In January I did this really grown up thing…I got a job. I wore pants and everything. You might notice the subtle slip into past tense which implies the falling back into the world of pants-optional. I wanted to go back to work for a lot of personal reasons. I wanted something challenging to keep my math alive. I wanted to be able to say I did something, contributed something. I often did and still do feel the weight of that “So what do you do?” question that looms large at first introductions. In January I thought I’d scored the kind of job where I could make that happen.
However, the expectation of all the delicious sort of calculus-y things I was expecting to do throughout the job application process didn’t meet the reality of the only basic arithmetic required that the job actually entailed. I absolutely do not fault the company. They didn’t misrepresent themselves. They used all the right words, but our definitions didn’t sync. Its like the first time I made tacos after my husband and I were first married. Growing up in our house tacos consisted of unseasoned ground beef, ketchup and some various vegetative toppings. My husband was appalled. He was so absolutely astounded at my definition of a taco that I have never been allowed to make tacos ever since. My definitions for all the tasks the company listed just didn’t match up with their own.
That is the narrative that sits at the core of the job saga. But nothing really is ever that simple. The decisions we make are often rife with uncertainty and it isn’t until later we can untangle the pattern at the heart of it all. We can use a broader brush to paint the story, to make clear the allies and antagonists when they never were so clear or so neat in the moment.
For these reasons, I really admire literature that can capture the confusion and turmoil at the inner life of a personal conflict. I love a writer that doesn’t spare the the characters by parsing out their less flattering or illogical thoughts and actions. I seek out a story that leaves you hanging in the uncertainty of a narrator whose perception is damaged by their own inadequacies and motivations they hide even from themselves.
Fortunately, you can find these sorts of characters everywhere. Dr Zhivago and Hemmingway’s Frederic Henry seem to take decisive action in war torn times to protect the loftier ideals of their romantic attachments. But both subtly reveal the convenient escape these relationships provide for their characters to avoid the conditions in which they are trapped. The characters skirt the lines of dereliction of duty by re-branding desertion as honor to a nobler passion.
Max Aue from Littell’s Kindly Ones, Hamsun’s Glahn, John Williams’ Stoner and my recently discovered Hermann Broch’s von Passenow are all characters that convey to me the intensity of our thoughts at the limits of our perception. They are minds that grow so heavy and torn by their lives that they often delve into the less tenuous waters of paranoia and psychosis. They nearly eliminate themselves as reliable enough to carry the truth of their own stories. They show quite clearly that …
Our motivations are never so pure
Our morality never so clearly defined.
Our perception never so complete.
Oh sweetie, you thought this was a segue into the whole seedy story of my job adventure. Nice try, I am not a literature. 😛