Tuesday, July 11, 2006

These phone calls can be quite draining

Mom called last night to talk at me and then comment on how I
wasn't saying much. She had called me last Monday evening to ask what I was doing, and I said staying in and resting, and she said something like 'you should be out dancing.' Then last night she asked what I did on the 4th (the day after last Monday), and when I said I went to a friend's house for a bbq, she said something like, 'why go to friends' houses on weeknights?" Then she starting going on about a daughter of friends of hers who is making six figures and how when she started looking for other work, they raised her salary by another $20k. "That, my dear," Tatyana said, "is how one needs to operate." She then asked if I'd applied to Google. And then started lecturing me about how if I'm bored, it really is time to budge, especially because I have such a long commute (see, this hasn't occured to me-- the hour-long, each way commute doesn't allow enough time for reflection
on the length of one's commute). Then she asked if I'd gone swimming recently and I said no. She said, "exactly. There's nothing to do over where you live." Then she said, with some sarcasm, "talking to you has been very 'informative,' commenting on my short answers. I didn't tell her about the hornet sting that had swollen my foot to three times its natural size or the benadryl I’d just taken… wasn’t up for an ‘herbal remedies’ lecture in addition to the ones she was already giving me.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Dear Sir or Madam, Please do *not* consider this application for a position at Google.

Dear Sir or Madam,

Please do *not* consider this application for a position at Google; I am submitting it for the sole purpose of getting my mother off my back. You see, ever since my mother read an article on the internet about Google's incredible work environment, particularly the part about allowing pets at work, she constantly insists that I apply. I respect Google's innovation; positive work environment; and pet-friendly policies. However, I am quite happy in my chosen field of international relations analysis, which I did not see alongside programming, accounting, and law, on the list of positions for which you were hiring. Since my mother now believes that Google is the *only* place to work, writing to you is the only way to move on with my life. I apologize for wasting your time, thank you for your patience, and wish you the best in your recruiting efforts.


P.S. I do not, at this time, have any pets.

Allow me to set the stage for that letter by exploring a few of my mother's personality traits.

#1. Mom lacks whatever part of the brain contextualizes experiences--the one that says, "sure, this worked for someone, but every situation is different, and that's not to say that everyone should drop what they're doing to do said thing." This goes back to when I was in high school, when Mom heard that a friend of a friend of a friend's son took a class called "career planning" and found it helpful. Naturally, she concluded that everyone, especially her daughter, should take career planning. Never mind that he was at a different high school; never mind that he's a different person. He found career planning helpful, so A. must take career planning.

A. rolls her eyes but takes the necessary precaution of humoring her mother by at least running the idea by her guidance counselor, who says, "absolutely not! That class is for people not going to college and your class schedule is already overloaded."

A. reports back to her mother, who has a fit. For at least months I have to hear about how if I'd only just taken career planning… Actually, I can't say for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if she reminded me of my decision not to take that class all through college, too.

Which leads us to personality characteristic #2: Mom does not suggest, she insists; furthermore, she clobbers. For example, when she shops for clothes, she kindly picks up things for me, too. More often than not, I like them, but sometimes I don't. Again, I take the necessary precaution of at least trying on the ones I think I won't like, and if I refuse because I can absolutely tell right away that I would never wear something, I hear "no, try it on" enough times that the effort to try it on is less than the effort to resist. And when I try things on that I absolutely know I will not wear, she insists that I take them with me anyway. The conversation goes something like this:

Mom: Well, just take it with you anyway.
A.: I don't *want* to. I don't have a lot of space and I don't want to take things I know I won't wear.
Mom: That style is very trendy right now.
A.: I don't care. I don't dress according to trends, and this is a case in point: no matter how trendy cropped pants are right now, short people will always look bad in them, and I don't wear them.
Mom: Well, just take them with you.
A.: No.
Mom: You never know.
A.: I do know- I don't like the way these look on me and I'm not wearing them.
Mom: Well, take them with you anyway.

Trait #3 is my mother's penchant for sweeping generalizations.

Unfortunately, my parents' neighbors have recently installed an air conditioner whose noise level is significantly grating on my parents' quality of life. My mother is retired, and on days she's home she alternates between the computer and the back yard. She'll, say, do some day trading and crash my IRA account, and then go outside and read or garden. Before, she would read or garden with the birds in the background, whereas now all she hears is the air conditioner.

My mother talked to the neighbors about it, and they agreed to use it less frequently, but it's still annoying, so she went to Newton City Hall to inquire about the City's noise ordinance. The employees there told her they knew nothing about that and she'd have to ask the police; she drove to the police station, where the employees looked at her like she was insane. She returned home, furious, and googled "noise ordinance" and the name of the town, quickly finding it.

I appreciate her frustration at the noise situation. I appreciate her aggravation at the City Hall employees, as does anyone who's ever had a parking ticket or other obligation to deal with them. My appreciation does not extend to her logic, which goes something like, "I've just come from City Hall. I know how stupid government employees are. You need to get out of the government and into the private sector."

Which sort of but not really takes us to personality trait? #4: Mom doesn't understand what I do. She does not fundamentally realize that foreign policy, international relations, public policy, are field. For example, over the holidays some close family friends were over for dinner. They asked me for my professional opinion (actually said, "in your professional opinion…") about, for lack of better term, a global situation, but the second I opened my mouth, my mother started answering the question. Sure, part of that is because she's opinionated and she likes to be the center of attention, but largely, she fails to grasp that I actually *have* a professional opinion.

When the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit, my mother was fretting about which aid agencies to support. I gave her a rundown of recommended relief agencies. Being the Fox News watcher that she is, she had told me that she wouldn't give money to the UN, so I was surprised when she said "what about Unicef?" I informed her that that was the UN's Children's Fund, but she insisted that they weren't UN-affiliated and asked me what made me think I was such an expert on humanitarian aid. Umm, the fact that I kind of am an expert on humanitarian aid makes me think I'm an expert on humanitarian aid. I mean, she went to my graduation; one of the ceremonies she sat through was the awarding of a Certificate in Human Rights and Humanitarian Emergencies.

There are other examples, but the gist is, when I do comment, usually in response to a comment she makes, on a global situation or issue, she's incredulous at the level of detail and substance of the comment and asks me where I get off speaking so authoritatively about it. She just doesn't get that I am a professional, in a field.

Which is a shame, because in what is a huge step in my personal growth, I'm love my field. In grad school, I often wondered whether my two years and $50k were going to anything I couldn't just get from reading the paper, and now I absolutely realize that they were. I'm not saying that non-professionals shouldn't be interested or informed; I'm not saying that they shouldn't have opinions. I'm saying that I've realized from listening to those opinions that I do have a heightened sense of understanding of international systems that allows me to—who knew—*analyze* issues intelligently and contextually. Yes, I've been unhappy at my job and that unhappiness has at times made me wonder, "why didn't I become a professional dog walker?" But when I go to conferences, or hit on parts of my job that are as they should be, or read Foreign Policy magazine, I realize that I really love this field, I understand it well, and that I've made the right career choice. Which for me is, like I said, huge. And it would be nice if my mother could join me in celebrating that development, but to expect as much would be to live in a fantasy world.

I could go on and on with traits, really, and just traits relevant to the story, but I'll stop after one more: Mom's lack of sense of urgency; rather, Mom's lack of respect for *other people's* urgency. When she has a sudden attack of "we're in a hurry! Everyone hustle!" she expects everyone to be as impatient as she is for no apparent reason. I kid you not. We were in Portugal, having a peaceful dinner at an outdoor cafĂ©, when she all of a sudden decided that we were in a hurry to get back for a summary of the day's market activity on CNN and started pressing us to eat faster. The pressing was accompanied by other childish behavior. Contrast that with a matter of my saying, "this is a very bad time to talk, I have to go right now, I'll call you back." In those cases, I hear, "well, let me just tell you this… we were going for a walk earlier today and we saw this rabbit!" or "when will you call me back?" or "why is it a bad time?" Not even "it's a bad time because my throat is very sore and I'm very tired, could we continue the rabbit conversation tomorrow" will register. I'll remind you that this is the woman who, years ago when I was in Wales, came home to the following message on her answering machine: "I have a feeling you were planning on calling me tonight, but I'm not feeling well so I'm going to go to bed early—I think I have a chance of fighting this cold if I just get a good night's sleep—so please don't call when you get home; we'll talk tomorrow." She responded by calling me at midnight my time to tell me she got the message.

But now, back to the present. About a month ago, I was on the phone with my parents:

Mom: I just read this article about Google—it's such a great place to work. You won't believe this—you can bring your pets to work. Go on their website- apply for a job at Google.
A.: Okay.

I go on their website (necessary precaution), and find that one doesn't just 'apply to Google;' one has to actually pick a profession and then apply within that category. And since I'm not an accountant, or lawyer, or any of the twenty or so professions listed on the site, my application to Google ended there. Or so I thought.

One week later:

Mom: So, did you apply to Google?
A.: I went on their website, but you can only submit your resume to specific positions- there's no way to submit it generally.
Mom: Yes there is.
A.: Well, I didn't see it.
Mom: Well, go back and apply to Google.
A.: Mom, they hire certain categories of people, and *foreign policy analyst* was NOT one of them.
Mom: You shouldn't close yourself off to any possibilities.
A.: I've long ago closed myself off to the possibility of being a lawyer or accountant.
Mom: Just apply. Just send them a letter telling them about yourself.
A.: I don't really have time or energy to write cover letters for jobs I don't want.
Mom: I'm not saying you have to take the job. I'm just saying you need to apply. It sounds like it's a great working environment. You could bring your pets to work!
A.: I understand your opinion. You want me to apply. I understand what you want me to do. Can we move on now?
Mom: Will you apply?
A.: No. I'm going to bed. Goodnight.

Not quite one more week later

Mom: Where are you? [the requisite question]
A.: Walking home from the gym. I had a dentist appt so I didn't go into
Mom: How's your job search going?
A.: Very well, actually… I have two possibilities that look promising…
Mom: Did you apply to Google?
A.: No, I did not apply to Google. But let me tell you about these other
Mom: Why didn't you apply to Google?
A.: Because I don't want to work at Google.
Mom: I'm not saying you have to take the job. Just apply. Just send them a letter telling them about yourself.
A.: We've had this conversation.
Mom: But you could bring your pets to work!
A.: I don't want to work at Google.
Mom: Listen to me—I know what a huge difference a positive work environment makes.
A.: So do I.
Mom: You're unhappy at work.
A.: I am applying, with some knock-on-wood progress, to jobs IN MY FIELD.
Mom: Google has jobs in your field. You never know. You shouldn't close yourself off to any possibilities.
A.: I'm closing myself off to the possibility of wasting my time applying to a job that I don't want and that I would be extremely unlikely to get.
Mom: Just send them a letter telling them about yourself. Humor me.
A.: I do not have time to write a cover letter for a job I do not want. You can write the cover letter.
Mom: You know very well I can't write.
A.: This conversation is over. Can we please talk about something else?
Mom: Just *write* them.
A.: Do you understand that YOU want me to work for Google, but I do NOT want to work for Google?
Mom: I'm not saying you have to take the job. I'm just asking to you humor me and write them a letter.
A.: No.
Mom: You have to get out of the government, because, having just been to City Hall, I know that everyone who works for the government is an idiot.

This conversation goes on for about twenty minutes before I'm able to break it off and insist that the conversation is over. I am so angry that I call my dad at work.

A.: What is *wrong* with her? Why can't she just suggest things and leave it for the suggestee to then make her own decision?
Dad: Google again?
A. You guessed it. Why? Why can't she leave it for me to decide?
Dad: That's what I told her.

In case you're wondering, I have not applied to Google.