Friday, March 30, 2012

I feel ya, Katniss

Like half the world, I saw The Hunger Games last weekend. I read the books last summer and the movie stayed pretty true to the text, although--probably because the first person limited narration of the book is so very internal--not everything transfered to the screen with same potency. But there were certain moments that actually stood out more on the screen than the page.

One such moment that struck a chord was the infamous apple scene. OK actors, have you, or have you not, felt EXACTLY like that during at least one audition in your life. Notice it's not a question.

You're the very last person to show your stuff in a long long day. Those on the other side of the table offer you and your resume only the most cursory of glances. Sure, your career/sense of self-worth/life is on the line, but they can only spare you a yawn and half a chance. They're late-day loopy, they're probably talking about the season finale of the X Factor, they're definitely hungry (roast pig, why not?). At the beginning of your song/archery demo, you falter--just for a half second--but apparantly that's all you get. Doesn't matter if you sail through the rest of your song like Maria-frickin'-Callas--you've lost them. Tell me, who in this moment HASN'T felt like zinging something pointy through their smug-ass eye ball. What makes the scene so satisfying is that unlike the rest of us lily-livers, Katniss actually does it. (Perhaps we can be excused our cowardice because, I don't care how bad you want that part, the stakes just aren't as high). I totally love how she bows and thanks them for their attention, goes for the huffy exit...and forgets to put the bow back. Then can't get it on the stand right. BRILLIANT!

I vaguely made the same connection when I read that part in the book, but it stood out a lot more in action. The writers might even have been giving a little wink-nod to the audition process with that scene.

Monday, March 19, 2012

To Know Hope

So the inevitable moment arrived this Saturday--the letter from GSU informing me that my application was "not approved" (you can tell a bunch of counselors came up with that nonsense wording). Not exactly shocking news, but it still stung to see the concept of you're-not-good-enough laid out so concretely. The letter assured me that every single person had reviewed every single aspect of my application thoroughly before a decision was rendered. I did not find that remotely comforting. It's all too easy to imagine those jokers sitting around the table and cackling--or worse, shrugging ambivalently--as they throw my papers on the nay pile.

I came across an eerily relevant article this morning, as sometimes happens when you're mind is dwelling on something, on the psychology of optimism ( If you read my previous posts, you know that one of the things that was really bothering me was how my instinct that I did well was (obviously) wrong. Turns out it's actually a thing: the same thing, in fact, that makes 90% of people think they're an above-average driver and Steve Jobs think he could beat cancer with acupuncture and psychic healing. Money quote:

“Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be.”

I'm the kind of person who is soothed by logic and explanations, so I find it comforting to assign a phenomenon to my folly (Certainly more so then the dubious assurance: "don't worry, it wasn't just one of us that didn't like you. ALL of us didn't! HA HA!"). Not quite as comforting was the rest of the article. It went on to explain that people who persist in optimism, despite the signs that giving up would be wise, suffer twice the losses. Sheesh. It's enough to make me want to hole up at the front desk and answer phones till I'm wrinkly. At least I know I can do that.

But then I got a second letter that changed the course of things. Yesterday was the final performance of the kids' show I choreographed. It was like the end of summer camp for the kids, complete with tears and loud renditions of Wicked songs. Perhaps spurred by these turbid emotions, one of the ensemble actors gave me a note. On it was a true testament to Why I Bother. This girl (a middle schooler, the age group I want to work with) confessed that before this show, she'd had zero confidence in her abilities, and now she felt like she could reach the moon because of my support of and belief in her. She never could've known that it was exactly what I needed to hear. I fancied that had it been a group of the kids who would actually use a school counselor that reviewed my application, instead of a bunch of PhDs, the outcome might have been different. Overoptimism be damned, it was enough to give me the courage to apply again, to another school, one that is truly right for me. It's funny how a penciled note, just a folded up piece of lined notebook paper, meant more to me than would have crisp letter head inked "Congratulations".

Monday, March 5, 2012

Misfire - Part Trois

This is the third and final post of the intuition - or lack thereof- series. This is chronologically the last in a quick succession of life events that have been, in laymen terms, pretty shitty.

Then there's work. As in, the place I spend most of my waking hours, that allows me to eat and be an artist at the same time. It's pretty well publicized that in December I was un-promoted from my HR position back to the front desk. A bummer for sure, but a helluvalot better than being demoted (the position just didn't have enough work to be full time) or worse, terminated.

But I think it's finally sinking in that I am never, ever going anywhere at my current company. They just don't see me as being fully capable.

I came to this realization last week, when we had our yearly meeting for all the managers in our company. I'm not usually invited, and I do little more than make name tags and track the RSVPs. This year (perhaps because the dinner was a buffet and not sit-down) the staff was also invited. And bless my dumb little heart, I thought that meant I was finally going to contribute something more significant than tent card place settings. My eye was especially on a project I've been heavily involved with: a Wellness Campaign. Now it's true that I haven't been involved with the budget, or with the initial decision to do the campaign. But since we've rolled it out, I've been the main point of contact for the whole deal, the figurehead if you will. Most of my task hours are related to it. It was my analysis that first pointed out that we needed managers to get more involved if we wanted the project to have any kind of visibility or traction with the employees. And wouldn't you know it, here we were with a meeting of all the managers coming up. Can you see where I'm going with this?

This is a great opportunity for a small presentation on the Wellness Campaign. And who better to do it than me? It's no secret at my office that I'm a performer--obviously adept at public speaking. And I'm very good at researching and organizing, as I've been told before. I even know how to make a mean power point. Well, my bosses thought a presentation was a great idea. But it didn't even remotely occur to them that I could do it. In fact, I wasn't even INVITED to the morning part of the meeting when the campaign was addressed. Later, of course, I was permitted to bring in the free lunch totes the insurance company had given us to pass out.

It really made realize that I've hit a professional wall. Women hold some powerful positions in my company; you wouldn't ever expect there to be a glass ceiling. I should've seen it earlier, when I was promoted to HR but still not taught most of the processes involved, or even entrusted with a key to the personnel files. I think I would have seen it earlier, if I hadn't been told again and again how great my work is, and how I have a rosy future here with the company. Yeah sure. A rosy future answering phones till I'm gray. I don't mind working for other people; it's actually my preferred style. But I like to be trusted with at least modicum of responsibility. I have a college degree, and I'm not an entry level worker anymore. I am capable of so much more than this.

So to recap. Had a great audition: not even a callback. Grad school: rejected. Work presentation: dream on. All this within a 10-day span. It wouldn't have been a wonder if I'd been depressed, but honestly, not until writing it all out today have I felt even mildly bummed. Maybe it's that same dulling of the senses that has made me, in each of these scenarios, a.) not very nervous, b.) not very upset at the result, and most significantly, c.) not very perceptive.

It's like in one of my favorite movies, The Last Unicorn (stop laughing). The unicorn has been disguised as a human for a while and has started to forget who she really is, even to the point of falling for a human man. The villian, able to sneak up on her when he never could before, remarks "love is slowing you down." And so it is for me. My love for Tennyson is so all-consuming that things that used to excruciatingly matter before no longer hold their power over me.

I'm sorry. This isn't a baby blog and it wasn't supposed to turn into a baby post. My purpose was to explore how my normally sharp intuition, my gut feeling which I normally trust with all my heart, could have been so utterly, terribly off on three separate occasions. But I believe in the redemptive power of love--all kinds of love--and its ability to save us. So if my gut is a little off, but I can still be at peace at the end of a long day of disappointments because I know I'm coming home to that little face who will light up like a beacon at first sight of me, I can't mourn the loss.

Misfire - Part Dos

The second part of a 3-part series. Read the first post below.

Until that Friday. You may or may not know, since I haven't been very vocal about it, but I've been applying to grad schools to be a school counselor. Part of the grand life plan, ya know. More on that another time.

Really, I should say "school." Because although I initially had a list of five or six potential programs, pregnancy disrupted my plans, and I only ended up actually applying to one school, Georgia State. I was OK with that because it just so happened to be my first choice. Not just because it's here in the city--although that's huge--but the program is very good.

I actually applied last year, and I was chosen from the initial pool of more than 100 applicants to interview for a spot. But because of aforementioned baby, I asked if I could roll the app over to next year. One of the faculty members, viewing my application materials, was very encouraging. I believe her exact words were "there's absolutely no reason why we wouldn't want to see you again next year."

I did indeed get an email at the end of January, inviting me to interview at GA State for a spot in the program. (It was really nice--kind of like getting cast in a play without having to audition.) I brushed up on my goals and interview techniques, took the whole day off, put on my best duds and went down there, chin up. It was a grueling series of interviews, one group and two private. I had the group first, which seemed ideal. Other interviewees would diffuse the nervous energy and fill any conversational holes. Plus, the moderator wasn't even part of the actual school counseling faculty (although in retrospect, maybe that worked against me). Because I felt like I stood out in the group, or at the very least held my own.

Then I had to take a breast pumping break. It was good because I got to go over my notes and practice what I was going to say. BUT I didn't get to talk to the current students who were floating around, "answering questions" but most likely also spying for the admissions committee.

My next two interviews were with, I later learned, the most hard-ass of the four interviewers. The first one was pretty intimidating--I don't think she smiled AT ALL--but I still felt like I answered all the questions coherently and originally. My second interview happened to also be the last one of the session. By then I think she had relaxed a bit, and I felt like we had a great conversation. We talked about how giving up my current situation is scary, but a risk worth taking (Note: this was the self-same faculty member who had encouraged me in rolling over my app the year prior).

There were about 25 people interviewing that day, and there was supposed to be about as many in a second afternoon session. There were only spots for 20-22 people. I'm sure everyone was thinking the same thing as I: only half of us will be accepted...I'll certainly be one of them. I was feeling so confident that I actually started to get nervous about how I was going to manage the rent on our new place with only one income. They told us that if we were accepted, we would get an unofficial congratulations email "ASAP."

ASAP is kind of a vague term of course. But because of some other parts of the same conversation, I had the distinct impression it would be within the next two or three days. Those who were rejected, on the other hand, wouldn't hear anything at all until that thin envelope arrives in the mail weeks later.

I didn't even check my email all weekend--that's how un-nervous I felt about it. On Monday, I half expected to see something in my inbox, but no. By Wednesday, I had started to check my junk know what I'm talking about. On Friday, a friend sent me an encouraging note and I again felt like acceptance was in the realm of possibility. Today, the only acceptance I'm feeling is the final stage in the grieving process.

OK, so I'm not exactly grieving. Not over getting rejected anyway (I can always apply again later, or to another school. Life is long). It's more so because, once again, somehow being totally off in my perception of the situation. I'm no cock-eyed optimist. I don't believe in The Secret or the power of positive thinking, at least in terms of its ability to influence real life events. In other other words, I am pretty realistic. And I really did think I aced those interviews. How in the world can I be so wrong? Twice in the same week?

Misfire - Part One

This ol' tough shell has taken a triple whammy over the past few weeks. (Stop snickering, guys. I really do have a tough shell!) Part one of this three-part series on rejection and intuition follows.

First, I auditioned for the play Doubt. I haven't performed in a long time, but it was a cold-reading audition, which is a strong suit. A stipend was offered, so that makes it more worth the time away from home. Rehearsals were a few times a week, all evenings and weekends. Also, the character is a prudish and somewhat timid teacher--I mean, I wouldn't even have to act, right? (Ha.) And the theatre was located right near the new house we'll be moving to soon. Pretty much an ideal scenario.
So I sent my headshot and resume to the SM, and I arranged to audition after a long evening of choreography rehearsal with my kids for my current show. I made it there early, they were running behind, I read for the part with the actor who was already cast in the role opposite...and I nailed it.
Folks, I felt really good about this audition. Any of you guys who have auditioned before (or really, anyone who watches American Idol) know that feeling when you did a good job. Of course, you never know if they'd ultimately prefer someone taller/shorter/older/younger than you in the role, and that can't be helped. But I was confident I'd be back on Wednesday for the callbacks; so confident, in fact, that I was asking the stage manager about rehearsal scheduling.
But I didn't even get a callback!
I really should have known. I've auditioned for this particular theatre several times before, and I never. ever. ever. get cast. The leading ladies that get cast tend to skew towards the - how can I put this delicately - higher BMI than myself. I'm sure it's a coincidence, and if it's not, it's actually pretty awesome, since the skew is usually in the dead opposite direction.

But that's not the point. The point is how dead awful wrong my intuition was. Am I just rusty after being away from the stage for a while? Am I getting complacent? I have no problem being rejected for a role--it's happened a million times. I am much much less OK with my internal barometer of success being off-kilter.

But hey, walk it off. Whatever, it really should be Patrick's turn to do a show anyway. And that intuition malfunction? Probably just a fluke.