I never knew humiliation could be so quiet.
The apartment building is noisy around seven thirty when everyone who has a job goes to it. I stay comfortable in pajamas with coffee, my books, my couch, and sun slanting through the windows. During the last two years of an exhausting graduate program this would have been a slice of heaven: the quiet stillness of an empty to-do list. So, too, my inbox. A mere three emails nestle there, patient.
Now the apartment is still, the hum of traffic muted. I fill the silence with keyboard tapping, clicking on links that ask me to write a new cover letter, tweak my resume, and fill in my name, my education, my credentials and references which will die quietly in the black hole that is online applications.
I would make a terrible administrative assistant probably. My cover letter doesn’t lie when I boast I’m organized and efficient, fantastic at both written and oral communication. I am proficient at Microsoft Excel. But that’s not really the point, is it? The administrative assistants I’ve interacted with during my fruitless search are helpful without giving any actual answers.
They’re quiet, too. With polite voices and pretty smiles. Older than I am, most secretaries I meet exude the stability my life lacks. Settled, just like this matter. You should check the website; you’ll find updates there if there are any. Wait. At least six weeks or ten. We’ll call you. Three months pass.
The pneumatic door sighs softly when I show myself out. What fuss am I supposed to make? It is full of sound and fury, of course, signifying my utter impotence. A tale told by someone completely lacking the ability to convince anyone that I wouldn’t burn down their building or company if they hired me. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow I will fill out another application and wait.
Is it pride to believe I deserve a job? Is it entitlement? You can’t be humiliated, even by constant rejection or apathy, if you don’t expect something. If I hadn’t the notion that I’m worth more, this process would only be disheartening.
Back at the apartment, I try to make some noise. I email people I know, ask about connections and sift through their silent nos, brainstorming. I stay busy, working through revisions on a journal article, creating content for the Darfur Women Network. I organize things, books and papers, the spices in my pantry.
At four-thirty or five, the apartment will begin to buzz to life again the way the library does at ten in the morning. Ten seems like a late time for a library to start, and many of the city’s homeless seem to agree with me: we line up together at 9:55 on the front steps. They caught a sex offender there a couple days ago. I wasn’t there, but I can imagine how brief the disturbance was. Most of the people in the library might have missed it. Working on a different floor or tucked away in one of the reading rooms, they were too caught up in productivity to notice the man’s humiliation.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).