Ritual Confessions

February 19, 2008

Thanks, Dad

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 8:03 am

Last month, I posted about applying for a writing job with an agency in Portland. I thought the interview went well, and I was very gratified when the director e-mailed the next day to say she had a freelance job in mind for me.

Though I’d interviewed for an in-house, salaried position, there’s no question that a freelance job was an even better prospect. To be sure of getting to a Portland office by 9:00 a.m., I’d need to drop Charlotte off at Montessori by 7:45 at the latest. And judging by my husband’s evening commute home, if I left work at around 5:00, I probably wouldn’t be able to pick her up before 6:00. I would truly hate to have her in day care for more than ten hours a day. I would hate to feel that I’d be letting my employers down if I were to become pregnant again sometime soon. Freelancing would allow me to set my own schedule and work from home, and I’d probably end up making comparable money while working fewer hours. For all these reasons, I was thrilled by her offer and we immediately agreed upon an hourly rate. She told me she would update me about the assignment later that afternoon.

Three days later, I called her to check in.

“Oh, that,” she said. “That was a job we were sure the client was going to sign off on, but they didn’t. Which happens a lot around here. We’ll call if it ever comes through.”

Weeks went by. In the meantime, I applied for many other copywriting jobs, but every employer wanted the same thing: a resume, a cover letter, and three clips. I have no clips. I haven’t done copywriting before. I’ve heard back from no one.

So I was filled with gratitude and relief when the original agency finally contacted me today with an assignment. I jumped on it even though it’s due on Monday and my mother is visiting from Wisconsin this weekend. They want me to write a feature article for the newsletter of a Fortune 50 company, a how-to piece. “Stay away from the basic information that anyone could get by surfing the web,” she advised me. “We want a certain level of sophistication.” Meanwhile, in the subsequent guidelines she sent by e-mail, she made it clear that I’d be addressing absolute beginners. She also suggested that I provide tips on how to choose the right piece of equipment for the specified activity. I’m not, however, supposed to mention equipment made by anyone besides this corporation. Which isn’t known for this particular kind of equipment at all. This is roughly analogous to asking me to present guidelines about choosing a good MP3 player without acknowledging Ipods. Or to advise about selecting a copy machine while pretending not to have heard of Xerox.

But that’s okay. Because right now a maddening refrain of my father’s, pronounced with unrelenting sanctimony throughout my childhood and adolesence, is steadying and sustaining me. Whenever I told him I couldn’t do something — for instance, “I really feel sick; I can’t go to Sunday school” — I’d hear the same level declaration in response. “Not only can you do it,” he’d say, with a flat and satisfied finality, “but you will do it.”

He was right then, and he’d be right now. Not only can I do it, but by God! I will do it.



  1. 1) I’m so glad they contacted you! Having this piece under your belt could be the launching pad for much more to come … what a great opportunity. And despite its being kind of bad timing, it was probably also nice for you to have your mother there to help keep Charlotte occupied while you were working.

    2) Your father’s mantra made me chuckle to myself a bit, as the combination of words least likely to ever motivate me personally to do anything other than exactly the opposite of whatever might be expected. 🙂

    Comment by davidrochester — February 19, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

  2. My mother use to say the exact same thing. My reaction was like David’s.

    Comment by Shawn W — February 20, 2008 @ 5:25 am

  3. 1. Gosh! Your dad was nice. My dad would say do it while holding the whip in his hand, poised to strike. We never argued with him.

    2. Hey! Maybe you have the perfect side job for David! He can go stay with Charlotte. They get along well and he’s not a stranger. 😉

    3. David’s right. This will be the first step. You can file your article away and pull it out when you need to show a sample.


    Comment by Corina — February 20, 2008 @ 10:31 am

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