But in hindsight, I think I know exactly what doomed my second interview, and furthermore, I knew it was doomed from the moment I spoke the words.
The French call it l'esprit d'escalier, "the spirit of the stairway," which is their elegant way of describing all the things you wish you'd said after you leave the conversation. I don't know if they have a similar spirit who watches over the things you wish you hadn't said before you left the conversation. L'esprit d'monte-plats. "The spirit of the dumbwaiter."
Here's what I know: the first and second interviews, conducted via phone, were among the most pleasant dialogues I've ever had, being as the inquisition was on something I truly felt passionate about discussing; namely, my relationship to books and reading. I was asked to discuss authors, characters, and books that I truly enjoyed. I had an excellent time discussing my feelings about Paul Auster, Alexandre Dumas, and Shakespeare. I was enthusiastic about the sorts of programs that IRD conducted; I was pleased to discover that the reading enrichment classes for grade-schoolers required an interactive and playful spirit. I was able to mention proudly that Dana and I have greatly enjoyed reading the last three Harry Potter books aloud to each other and we look forward to doing so again when Half-Blood Prince comes out. I spoke of the following Tom Robbins sentence, which I committed to memory shortly after reading it in college, a sentence that shattered almost everything I had previously thought about how to utilize the English language, a sentence that opened doors and tunnels in my head and whispered softly that anything was possible; I spoke of this sentence:
The witch-girl sits by the fork in the river, sawing her cello with a human tibia, producing sounds like Stephen King's nervous system caught in a mousetrap.
I told my interviewer of my genuine belief in the power of literature, the importance of literature's continued survival. I told her of my elementary school teachers who had instilled such habits in me. I spoke with great eloquence of the needlessly dying art of literacy and how I would like nothing more than to contribute in any way I could, Commander, to the Noble Resistance.
And then she asked me how I would deal with unruly high school students. What steps would I take to reach those most resistant, those who were only in the reading classes because their parents enrolled them at the suggestion of their teachers.
I explained that one of the things I found systemically wrong with literature education at the high school level was the fact that the books were being sold as "good for you"--that Classic Literature was some sort of Lofty Ideal of the World, a strange type of authority figure all its own. I explained that I'd had classes where the teachers were more interested in talking about how Classic a book was without ever explaining why, and that in such cases, I was less inclined to read the assigned material1. I told her that what I felt was key in reaching resistant high schoolers was to highlight the exciting aspects of what was being read, the plot and characters. That once you got past the language, and you got to the core of the narrative, you could often find something that any teenager could relate to as easily as he or she relates to the plots and characters of current movies and video games.
Here's where I think I lost it: I spoke about the first time I read King Lear, and discovered that there was as much violence and melodrama as any Quentin Tarantino film.
At this point, there was a brief silence, and then she ended the interview. Not curtly, but with enough haste that it would slowly dawn on me how stupid it was to compare Shakespeare to Quentin Tarantino and imply that I would make that comparison to a class of high-schoolers as a means of engaging them in the material. I suppose it is fortunate that I didn't follow the discussion deeper, as I have in the past, in which I draw the obvious parallels between Act III, Sc. 7, (the blinding of Gloucester) and the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs.
There it was. The spirit of the dumbwaiter.
Sure, it might be other things than that. But that's the one thing I wish I hadn't said. I got too comfortable talking about literature, I think, and forgot that I was having the conversation as a deciding factor for a really wonderful job.
My pessimism shuts up, and my self-loathing takes a turn kicking the body.
1 Or senioritis. That was definitely an issue. Second semester of senior year is a terrible time to try and spring Faulkner and Joyce on one's students.