Prompted

Fall 2017

Prompt: Tell us about a job you’ve had, either while at Grinnell or afterward.

By graduation day, I still had no postgrad plans, but I did have increasing anxieties about “success.” I found a job selling ad space in a local Yellow Pages-like publication. I was too relieved to finally have a plan and enticed by their awesome “success stories,” promises of “promotion within,” and potentially high salaries to see all the red flags. I was constantly pushed to undertake “successful” sales tactics that made me uncomfortable. When I realized I needed to quit, I promised myself I would only allow myself to quit if I put more thought into this job search. I found a new job that I loved and thrived in within two days of searching and have vowed to never prioritize my anxieties over my professional comfort again.

When I was at Grinnell, I was lucky enough to snag a job at the fine arts office, working for Berneil Mueller. All through my time on campus, she proved to be a fine friend and mentor. She taught me, among other things, the value of meticulous proofreading. I helped her prepare and proof many of the flyers for arts-related College events, and she would have shaved my head and beaten me bloody if I had ever let a spelling mistake or grammar goof get past me.

Now she is long retired, the fine arts building is long gone, and auto-correct has taken over the universe, but I have gotten a lot of mileage out of the lessons she taught me, maybe even more than from some of the classes I took. Now that’s a liberal arts education, and I am grateful for every aspect of it.

In 1960, the early bird was first in line for breakfast at Main. My roommate Ellen Weitz DeNelsky ’62 and I were always those early birds. We were up every morning at 5 a.m. (including Sundays), faithfully delivering The Des Moines Register to all subscribers on South campus. That was before technology disseminated the national news; and to be informed, people actually read the newspaper. There were a significant number of subscribers and thus, very heavy loads for two “little” girls.

Ellen took all floors in all dorms from Haines to Loose, and I did the same for James to Main. We got a complete workout, up and down stairs toting papers all before breakfast. Only once did I wimp out, and dear Ellen did the whole route by herself. We certainly learned self-discipline and to be self-starters, while earning some money toward books and an occasional splurge at the student union.

I did other student work over my mid-1950s’ college years, but my best job was all-night switchboard operator for the campus telephone service.

Located above the heating plant, the switchboard served as a communications hub. Using brightly colored cords, I connected dorms, offices, and the outside world, responding to incoming calls with the same descriptive greeting: “College Central.”

Women operated the switchboard by day, men at night. There were three night-shift guys; we rotated, reporting for work every third night — in at 10 p.m., out at 7 a.m. At 11 p.m., the switchboard closed to the usual telephone contacts; however, it remained open for emergencies. Learning how to handle the 3 a.m. requests taught me how to be at the ready for others. Words from an ancient Welsh folk song kept me company throughout each night: “The moon her watch is keeping.” I, too, kept watch. 

One of the worst jobs I had was a temp job over Grinnell’s winter break. I had to file for eight hours a day in a room solely filled with files. What made it the worst job was if there was no established place for a file, I couldn’t create one but had to put it back in the to-file box. By the end of the day I was just walking around the room with files that I knew had no place to go. I learned about the absurdity of real life.

At Quad during lunchtime in the early ’90s, you could often find me unloading the dishwasher. Sure the work wasn’t all that stimulating, but I made a game of it. In order to avoid a Lucille Ball-style catastrophe, the dishwasher would shut down its conveyor belt if the dishes weren’t unloaded before the end of the belt. The goal of the game was to make sure that I unloaded dishes and trays fast enough so that the conveyor belt never stopped during my shift. I typically won. It helped that the person loading the dishwasher didn’t know that he or she was playing the game.

Summer 2017

Prompt: What's the best advice — or worst advice — you've either given or received?

My adviser was a senior member of the history department in 1964 when I had my first advising meeting with him. We chatted a bit about course selection and then he asked, “What do you intend to do with a history major? Become an airline stewardess?”

Even now, after 50 years, I remember being very surprised. And I did not go to work for an airline after graduation.

“Don’t apply to Grinnell. You’ll never get in.” From my high school guidance counselor.

“Just put your dreams on the back burner and strive to make HIM (ex-husband) happy.” Said by a marriage counselor.

"Do what you love, not what makes you money.” Although true in the long run, it’s often very hard to do what you love without making money first. Also, lack of money can inhibit other non-career goals, like having kids. If you try to pursue what you love right off the bat, there’s a good chance that in order to survive you end up doing something you hate AND being poor."