Friday, October 9, 2009

Coming Clean

I’ve applied for a government job. No specifics… for two reasons. First, everyone who knows has tried to talk me out of it. (That’s right -- I’m talking about you, Patricia.) And second, getting excited about something is a sure way to jinx myself. Instead, I’ll be vague and let you imagine me interrogating terrorists.

There were some good reasons to apply for this job, though. It’s something I’m qualified to do, something I think I can do, and something I might actually like. It’s part-time (meaning I can write), pays well, and it isn’t substitute teaching. I’m not saying the students I meet are charmless, just that the experience itself isn’t always charming. Good for now, but not my long term goal, let’s say.

So. My testing date is set for November, a month away. “You’ll need that time to get your materials together,” the woman on the phone tells me. I scoffed inwardly, hearing this. I’m pretty quick, fairly organized – what could possibly take me a month? Well. That was before I opened the “personal history statement” and realized I would have to divulge every job I’ve ever held (two at a time, pretty much, since I was sixteen), the address of ever place I’ve ever lived, and the names of everyone who has ever had the (mis) fortune to live with me. My husband, parents, sisters, colleagues, friends… apparently, I have to list the names, occupations and addresses of anyone who has ever rubbed elbows with me. (If that’s you, and chances are good it is, I’m sorry. But will you please say something nice about me?) Look, I expected the drug screening, the fingerprinting. I wasn’t exactly prepared for the scrutiny of my driving record (39 in a 25, I confess), my sordid medical history, our marriage license, and now a thorough credit check. I have student loans; does this make me susceptible to blackmail?

And then, I had to admit to something that has been a joke amongst my friends and family for the last three years: Yes, I have had a negative employee evaluation. I was written up for not rebuking a student who said “crap” in my creative writing class, with the evaluator sitting in a desk in the corner of the room. Do you see why I didn’t take this seriously? At the time, I responded in typical Paula fashion; I wrote a letter that was attached to the evaluation, which sits now in a dusty file cabinet and may never be seen again by anyone. But still, I hesitated over the question. Lie, and hope that the background check doesn’t really include a close reading of my personnel file? Tell the truth, and be disqualified from the job for something that was, and still is, ridiculous? Eventually I wrote it down, though I have faint hope that the government will see the humor or the humanity of the situation.

The truth is, I’ve lived a stable, uncomplicated and fairly responsible life. And yet, it’s kind of uncomfortable to be under the microscope. The process of self-examination makes me feel guilty where no guilt is due. I even, irrationally, feel guilty that I don’t have more to confess. If only it was a phone interview or an email interview, I might be safe. Put me under the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights, and I’m not quite sure what I’ll say. But I’m ready to come clean.

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