Thomm Quackenbush, author

" Writers Anonymous | 2008 | Ethical Slut "

09.13.08 2:24 p.m.

A great many people now reading and writing would be better employed keeping rabbits. 

-Edith Sitwell

 


Proof

On the plus side, I now know exactly what kind of pen I like best, the Uni-Ball Vision Micro. It gives a small, solid, crisp line that does not bleed into the paper. The red appears decisive and makes my handwriting look slightly less like I failed penmanship in the first grade (in fact, I got a D). I am utterly certain of this pen. Confident. The rest of the job needs some explaining.

In July, in the midst of my interviewing at whatever public or private school cared to waste my time filling their interview quota, I was called in to an educational testing company for a position as a proofreader. I dutifully went in and, after a ten minute discussion of my credentials ("Well, I do know how to write and fetishize grammar..."), was handed a sixth grade standardized reading test and a manila folder to proofread at home and fax back. Then I was left alone to finish the test. My proofreading/testing mindset and interview mindset are diametrically opposed, the former feeding off calmness and detachment and the latter thriving on nervous energy and charisma. I did my best to focus on the test, though I couldn't make sense of the questions in my anxiety, and handed it in after half an hour. I felt I'd blown the interview, but completed the homework anyway.

They rejected me in a form letter weeks later, one that I took to mean I was unqualified and did badly on the test. The job was far away and probably would have bored me silly. (And the grapes are probably sour.)

At the end of August, just as I was beginning to despair that no school had hired me, the woman who interview me called me back. She said that the person who had taken the position quit in short order and, as the finalist who was not chosen, they were hoping I was still available. I did not expect anything to come of this, but I went in for a second interview, where a different woman told me that I did exceptionally well on the gifted students college entrance reading exam (not sixth grade) and she was shocked, given my resume, that schools were not champing at the bit to have me on their faculty roster. She told me that they had moved someone else in the organization into the proofreading slot, but my skill would be far better used in the new editor position that had become vacant. In fact, she said that proofreading would be a waste of my talent, in those exact words. She made me promise I wouldn't vacate if a school wanted me (I told her that they had their chance and had blown it) and told me it was a pleasure meeting me.

I didn't get my hopes up too much, though my mother cited this as evidence that her premonition that I would be getting job news had been fulfilled. It wouldn't be an easy job, but it would be editing. Even if it's not the New Yorker, it's a start in the publishing world.

I get another call two days later, telling me that they want me for the job and asking me when I can start. I feel strangely unaffected by this news after months of struggling with the educational bureaucracy that only wants the least qualified to underpay for teaching the next generation. (That is not, in fact, sour grapes. I know for a fact that several of the new hires at a local district were filled by people without Master's degrees or teaching certification.) Melanie was thrilled by the news. My mother told me not to take this job, to leave my employment options open because she was sure some school was going to want me before the year starts. But no school does want me, at least no school that is willing to treat me as an experienced professional. (Side note to principals interviewing applicants: Do not lie in your ad, claiming you are looking for a full time English teacher with the requisite benefits and then only offer per diem subbing for $20 under the average rate and no benefits. If you must do this - and you mustn't - do not then tell the applicant that they must have a Master's in Adolescent Education English and ask the applicant to write an essay begging you for a job. It's tacky.)

When I arrive to my first day of work, I discover that I am being started as a proofreader. Fine, I fully acknowledge I have a lot to learn and the pay is no different. I am embarrassed to have to correct everyone who I have previously told I am going to be an editor, but I quickly revise that I am on the editorial team and my job requires me to do a lot of editing along with the proofing. Still, I wish there had never been any mention of my starting as an editor. It had gotten my hopes up. There is a certain ring to being an editor that a proofreader lacks. My work is a bit more mindless and tedious, but I figure out within the first week that I can wear whatever I like (I choose to never deviate from business casual: a nice shirt and jeans) and I can listen to music through my headphones as it appropriate to my task. Within a few more days, though I was either given permission or mimicking the other staff, I am told that the headphone and jeans are forbidden even as I watch other employees wearing both.

My mother harasses me that I should promptly quit the proofreading job and substitute teach, effectively taking a $21,000 pay cut and losing all benefits for the minute chance some school will hire me from the sub pool in the middle of the year. (Something that certainly did not occur the last time I tried it.) Her prodding hurts me when I am already having a hard time. She suggests that I am keeping this job because I am blindly following Melanie's edicts, though Melanie's advice has been no more detailed on this point beyond "do what makes you happy, but don't quit this job without something else lined up". I remind my mother that she is the one that sent me the advertisement for this job and that she is the reason I got a Master's in Education that has proved to be utterly worthless to me because I didn't indenture myself to math, science, or disabled children and which I will be paying off until I am fifty.

For the first week, I miss teaching because at least that was different every day. I was the leader of my classroom, I was in control, and the children certainly kept me on my toes. If I screwed up one period, I only had to wait a few minutes to correct the error with another group of bratlings. The night before I started my job, I had a dream that it was a requirement of the proofreading job that I teach a group of middle schoolers how to use computers and awoke in a malaise that I would not be doing this for a while. I understand, for most people, teaching is exceptionally hard and thankless. But I'm good at it. At my previous job working with learning disabled kids, I had a girl go up 4.2 grade levels in a single year in reading because I was the one teaching her. I had parents shocked how much I had guided and shaped their kids, making them interested in politics, sciences, literature, and the news simply because I kept bugging them about it. I spent all summer looking for teaching positions because I wanted to continue making that kind of difference in the world. Instead, I am a part of the world of educational testing, something that I feel is massively misused in American schools.

I know that I have trouble on the first day of jobs. On my first day of student teaching, I hid in the bathroom after first period and cried on the phone to Emily how incapable I felt to actually do this. The first day at my Anemia job, I was morbidly depressed that I was clearly being lied to and abused to the extent that I was making myself sick. And then I found that Emily had left my UglyDoll Ice Bat with a note reading "I know you had a bad day and I hope tomorrow will be better". It was the sweetest thing I think she could have done short of already having a moving truck full of our possessions ready to leave. I felt so trapped there and I am not nearly as trapped now. I do not live at my proofreading job. I am only stuck to the extent that I can't exactly sneak out for interviews and I am not going to take days off for interviews when schools have no intention of hiring someone from outside their district or bloodline.

Everything else in my life is so good. I am so in love with Melanie, I would marry her tomorrow. She is what I need. I like where I live, I like how close I am to friends and activities. I like that I can bitch to Hannah and she can legitimately offer to come bring me brownies to feel better. I've spent so long secluded that I still forget people can bring me desserts and company.

I spent the entire summer with no job more pressing than finding a position and I finally did. This will only ever be a job to me, a stepping stone to something greater. Here, I encounter people who offered this company a greater portion of their soul (and free time) than I could imagine. I need to leave promptly at six every night or I am going to be miserable. I can't proofread through the night and, given that I leave just after the cleaners come in every day, I don't believe this will ever be required of me. I need to retain my obligations outside work, even if it is just to my mental health. I can't let myself be stepped on.

Melanie came over Tuesday, because she finished her homework and knew I needed the solace of her company after a day where my most pressing decision was questioning a comma's existence (the comma stayed). She was a reminder that my life is not this job, that my life will never be this job.

Soon in Xenology: Aydan. Eviction. Dating. Skating.

last watched: The Tick
reading: Spook
listening: Highly Evolved

" Writers Anonymous | 2008 | Ethical Slut "

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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