What the Wrong Job Can Teach You

During the bathrobe-clad days of unemployment, this had been my fantasy—a sense of belonging and purpose. I envisioned sitting at my desk amid the office hum, sipping a cup of coffee, astutely engaged and juggling many tasks. I would be a reliable resource—the person to come to when you need a solution or when you need a laugh—a chick on her toes.

I first heard about this job when Tom, the recruiter, presented me with the senior executive assistant role at Angel Heritage Life Insurance Company in little detail and big pay. He asked if I could interview in an hour. I scrambled to make myself presentable-a quick blow out of my daringly short cut, a fast swipe of liner—lips red, eyes black—and I was off!

Tom and Angel’s elegant human resources manager, Pihu, waited for me in the lobby as I swirled through the revolving glass doors. Tom shook my hand, then disappeared; Pihu met with me briefly, her voice choppy and laced with an Indian accent. She took me to meet my prospective supervisor: a 42-year-old man from Cape Town named Fitz. He was a good-looking guy with a charming British accent. He ranked as a top salesman in the organization, affording him three residences, a flock of high-end sports cars, hand-tailored suits and fancy cologne. Impressed with my credentials, Fitz and I conversed for 20 minutes; then, he had a plane to catch.

Since Fitz traveled 90% of the time, I voiced concern about getting the details right—managing international travel is not a highlight on my resume. I’m a writer. He looked my credentials over and said he had confidence in me. He stood, slipping paperwork into the fold of his briefcase, and asked me when I could start.

A week into the job, free from Chivonn’s steady training (“do you watch Scandal?”), I began pulling 10 1/2-hour days without lunch; I wanted to get acclimated quickly. I reviewed the travel plans for Fitz to make sure all the dots connected—flights in and out of Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai; car service to all points; accommodations at The Four Seasons and The Fairmount; meetings with executives in topsy-turvy time zones.

I was on top of it!

I felt so good I even let a bit of the genuine me shine through as I attempted to develop a rapport with Fitz. “GM” I said when I walked into the office. He had been looking intently into his computer screen, his brain formulating an elaborate pitch. Numbers, figures, big words, big deals. He looked up at me, half perturbed, half surprised that I interrupted him: “GM?” he repeated. “Good morning,” I said. “Morning,” he answered into his screen with his lovely voice.

I was so organized in week two, that when Chivonn whisked by my desk on her way to lunch, giving rise to the corners of my paperwork, she told me, “Chicka, you’re all over this job!”

Even if Fitz didn’t entirely get my sense of humor, I was back in the game, stressed as hell, my brain fully engaged, and there was money coming in! It was well worth the tradeoff of forgoing lunchtime hikes with my dog Sabrina, working on my memoir manuscript, hitting the gym at 5:00 and spending quiet evenings with my man—wasn’t it?

At the end of the third week on the job, I was home with a cold, dripping mucous all over the company’s laptop organizing a call in Jakarta when I got a bad feeling. A cloak of doom infiltrated my being. Then an email came in from Tom: “Call me at your nearest convenience.”

Before calling him I ducked into Fitz’s email Sent folder where I found two notes to Pihu entitled “reservation catastrophe!”

Before coming home with my cough drops and tissues, Fitz had asked me to change a reliable car service for a complimentary one. I canceled the existing reservation with its confirmation number, for the free car service that seemed vague in my opinion. “We guarantee it,” the agent told me when I asked for concrete evidence.

No driver held up a white sign marked “Fitz P” in black sharpie at the Shanghai Airport. But, the Gods interceded to save the day. Dongmei, a representative for Shanghai U for which Fitz was slated to speak, unbeknownst to either of us, arrived with a driver and a translator. Being a gracious host Dongmei transported him wherever he needed to go. Despite the fact that all his needs were actually met, Fitz sent Pihu the two emails, the first entailing the botched car service, and the second, explaining how he wasn’t expecting Dongmei and his supervening “discomfiture.”

Who uses the word “discomfiture?”

I connected with Tom and of course, I’d been canned. My heart sank and I felt the shame creeping in, the income trickling away, but then my heart rejoiced as I saw myself back at work on my manuscript and everything else that being home provided. Hell, we’d just have to hope for a Best Seller.

I texted Chivonn to tell her that I was coming in to drop off the laptop. An hour later, I got out of the car carrying bags of obvious office stuff—a picture of Sabrina, a five-pound container of whey protein, an extra pair of black heels, an African violet— and collided with my upstairs neighbor. She couldn’t have summed up the predicament more perfectly.

“Congratulations,” she said.

The day before, Chivonn had spoken into our common cube wall asking me how to spell “warp.”

“You mean like bent or distorted?” I asked. She didn’t answer. “W-a-r-p,” I said, “as in warp speed, Mr. Sulu.”

My voice carried throughout the busy sales department, over the cubicles, infiltrating the honchos in the offices with the cool frosted glass and sliding doors. The tapping on my colleague’s keyboards ceased, voices paused, just for a moment. I smiled to myself.

Did the new girl just say warp speed, Mr. Sulu?

Typing and sales pitch resumed. I wondered if anyone got me? Did anyone ever let their real self pop through—crack a joke, say anything other than oh fine, thanks? Where is the office where I can unbutton a little, or laugh or even make a mistake—and be allowed the space for connection, redemption? Next time I will find this place and it will be in a position that uses my writing skill. Now I’m on the lookout.

I worked for Angel Heritage for a total of three weeks. The job would have taken over my life, with its long hours and standby on weekends. In my short tenure, while I was counting every dollar coming in, paying gobs to doggie daycare, I was wearing down. The martinis began making a comeback, the olives bruised and moldy from June when I had stopped drinking and started exercising.

So here I am where I started, but richer in knowledge. I instinctively knew going into a job with my confidence teetering predestined a crash and burn outcome. I didn’t listen to that little voice, to my intuition. I wanted to fit in, I wanted to find the validation that comes from doing my job well and being in an environment that appreciates what I can offer. This wasn’t Angel; I knew it from the beginning—but those dollar signs and the echo of my own heels clicking on the tile floors seduced me.

The takeaways?

I am a skilled individual with good experience, but I have my own set of requisites too. Next time I will pay attention to those instincts and remember that finding a good fit takes more than simply thinking about what Fitz needs. I also have to ask myself what I need. It’s as important as anything on the job description. I know I need to have a bit of fun, develop and nurture camaraderie with my boss who can display on occasion, humility. I need to collaborate with colleagues and not feel tethered to a 4-foot area like a sheep grazing on a picket line. I want to do my job well and I want to be my authentic self—something I am particularly good at!

The day after the ax came down, I emailed Pihu giving her a broader perspective on the “reservation catastrophes.” Out of fairness to me, with Fitz’s request to switch to a free car service and the language barrier experienced with Dongmei, it’s no surprise that things got botched.

“But what’s really disappointing in these two scenarios” I wrote, “is the blame resides wholly with me. I understand Fitz’s VIP status, really I do, but when it comes down to it, we’re both human beings, aren’t we.” Period versus question mark.

Pihu emailed me back, quite graciously, calling him a “tough customer.” I read the rest of her words aloud, imitating her lilting Indian accent. “I’m sure you will excel in your next role.”

I’m going to bet on that Pihu.

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Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

What Happened When I Did Reiki on My Conservative Mom

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ~ Rumi

My mother and I are in her bedroom. I have the rare opportunity to administer healing energy to her, an act that will draw us together—physically, emotionally, spiritually. We are awkward about touching one another; emotionally, we don’t discuss matters close to the heart. The idea of God and a Higher Presence is strictly private.

This is the nature of our relationship, dictated by her upbringing.

Overwhelmed at the prospect of laying hands on her, I ask her to lie down on the bed. I recall when I needed her support and love—when I first got my period, the aftermath of boyfriend breakups, amid broken bones and excruciating pain—and she conveyed little.

Her convictions, tainted by my bouts of rebellion, are as big as a mountain.

I enrolled in learning Reiki with infamous Libby Barnett when writer’s block saturated every molecule of my body. Explaining the premise of the healing art to my conventionally-minded parents was like conveying Einstein’s theory of relativity in Swahili.

I read their expressions like an open book.

They figured, like my memoir writing, practicing Reiki was an escape from reality—another endeavor to keep me from returning to the workforce. But to counter their belief, I didn’t offer to demonstrate the various Reiki positions on them—I felt defenseless against their skepticism; this most recent act to sabotage their “please-just-do-the-right-thing” campaign.

On top of it, my dad mispronounced Reiki. No pun intended, he called it “wreck-ee.”

The whole notion of “healing energy,” however, must have taken up residence in my mother’s mind. For a week later, as we were getting out of the car, she asked me to do Reiki on her.

I panicked. Slithered down the driver’s seat like Bugs Bunny doomed in fighter aircraft; blurted some excuses. “I can’t do Reiki on you, Mom. I don’t have my massage table.”

“That’s okay, I’ll lay on my bed.”

“But I don’t have my Reiki playlist.”

“We’ll do it without it.”

“But, I don’t have my sage candle.”

“I don’t need a sage candle.”

“But, Mom, I don’t—”

“Let’s try it anyway.”

Continue reading

5 Tips to Finding a Writing Coach Who’s Right for You

Do what you love may be the most overused advice in the career-improvement world.  A blogpost on the complexity of this directive went viral on Jacobin a year or so back, it was shared 57 thousand times on Facebook and riffed about in the New York Times Opinionator by Gordon Marino.

I know all this first hand. Once upon a time I turned my back on a half-finished MBA and a corporate job with its maddening pace and rigid hierarchy. The fact that my boss gave my job to her newly unemployed husband didn’t help. I escaped to do what I loved. In my case the passion was writing.

The act of quitting made me subversive. And that alone fueled creative expression. I mapped out chapters, the content. Figured I’d have the manuscript written in six months, employ an editor, find an agent, become a best seller, Oprah would call, the whole bit.

Four years later, I found myself gazing into my monitor not knowing whether to put a period at the end of the sentence or keep going with a comma. I’d lost my home in foreclosure, gone bankrupt, written 300,000 words, revised the body of work four times. And while I was slurping away at my second or maybe 87th Cosmo, I understood what I was really missing, a mentor. A guide. A coach. Someone who’d gone before, knew how to shape art into something saleable and would come along with a tribe of like-minded people with whom I could collaborate. I didn’t want to go back to school. What I was looking for was beyond the confines of academia. I needed someone to touch what the poet Mary Oliver called the “wild silky” part of myself and, finally, make it palatable to the world.

Mentors are necessary. Hemingway had Stein, Beethoven had Neefe. The true challenge once you know the secret lies in finding a mentor is how to find that coach who can make your passion work in the world. This is like how to find a raindrop in a rainstorm. There are thousands of coaches out there. They’re like doctors and lawyers. But here’s what I learned (the hard way): some coaches are competent, some are lousy, even soul crushers. I dropped coins in wishing well after wishing well. One wore a floral patterned dress that matched her bonnet and tried to make me into a mystery writer; another one was always throwing theories at me I couldn’t apply; one promised me the stars, took my money and then never contacted me again.

Suzanne, my mentor and writing coach.

How do you find your coach?

Here are five helpful hints for the girl or gal who wants to (or maybe has) dropped everything to do what she loves:

  1. Go with the gut. Have a bad feeling even though her website’s copy seems like a projection of everything lying dormant in your heart? That’s your intuit talking. Run. There are too many fantastic coaches out there who have integrity and know how to move you forward.
  2. She’s part of your tribe: if you see her write a post in a publication you love or show up in a group on social media with whom you share a vibe, chances are you have similar taste, so you might want to take a shot at it. I found my coach through my Reiki teacher. My coach had helped a fellow Reiki student get an agent and a book deal. She’s now distributed with Random House, has been on NPR, has speaking engagements, the whole nine yards.
  3. She has street cred and success: When I went on my coach’s website, she had testimonial after testimonial from people who had published books, made a career out of writing, had gotten bylines with top media outlets and had life changing experiences after being with her. She was also successful in her own right. An internationally-acclaimed author with lots of kudos to her name, she’s made her living writing, which is what I wanted to do and so I knew she could trail blaze a path.
  4. She gets you, every single part of you. The secret to my coach’s success is that she works in the Gateless writing method, a very specific method based on brain science, craft tools and community that moves creatives to places they’d only imagined. Through this method, she helps all of you rather than just the part of you working on your craft. That divorce you haven’t quite gotten over? Could be a barrier to next step on your career path. The trauma you suffered as a child might be the thing that needs to be coddled before you begin to really allow yourself to go big. Make sure your coach isn’t just about deliverables, numbers, list building, ideal clients and great gallery gigs.
  5. It doesn’t happen overnight: I know, this one sort of sucks. But anyone who promises you the world in thirty days or even six weeks isn’t really helping you make lasting change. It took most of us years to get here and the true unraveling and resetting can take a while to grab hold. Something magical did happen with my coach, everything my shaman has been teaching me about the process absolutely broke through, and while it felt like it happened overnight, it’s too deep and long lasting for that. Now I feel seasoned at this writing thing. But first I had to undo a lot of the conditioning I’d learned in my corporate gig.

Since working with my coach I’ve been shortlisted for prizes, published in the top online media outlets and have been picked up by prestigious lit journals, but more than that? I understand that often those who fail at doing what they loved just didn’t have the guidance they needed to learn how to soar.

What will you do today to obtain the guidance you need to succeed?

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Lisa holds a Master Certificate in Reiki. She has been publishing essays for five years on reiki, the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

How My Writing Was Rejected with Sarcasm Then Got Picked Up Elsewhere

How many times have you heard an editor’s rejection of your work is subjective? Especially from prominent, published writers? You know, the really really big ones?

Receiving rejection, especially over a piece we hold near and dear, is most difficult. Some editor’s feedback is simply cruel and it’s difficult to push through it, their words forming a dark cloud in the writer’s already self-deprecating mind.

There is truly only one super-negative rejection I have received and whenever submitting that piece thereafter (yes, the one near and dear to my heart) I hear that particular editor’s indelibly negative words as I hit the send button, dooming any future hope of publication.

Employ Constructive Feedback

I am here to tell you writers to hold fast – an editor in receipt of that 100-times-rejected piece may someday take the time to shed some constructive feedback that doesn’t shoot a hole in your heart. And Kendra, the editor of The Fiddlehead, did that for me concerning my essay Saboteur. Her feedback triumphed over the not-so-great feedback I had previously received from the editor at The Tishman Review, which read:

Hi Lisa-

We publish prose at The Tishman Review that we feel speaks with emotional depth and substance and that sheds light on the human condition. When I saw your email, to be quite honest, I could not even remember your essay and had to glance over it to remind myself of it.

There is no sense of conflict or tension that has a true stake for the narrator. I could not find a hook to draw me in. The essay is primarily about lusting after someone, and it is a play by play of how this works out. The hotel scene in particular is not very engaging.

For the reader, the friend’s behavior did not seem a betrayal but predictable. Maybe something is missing from the essay to show the friend felt the same way about the essayist or maybe I did not understand this from what is present in the essay.

However, the writing at the sentence-level is strong.

This essay is just did not a good fit for TTR but may well be somewhere else.

Stephen King was told, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Best, Jennifer

Now, Kendra’s feedback which renewed my hope:

Dear Lisa,

Thank you kindly for offering “Saboteur” to us here at The Fiddlehead. I found your handle on word choice made the piece (while already intriguing at its plot) extremely gripping and rich in description. I’m afraid, however, we’re not able to accept it for publication, mostly due to the overwhelming amount of submissions we receive regularly. With that said, I think it has really strong features: the characterization of Lexi, the chemistry she and the narrator have seemingly immediately, the interwoven themes of statistics and its practice. As well, its narrative is very vivid, has great word choice, and is fluid in its movement from one space and time to another. My only suggestion would be to pare back on descriptions of space, namely near the middle to end of the piece (around pages 11-12 particularly) to keep the momentum the piece gains in the first few pages. You’ve got a very strong handle on your craft, so I wish you the very best in finding this and other pieces of your work a good home.

Sincerely,
Kendra Guidolin

Don’t Give Up on Submitting Your Work

Writers, I beg you, keep the faith. Push through the criticism; incorporate meaningful feedback into your work. And don’t kill your darlings! Just rework them!

BTW, Saboteur, has recently been picked up by a new literary journal. The editor advised cutting the last paragraph and I agreed, it read much better!

And take a glimpse at “JK Rowling Posts Letter of Rejection on Twitter to Help Budding Authors” here.

Lisa holds a Master Certificate in Reiki. She has been publishing essays for five years on reiki, the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on two sequels. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

Why My Mother’s Dreams for Me Are Not My Own

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The room began to close in. The air got thick… dense. Tension seeped into my pores. I grew smaller in stature—shrunk right there in my chair before her, as if I was Alice and had just choked down a little red pill.

The topic is forthcoming, typical of family gatherings, a line of discussion of an inquisitive nature. It is terribly humiliating this line, disintegrating the little validation I feel about myself, and certainly paving the way to pulverizing any validation I someday hope to feel.

She is triumphantly sitting across from me in my brother’s parlor, her hands folded over her swollen belly on this Christmas Day.

My hands are not folded over my own swollen belly, but my ever-shrinking Alice fingers are fumbling about, trying to maintain a grip on my ever-growing glass of sherry. I wallow in thought.

It’s a terrible thing to be shrinking, I muse.

I try to convey to her, with an expression of pity, that I’d like her to cut this sort of thing out: Hand me the blue pill! Return my body back to its normal inadequacy!

She picks up on my expression, but it doesn’t stop her. Her eyes, piercingly blue, bore into my forehead, mining my mind for the reasoning that prolongs the ongoing predicament. It is the matter that seemingly sears her brain daily, upon waking.

Words penetrate the thickness.

They loom before me, big and fat and dripping with turkey gravy. She says, “Are you ready to get back into the circle of life yet?”

Here we go.

I resist rolling my eyes, suck in my breath, and feel the pressure against my insides. Time slows to a crawl.

My lungs deflate, a slow leak like a bum tire. I maintain my front, an uneasy smile, thinking I have never departed from the circle of life!

Alice and I sometimes share shrunken commonalityI am here, albeit dwindling to mere molecules in my chair—she, mother; me, daughter—amid a festive family holiday. In my book, that constitutes part of the arc in said circle.

A voice in my mind, sounding as if it’s just taken a hit from a helium-filled balloon, squeals at me: That’s not what she means.

I laugh to myself, entertained: “Girl interrupted.” Say something else…

She’s not referring to procreating or dying or even “eat or be eaten.” She means circulation as in, “Are you ready to get back into circulation yet?”

Oh yeah. “Girl reactivated.”

The topic is the one that translates to me getting a paying job, rather than continuing to “run away from reality,” with my so-called “writing interests.”

I suppose, from her perspective, four years is a long time for her daughter “to run away from reality.” It is a novel pursuit, which thus far has yielded fruit the size of a water meal. However, in these four years she has failed to realize that I’ve poured my heart, soul and angst into this self-proposed commitment. Accordingly, I’ve also sought out Reiki to induce some self-love, since I am—especially when engaged in writing—constantly and colorfully harassed and torn to shreds by my inner critic.

Needless to say, my mother is my outer critic.

In the peace of the lovely colonial room, Dennis sits in a chair to my left, and my father sits beside my mother. My brother is off in the kitchen, cutting cheese.

The question, relating to the humiliating, fruitless topic that my mother could not resist in asking one moment longer, (particularly in light of the New Year—making resolutions, picking up the pieces and starting anew, and so forth) remains there, unaddressed. It lingers, splattering the coffee table with fowl juice, tainting the sherry and the nibbles, while extinguishing the flickering light of the assorted votive candles. This “circle of life” subject deflates the holiday mood; all falls flat.

I gaze back at her, with a hint of incredulousness in my expression saying: Why can’t you support my endeavor? Why can’t you just be a nice mother?

She, of course, does not pick up on this. She has never picked up on it, despite the countless amounts of times I’ve attempted to impress my feelings upon her.

Why should I expect anything different this Christmas Day?

Although he’s sitting beside me, I don’t defer to Dennis for his unwavering sympathy, support or opinion. I keep this subject between my mother and I, leaving open the possibility and space for us to “hash it out,” so-to-speak.

The “hashing it out” (a confrontation of sorts) does not happen. As usual, any real invitation to speak candidly, openly… ends up shunned upon.

There’s no avoiding her intention. She moves the subject right along and puts the question in a more specific form, saying: “What kind of job will you look for?”

My expression sours.

The refrain in which Elton John sings “in the cir-cle, the cir-cle of life” begins to repeat in my head.

The core of me within begs to rise up and show itself—my insides, out. The scorched and glistening spongy tissue springs from my throat and slops to the floor next to the coffee table. I stare at the battered evidence, my guts, and choose to defend myself (something I haven’t dared to do since I was a teenager).

My face is deadpan, void of the four-year compounded emotion relating to my writing efforts (best described as trying to squeeze blood from a stone intermittently). I assert into the space, some distance over my scorched and glistening core—my guts—and say, “I’d like to become a successful writer.”

My mother’s expression remains unmoved, quite serious and probing.

I refrain from glancing at Dennis and keep the perimeter open and clear for fire. I hope for confrontation—for a once-in-a-lifetime candid discussion.

Dad shakes himself out of dozing at the subject matter and pushes his glasses further up on his nose. He interjects, “There are lots of teaching jobs out there. You could be a teacher. All my retired engineer friends teach—you could teach middle school or high school.”

But Dad, I don’t want to be a teacher.

Not quite to my advantage, my mother’s ears fall deaf on the suggestion, and the conversation flatlines.

I focus on the flame of a burning candle, situated in the middle of a marble-topped mahogany end table, between my father and mother. I cross my eyes silly—my forehead cramps. The funky play of light brings me into a world of my own, prompting ironic clarity.

The helium inner voice comes on the wind again—she is from a different time and a different playing field. She knows not what it means, what drives and feeds one’s magnetism for risk, leaving the known for the unknown…

The voice becomes stronger, and sloughs off the high pitch. She is the catalyst to our creative expression, you see, the thing that sates us—our subversive writing.

Anew: I am rebel with a cause, confident, triumphant even, in my own right.

My scorched and glistening guts slither up the couch and climb back down my throat to their rightful place. In a trance-like state I say, “Wait till my manuscript hits the big screen.”

My parents are stunned and wide-eyed. I can just make out their expressions in my periphery.

Nothing more is said on the matter.

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This essay was published in Elephant Journal with the title She, Mother. Me, Daughter, January 17, 2015.

Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on the sequel. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.