As I pulled my van onto our dead end street one July afternoon, my son broke into a vigorous bout of enthusiastic waving. “It’s the mail lady, Mom. She’s so nice. Have you met the new mail lady?”
I had to admit that indeed, I had not made the acquaintance of our new mail person, but I was sure she had to be a vast improvement over the string of grumpy men who had been covering our street’s mail delivery duties over the past decade.
I joined the boy in a cheery wave in the carrier’s general direction, and started inside. I was about to query my son about just how he happened to strike up such a rapport with the mail lady, when my thoughts took a quick turn in the direction of the letters I had put out for delivery that morning, and were now, doubtless nestled in the bag of the friendly post woman.
The letters represented a bold move made in the throes of desperation. I am posting about them today since I said last week that I'd fill in the gap in my blog narrative explaining my career shift from elementary art teacher to university professor. Also my friend Jade at Tasting Grace started a conversation on her blog about life a year ago, so a bit of reflection seemed apropos. See, I had been searching for new employ since April, after it became apparent that my stint teaching art at a pretentious local academy had run its course. Pleading budget and scheduling woes, my former employer informed me that if I wanted to keep my job, I’d have to work more and earn less, and, as I never really felt at home at the hoity-toity institution, I began circulating resumes in hopes of finding another position in the arts, or, failing that, with another worthy enterprise in search of a dedicated, yet part-time professional.
I regarded the whole job search as a Major Adventure. I wanted a challenge, but one that would not take me away from my family or my writing. I imagined all sorts of enticing possibilities, and cast my net broad and wide. Weeks passed, sans prospects. Weeks turned into months, with no interest in any of my carefully crafted cover letters or promising proposals. Not a note, not a nibble. Nothing. It soon became apparent that I was an involuntary resident of some sort of employment leaper colony. Even though it was still summer, a season during which I don’t work anyway, I began to get prematurely funky, shuffling around the house in a disillusioned stupor of vague angst, remembering the good old days when I was a vibrant, active member of the community.
As July threatened to unfold into August with nary an interview in sight, I broached the unpleasant topic of my secondary English teaching certification, the one that came along as a bonus add-on with my masters degree, not unlike the stuffed sleeping toys that come free with the purchase of select pajama sets. In short, I had never aspired to be an English teacher, at least in the all-day, full time, public high school sense. But faced with the prospect of going funky long-term, took the plunge and applied for not one, but two, such positions.
My reasoning was that, based on recent historical data, I wasn’t going to hear back anyway, and at least then I could say that I truly did all I could to find employ, so folks could grasp the enormity of my circumstances when I hit the skids.
My early experiences with my letters of introduction should have conveyed all I needed to know about my suitability for the positions. I printed the wrong drafts of the letters and dribbled leaky pen across the good versions when I went to sign them. I botched the addresses on both envelopes—twice, and when I finally got them properly addressed, I realized I did it upside down.
In my own defense, I have to say that I was assembling this mail in the company of my son, who was eager to get going on a lunch and biking adventure, and did not stop talking the entire time—a detail that astute readers will read as partial explanation for the boy’s familiarity with our neighborhood’s community helpers.
Upon our return that afternoon, however, my thoughts turned to the wording of the letters I’d put out for post that morning. A particular turn of phrase had entered my thoughts, and I was wondering if I’d had the presence of mind to actually use it, or if it was like those great comebacks that come to you about an hour after they would have been poignant. I glanced at my computer and realized the letter was still on the screen. Partway through the second sentence, I cringed at a small gaffe in word choice; nothing too serious, but regrettable, nonetheless. I gave an audible gasp when I reached a bad cut-and-paste in paragraph two, and when I reached the closing sentence, I flew to the front door, yelling “Buddy! Come! Help me find your mail lady friend!”
“I dunno, Mom, she could be anywhere by now,” my son said, as we beat the pavement on the neighboring street.
I made the decision to resume the search by vehicle. I was prepared to go all the way to the main post office and wait it out, but hit the jackpot when I saw the mail truck parked two streets down. The mail lady herself was just a bobbing dot at the end of the road, so I pulled behind the truck to await her return.
“Buddy says she’s nice, Buddy says she’s nice,” I chanted to myself.
And, you know what? The kid was right. She was a peach, patiently sorting through the day’s collected mail until we found the offending letters.
I took the letters home and added them to the pile of accumulated rubble from earlier in the day. I paused for a moment to consider the pile of pulp which represented the sum total of all my day’s efforts. I’d love to tell you that I learned my lesson and tossed the whole mess into the recycling bin and never thought of the whole affair again. But, writer that I am, I made the appropriate corrections to the letter and sent it off a second time to both prospects. Which subsequently led to an interview, a job offer, and, ultimately some of the funkiest, angst-iest behavior I’d ever displayed.
Fortunately, I left for vacation in Florida without signing a formal contract for the unwanted post because a different kind of mail reached me there, as unexpected as it was welcome. It was a belated reply from one of my very first queries way back in April. One of my former professors had a surprise opening for a part time professor in her department and I was her first choice—was there any chance I was still available?
I didn’t make a single mistake in my reply. It’s hard to mess up yes.