mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of right and righteous

Defiance (When Good Girls Go Bad): 1975

[cont'd from here] I get defiant about authority once I lose respect for it. This is what happened to me on my first job after graduate school. Also bear this in mind: My mother points out that I'm also competitive — a teacher once called me "educationally immature" for not looking up a word I used in an essay and I set out to show her how totally wrong she was. But I'm not one of those people who always need to win no matter how trivial the game. I only need to win when I'm right.

First Job

In June of 1975, I got my Masters in Community Health and was ready to start saving the world. The world wouldn't have me, so I took a job within the medical school department I'd just graduated from. "Community Health Educator" was my title and my main job was to help place first-year medical students into not-for-profit organizations so they could fulfill their Community Health requirements.

My supervisor was a young faculty member fresh from a long stretch as a field epidemiologist with the Public Health Service. He was a physician with a young family and a cool background of flying around the country tracking outbreaks of hepatitis A, e-coli or whatever. He wanted to be friends. I'll call him "Dick."


I took on my job with gusto but Dick was a disaster. Disorganized. Everything last minute. His weekly lectures to uninterested medical students were rambling messes, illustrated by overhead transparencies that seemed to be nothing but mishmashes of newspaper headlines.

I might have had sympathy for Dick's struggle to morph from a man of action to a teacher, except for one thing.

One of my assignments was to type up and edit his lecture notes. I can definitely edit. I know about tightening and shaping sentences and varying their lengths, etc. And yet — and yet! — he would hand them back to me for retyping, edited back to his run-on rambling.

And there was no arguing about it with him. I sunk from colleague to lackey.

It became a power struggle. Everything I did, he ruined by "correcting" it.


After a couple years of this, I went to the Big Boss, Bob. Now Bob could also be disorganized, but, when he gave a rambling lecture, restless students were suddenly riveted. I respected him.

I explained my frustrations and pleaded to report to a different faculty member — anybody but Dick . Bob probed. It finally got down to this:

"I'm smarter than he is," I said.

Bob reared back. "But he went to medical school!!!!"

Well, didn't that just bring the conversation to a screeching halt. Way to throw gasoline on a fire, Bob.

Bob's solution was to make Dick and I sit alone together in a conference room and "talk things out." I didn't know jack about conflict resolution in those days. I just sat there sullenly, wondering what strings got pulled to get Dick into medical school.


Much to my surprise, within a couple weeks, Bob announced that, while I would still have my Community Health Educator duties, I would report directly to him. Maybe Dick told him I was an insufferable little bitch.

This made me happy. Bob was the kind of boss I loved. "Supervision" happened as we passed each other in the hallway. He'd toss me an idea; I'd go do it; he was pleased; I was pleased. I still worked with Dick, but I wasn't his lackey. I could handle that.

Yes, I was a bitch, but I wasn't his bitch.


There was a little girl who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good she was very, very good;
And when she was bad, she was horrid.