Does anyone else have problems filling out all the paperwork that you are confronted with after you are hired? I am not talking about the paperwork that describes where you last worked, I am talking about all that other paperwork that requires you to provide the contact information for your "nearest living relative" or for a "family member" or for an "emergency contact". Because I have no idea where my nearest living relative is located, and furthermore, because none of my family members have spoken to me since I was 15, I struggle with the paperwork that comes with a new job.
Having watched and sometimes participated with other families as they reacted to crises, I assume that one's relatives execute that person's will or, in the absence of a will, they make decisions about how that person's possessions and body are disposed of after death or permanent incapacitation. But .. what happens to people like me, without any relatives? Do we hire a lawyer to step in to handle these things for us? That seems really .. impersonal. Further, it's silly to spend money on a lawyer when I don't have health insurance and I am struggling to pay my basic living expenses. Besides, even if I had a last will and testament that states how I want things to be in the event of my death or permanent incapacitation, how would anyone know? Would anyone care anyway? If so, why would anyone care when I have neither the power nor the finances to enforce my wishes (a sky burial, for example) under such circumstances?
My other dilemma is emergency contacts: who exactly qualifies as an "emergency contact" and what do they do? Do they do "little things" such as feed your pets if you are hospitalized after, say, choking on a french fry? (Some of my clients list me as an "emergency pet care contact" for this reason, which I am happy to do for them). Or do they do big things like notifying your family (if you have one) and friends in the event that one of your students assaulted and murdered you because he didn't like his textbook? In either situation, it seems that one should at least ask a potential emergency contact if they wish to serve in this capacity before listing them as such, right? Further, it seems that an emergency contact should be a person who lives locally, right?
I always provide my dissertation advisor's contact information as my emergency contact (unknown to him) because he has been in my life longer than any other human. But realistically, what can he do for me in an emergency? He lives 3000 miles away, so it's impossible for him to feed my parrots for me. Additionally, we only speak in email about letters of recommendation for my latest series of impending job rejections, er, applications, that I am sending out, so he has no idea who my friends might be and he is only vaguely aware of my family situation because I have provided few details about this to anyone (well, in real life -- I have written more about the situation here than I've ever said in real life). Other than job applications, we have almost no contact at all.
I wish things could be different, but my advisor is a busy man with a family of his own, so really, I have no right to make such demands of him, even if he doesn't know about it and even if nothing ever comes of it. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone in NYC who has the time and energy to care for my birds properly in the case of an emergency, and there is not one soul in the entire universe who knows who my friends are (to be fair, I am often confused by this, too) and how to contact them if I experienced an emergency. And in view of the fact that people tend to suddenly pop into my life and then disappear inexplicably like tumbleweeds pushed by a wind, I don't think that anyone really can act as an emergency contact for me.
In addition to the practical aspects that I mentioned here, this paperwork stirs up a veritable bees' nest of emotional garbage that never truly goes away. Filling out this paperwork is like a quick trip down memory lane; it reminds me of how truly miserable and screwed up my life has always been, how I've fought and struggled and sacrificed my entire life because I thought (hoped) that things would get better in the future yet I still fail at everything I've ever done because nothing is better, and it reminds me of how I've only ever been truly happy and satisfied during that brief miraculous time when I was working with, researching and writing about birds. That wild, beautiful "career fling" was a love affair of the mind and heart, the great passion of my life, the reason I am on this earth, it was a bright glittering gem piercing the inky darkness with thousands of refracted photons of light, and now that brilliant light is gone forever.
Dealing with all this takes time.
Academic job interviews: 1 (telephone screening interview for a tenure-track position at a private liberal arts college with strong research support that I think I'd really enjoy)
Academic job rejections: 3 (including one that I telephone interviewed for three weeks ago)
Non-academic job rejections: 1 (science and medical writer -- after they asked me what I wanted to be paid .. apparently, saying that I will accept market rates and I am happy to negotiate rates for special pieces was not the correct answer)
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