The Interview I Will Not Have by Gabrielle Kassell
I take the train from New Haven to Grande Central Station, for what I hope will be the last time I have to make the four-hour commute for a New York City interview. I plug my earphones against my ears, lounge back-flat against the bulky Patagonia luggage, and spend the next two hours lulled against the trains rhythm, brain reeling overtime. Tomorrow I have an interview with my dream company for my dream entry-level job. I’m anxious my wanting-energy will come across childish despite my best efforts to look twenty-two: hair down and curled, dressed sleekly in a black romper visually-lengthening my short frame, accentuating the breadth of my shoulders, lashes dusked with brown mascara, eyebrows tamed, nose ring replaced by a silver stud, barely noticeable, somehow indicative of a more-hirable woman.
I have spent the last month making lists of my strengths and weaknesses, editing cover letters to match the mission statements of company’s who wouldn’t hire me if my LinkedIn kept the queer courses I’d taken in college listed, wouldn’t bring me in for an interview if my women’s studies major sat dutifully next to the English major I’d used to prove the queer sexuality of every main character for any text we read. (Yes, even Ophelia is gay if you try hard enough…).
Tomorrow I have an interview with a company I want to work for with passion, a company whose employee’s spoke to us, one-hundred recent-graduates interested in the publishing industry, consistently with graciousness and generosity, who dressed in cotton dresses and decked in tattoos comforted me, who worries daily that I have chosen the wrong industry. How could I have chosen the right industry if the hiring managers won’t look at me twice because rugby sits diligently under my interests, because of what they’ve heard about Smith College and the population of Northampton, Massachusetts? How could I have chosen the right industry if every woman who has come to talk with us wore dresses of unimaginable prices?
There are two loves in my life. The first: reading and writing and finding ways to creatively communicate in a unique and daring voice to an audience. The second: healthy living. As a rugby-player, weight-lifer, marathon-runner, poet who wants people to fall in love with her for her words, I want my careers to encompass both of these passion.
During my Oregon summer adventure of 2015 I was able to create a life for myself that was structured around these loves. As an editorial intern for Where Are You Press, I was given the opportunity to edit and read poetry manuscripts. As a sales associate for Title 9, a west coast women’s athletic clothing store, I was given the opportunity to help women connect with their bodies. And as an article writer for an online blog interested in promoting mental wellness (yes, yes you guessed it, it’s The Warming Tree), I was given the opportunity to write about personal essays about my relationship with my body, mind, and soul.
It is in part because each of these parts of myself was able to come alive in Portland that I am wanting to move there. Portland is where I want to raise a family; Portland is where I want to be domestic. But I’m not there yet, I’m only twenty-two when traveling, moving around, and experiencing new cultures and places is part of the game. I once asked my sister what she is most proud of herself for doing, she told me she is proud of herself for living in so many different places before choosing to settle in Atlanta because that is where the man of her dreams happened to be living. I once asked a woman I met on Tinder what she loved about working for the Coast Guard, she told me the ability to experience new cultures every two years to four years.
When I walk into an interview and the inevitable first question is, “so, tell me about yourself”. I cannot answer: I want to give shape to my desires, fears, and make excuses for the failures of my body. I want to measure the velocity of my longing in words, to watch myselves sleep and wake up wet. The enormity of my desire disgusts me. The intangibility of my words falls through a sheet of black glass. The black glass shatters and cuts the writer. I wants to explain myself in blood. Let me admit without apology: I have things to say.” No, in an interview you cannot say that without frightening the interviewer asking. The key to nailing an interview: a little bit of vanilla, a little bit of facts. I answer diligently, “I graduated from Smith College in May where I double majored in English and Women Studies and earned a poetry minor. From there I went on to attend the New York University Summer Publishing Institute, which I was encouraged to attend after working as an editorial intern with a small poetry publishing press in Oregon last summer. Since the program ended three weeks ago I have been applying for jobs in the publishing industry, jump started a website portfolio for my writing, and began freelance writing”.
The short announcement is my least favorite part of each interview, a true advertising that feels entirely inadequate in explaining my human life. There is no room in a minute-long self-promo to talk about how my dedication to rugby is representative of my willingness to put myself out there, to take a hit for the team. There is no room to talk about how I am falling head of over handlebars for a woman three-thousand miles away. There is no room to say I have been unlearning how to be good. There is no room to tell the interviewer my favorite poem is “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, that it speaks through my veins. There is no room to confess that I am terrified my father is going to die before I get married, and oh, I am going to have the most majestic wedding: the room fat with flowers and all the people I love.
They will ask me my biggest weakness and I will not say that I am a hopeless romantic with a dirty-talk mouth and affinity for fixer-uppers. I will not say that I am an extroverted introvert who loves spending time alone as a result of having grown up as if an only child. Instead, I will say “my experience”, fresh out of college I am someone you will be taking a chance on. Instead I will say, “I expect the same level of commitment and dedication from myself as I do others, and that I am learning every day to become more okay with the distance between the energy I give and the energy others give”. I will say as if rehearsed, “My biggest weakness is that I expect that same commitment of time, energy, and passion from myself as I do other’s around me, and when that is not that case, I need to remind myself that different people provide a different balance of this. The best example of this is that while rugby is technically a club sport, it is still a sports team that competes weekly, when a player doesn’t or can’t show up to practice one day, I feel frustrated with their absence until I remind myself that their actions are not in my control”.
They will ask me my strength and I will tell them my energy. “I am a high-energy person, and I will bring that energy to every task that is asked of me whether it is seemingly huge or small, I will complete the task with passion and an energy that inspires and uplifts those around me”. I will not say that my strength is my tenderness, that I have learned always to trust one more time, that beneath this high-built wall is a tenderness that makes women call out my name and brings boys to their knees. I will not say my eyes, which communicate my exact emotion readily and plainly for any set of eyes daring to learn their secret language. Instead, I will hope the interviewer will hold eye-contact as I explain without explicatives the energy that threatens to cost me the job, the energy my mother fears will add too much youth to my voice. Remember, the key to nailing an interview is a little bit of sparkle, and a little bit of fact.
They will ask me what I am most proud of, what my biggest accomplishment is. I will tell them how I made the decision to go to Portland, found a room on Craigslist and in ten days found myself two paying jobs and an internship. That I spent my weekdays working remotely for a poetry press and the weekends leading hikes through a women’s clothing store. But I will not say, in three short months I made a life for myself full of morning runs, weekend adventures, day-time sales, people watching at hipster coffee shops, and learning the abilities of my body in the front seat of the car of a trainer who took me under her wing, hungry and wanting to show me a good time.
I will not say that for six months I took care of the boy wounded and touched in the boy’s bathroom. I will not tell about the mornings holding his hand against my thigh as we travelled into the city by bus, or will I tell the secret of how I slept on a blow up mattress in his room because he couldn’t sleep alone, but couldn’t sleep in the same bed as another body without waking panicked and certain my form wanted only to disprove his manhood. I will not tell them I am most proud I learned the meaning of doing something I did not understand day in and day out for someone I loved before I turned twenty.
They will ask me to tell them about a time I overcame conflict. I will not mention my parent’s significant others. I will not mention the friend I was planning to move in with in New York, the one who now won’t talk to me because I couldn’t justify rushing the process of home-finding, I couldn’t pull the trigger by August 1st. Instead, I will explain that as liberal arts colleges have been encouraged to accept and enroll more international students, there is a higher percentage of students who don’t have the grasp on the English language that they need in order to produce, with speed, papers of five, ten, and twenty pages of length. “As an English Language Learner Tutor, my job was to help get these students to the place to be with their grammar, sentence construction, and general English-speaking that they need to be”.
When asked what it is about children’s literature strikes me most profoundly, I will tell the interviewer that as an English major I had the opportunity to take three children’s literature courses. I was struck by how much children’s literature impacts the world of “adults”. During my first children’s literature course we read “Into The Night Kitchen” alongside a Rita Dove poem based off of that same text; I was struck by the fact that a children’s text had that kind of lasting impact on adults lives and work. I will mean it whole-heartedly. But I will not say that I am struck by the number of hidden queer characters in children’s texts, that I am in awe of the subversion, the sadness, the complicated messages of right and wrong. I will not tell them I have recently begun a project of queering classic children’s books, for fear that the use of the word “queer” will put me at a disadvantage.
The questions will come full-speed, and if I’m doing my job, the questions and answers will migrate into an exchange that feels like a conversation. If I’m doing my job, I will leave the interview feeling like I’m expressed myself as clearly and concisely as I could have. I will leave the interview feeling as though I have been The Most Me I could be, that if I don’t get the job, it isn’t because I somehow failed at representing my true self.
I am entering my sixth week of applying for jobs in the publishing industry, throwing on my nicest suit (heels included) for interviews, writing heart-felt thank you notes, and writing articles with hopes that some online publication will publish them. Despite my best efforts of treating the job application process as a full-time job, my efforts have been fruitless. I have gotten the opportunity to have some truly wonderful conversations during interviews, I have gotten to see the passion of people talking excitedly about the company they work for, and I have had great fun answering tough application questions (my favorite so far: if you were a cactus, what color would you be?).
Tomorrow I will either have an interview that will land me a job, or not. If it doesn’t, I will continue the job application process with passion, self-reflection, and certainty. Of this I am certain: I want to be in the publishing industry because I want to work a career that allows me to communicate creatively. As I work to turn that aspiration into a lived reality, I have been given the gift of time: to reflect with honesty about my strengths, my weaknesses, and my experiences. While I may not be able to reflect on moments of honesty, there is still great value in the way I have come to know myself through the application process.
The train lulls with white-noise around me. As I prepare to shut my laptop, I take a peak out the window for the first time in two hours, to find that we are already bustling through Harlem. There is something about trains that makes the time pass peacefully along; if tomorrow I get the job, I admit, I will miss this commute.