It is dark and gross outside this morning and that suits me just fine. And though I wrote about the eerie parallels between my life at this exact moment last year and this year, I really had no idea how parallel they would be. I was unsure how I would feel about these parallels as I got up this morning, but with more coffee and continued dark skies, I feel better than I thought.
I was told yesterday, via a very late-in-the-day email, that I had not been rehired at the school where I worked this year. To say I was shocked would be an understatement, but also inaccurate in some other ways. I was shocked. But I had a feeling, one I could not readily explain or identify, that something was off as I waited all week for the decision. It was a pretty horrible feeling, and the reality of my intuition being correct was little consolation. Then I thought about last year again. I looked over at Matilda, who seems to know when things are not quite right, and remembered how we, or I, felt last year. It was dark and rainy and hot and gross in Hong Kong. She and I were holed up in the apartment in Pak Kok considering our life without Norman. We were very, very sad. Things were very unsettled. But it was how it was.
Now here we are, it is cool and grey and quiet in the Mission and we are safely ensconced in our apartment and we have gotten used to our life without Norm, so I can only imagine that we will also get used to whatever new situation presents itself to us.
I suppose in light of the current circumstances a post similar to this one would be apt. But I am not really in the mood. I feel more like writing something in the vein of my hero Dr. Thompson.
In 1958, Thompson wrote a letter to the Vancouver Sun. I am not sure if would be accurate to say that he was “seeking” a job, but it would be accurate to say that at the time HST was still a relatively unknown and was living in NYC, deeply in debt and drinking like the best of the disreputes. [In terms of parallels, I am not in NYC, nor am I deeply in debt. I am definitely a relative unknown and considering drinking like the best of the disreputes.] Thompson’s letter appears in the book The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967 (The Fear and Loathing Letters, Vol. 1). [There are three volumes. Somethings are worth hoarding, for real.]
The letter [with my comments] follows. If you want it without my comments get your own copy of the book.
To Jack Scott, Vancouver Sun
October 1, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City
I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services. This rather sums up how I feel about public education. I know it is in a precarious place but I remain both optimistic and committed to being involved with it, and believe that my work there is unfinished.
Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley. By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. I feel lucky to have avoided professional dung holes. I do, however, feel more and more trepidation about stepping into situations where I think I know what the circumstances are, only to find that I not only have no clue, but will likely be kept in the dark indefinitely. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. I, too, let my offer stand to work immeasurably hard in the face of the most dire conditions.
And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you. Now. Here is something I think I should have considered. I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.) Nothing beats having good references. My conscious experience was very different from Thompson’s, but I fear the reality may have been quite similar.
Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers. If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now. I rest confidently on my job performance, coworker relations and service to clientele. And have the references to back this up, ad nauseam.
The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you. In today’s climate, Thompson could easily be discussing public education, and interestingly I find that all sides of the education debate agree on this – that it is an area of infinite potential gone horribly awry. I find that inadvertent agreement fascinating.
Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews. I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations. I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of. I believe this to be, possibly, my greatest flaw.
It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip. If you think you can use me, drop me a line. If not, good luck anyway.
Hunter S. Thompson I would put my name on a letter like this at any opportunity.
I know that there are a bunch of people out there cringing about me posting this (hi mom and Anna) on the day following my non-renewal at a job I really liked, really wanted to keep, and worked really hard at. But sometimes, one has to do what one has to do. I woke up and just had to do something and what that usually is for me is writing. If this is the sort of sentiment that prevents me from finding work, then perhaps, as Hunter said, it is not the place for me to work.
I have been inundated with emails from my students, who I understand have launched some sort of Facebook campaign about this (you have to love the modern version of grass-roots.) I am unclear as to what I am feeling right now, I guess that I am sad, but at the same time I am frightened by the acceptance of the situation that I seem to have cultivated. People keep telling me that they are so sorry things are just not going my way. This always surprises me. I suppose this may seem obtuse, but I am not sure I ever notice that until people point it out.
A year ago I had no idea what would happen to me in the immediate future. And it worked out so well that it was made heads spin. I suppose there is always balance, and while this current predicament is hardly ideal, it is what it is.
I am sitting here with my cat exactly like I was last year on this day… but not. Just like how Hunter and I are alike. But not.
Same same but different.