Thank you so much for your two-sentence rejection e-mail, which I just received today. Considering the relevance of this position to my field of expertise, I have been anxiously awaiting word from you since I applied weeks ago, lumbering nearly daily in Sydney humidity to my PO box, only to find nothing.
In fact, I should have seen your missive coming, presaged by the many others I have already received from arts organisations like yours. Often those rejections comprised an entire five sentences and can be so tiring to read. Your desire for brevity is greatly acknowleged.
I trust you'll understand if I elect not to concoct your triple-sugar caramel mocha soy latte when you come into the coffeeshop at which I'm currently working. But I'll pull a ristretto for you. Like you, I am choosy and in favour of conciseness.
A dear friend and former coworker gave me this card for my birthday last year.
Because on that birthday, my 50th, I was overseas on an ill-fated trip with my former boss who publicly bullied me to the point I immediately resigned, I didn't receive this card until I returned to Sydney, distraught and downtrodden.
It was just what I needed, and I'll never forget the gesture of support and friendship. I immediately framed it and keep it in my room. It provides inspiration when the going gets tougher.
Today's delivery of another rejection email in my inbox brings me to the conclusion that THIS FUCKING BLOWS! So instead of using my fingers to mix up some Molotovs to hurl through a number of HR office windows, I'll put them to work on my Mac keyboard. Less rewarding? Maybe, but certainly much more civilized. Besides, I hate the smell of gasoline.
It is times like this that I feel my decision to move to Australia was ill-chosen. I know the preceding statement will be greeted with difficulty by a few who read this (and, perhaps, with substantial offense), but all I can say in response is, 1) in no way do I say it to undermine or deemphasize the intense and numerous joys that my life in Australia has brought me, 2) there are probably a number of other decisions I have made that were chosen without adequate consideration of the consequences, and 3) please, for the sake of therapy, just let me speak.
Flashback to 1981. A goofy, affable, hard-working and somewhat talented high-school student from a lower middle-class background exits 16th out of a graduating class of 483 from his rural Arkansas secondary school. He is told this is good, but he doesn't care. All he knows is school, drama, band and choir were his welcomed escape from the stifling existence of working in his dad's shop and being made to feel inferior for a variety of reasons. Determined to be an actor and possessing the grades and talent to attend a number of reputable tertiary institutions outside of his home state, he is dissuaded from the goal of attending one of these well-placed schools by family members who feel threatened by the thought of leaving home. Upon receiving the offer of a full scholarship to attend the flagship state university in his hometown, he decided to accept. (Hold the confetti, because in 1981, such a scholarship would cost this school about $1500 per year for an instate resident, but to him that was still a lot of money.) With confusing sadness, he carefully stacked the many brochures and catalogues from exotic places like Boston Conservatory or University of Maryland in the fake, plastic Wal-Mart steamer trunk that housed many other representatives of his early dreams and aspirations, relics which, along with many of his family's other prized possesions, such as discarded clothing, broken lawn mowers and animal husbandry textbooks from his father's ill-fated attempt at university, ended up being stored in a derelict structure known as the "chicken house" at the rear of his grandfather's property. In a few years, these items would perish when the building collapsed and eventually, after both grandparents passed on, razed to make way for further development of the land after it was sold. The scholarship offered, however, was not to study acting. It was to study voice, an instrument he came to late in his high school years, and with which he was still uncomfortable. After many years of being derided for a lack of singing talent by his older sister who, with hate in her voice and a belt in her hand, would often loudly proclaim (when Mom and Dad were busy working in the shop and it was only the two of them in the house), "You can't sing! You play clarinet and I sing in choir, so stick with what you know!" Receiving no real guidance from school counselors or his parents, other than the admonition not to stray from the backyard, and being brought up only to feel that he should take orders, follow rules, be seen and not heard (if that), and never engage in critical thought, he accepted the scholarship because his private voice teacher during his senior year had arranged the audition and thought it best for him. Sadly, no one asked him what he wanted to do.
Thirty years later, I realize that those early underpinnings of adulthood have not held me in good stead for the ability to make decisions in later life. In fact, I do not think I was ever given the tools to make decisions. Throughout my childhood, everything was either black or white, cut and dried. There were rules to be followed. There was no middle ground. Questioning the theory behind rules or a the philosophy that fueled a mindset led to disastrous results. When you are brought up being told what to do with no explanation, and when you are shut down or penalized for diplaying an inquisitive nature, it makes sense that you would defer to anyone who might show some guidance. After many years of this, I am left bitter, sad and without much hope. Mostly, however, I am just scared. I am broke. I have no career. I am growing older at an alarming rate. I feel voiceless.
Let me now add that I have had a number of wonderful experiences and opportunities in my life. Reading through my CV leads people to amazement. To me, it conjures up loathing and self-doubt, largely because the last decade has seen nothing. But CVs only represent the educational and professional components of a person's life. Thank goodness there have been other life events to counter the inverse proportion in which my career has progressed. I am thankful for Mark, Zane and all of my friends and extended family. They are the ones who have made me who I am today on a very human and personal level. For the past few years, as I have tried to eke out a professional existence in this country far away from whatever I have known as "home", they have held me together. I have fought hard to realize that I am worth this attention. Now, having accepted that realization, it is time to move ahead with my professional life. When I approached 40 and returned to graduate school to get my doctorate, I felt I had finally got a good start on this. Unfortunately, given the meaningless nature of my doctorate in Australia, it opens no doors. It gives no choice. So I must face the fact that I, now approaching 50, must consider something different. People have told me to "think laterally", which I have done. I have looked for things in an allied field. I have applied for a great many positions in this regard. For each, I either near nothing or have received a rejection notice without even garnering an interview. I am now considering life coaching. At 49. Yes, life blows.
On Tuesday night, I waited up until 11pm to teleconference in on a full staff meeting held by the company that I have enjoyed working with for nearly 11 years. By the time I connected, the CEO had started and I heard the dreadful words "reduction in force" and "this will be hard for many of you, as you will lose coworkers with whom you may have worked for many years." My heart sank. As a remote worker, I have always known that, even though I am the only person who does what I do for this company, the ground on which I walk might be softer than some. My fears were realized. Within 5 minutes of that phone call, I was laid off. My connection with a family of people and with a vision of changing the face of healthcare--a connection that has been an integral part of my life for over a decade now--was severed. I was cut off, effective immediately.
In a daze, I stood up from the computer desk in the finished attic space that was to be my work-from-home nook. Passing my wonderful fiancé on the way to the stairway, I stopped to watch him sleeping. A mild snore found its way to the surface from the bottom of his peaceful sleep. I looked at my beautiful man as he slumbered away the second day of his exciting new job, the reason for our move to Melbourne. How would I break this news to him, when all I wanted was for him to celebrate his accomplishment and new success? On the heels of my release from the choir position a couple of weeks ago, something we are all still reeling from, how could I possibly share another defeat? What was going on? I shrugged off a difficult chill and continued downstairs.
I opened Zane's door and found him deeply asleep, as well. In the same contorted sleeping position he has assumed since his early childhood, he looked so calm. What would he think? For years, he has heard Mark and me rue the fact that I cannot find decent work in the field of music, my area of training and expertise. But now I've been let go from my dayjob. Great. Another reason to feel like Sandy is a loser. Again, I snapped out of the downward spiral and left his room, shutting the door quietly on my way out.
On the sofa, drinking wine and watching Legally Blonde to try and wipe the drear from my mind, I, too, eventually fell asleep. Or I passed out. I didn't really care. I just wanted to stop all conscious thought and let Morpheus do his thing. Whatever it was that summoned him had worked. For that, I was thankful.
I had an audition last night. A local group is looking for a conductor. They're pretty good, and I would be thrilled to have the gig. At any rate, I think the audition went well. We shall see. At the very least it was fun to do my thing again.
I have been out of the spotlight for a couple of years now. In fact, bitterness has crept in over my lack of options here in Sydney to the point that I have come teeteringly close to liquidating my library and leaving the profession completely. Last night's hour-long work in front of a group managed to refresh me and wash away a decent amount of the grievance.
Even if I don't get the gig, let's hope the amelioration is sustainable.
Apologies for the cryptic post a couple of days ago. I wasn't ready to divulge details. I'm not sure I still am, but I don't think it's right to keep folks hanging.
No, I'm not flinging myself in front of a rushing train. Now that would, indeed, be tragic.
I will, however, be boarding a moving object soon. I am temporarily relocating back to the U.S. over the
next few months. Mark and I have jointly decided that, for my career endeavors, this is the right thing to do. There are a variety of reasons for this, all of which are too long-winded for a blog post. Let's just say that at this rate, it can't hurt.
I've chosen Tucson as the place to place my head on a pillow for a while, thanks in part to the generosity of Homer, who has offered to rent me his guesthouse at a bang-up rate. My precise departure date from Sydney has yet to be determined, but it will be within the next few weeks.
This hasn't been an easy decision. But then, if when I get an academic job in the U.S., I will split my time between the two countries anyway. Let's call this a breaking-in period.
So this is the next step. As always in my life, my steps are not necessarily ordered and tidy. They do, however, have meaning. Life isn't easy. I've come to accept that. I don't expect easy, but I do expect meaningful.
Yes, I've recovered...although it wasn't until mid-week that I felt as much. (Kindly refrain from age comments, please.)
I think it was the dancin' I have done all week that has helped. No, I've not been shaking my moneymaker at a club. I had enough of that on the weekend at the MG Party. Rather, this grooving has been in the confines of my own home or a rehearsal venue. You see, I've been asked to join some friends in a routine for this year's Rugger Bugger show, an annual fundraising venture for the Sydney Convicts rugby team.
Looks like all those jazz dance classes during my musical-theater-wannabe years may not be for naught after all! My two feet will find a way.
Oh, and no, I won't be displaying my bits during the Full Monty segment. That's for the hunky rugby fellas later in the evening. I'm in the warm-up show..and quite happy to leave it at that!
What some don't know is that I'm sick of it. Sick to death. And I'm burned.
To this point, I've been somewhat cryptic on this blog when it comes to specifics about my pursuit of a career. Now, given that I'm "over it" [apologies for the 90s flashback phrase], I have nothing to hide really. Plus I need to vent. If you're not in the mood to hear it, you might want to just visit some of my favorite blogs linked on the left. Undoubtedly, they'll be far less whinging in nature.
First of all, let me state that I do not overestimate the availability of jobs in my field. I am a trained musician, and even without the need to watch the various Idol permutations, I know that life in this industry is tough.
Having said that, it hasn't discouraged me from pursuing my craft all these years. The bulk of my studies in secondary school, as well as nearly all of my tertiary education, has been in music. A few years ago, after spending 20+ years as a singer with various side jobs of one sort or another, I decided to return to university and obtain terminal degrees in music. This was done for a few reasons: in order to stop splitting my focus between music and some other type of job, to obtain qualifications to begin teaching at the university level, to achieve a relative degree of stability, to begin saving for retirement years, to have a commute that didn't require boarding a train or plane.
I had held off teaching in higher-ed for many years, having always opined that one needs to spend some time working in the field before moving on to train and nurture others. Then, as I approached the age of 40, I figured that all of my work as a professional performer, along with various honors like a Fulbright scholarship and summa cum laude status, were all indicators that it was now time. I embraced the opportunity to begin sharing the knowledge and experiences I had accumulated with new generations of budding music students. At long last I could work full-time in music.
Unfortunately, this hasn't panned out. Granted, circumstances have taken me in a somewhat different direction than I anticipated, in that I now have a wonderful partner and stepson and have moved across the globe to a really fab, but woefully expensive, city. But what I didn't account for was that there would be no jobs for me in Australia. None.
Even if I had accounted for that, would it have made a difference? No. I would not have called it quits on a loving and meaningful relationship, simply because I didn't readily see an immediate career trajectory for me in the country to which my Australian partner was forced to return because of antiquated, conservative immigration laws in my own home country.
"Gee, sorry, Mark & Zane, I love you both, but you're not worth it." Uh, no. Not my style.
So I moved and held out hope that, given my experience, talent, encouragement from colleagues, and a fairly impressive curriculum vita, something would turn up. Nothing has. In the nearly three years I have been in this sunburnt land, there have been a total of three positions open in the field of tertiary music teaching. Two of them were out of my league, for despite my degrees, I don't have the university teaching experience to be head of department yet. The other position, a fill-in for someone on maternity leave, I didn't even get an interview for.
There are probably many reasons for this. It could be that, at the time of most of those applications, I was only a temporary resident (more on that in a bit). It surely has to do with the fact that Australia has a much lower population than the U.S., resulting in very few jobs to begin with. I'm positive that it also has to do with the different set-up of music departments within higher-ed institutions, which means there are fewer jobs in my specific field. There's also the fact that music (and the arts in general) are only given lip-service in public and most private primary and secondary schools, resulting in a lack of need for certified music teachers that the aforementioned higher-ed music departments would train. (You think it's bad in the U.S.? You have no idea.) Heck, it could even be a case or two of anti-Americanism. Whatever it is, it has been frustrating. But I've held my head high and waited.
In August of last year, I had served my immigrant time and was granted permanent Australian residency, which means I can freely travel in and out of the country without having to reapply for more migrant visas and/or risk losing my right to be here. It didn't affect my right to work, for even as a temporary resident, the status I received when I immigrated here as Mark's partner, I had the right to work legally. Strangely, however, some places (like Qantas) have internal policies that state they will not hire temporary residents. I don't know how that can be legally justified, but apparently it is.
So, following a number of difficult and sometimes tearful conversations, Mark and I both decided that it was time for me to begin looking for work in the U.S., where the jobs in my field are. We decided, jointly, that my overall mental well-being included job satisfaction, and it was evident that the likelihood of achieving that in Australia was diminishing with each passing month. Sitting outside of academia for more than a year or two after receiving one's doctorate is professional suicide. As in Marcus Aurelius's river, the strong current of time is rapidly bringing this deadline worryingly close. As a permanent Australian resident, I could spend the academic year working in the U.S. and the other time back here with my hubby and son. It wasn't ideal, but it was work.
I have now applied for around 15 academic positions in the U.S. For whatever reason, be it my residency in Australia, an über-competitive job market, a glut of recent choral conducting DMA graduates, my age, a misguided sense of skill and talent, or a sad mixture of the above, I have had one nibble. Actually, it was a bite. As I've written before, I was one of three candidates flown to this particular university for what was, in the end, an unsuccessful interview.
After I recovered enough from the sting of getting only a dryly formal rejection e-mail and not a phone call as they'd promised me upon departure from their hallowed halls, I sent a request to two members of the committee for some feedback to find out where I might improve in what I hoped would be subsequent interviews at other institutions. One of the committee members is a fellow choral conductor, with whom at the time I seemed to connect well enough in such a friendly and collegial fashion that I could call upon her for all kinds of professional advice. I've received nothing, however...not even a reply that, unfortunately, due to legal constraints they weren't able to go on record with any kind of interview feedback, in which case I'd have understood and thanked her for responding anyway. Now, instead, I'm checking out voodoo-doll-making books from the local library.
I have been waiting for the universe to help point me in a direction that
suits my skills and talents. Waiting to find my niche. I thought this was finally
it. I'm not naive, in that I realize how silly it is to call it quits after one failed interview, but the whole experience has presented a firm challenge to the faith I have always placed in my own skills and ability. I am seriously questioning whether it's worth it, but then again, what would I do instead?
A blogger buddy recently offered words of sympathy and recommended I start thinking laterally. That's not a bad idea. I do have some things up my sleeve, but it's difficult moving to a blank slate after sinking so much time, effort and money in the pursuit of a specific goal without having had the chance even to try it.
Not to worry, however. My gumption will return. Someday.
Yesterday, the 26th of January, was Australia Day. Mark, and many other Australians of Aboriginal heritage, refer to it as Invasion Day, a term signifying commemoration of the event that led to demise of a huge amount of indigenous culture in Australia.
On 26 January of 1788, the British flag was raised at Sydney Cove (very near where the Sydney Opera House stands today), and nearly 1400 people disembarked from eleven ships to establish a convict settlement. That event marked the beginning of the detrimental colonization of yet another land-mass, resulting in one of the most scarring and disturbing sociologic phenomena in the history of man. More than two-hundred years later, many Australian Aborigines continue to suffer from the egregious after-effects of European land mongering and false superiority.
But don't let me rain on the parade. In typical Aussie fashion, let's sigh and suck our teeth for a second, then move on to happier thoughts.
Yesterday was also Kye's first birthday party. It seems only a few months ago I was posting pictures of the newly born Kye on my blog. Now he's a big boy with curls to die for. Mark's sister hosted a pool party at her home in Wollongong. It was a perfect day in many ways, although I got a really bad sunburn. Yes, I've been thoroughly chastised for it. And yes, I
was wearing sunscreen, although obviously not enough.
Oh by the way, I just received a rejection e-mail from the job I interviewed for in the States a couple of months ago. I was one of three candidates flown in for a two-day interview process, and they didn't even have the decency to call me to reject me. You'd think that by the time I made it to that point in the competition, I'd get more than an informal, five-line e-mail. Anyway, I'll assuage the pain with some Bombay Sapphire I acquired from the duty-free shops on the way back from that interview. How twisted is that?