Who doesn’t love looking for work? Summoning your brio, shining your shoes, lying awake in bed trying to come up with a better answer to “Why would you be a good fit for this job?” than “I’d be really good at it and I’ll bring cookies to office meetings”—it’s all character-building stuff, right?
Yeah, no. I don’t like it much either. But that’s OK; remember Newton’s first law of motion: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Sometimes one has to be one’s own unbalanced force in the world in order to make things happen. And sometimes it helps to get a little inspiration from the unbalanced forces of others.
I first read this letter that a job-hunting Eudora Welty wrote to the editors of the New Yorker when I was firmly employed. It was part of the first batch of letters leading off What There Is to Say We Have Said, the collected correspondence of Welty and William Maxwell. I remember thinking it was a nice note but didn’t pay it much mind otherwise; I was all hot to get to the really good stuff, which turned out to be mainly about planting roses and editing. (I’m not being sarcastic here—planting roses and editing are both big in my corner of the world.) But I ran into it again last month at Brain Pickings, and it just charmed me to pieces:
March 15, 1933
I suppose you’d be more interested in even a sleight-o’-hand trick than you’d be in an application for a position with your magazine, but as usual you can’t have the thing you want most.
I am 23 years old, six weeks on the loose in N.Y. However, I was a New Yorker for a whole year in 1930–31 while attending advertising classes in Columbia’s School of Business. Actually I am a southerner, from Mississippi, the nation’s most backward state. Ramifications include Walter H. Page, who, unluckily for me, is no longer connected with Doubleday-Page, which is no longer Doubleday-Page, even. I have a B.A.(’29) from the University of Wisconsin, where I majored in English without a care in the world. For the last eighteen months I was languishing in my own office in a radio station in Jackson, Miss., writing continuities, dramas, mule feed advertisements, santa claus talks, and life insurance playlets; now I have given that up.
As to what I might do for you — I have seen an untoward amount of picture galleries and 15¢ movies lately, and could review them with my old prosperous detachment, I think; in fact, I recently coined a general word for Matisse’s pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works — quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.
Since I have bought an India print, and a large number of phonograph records from a Mr. Nussbaum who picks them up, and a Cezanne Bathers one inch long (that shows you I read e. e. cummings I hope), I am anxious to have an apartment, not to mention a small portable phonograph. How I would like to work for you! A little paragraph each morning — a little paragraph each night, if you can’t hire me from daylight to dark, although I would work like a slave. I can also draw like Mr. Thurber, in case he goes off the deep end. I have studied flower painting.
There is no telling where I may apply, if you turn me down; I realize this will not phase you, but consider my other alternative: the U of N.C. offers for $12.00 to let me dance in Vachel Lindsay’s Congo. I congo on. I rest my case, repeating that I am a hard worker.
Welty didn’t get the job, or any response from her letter at all. On the other hand, she was eventually published in the New Yorker, which is probably better. But her upbeat cheer is contagious, even 80 years later, and I appreciate that. It’s not easy to tap into that particular kind of esprit on command, especially when you’ve already written a collected correspondence’s worth of cover letters in the past month. But Eudora’s got it right there. And it’s exactly what I want to have on hand when I desperately need to summon my own inner concubineapple.
(Photo courtesy of Eudora Welty House.)