Applying for jobs has never been an easy or joyful thing to do.
A.J. Liebling, who worked for The New Yorker from 1935 until his death in 1963, began his journalism career trying desperately to get a job working for Pulitzer’s New York World. His efforts all proving vain, he ended up hiring an out-of-work Norwegian seaman to walk outside of the Pulitzer Building for three days, wearing sandwich boards that read: ‘Hire Joe Liebling’. It turned out that the editor always used the back entrance, and never even saw the signs. Liebling got the job anyway, and worked there for four years.
This was, jokingly, my backup plan when I moved to New York City. However, as the weeks and months ticked by, and I continued to write cover letters from the converted factory loft I live in with four other people, it quickly lost it’s humor. As it turns out, battling against rejection only seems adventurous and heroic, and even on occasion funny, when I’m not the one actually doing it.
‘Of course I’ll get rejected today’, I thought as I licked the envelope containing another letter to yet another magazine. ‘Of course they’ll choose someone else’, I mused as I walked away from an interview, kicking a sodden newspaper lying on my path in the sidewalk, my former high regard of media sunk treacherously low. Shell-shocked, I began to assume that I deserved it. Why would I be rejected so often if I didn’t?
It’s a slippery slope from there, my friends. By the time my birthday rolled around, my goal date for having a full-time writing or editing job in journalism, I was suffering a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not from any one event, but just from my life. I shot awake blearily at odd hours of the night, reaching for my computer so I could make a necessary tweak to my resume. I scrolled through Mediabistro looking for jobs like an addict looking for a fix.
As I stepped out the doors of my minimum wage “temporary” job and into the cold dark of an early Tuesday in February, I realized that I had nowhere I actually wanted to be.
Did I want to go back to my apartment, where I would have to interact with my slew of roommates? No, there was no way, I was definitely too pissy.
Did I want to go get a drink with a friend? No, I was too broke and too anxious to actually attempt to have fun.
Did I want to go to a yoga class? Well, no, but that was really the only option I had left. So, I went.
On the way I stopped on every corner, wondering if I should turn around, get right back on the L train, and go home. As I turned onto 19th, I looked down the street, remembering that there was a coffee shop with great baklava. My feet weren’t listening, though, and they took me straight up the stairs and into the studio. Not wanting to talk to anyone, I placed my mat in the back corner and laid down, eyes closed. In yoga, thankfully, grumpiness can be construed as spirituality.
The class began, and I moved sluggishly through the poses. I felt off balance and awkward. As we moved into ardha chandrasana, a pose that I usually feel incredibly grounded in, I arched to put my hands to my heart and toppled over. I gritted my teeth.
We were near the end of class, and I still didn’t feel any better or more centered. My thoughts were out-of-control children, spinning around me in a frenzied maypole dance. I collapsed down in savasana, angry and spiteful and so irritated at no one and everyone at once. Everything in my life felt, well, terribly unfair.
The teacher stood in the back, turned off the lights and music, and began to read a Hafiz poem, quietly, like a benediction:
You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to hold hands with the Beautiful One.
You have waltzed with great style,
My sweet, crushed angel,
To have ever neared God’s heart at all.
I was relaxing, of all things. I resisted. Stress, I firmly believed, was the only thing that would get me ahead. If I relaxed at all, my efforts would collapse. The teacher continued to read, and behind her voice was the muffled cacophony of the city—horns and sirens and the constant thrum of humanity:
Our Partner is notoriously difficult to follow,
And even His best musicians are not always easy
So what if the music has stopped for a while.
If the price of admission to the Divine
Is out of reach tonight.
I thought about everything I had to do. The saved tabs on my computer for jobs I intended to apply for, the hours of work required for my actual, current job. My daily 300 words of fiction that I demand of myself, along with the freelance pieces I wanted to write. I thought about great talents, and hard work, and pursuing dreams.
If you do not have the ante to gamble for Real Love.
The mind and the body are famous
For holding the heart ransom,
But Hafiz knows the Beloved’s eternal habits.
For He will not be able to resist your longing
Then I thought about A.J. Liebling and his sandwich boards. I read once of Liebling that he wrote so much and so quickly that he was often found shirtless and sweating at his typewriter in the New Yorker office, laughing uproariously at whatever he was writing with fevered fingers. He had passion, and because of that he had joy, whereas my passion was rapidly turning into an obsession and a source of suffering. The teacher finished the poem:
You have actually waltzed with tremendous style,
Trying to kiss the Beautiful One.
You have not danced so badly, my dear,
O my sweet,
O my sweet crushed angel.
Then I thought of nothing at all, but I smiled. An ambulance went by, and it wasn’t for me. Not all rejection is bad thing.
Later that week, I had a Facebook message from an old friend who I hadn’t seen in years. She wrote that she had read an essay of mine on struggle, and had found it particularly moving. She felt like she had been meant to read it right then, that she needed it. Seeing the words that I had said so often about the likes of Liebling and Hafiz and so many others, but directed at me, was a dizzying feeling.
Viewing life from the side, instead of from behind my own cruelly self-critical eyes, I saw that what I most value about the writers that I love is their ability to put their pain and joy so honestly on a page. Even my idols had been rejected, and lived to tell the tale. I started to feel compassion, and realized that I hadn’t really thought about anyone but myself in a long time. I was suffering? Sure, hell yeah I was suffering. But so was everyone else.
So I sat down with my special stationary, bought for writing fruitless thank-you notes after job interviews, and put it to good use. I wrote thank you letters to two of my favorite living authors, telling them how much I appreciated what they had given me. I put them in the mailbox. Now, I just have to find a sandwich board.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~ Plato
Hafiz poems and excerpts are from Daniel Ladinsky’s Penguin publications The Gift, Poems by Hafiz © copyright 1999, and I Heard God Laughing, Poems of Hope and Joy © copyright 1996 & 2006. Reprinted by permission of the author.