Being John Malkovich, Malibu Barbie, and Nothingness

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  “the idea of becoming someone else for a little while, being inside another’s skin – thinking differently, moving differently, feeling differently.”  Being John Malkovich

“Perhaps it is inevitable; perhaps one has to choose between being nothing at all and impersonating what one is.”  Sartre

Being Barbie, like being John Malkovich, is an entertaining project that inspires existential musings. Following a week in which my co-worker, Cinderella, gave her notice and announced her departure to greener employment pastures and my children left for a six-week vacation to visit their father, I am left with my own thoughts and time to think them; I’d like to say that this has opened my eyes to revelations about the meaning of life but the philosopher who speaks to me at this point is Sartre: Hell is… other people.   

Finding a solution to my work situation is front and centre.

It is clear that practical imperatives like paying the bills dictate that I must resist the urge to act precipitously. This at times requires forbearance beyond Barbie’s reach (and you know I was tempted to say “beyond Barbie’s ken), such as happened a few days ago when our IT girl (who is less than proficient in English) asked for my help to understand an email directing her to fix a bug in our company website.  As I labouriously explain the problem to her, my boss emerges from his office to tell me, “I don’t want you bothering Skipper because she has more important things to deal with”.  Of course he assumed that I was the one creating a “bother” because it is now a clearly defined pattern in the office that some of us are deemed to be problems – not coincidentally the women who express inconvenient opinions about management decisions – and others are the favoured children. It is simultaneously illuminating and creepy that he thought it appropriate to give his assistant a stuffed animal as a gift.

Therefore, I dedicated a large chunk of the weekend to my job search, which included meeting with a recruiter. The recruiter had called about a potential job and asked me to come in for an interview.  My nails at that point were a brilliant shade of pink matching the highlighter on my desk and so I made time for a French manicure and pulled from my closet a tailored, conservative suit.  I was being considered for a legal job and a frilly pink blouse would not be sending the right message.  This costuming of the consciousness is an ego-bending experience, not to mention it reveals some confusion as to where to focus my energy in the job search. I have many abilities and a trio of respectable university degrees however, nearly 20 years living abroad and having job experience that no one can easily quantify here means that I am not quite qualified to practice as a lawyer yet am somewhat over-qualified to work in more administrative positions.  At this point I am targeting mid-level positions that depend on skills to be learned in situ and seek such competencies as research ability, organization and written communication skills. These jobs are few and far between and unless I can get my foot in the door for a personal meeting, I fear that my long-in-the-tooth CV may scare off potential employers.  The other possibility, which yields many more postings, is the ubiquitous Executive Assistant – EA. Going this route offers the chance to get perks that I don’t currently enjoy, such as benefits and an employer who may appreciate my efforts. It also means branding myself with a Barbie perma-smile since once I have been defined as an EA, employers will no longer consider my employability as an E. That’s just the way it is. But as our hero, Sartre, once said: “The best work is not what is most difficult for you; it is what you do best.” And I do best when performing my job well results in a happy employer.  I have no doubt I would be a kick-ass EA.

The question is, can I define myself as an EA? While I have high respect for women who do this work, and it is nearly always a woman’s job, I believe I have the ability to be the one making the decisions and designing the plans to carry them out.  On the other hand, I really need to move on and as they say in Spanish, “La necesidad tiene cara de perro” – need has a dog’s face or loosely translated, beggars can’t be choosers.

After sending in a number of CVs and applications into cyberspace, I decided to get a bright summer pedicure and spray-on tan and channel Malibu Barbie.   Being fair-skinned, I had been avoiding the summer sun, but five minutes in a machine that spritzes a fine mist of chemical dyes created the desired effect: a healthy copper glow to set off the blonde hair and coral lips and toes.  I am hoping I’ll have to hide the coral toes for my next interview, but I’m hedging my bets.


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