I lost my job two weeks ago. For eight months I was employed at a K-8 school, where my task was to manage the database and to print acknowledgment letters. Familiarizing myself with the database was a trial, despite a three-day tutorial course. Matters of technology, from a project as minor as generating a spreadsheet to the titanic undertaking of designing a program, encrypted codes and all, are best in the hands of those who are left-brain dominant. They can apply the basic mathematics of one plus one equals two to a computer’s mumbo jumbo. In addition, my fastidiousness was continuously put to the test. My enumeration of oversights consisted of the following: duplicated addresses on a report, a letter with the closing attributed to the incorrect person, a donation appropriated to the wrong campaign. I consider myself detail-oriented; however, with the literary elements of characterization and sentence structure rather than with clerical duties.
I believe in signs, so I must have prognosticated that an end would come soon, though I didn’t anticipate that it would occur as it did because previous employers had always complimented me on my industriousness. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/groundhog-day-a-spark-of-newness-in-the-everyday/) Even my supervisor at the school offered me praise at the start; she once said I was doing “great.” Suddenly, I was at the bottom of the totem pole. Those of you who have experienced this, you know what it’s like. We are incapacitated when our employers inform us that we are not performing up to their standard, for we are disappointed in ourselves. In fairness, I wish my supervisor had confronted me early in the spring about her misgivings, at the point when her opinion of me shifted, instead of slamming me with a 30-day probation period without a forewarning. She would meet with me in the fall every Friday to appraise my conduct for the week. Since the meetings had stopped mid-way into the New Year, I assumed I was on the right track.
Fortunately, I have family and friends with whom I was able to discuss my situation. When I met with a friend, Mike, for advice, his first question was, “Are you happy there?” “No,” I said. I sensed as early on as the day of my interview in August of last year that the school would not be a right fit. Technical issues aside, the office was cluttered. Stationery and binders and yearbooks lay in disorder in shelf compartments. Documents stuffed drawers. A carpet the hue of cannabis – faded green with traces of brown – was in desperate need of replacement. I accepted the offer only because it was a reason to move forward from San Francisco AIDS Foundation, where I had been employed for a decade and a half. While the load work at the foundation had been conducive to my writing schedule, I needed change. I’ll get used to this, I thought of the school; I regarded it as a platform to reentering a career in academia. As a former colleague commented during the interview, “I’m not sure what your long-term plan is.” I told her, “To teach again.”
“No regrets,” my sister wrote in an e-mail in the eventuality of a discharge. “You’re a creative person. You’re not wired to do administrative stuff.” My friend, Wendy, said over the phone shortly after the school released me, “You tried. Now you know that it wasn’t for you.” Meanwhile, Mike a few weeks earlier had said of my promise to my supervisor that I’d do my best, “Your best may not be good enough.” I did do my best, and this my supervisor recognized. “We like you,” she said. “You’re a good guy, Rafaelito… I see that you work hard and that you apply yourself, but….”
As all this was taking place, I went to watch “The Jungle Book” (2016), the story of an orphan boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi), who has been raised since infancy by a pack of wolves, climbing trees and sprinting with such alacrity that he outruns potential predators, the most vicious being the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba – voice). Khan wants the boy dead. Years ago, a human out of self-defense scarred Khan’s face with a fire torch, and ever since, the feline has been obsessed with vengeance to bite into Mowgli’s neck. The problem for him is that the beasts in the kingdom are protective of their “man cub.” Mowgli is family. For his part, Mowgli, under the tutelage of Bugheera (Ben Kingsley – voice) – a panther half Kung Fu master and half surrogate father – undergoes rigorous training so that he could fight in a mode that would make his wolf tribe proud. This poses another set of problems: Mowgli is a Homo sapien.
Here is a message as primordial as the Congo Jungle: never try to be somebody or something you are not. Computers in this era are fundamental to the functioning of civilization, be it for business or leisure, though not everyone of us is techie attuned – I, for one. I forced myself to be; hence, the outcome. Every Sunday, I would get the willies. What I experienced wasn’t the perfunctory blues that a weekend was ending. It was a presentiment that Monday could sabotage the four days to follow with a database demand. For example, my supervisor once requested that I generate a donor report that included e-mails. While filters had been encoded in the database that enabled me to search for first names, last names, cities, and other forms of information, I couldn’t locate one for e-mail addresses. Hours later, I presented her a report with everything she had wanted except that. Only by accident did I find the desired filter, and this when I clicked days afterwards on the filter for phone number. It so turned out that e-mail address had been encoded as e-mail number.
All this is the past. I am relieved to be out. Happy. On the day I packed up my desk, HR asked, “How are you feeling right now?” “Fine,” I said. I truly was. I admitted that I had my doubts about the job as far back as the fall and that I have plans – to earn a teaching certificate. I need the intellectual stimulation that a classroom alone can provide. Printing nametags, stuffing envelopes, and recording contributions are necessary procedures for any business to operate, the vital nuts and bolts to a machine, but… to be blunt (and somewhat hubristic)… education at Tufts, the Sorbonne, and Cornell programmed me for higher responsibilities. Had the school not confronted me with its dissatisfaction in me, I would have floundered there. A friend in Manila said over Christmas when I expressed my reservations about the school, “You’re like a person who has outgrown his shoes.”
Yes. The shoes were too small, not too big. I need a larger pair, one that fits the size of my true talent. Mowgli in “The Jungle Book” vanquishes Shere Khan. He continues to live and thrive in the midst of the beasts that have taken care of him, but this time as a man, for it is as a man that he stands his ground against Khan. As for me, words are my talent. My calling is to guide young minds in asserting themselves through the power of language. I am a writer. This is who I am. The school was nothing more than a detour, albeit a necessary one. I am a wiser man as a result, and onward I travel on the path to my rightful place in the world.