Self Portrait as a Cover Letter
I can’t stop asking dates “what is your dream job?” and when I do, I always think of this meme that says, “Him: What is your dream job? Me: I don’t dream of labor.”
The word labor always conjures my father. He works in a factory. They used to have a family day. We stood outside the beige buildings and ate plates of catering cookies. He started in the smelter. Men missing fingers. Men missing teeth. He would get his blood tested every week for lead. He transferred. Now he clips wires on batteries for twelve hours a day. I wonder what he does to occupy his mind during that monotony. Does he think of us? Of me? In our house the factory is a threat. “If you don’t do better in school—If you don’t stay in college—you will end up working in the factory too,” he will say.
My first job was at the farmer’s market apple stand. I was fourteen. I worked for a bulldog-looking guy named Gale. Sometimes he brought a guy or two along. Gale had a confederate flag tattoo on each forearm. I kneeled and lifted wooden boxes of apples with him. He showed me how to stack apples nice in their baskets to show off to customers. I counted bills and coins. I made change. Twice, Gale pinched my butt and told me, “Now don’t tell anyone.” Then he laughed. We were allowed to eat as many apples as we wanted. Somedays I’d eat three or four apples: Winesap and Gala and Mutzu and Honeycrisp. Nothing but apples. My stomach churned with their skins. They paid in cash. Crumpled and torn bills. I stuffed them in my back pocket and walked home down the tall cornfield flanked hill towards my parents’ house. I have no idea what I spent that money on but it was probably mostly snack food and the occasional bracelet or earrings. I wish I’d saved some.
Despite seeing the dirt up close, I romanticize being a farmer. Owning my own private orchard where apples swell easily and are never eaten by blight or bug mouths. They grow year-round. It never snows.
I’m still asking myself, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I hate people who answer “happy” as if it were something that could be harvested or earned.
Sometimes my mom will say the word “career” like an abandoned possibility. We drove to the grocery store and sat in the parking lot. She writes for a small-town newspaper that gets smaller and smaller each year. It’s gone bankrupt twice. She said, “I could have followed bigger stories. I could have landed myself somewhere. I could have had a career.” She talks to farmers about an illness killing pigs and the texture of goat milk. In the parking lot, a teenager pushes a parade of shopping carts in his yellow reflective vest.
I don’t know if I want a career.
When I was in fifth grade, I used to want to be a veterinarian. I wrote a letter to my future self. In the letter I had a boyfriend and I cared for horses in Ireland. I don’t know where I made this myth. I still Google pictures of animal bones. I steal the words for poems: jaw, clavicle, rib, vertebrae.
Anything can be a diagram.
Whenever I write a cover letter I Google “How to Write a Cover Letter” to get the anatomy. Paragraph one: introduction. Paragraph two: hire me. Paragraph three: why you already want to hire me. Paragraph four: strategic pleading.
In middle school I was chubby and had tangly brown hair. I wish I could remember if there was a moment when I stopped staying “I want to be a veterinarian” and started saying “I want to be a movie director.” I barely knew what directing movies entailed but the idea of crafting all the parts of a story appealed to me. Mom bought me a video camera and I filmed movies with some neighbor kids. In my head they were vivid and clear. Suspense music played in the background. In practice they were jittery and lived only on little tapes. I could only play scenes back on the camera’s tiny viewer screen. My own private cinemas. The only thing worse than the visuals were the plots. Ghosts and betrayals and paper plate dinner parties. I treasured my short sloppy creations but lamented their entrapment inside the video camera.
I wrote a seventh-grade report on becoming a director where I laid out my plans for the next four years of high school. I wrote the sentence, “Visual arts classes are key.” I wasn’t sure even what that meant. I felt sure of my future. We had to do research. In one interview I read with a movie director the man said, “It’s hard to break through.” I didn’t know what he meant but I wrote it down. My camera died that summer. I still have the tapes somewhere.
I have twenty or so years of experience with nostalgia. I’m great at looking backwards. Reader, tell me your childhood poems and I’ll look back on those too.
My friends all have folders of resumes. My friends all gave up networking.
Someone connects with me on LinkedIn and I decline it.
When I was little, I would tell friends, “My uncle is a painter.” He lives in the other half of our house. I’ve only seen him finish two paintings. One of a dead man and one of a saint. Mostly, he drinks whiskey and plays video games in the dark. His stomach is void of references. He used to design stained glass windows but stopped. He works in the factory too. I used to beg him to paint me a dragon. He went to art school. He had one ear pierced but he let it close. I used to want to be just like him. One Saturday he taught me how to draw a tree. I had been drawing lollipops. He taught me un-evenness. He taught me the patchiness of leaves. Bought me a posable wooden model and pencils and watercolors. Dear Reader, I am watching him fade. He works second shift. Wakes up and leaves for work. Comes home when the house is already asleep. Where do his paintings live?
Throughout school I think they made us write about five “what I want to be” reports. I never said “writer” even though that’s always been what I really wanted. As a senior, I settled on “psychologist” because I was insane and the job seemed possible. Afterall, wasn’t everyone else crazy too?
My boyfriend didn’t know what he wanted. He wanted to be a carpenter. He wanted to study the environment. He wanted to marry me and kiss me to death. He was three years older and one year younger. She was an ex-Mormon. He was only one date and a gas station attendant. “What do you do?”
I’ve had four therapists and each has been my mom. My youngest brother has a therapist too. He said yesterday, “How do I know they care about me if they’re just paid to be there?” It’s all I can think about. Not just about therapists but about everything. Everyone being paid to be places.
Sometimes I sell nudes online for five dollars. My videos sell best half-off for 3.99 but honestly I was going to be nude anyway I might as well get some use out of it.
I’m always brainstorming ways to make my hobbies into money.
I cut my neighbor’s hair and he gave me a twenty. I still find his thin follicles in the floor boards when I sweep.
You’ll find I’m versatile which is a nice way of saying I just want to live comfortably.
I know it’s bad but I watch videos of millionaires online and then retweet a quote from Bernie Sanders about needing to abolish billionaires.
Does Jeff Bezos laugh? What makes someone like him laugh?
One summer in college I worked from nine to six at a daycare they were trying to pass off as a Montessori school. I made nine dollars an hour. There are ratios of how many adults there need to be to a certain amount of children. One adult to three babies. I was nineteen. I was the adult. The babies cried and I told them stories. I told them to not get older—to shrink to the size of beans.
Last week I heard my uncle argue against the fifteen dollars an hour minimum wage because he only makes three dollars more an hour.
Once my dad didn’t tip a waitress because our food “took too long.” I felt guilty all night.
Work is a practice in punishments. Who will be the earner and who will not make quite enough.
Even though I apply to jobs at least every other day I still build a fantasy around each and every one. I start to imagine my life at this job. I am fantasizing about co-workers and the commute. I want nothing more than to use my body to facilitate stability. Some people decorate their homes. Some people order family photos. Some people have curtains and special cabinets for shoes.
A list of things I love in my apartment: three Christmas cards I can’t throw out, a sketch I drew of a boy I thought I loved, and a painting of my dog I did myself.
I want to wrench “meaning” out of “meaning.”
There are innumerable programs for clocking in these days but I think I’d really love a physical punch card.
Don’t talk to that reference. I worked as a barista there when I first met my ex. She worked there too. Sometimes we’d kiss between shifts in the parking lot. I was late often. I quit with a day’s notice.
If you’re looking for someone who can lift heavy things I can. I’ll carry you all the way to the moon.
When I grow up, I want to look for futures elsewhere. I want to apply to be a tree or a lamp post. I want to have no resume or introductions.
Dear Reader, what did you want to be when you were small and curious? Dear Reader, how long would you sleep if time became a vessel? Dear Reader, I am ready to start yesterday and the day before. I am ready. I can make up for lost time. Dear Reader, if you wish to contact me just stand at the end of your driveway and shout as loud as you can. Watch the birds scatter. Sleep until we’re both stone.