I found myself sitting in the HR department of one of the most famous companies in America. My ice queen soon to be boss wanted me and I knew it. After all, I had graduated from a pseudo impressive university and I looked really good in my Ann Klein suit. Problem was, I’d never worked a day in Corporate America and I had just turned fifty. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks but the bills were piling up and the only place my freedom loving artistic spirit had gotten me was down and out in New York City.
I was offered the job; mostly because the actress in me conjured up Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl, a dash of Faye Dunaway in Network and I performed a nifty little improve using the shrewd and sassy elegance of Judy Holiday and Melanie Griffith, as rather impressive role models. My stunning performance worked and there I was, embraced by my new corporate family and occasionally loaned back out to the rest of society, my pet Pomeranian and my old disco buddies.
After filling the pages of my gratitude journal for six months, and thanking the universe for this rather prestigious position, the honeymoon wore off and I became increasingly shell shocked. My co-workers were very strange indeed. I didn’t feel that they were family, but that’s what having a job is called on the Planet Corporate: family. Oh, they like putting us in teams, too. Teams connote competition and a great rah, rah spirit. In my old world they called it “opening night.” Here they call it “making goal.” As you can imagine, I was confused.
I had a hard time understanding these people. They talked about nothing that would interest me, they thought they were too sexy for their underwear, and most of them didn't even remember the moon walk! When they weren’t obsessing on how low the sales numbers were, they were holding meetings in which nothing was said. They also spent a lot of time debating whether or not the Bachelor would chose the blonde or the tenacious little redhead. I was beginning to feel quite invisible. I mean, who cares?
The first time I heard I had a direct report I thought I was going to be interviewing the bimbo under thirty year old receptionist who excelled in condescending. The first time I was called a subordinate, I almost wept aloud. Jeez, if I wanted to be subordinate to anyone I would have married my ex.
Then I was told I was getting a performance review. Well, finally something to look forward to. I was happy at last. Surely, my calculated persona as a prisoner in pin stripes was impressive. Why, I learned to click down the hallowed halls of this very famous corporation in three inch heels. I found the perfect skirt length and kept my nails conservatively French tipped. I even talked numbers all day, like they were as important as season tickets to the Round About Theater, and I pretended to be in a constant state of urgency so my boss would think I was absolutely taking years off my life to make my impossible sales goal.
Well, you could have knocked me over in a breath when I discovered that a performance review was actually based on whether or not I was selling anything. Disappointingly, my review was moderate to cold. I felt that I wanted to crawl under a rock and not emerge until I figured out how to increase the money my company made off the ninety percent of my life it was taking.
So be it. I licked my wounds and went on like a good soldier. These people were expanding my sales goal wider than a middle age waist line, but still, I persisted. I plodded along, cursing my fate and trying to figure out if I’d enjoy driving a cab for a living and conversing with people who'd heard of Fellini and didn't think Horn & Hardart was a circus act.
Finally, some good news from the Planet of the Corporate: We were all going on a retreat. I joyously ran out to buy a yoga mat, karma sutra oil to share with colleagues, hot pink sweatpants and new Addidas. I couldn’t want to chant with my corporate family. I was ecstatic.
But then, the bomb fell. I was both surprised and appalled. My corporate family was thrusting me into a hotel room with another adult, asking me to share the spit and spittle of sleep, the intimacy of bodily woes and the loss of privacy on my frequent calls home to the dog walker. That did it. I rebelled. I wore the new Addidas and the hot pink sweats to their all day meetings on how to sell more stuff. I chanted enthusiastically during the power lunch and used some little book on cheese they gave me as a place mat for the very gooey award night dinner.
Wouldn’t you know it, I was written up. At first I thought I’d earned some good review on the little monologue I gave to the company president on corporate greed. Not so, I was put on probation and sent home to watch Oprah, listen to the Secret and meditate on changing my life as I sat by the Hudson with my Pomeranian re-reading What Color Is Your Parachute?
After two weeks, I was back on the planet Corporate wondering how I’d get through it. I couldn’t quit, it was already going to take me two years to get out of the debt I’d accumulated relying on an income doing extra film work and occasional voice overs for pharmaceutical drug companies. I needed the damn job. But something had shifted for me during my little reprisal from the bull pen of consumption. Maybe it was Oprah, maybe the law of attraction really works. I sure was intending to alter my present state. And it happened before I could say "you're really not too sexy for your underwear."
Once I began writing my novel, the words just flowed. I wrote and I wrote till my little fingers twitched. My life was altered forever by that simple action. I now started to wake at five A.M. with a passion I hadn’t felt in years. I threw myself at the keyboard for an hour or more. I filled my weekends weaving a story, creating characters that I couldn’t get enough of. My joy was abundant.
Wouldn’t you know it? The bull pen became tolerable. Even the ice queen melted a bit and the complicated hidden agendas of coworkers became insignificant. My head was filled with plot and character. Who cares who wants my head on a corporate silver platter? What cared I for corporate agendas when my chapters flowed off the page? I thought about nothing else. My sales numbers even increased, as did my tolerance for the ice queens and the age discriminatory wooly bully boys on the Planet Corporate who, tipping way past the age of forty, were not at all too sexy for their underwear. How strange it all was.
So, I stole back my time. I found a place that I wanted to be. You might say I took back my soul to write. I would advise anyone out there who has found themselves on an alien planet, to follow their passion, as well, even if it doesn’t get you back on the planet Earth right away. I can assure you that eventually, it will, one way or the other. You see, your freedom will come out of the creation and your joy is in action, not the inaction of just feeling miserable. Writing is a place no one can enter or soil with demands you may never reach and definitions that limit you. So, find your book and write it. If you don’t, your Corporate family will become the title of your life, and the spirit who longs to fly free will lose touch with the words that might have been, and the key to the door not taken.
Vera Jane Cook
Award Winning Must Read Women's Fiction. Dancing Backward In Paradise was published in November 2006 and received rave reviews from Armchair Interviews and Midwest Book reviews, as well as an Eric Hoffer and Indie Excellence award in the Literary fiction category for notable new fiction in 2007. Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough, Ms. Cook's second novel, was published this year and will be followed by its sequel, At the End of a Whisper, in 2010. To learn more about her books you can visit her web site at www.verajanecook.com
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About Vera Jane
Causes Vera Jane Cook Supports
Al Gore Northshore Animal League, ASPCA AIDS