner. I enjoy my job. I have a baby daughter who is the light of my world, and two grown stepdaughters whom I love and who have accepted me from day one.

The thing is, in a very strange way, the past few years of happiness have made me…lazy? Definitely less motivated.  Desensitized to my surroundings, even?

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