Letter From Away
Published in

Letter From Away

Chutes and Ladders

Letter From Away — April 3, 2021

Public artist Tom Otterness was paid more than $1 million for the Silver Towers Playground, a 30' x 29' x 19' bronze sculpture. Located on West 41st Street in Manhattan, the playground is open to the public.

This past year of so has been a bit of a slide into sloth, for me. In more than 50 years as a working woman, I can count my paid vacations on the fingers of one hand. Pandemic relief has provided me with the benefit of paid time off, something offered by only three of the more than two-dozen jobs I’ve held in that time.

Not only has federally enhanced unemployment kept me afloat during this year of distancing, but it pays me well. In a 50-year career that has included working as a switchboard operator, cook, travel agent, reporter, photographer’s assistant, campaign scheduler, small business manager, and news reporter, my present income of about $2000 a month has only been matched by five employers. In the course of living and helping to provide for a family, I have become familiar with the social safety net.

A few years ago, in hopes of climbing out of the lower strata of American earners, I went back to school. Now armed with a bachelor’s degree, my resume struggles to reach the top of application piles that represent hundreds, and in many cases thousands, of college-educated workers, their skills and experience, ability to format an appealing document or fill out an online form, their knowledge of the accepted forms of address for a cover letter.

Of this last, I have been informed that Dear Madam or Sir is no longer an appropriate way to get the ball rolling, and have considered that including pronoun preferences might actually help an application, depending on the mission of the organization I’m applying to. I have yet to come up with a salutatory greeting that makes sense to me but somehow avoids being either too formal or too familiar. And while I recognize the variances in gender expression, my privileged position as a post-menopausal cisgendered heterosexual has me feeling as though gender is the least of my concerns.

Job applications are usually aspirational. In seventeen months of what Departments of Labor everywhere call “work search” I have written dozens of cover letters and revised my overlong resume for almost every one. I try to treat it as a science, and maybe it is, but that’s not what I got my degree in or even how I’ve spent the majority of my working hours.

All I know is that all that typing and formatting, cutting and pasting, have so far yielded a total of six interviews — three of which were online and two of which were second interviews. It’s kind of weird to see the inside of a prospective employer’s house. It’s hard not to spend the interview admiring the view, wanting to do the potential boss’s laundry, or just plain finding things to judge. As for the return interviews, in both cases, I think my age might have had some impact on the employers’ decisions.

The whole hiring and hunting process leaves me feeling vulnerable, and still I search the job boards and the newspapers, looking for a place to put the hours and energy that, in this time of isolation, are beginning to weigh me down.

Last week, when I read about NFTs, non-fungible tokens, as a way to monetize creative work, I briefly toyed with making my columns into a product that one person could own, to the exclusion of any other readers. But that kind of kills the whole purpose of my self-expression. I don’t share my ideas in order to convey ownership of those thoughts. I want them to spread and create conversation and become part of our ever-evolving culture.

We are willing to pay for visual art — paintings and sculptures and even photographs — although the internet has made it easy to share such things without payment, or even a nod to the maker. Still, the artist is generally compensated for the original work. Those who create and pay for public art do so knowing that the work will be seen or used by others, and the compensation usually reflects that access.

Writers used to have copyright to protect their material ownership, but these last few decades have made it easy to read without offering the thanks and financial support that purchasing a book or subscribing to a publication represents.

And that’s where you come in. If the world of ideas is to elevate our society, readers must share. If authors are to continue to do good work, they must also find ways to be fed. Something you’ve read this week is worth passing on to a friend. Someone whose work you’ve enjoyed more than once is worth adding to your RSS feed. And maybe it’s time to dedicate a few bucks a month to a subscription.

Of course, I hope that my own writing is worth your support. But even if it isn’t, your support of writers, those most fungible of artists, is needed. Otherwise literate expression slides into the social abyss.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is also published, on a bi-weekly basis, by Courier Publications.

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Shlomit Auciello

Shlomit Auciello

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who lives in Midcoast Maine. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print since 1992.