Interview with Tawanda A., 7/4/2010
This interview was conducted in Tawanda’s home in Portland, Oregon this May, 2010. We sat in her kitchen’s breakfast nook and enjoyed evening drinks after TA’s workday was over. Please enjoy. –JMM
What’s your job description?
TA: One of my jobs is I work as a career counselor and that is for a non-profit. I work with women.
I have that title “Career Counselor” so my job is to talk to people interested in new careers. They come in and I’m meant to sit down with them and get them to come into our training class and then we take them on field trips, so I’m meant to help organize field trips and I go on the field trips too, and to talk to employers and tell them why they should hire our people. When people finish our class, I’m meant to meet with them to talk about what they want to be and help them become that. I’m supposed to also combine a social justice component where I talk about the impacts of racial, gender and economic justice on women in the workplace. And I also do some community organizing work with some other non-profits and policy groups that are trying to create more equitable work environments, more job opportunities. So that’s basically what I do there.
So that’s job number one.
TA: Job number one, yeah.
I also, for job number one, do some work with a group that pushes for equitable hiring in regards to transportation spending. That’s more policy related. I try to bring that into what my workplace does as well. So that’s what I do in that regard.
And then I teach one class at the university, a sophomore level class. It’s sort of an intro to social work class that I teach from my background in peace and conflict studies. I teach it with a youth violence prevention / intervention perspective. I really think about it from a family safety perspective. And I really enjoy it because people get the opportunity to think about their families and think about some of the things that have happened in their family systems and maybe ways they can do things differently, or ways they can have a little more compassion for what happened. Because, when you actually study what happens with families, we actually think of ourselves as individual and unique and sometimes that can be very damning. It’s happened to me. We forget, unfortunately, this is our luck of the draw and, you know, there are many things within our society that are ill and we do experience those within our families.
Do you think we live in a violent world?
TA: Mm-hmm, very.
Do you see that within the class?
TA: Yes. I mean, in my class I always do a section on domestic violence and sexual assault and I always have a number of students who come forward after class to talk about their experiences with domestic violence or sexual assault.
One of my students was assaulted in her home by some random perpetrator. She stopped coming to class because she was so traumatized. Another student was talking to me recently about how her niece and nephew were taken from the family through the foster care system and how they were trying to get the children back and how there was a question about sexual abuse and how painful this is for the family. She talked of how there’s this mandate that you will stop all contact, you will be dead to the person who did the violence and yet families don’t work that way. It’s powerful how families can lose their children because of that mandate.
People talk about things like that. People talk about family hostility, sibling abuse, the impacts of drugs and alcohol, even hurtful words. I had a teacher come to talk about hurtful words and he was speaking in the voice of the abuser and he, on that particular day, was very tired and just let rip and said things that an abuser would say. He prefaced it, you know, so the students knew his intentions … and still I had a student leave. I went out and followed the student. He was shaking. This six foot seven guy was like five years old. We had to kind of talk it down and say, “Okay, that’s then. This is now. You’re safe. You will not be harmed. You are safe when you go home. You don’t live in that situation anymore.” It really, well, I don’t ask my friend to do it anymore. It reminds me very much of how this stuff is so real, so palpable, so just-below-the-surface. It’s important to not be crass in how we talk about it. I try to talk somewhat freely about my own life experiences. Sometimes it bites me in the butt – sometimes students are like, “Aw, she’s always talking about herself.”
Like in their evaluations?
So I also have to preface what I say of my life: This is a teaching tool. This is data. As I’m asking you to think about your own personal life history, I’m modeling that.
What degrees are these students headed for?
TA: Engineering, architecture … anything … English, community development … anything. Doctors. One student, she cracked me up, she’s in pharmacy school. She’s like, “Well, you know, I just want to get married and have a kid. I don’t really need to work.” I’m like, “Dude! You are going to pharmacy school!” I mean … (baffled sounds)
And here you are spending the rest of your time helping women who desperately want jobs to find jobs. Here’s this woman who’s like Job-shmob .
TA: Yeah. “I don’t need it. I don’t need it. I’m going to marry well.” I’ve never been good at that. I’ve often wondered what’s wrong with me that I can’t seem to marry up the financial food chain.
(laughs) Did you try?
TA: I had this friend that I flirted with. It didn’t work. He was nice. He was a nice guy. I think he found me disappointing. You know, it wasn’t … I didn’t shave my pits enough, I think.
Yeah, wasn’t slick enough. Polished. I couldn’t do it. I get bored. I had friends that used to want to go to Oba to pick up business men. There’s something about the bravado. There’s something that can be scary, edgy; the privilege is so apparent.
TA: Yeah. I agree. And it feels very stultifying, like all of a sudden I am now sanctioned.
You have to ask permission.
TA: So I haven’t gotten very far in that regard.
But you are married.
TA: Mm-hmm! I am married. I am married. And I do like my husband. Sometimes I struggle with being married, you know, some of my own preconceived notions about, well, you know, I have this preconceived notion about if I’m working then he should have to do the house. And it is in my head in that way, really. It’s not always clear what part is unfair. In what ways am I being patriarchical, in what ways is my partner being lax?
Well, you have two jobs. You have more than two jobs?
TA: Well, my dissertation.
So job number three. What’s your doctorate?
TA: It’s in peace and conflict studies and it’s about women in work. So looking at the impacts of race and gender justice … I was actually thinking of this one title – something about Everyday Strategies for Dealing with Racism and Sexism on the Job: Fuck it!
That’s the title? … Colon Fuck It.
TA: (laughs) Yes! (laughs)
Like, let it slide? What do you mean by that? What does “fuck it” mean?
TA: Fuck it means … from the women that I interview, one of them said it so well. She’s like, “You know, I go to work, these people act stupid, fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. My name is Bess Fuck It Johnson.” (laughs) You know? It’s like, who gives a shit? These people want to trip out, act a fool, you know? Fuck it.
So I’ve been working on that actually, in my own work place, I’ve been working on the Fuck It.
In your approach to work?
That would be for job number …
TA: number one. Because it’s quite a difficult work environment and I don’t enjoy how difficult it is. I don’t enjoy having to go to counseling to work through things that happen there. What’s really good about it though is that I’m learning that if I have to go to counseling for my job, that’s not good. You know what? That’s a step forward.
So does that mean you are scanning the horizon?
TA: Yeah. I’m trying to save up enough money so I can just work on my dissertation, finish the damn thing and try again. Teach, yes, I want to keep my teaching one class a term. ‘Cause I was thinking, ‘Shit. Should I try to get another endorsement for my doctorate?’ I’m realizing, ‘No. My real desire is to be a teacher, a researcher, to work as an advocate on different issues that matter to me.’
Would you start your own organization?
TA: Yes. I wouldn’t say no. I don’t see that starting now. I don’t really know what that would look like. I sit on an EJ board (Environmental Justice) and I like that work. I think it is important work.
Things have to fall in place?
TA: Yeah, but I’m certainly not opposed to the idea.
So how do you protect yourself?
TA: Protect? Well, FUCK IT and, you know, I actually have learned that smiling goes a long way because people are not interested in a black woman’s frown. That’s what I’ve learned. So smiling, you know, kindness, it goes a long way.
Job coaching has the potential to be emotional work. I thought maybe you could detail, without naming names, situations on-the-job that were … taxing.
TA: You know, what’s hard I think about job counseling, and I think it’s about social work or any of these front-line jobs that have case management involved, I was talking with a friend who works for the Housing Bureau and he experiences it, I think the hardest part is when you are working with clients and sometimes I end up having to go out on a limb for clients because I think something is the right thing, even though I know my boss, who definitely is not a counselor, may not like it. So I have to hope the person I’m working with doesn’t take advantage of that. I don’t tend to do things covertly but I am not a big rule follower, I don’t enjoy the rigid whatevers, and so I sometimes slip people things.
Because the organization you’re working with has a specific field they are looking to get people into….
TA: They can be quite narrow in how they think about working with people so there can be a harsh intentionality, an agenda.
Whereas you’re looking at someone and seeing they have these other skills too, why aren’t they looking at getting a job in one of these other areas as well?
TA: If they can, if they want to? Yeah! If it might be easier? Yeah.
Whereas other people in your organization would follow the rules and say, “You need to stay in this field.”
TA: Right, or say, “It’s obviously not right for you” and kind of end the conversation. I believe if one is really focused on this mission of empowerment then we must be empowering and part of that is being sure that we’re not silencing anybody. I believe this happens in jobs where you’re manager may not know your job and may have completely different skill sets. My manager, when she’s done aspects of my job, she’s in and out (snaps fingers), you know, size you up and puts you out. I don’t like working like that.
So I often have gone in different directions in this job which has been powerful. I’ve learned a lot of different things. I’ve worked with the city. I’ve worked with other non-profits, different types of people, industry. I think it’s really hard with non-profits. When we say we want to empower people we need to ask, ‘who is being empowered.’
A difficult aspect of my job is clients whose lives kind of fall apart very suddenly. Clients sometimes run out of the things they need; be that medication, child support whether that’s family support or financial support, they run out of spousal support, or employment. It can be hard talking with clients in those situations. It can be one of those “oh shit” moments. One time, a client’s situation was weighing really heavy on me. I didn’t have anyone at work to debrief it with so I came home and tried to debrief it with my partner and my partner got all analytical on me and it was not very helpful. I think what’s also hard is that our work is such an intrinsic part of our lives. A lot feeds into it. Not having a wealth of support to process what happens can make it more difficult than it needs to be.
Do you think there should be an organization for different people doing different forms of social work?
TA: Hmm. Maybe. Hadn’t thought of that.
There would have to be confidentiality. People would have to be smart about what they say. If everyone was connected to it, there’d be no way to keep confidentiality about where people worked so there’d have to be confidentiality about who it is you’re talking about. But it could be like an old boy’s club where ‘what’s said here stays here’.
TA: I don’t know how it could be safe. I have a friend who’s a counselor. She’ll sometimes say to me, you’re not trained to do this, why are you doing this? You know, I have a master’s degree. It’s not in counseling. To me it feels very painful having someone say to me, “oh, you’re not qualified.” I’ve heard that a lot in my occupation, actually, that message of you’re not qualified enough.
Right now everything has got certifications. Everything. Even using a computer, which pretty much anybody can sit down and figure out the basics given enough time. There are certification programs for that now. I feel like to get a job now you have to go out and get ten different certifications to prove that you can do whatever it is you were already doing. To me, anybody can do this. We don’t need these certificates. Really? I can see someone saying, ‘you’re not qualified, you don’t have the certificate.’ Well, we’ve been helping each other (as a species) for how long now? With no certification, no college degrees….
TA: It’s a hard one. It hurts. It’s demeaning.
Do you enjoy the work enough that it makes you want to go get a degree in counseling?
TA: Fuck no. No. I don’t enjoy this work enough. I have been thinking about doing a certification in Hakomi counseling because it is a more non-traditional form that is based more on mindfulness that is working to help people bring out, to surface for themselves, what’s underneath and to me that’s very meaningful and worthwhile work and doesn’t drain me.
So to be a Hakomi counselor it’s a certificate?
TA: Yeah, a two year certificate. You become licensed. It also teaches you a lot about how to work with people, how to create a welcoming space, also how to learn about what are some of the behaviors that are a bit pathological or stultifying. It teaches you how to avoid packaging anybody, not like in psychology where you’re trying to put people in this box or that box.
Yeah, all the personality tests, happiness ratings, functionality ratings….
TA: Yeah, not down. Not down. But to sit and talk with somebody about what’s going on in their life, to maybe sit with them a few times to work something through; that’s cool.
So as far as job number one, career counseling, do you think you could do this job anywhere in the world?
TA: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
So it’s not spectacular to Portland.
TA: No. When I go to South Africa I want to connect with a group that does similar. As much as I whinge about my job, I actually get paid … well, I don’t actually get paid very well for what I do.
Isn’t it the organizational level, being paid by grants and such.
TA: Mm-hmm and I think it brings up for me that my delight isn’t fed enough.
So then you think about the money because you want to find happiness outside work hours.
So talk about Africa.
TA: Well, I used to live there and I went to college there and I worked there doing some radio work and some copyediting work for a financial daily and worked for a craft conglomerate. I did that for four or five years. I lived there for nine years. I am going back to see friends and go to World Cup.
My partner and I live here with my mom and my sister and the joke is that we’re going on our honeymoon with my other sister; a very glamorous honeymoon. Should be fun, see some friends, watch soccer, eat Biltong. Biltong? It’s like beef jerky but it’s not sugar based, no sugar, and it’s just different.
What’s interesting is as you talked about it, you started to have an accent come in.
TA: (laughs) Yeah, yeah. So I’m quite excited and it’s so far from my life now. It’s definitely a place that I felt more full in the past.
(TA’s mom enters the room. Introductions are made. For the purpose of this interview, TA’s mom will be called Ma, MA.)
So we were talking about getting away, getting perspective.
TA: Yeah. I went to visit out-of-town friends recently. We talk about our studies, talk about my life, their lives, kinda talk it out. It gives me a minute to reflect on what works, what doesn’t. I realized I need more space, more personal space, and I realized I’m tired!
Pacing yourself; good thing. It’s good that you have a kind of mirror that you can hold up in your friends; that you can look back at yourself through them and see if you’re off track.
TA: Yeah. And I guess what’s nice is that we share similar values. I have another friend who is wonderful and in some ways that way for me but she’s pretty conservative in her way of understanding things and it’s kind of sore. Men don’t wear skirts, women work hard but not that hard, you know?
So it’s kind of old-time roles.
TA: Yeah. Which, you know, it’s that hard place too where you’re trying to cultivate that relationship and sometimes it’s hard to understand.
Do you think people generally pick the right or wrong careers for themselves? Do you think people know what the right job is?
TA: NO! Uh-uh, no. I don’t think people know what’s out there; from what I see and from my own experience, you go with what comes up. I mean, that was how I did it. I worked at a book store. I intentionally walked into a book store and worked there because I have romantic notions. I intentionally walked into a coffee shop because I have romantic notions. I intentionally walked into a kindergarten, same reason. Jobs that paid me anything? (laugh) I stumbled into this job because I needed to buy my house.
You think that’s universally true?
TA: I think people are groomed. I watch my sister, she’s a medical student, and I think my sister is going to have quite a good work career. I’ve noticed if she’s in something that has a very clear trajectory, she goes. She’s been groomed to go into medical school since she started university.
How did she get groomed?
TA: Her school. She went to a fancy school that I baulked at. I was like, “Why are you going to that school, it costs too much money! Da dada dada.”
There’s the social justice in you. “You’re being privileged!”
TA: Yeah! And she’s like, “Shut up.” And so she went.
So she groomed herself by choosing that school.
TA: Yeah. Yeah. And my parents had groomed her because we went to school in South Africa and in South Africa everyone has a very strict way of thinking.
I got into South African school when I was in Standard VIII so I had 8, 9, 10 there and because I didn’t start in Standard VI (in Standard VI you’re always taking ten subjects) in Standard VIII you take six subjects so I hadn’t had Africans (language) I had to do German, and because I hadn’t done science with them they said, ‘you shouldn’t do science, you should do history.’ So that very much directed my path. I did history, geography and biology. And I still can’t tell you the bloody map! All I remember about geography was when my geography teacher said seedless grapes are engineered and I said, “They don’t suck out the pips?”
Off the vine. Like a tulip bulb sucks all the flower energy back into the bulb.
TA: Right! I remember feeling really stupid.
That ruined it for you.
TA: It didn’t ruin it. I just felt really stupid. In geography you had to take lots of notes and study them. I remember I had spent so much time writing the notes that she had told us, she would dictate our notes, and then I would write my commentary and I got so I was really thinking how brilliant I was because I could take notes and write my commentary at the same time but when the test came my commentary got in the way of my notes. You had to really know you notes, you know. It was me, another girl named Jackie, and the rest were boys and we would do geography. But it didn’t groom me to think about geographic jobs. Maybe I could have been an engineer or something … but it didn’t teach me about that.
TA: And that was a random conversation that popped out of nowhere. But I remember it because I remember everyone laughing at me. That happened a lot in high school. Everyone else didn’t speak. If they’d speak, they’d be laughed at too.
But, um, but like with my sister, she started in that South African system from Standard II (which is grade third) and my other sister started in Grade I (which is first grade). When my family left South Africa for America, my sister was in tenth grade and she coasted through school because it was so easy. In Africa, they start writing exams in Standard I. And they are taking ten subjects. So she was already geared towards thinking “what’s the best that I could have and how can I get that.” In our South African education it was to be a doctor.
TA: Exactly. She talked about being an FBI agent because she really liked the X-Files; and that really offended me. (laughs)
I can see you two (rubs knuckles together) constantly.
TA: Yes, yes (laughs).
She got into university and she did pre-med and political science which was our South African upbringing. We grew up in the ’94 elections and the transition of the old South Africa to the new South Africa, so she did politics and in the summers she got to go to People Of Color doctor camp. So they would go and be complete geeks and prepare for getting into med school. That’s honestly what made her get into med school. She lived here with me for a year and would fly to schools on the east coast to interview med schools. She ended up getting into two schools. She flew to ten and got into two. She’s doing great in med school. She finished three years of med school and this year she’s getting her master’s in public health and we’re going to South Africa together and while we’re there she’s going to work at Bara Hospital (Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital) in Soweto township. It’s a brilliant hospital.
It’s kind of scary for me that she’ll be working there. She doesn’t drive, man. She only drives automatic and she’s renting a stick and South Africans drive like fucking lunatics and then she’s driving to fucking Soweto which … you can get shanked in fucking Soweto! And then she’s going to (shakes her head in disbelief) … it’s like, ‘oh my god are you foolish!’ Anyway, so she’s going there and it’s a place where she’ll learn so much. When I was at Bara I saw a woman’s cervix, it was very sick and I felt so sad because she reminded me so much of my granny.
Soweto is one of those places where you can actually feel soot. It’s a place where they put soot on the walls. They live in shanties, shanty towns, and there are no filters on their fireplaces. So you’ll be in the car in the winter and you taste it. Someone described it as vibrant … it’s alive. It’s life that’s not checked or supported and so it grows, you know?
TA: Yeah. It grows.
Too many people in a small space?
TA: Yeah. With no proper toilets, with no sanitation. All of a sudden you’ll end up with cholera outbreak or e-coli or the history of South Africa where you’ll drive over a bridge and they’ll say, “So this area you see with all these reeds, hundreds of people were dumped.” So it’s fertile….
TA: So she’s going through there. It freaks me out.
Do you feel a sort of calling or urge to go there and use what you know now?
TA: No? (laughs) And yet I remember when I left South Africa (laughs) I said I would.
Are you kidding? This is ‘cush! (indicates furnishings)
TA: Yeah, it’s great. It’s padded. That’s what happens when your mother lives with you. But, no, I mean when I left South Africa I thought I’m not coming back here until I have something useful to contribute.
So you believe you don’t have something useful yet.
TA: Probably do.
You’ve changed your mind about going back for that purpose.
TA: They haven’t asked.
Ho-hoah (laughs) I don’t know if that’s how it works.
TA: I mean, if something pops up, you know. I’ll go and talk to my university prof and I’ll go and talk to my friends and if something comes up that is useful then of course I’ll go.
So you wouldn’t say no.
You just wouldn’t insinuate yourself.
TA: No. I mean, if I think about my life, I often feel like an imposter here. I mean, I’m black … but I’m not black like south Portland.
If that’s your rationale then everyone in Portland is an imposter.
TA: No. I …
Because most everybody has moved here. I mean, what, 80 to 90% of the people here are transplants.
TA: I guess what I mean is that I feel more comfortable with Africans or West Indians than with Black Americans.
I mean, I feel comfortable with my relatives in Virginia. And in Portland my work career has been Africans and I feel comfortable with Africans.
So what’s the difference?
TA: Acceptance and experience. I mean, I think the difference is Africa is different, the history is different, the way of living is different, what you fight is different, the fight is different.
MA: Yeah, you have to worry about people stealing your underwear.
TA: Mummy, yeah! Somebody stole our underpants.
MA: Constantly. The lady who worked at our house, she used to steal my children’s underpants, steal their socks, steal my husband’s socks and when she’d steal she wouldn’t steal the whole pair, she’d steal one sock.
To be subtle?
TA: And watch your chocolate and watch your coffee. Somebody thought I was stealing coffee. It wasn’t that I was stealing it. I was just drinking it profusely.
Which is a form of stealing….
TA: Not really. (laughs) Not if you’re in office hours, you’re just drinking!
‘I wasn’t selling it or anything.’
TA: Hospitality. But Mommy’s glasses got stolen off her face.
MA: Yeah, I was in the car, driving, and had the window down, just driving through downtown. Man came up, knocked me up-side the head and yanked the glasses off my face.
He knocked you out?
MA: No, he didn’t knock me out. He just hit me.
TA: And what I told her is, “You don’t wear nice things!”
TA: They’ll cut your finger off. Cutsies.
MA: So punitive, so difficult, because they earn so little money. So to get nice things, they steal them and they think nothing of it.
TA: ‘Cause nice things give you value.
Makes me think of Brazil and certain areas of South America where people get kidnapped for ransom and some people get kidnapped over and over again for ransom.
It’s just the way the world works and everybody is aware of it.
TA: Capitalism. It’s different. But it does give me, what’s the word, compassion. So I’ve written a paper, an article I have to work on, that is about comparing literature on war affected youth and youth violence in areas of concentrated poverty in the US and looking at the way those literatures can inform each other.
What do you mean by literature?
TA: Academic literature. Basically what it comes down to is that in war affected areas, and though South Africa has not been in a civil war it has been in a guerilla war, and so in areas of concentrated poverty the incidents of death … well … I personally believe South Africa is a traumatized country, even though I have not seen a dead body as in somebody dead on the street I have seen on the front page of my paper with a photo of Campbell soup cans with human flesh burning.
Wait, so a picture of an open Campbell soup can with flesh inside and set on fire.
TA: Yeah. So I’ve seen that. And it wasn’t historical.
A current event.
TA: It was a current event. And I’ve seen someone … I was lost and was trying to get to my rowing class and I saw this naked man who was followed by a mob who were hitting him and taking him to the petrol station. And in South Africa we necklace. Necklace: you put tires around someone’s neck, you fill them with gasoline and you set it on fire. They burn alive. Um … yeah.
So the obvious progression was that he was going to get …
TA: Or something. He wasn’t going to come out of it as nice as he looked. He didn’t look nice in dirt, naked, while these mamas were going past with a stick and hitting him.
Women? He must have done something.
TA: Either he was stealing something, he was cheating on someone, or he was a totsie (a baddy, a burglar, a robber).
Ultimately, whatever that crime was, does it justify the treatment?
TA: That’s a question. I didn’t want to find out. I rushed to get out of that gas station. I didn’t care where I was supposed to be going. I needed to get home. So how do I feel about going back to South Africa?
Mixed feelings. I can see. I have more work questions.
TA: Beware the bitches. (laughs)
So what’s your advice for anyone reading this that is looking for a job?
TA: You know, I experience two things: I experience from the women that I interview for my dissertation when I ask would they do what they would do again, they say yes. Actually they will say they aren’t sure if they would invite another person to do this. And yet taking the jobs they have has offered them a house, other things, and they definitely have chosen it because they want those things. It’s very different than a more middle class value of ‘do what you love’. I think for working class folks, often it’s not about what you love. It’s about doing what will afford you an opportunity. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Do you think with the way the economy is that there is a middle class and people can do what they love?
TA: I think with the economy the way it is that we can move closer to what we love but we may need to make compromises and that what we love may not have a price tag and it may not be that we do what we love but we live what we love.
Which brings me to a question: volunteering … what’s with that?
TA: Lots to it. Lots to it. It may bring you closer to where you want to be. I found myself volunteering and I wrote myself a job eventually – I wrote a grant for my job. But really volunteering for me meant that I got to be around Africans and really, though in some ways I feel very disconnected from it, I am African in many ways. Volunteering in many ways touches our dream. And it may turn into paid work. And it may not. But it might, it totally might.
And you get to do something worthwhile in the meanwhile.
TA: But to not in any way devalue the time that we spend working on jobs that may or may not be the dream. When I think about my friend that works in labor and deals with all manner of shit to do it, her dream is to have her own home, to provide for her children well, to not need a male partner, to have self-sufficiency — she’s got that. That’s a big dream and that’s brilliant. So, yes, for the next fifteen years she definitely has to have the Fuck It behind her name, but it won’t always be that.
What tricks do our brains play on us when we’re job searching or dealing with a job?
TA: That we think we’re not good enough. That’s the biggest one. We are good enough. I mean, Fuck It!
MA: Your language, baby.
TA: Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. But just apply. Just apply to every single fricking thing that you see that you think that you might like. It doesn’t matter even if you have to emotionally process when you get that job for the next three months. Why shouldn’t you have that opportunity? Why shouldn’t you have to say no?
And why can’t we be open to the variety of things that might happen to us? Who’s to say what job is really going to help us? We don’t know.
Do you think an individual’s family has an impact in the decisions they make?
TA: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Do you think we should listen to our families?
TA: Unless they are offering us more money, no. (laughs)
So what are the more difficult interview questions you have heard of?
TA: What is a common misperception of you?
That’s a trick question! How would you answer that?
TA: They think I was messy, they think I was disorderly and they maybe think I was flighty.
I think they would think I was a prude, too reserved, although occasionally people think I’m a loud mouth. You can’t win.
TA: I think that is a terrible question to have in an interview.
Yeah, you have to spin it so it’s a positive.
‘Some people think this but….’
TA: My desk is messy and I balance all their shit.
What are the most common questions you receive from people in all the things you do?
TA: So what are you doing your degree for?
The implied question being, “how are you going to pay it off?”
TA: So I get that from them and I get from different teachers along the way, “Maybe you’re not Ph.D. material.” But I was told I wasn’t Starbucks material so I think it’s all relative.
(laughs) How does someone avoid being nervous in an interview.
TA: Practice, practice and then at some point remember you’re interviewing them. Maybe what they are offering is not that good for you. Going in, having the best go that you can have and seeing if you like it.
I think keeping in mind, in my perspective thinking about interviews I have had, you don’t have to stay with the job forever. If it blows, you move on.
TA: Yeah. And don’t think it’s the best thing ever. Don’t give that job that.
What traits get someone hired? Is there a sure fire trait?
TA: I think nothing is guaranteed but I think showing excitement, energy, knowledge of the job. I definitely notice from my own experiences when people come and say they want to work for my job number one and yet they really don’t understand the mission, they don’t understand how to work with the people who come in the door, and then I’m like, “dude, I wouldn’t sit with you.”
Last question. Do you believe in social networking.
TA: Of course. Know people. Know everybody. Know what they do. And tell everybody what you do, what you think about doing. Elevator speech, but dream. If someone tells you, ‘och, you’re not going to do this’, forget them. For a while I was really clear that I was going to write a book about my dad and I remember this guy telling me, ‘No, you’re not going to do that. You’re never going to do it’ and I remember hearing that and I have not yet written a book about my dad but it has caused me to process about my dad and whether I’m the right person to write a book about my dad. But that idea is still there. What I have been thinking is I really want to interview my aunts and uncles.
Start! This weekend!
TA: Oh, no no. This weekend I have to figure out this article I have to send out to a publisher. Then I have to go to South Africa and after I return I have to finish up my dissertation. What I have thought about is that I should focus on writing, on being a writer.