Weekly E-mail: Why Won't You Go Out with Me?
May 19, 2024

Hi friends,

I didn't send a Weekly E-mail last week. Instead, I posted one from 2013 onto my website. This project - creating a homepage for Paul Riley - is slowly becoming real. While I was back in Delaware for Zak's wedding, I told a few people about my plans for it and my overall creative endeavors. I am full of ideas! I recognize that it's easy to say something like, "I'm going to write a book," and it's even easier to dismiss those who claim they have such intentions. But I'm realizing that stating my feelings and thoughts plainly to others has allowed me to achieve things I'd long thought impossible.

I have not written much publicly about my new position; everything that I've shared is on my website - which, to be clear, is visited by at most fifteen people - and in the Riley Brothers Parties Discord server. I've been working since March 18th yet have not updated my LinkedIn page. It took me a few weeks to realize why, and then a few more weeks to share that realization with anyone: I am terrified of being a government employee.

The role itself is great. There's nothing about the act of teaching students about career readiness that scares me, nothing about being on a diverse team of (relatively) young people that leaves me trembling. It's the potential for the ruination of my workplace that terrifies me.

There are so many people who hate government employees: "concerned citizens" screaming at school board members for their audacity to allow gay people to exist in school library books; "taxpayers" who foment rebellion over legislators appropriating money to support migrants; religious leaders who demand their flocks install true believers into positions of power. The venom for those in civil service is overwhelming. And I, as a vocal champion for a better world, have popped off a few times in ways that invite scorn and confusion from the stupider children. What if I were to say something that makes everything harder for the people I work with - staff and young adults?

This week, I was at a school working with a small group of students. One of them asked, "Were you ever rejected by a girl back in high school?" What a question! Of course the answer is yes, of course I am curious why he asked, of course I am unsure of what makes sense to say. So I told him all of that, in a manner of speaking. "Yeah, a few times. Is that something that you're dealing with?" I wanted to let him give me more information while making as few assumptions as possible. He told me that he had asked someone out earlier that day, that she didn't seem to care about his feelings when she turned him down. I sympathized, and started thinking of ways to make it relevant to our work of developing career readiness skills. But then a paraprofessional across the room spoke up: "I don't think you should be talking about that right now." She didn't explain, so I thanked the student for sharing, told him that I hope he has someone else he can share things with, and we got back to the project.

But I thought: what the fuck are you doing, lady? Why are you talking? I have not yet been able to build a relationship with this particular student, and he just invited me to share in his vulnerability. And if you need me to make it about metrics: you took away an opportunity for me to talk about how to deal with rejection - a fundamental part of the job search process! Why would you do this to me?

It's that worry, that fear, that we're doing something wrong when talking about our feelings with young people. There are so many lines drawn by so many people that we don't often think to question why they've been drawn in the first place. These people yelling at government employees are not dealing with their own rejection, their own hurt feelings, so they send that energy elsewhere.

Knowing this helps to lessen the fear, but it's not gone completely. It may never be, so I might as well do the damn thing. Tell people how I feel, share my thoughts in public spaces, and declare my plans to live fully as an artist in this wild, scary, beautiful world. I'm grateful that you're listening.

Love,
Paul



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