Job-hunting completely alters one’s sense of the relationship between effort and results; long shots and shoo-ins get pretty hard to tell apart. I’ve applied for scores of jobs that looked absolutely perfect for my background and experience, and never heard back; one might as well fold resumes into paper boats and sail them up the Hudson. (Hey, it would be a lot more fun!) After a few months of this, buying lottery tickets can actually start to look tempting—how different can the odds be?
I’ve never been one for entering contests—but, in fact, that’s exactly what applying for a job is. Think about it: you do your best to supply the winning answer, the cleverest and most convincing solution to the puzzle or problem, and hope that the judges vibrate on your wavelength and recognize your brilliance above all others. How can you not drive yourself crazy trying to second-guess them?
I actually knew the answer to this question when I was six. In first grade, I was handed a sheet of paper and a big, soft pencil. Our teacher explained that one student’s artwork would be featured on the program cover for the school-wide holiday pageant; we would now work on drawing pictures for consideration. My passion then was drawing horses on carousels, every chance I got—and this was not a chance to be passed up. In a nod to the holiday theme, I added a holly leaf in each corner of the page and striped the poles like candy canes. When the teacher collected our sheets, I never thought about it again.
About a week later, I was summoned to the principal’s office … and made to understand that I was not in trouble, but my carousel had been selected from drawings submitted by hundreds of students in every class, from the first grade through the sixth. I was too young to explain to my mother what had happened, though I tried. She only figured it out in the school auditorium, with the program in her lap.
I thought about this—and the spelling bee I won in sixth grade, spending my prize money on a small oil painting at the Niantic Art Show, which I still have—when Symphony Space ran a contest two weeks ago that prompted me to recapture that “do it for fun” spirit. The theme of the upcoming Selected Shorts event was “Apartments and Neighbors,” and a pair of tickets would be awarded to “the person who writes in with the most humorous or horrific story about their experiences with their apartments, landlords or neighbors.”
Now, other New Yorkers might have moved more often, but I have a talent for moving. And my last move was a doozy, requiring me to be homeless for a month in between apartments. I figured that if I didn’t win the contest, I’d still get a good blog post out of it. A move is, after all, the ultimate embrace of the new. How dizzying it was to lie on the bare wooden floor of my new apartment as it was being painted, staring up at the ceiling and realizing that these strange walls would eventually come to signify “home” for me as surely as those of my last apartment, their every bump and angle intimately known after 20 years.
I sat down and wrote. As a frame of reference, I traced the ascending curve of my moves, beginning with the first (in a Checker cab) and ending with the five-man, two-van, warehouse-in-Brooklyn saga. The challenge was getting it all into 500 words … but I managed to hit “send” about ten minutes before midnight on the day of the contest deadline. I went to bed tired but satisfied; I had done my best and had a great time in the process.
Guess what? I won. (Click here, and you can read my winning entry on the Symphony Space blog.)