Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond
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An Open Letter to Emails Requesting Volunteers for Office Events.
BY ALANA HURLEY
Dear Emails Requesting Volunteers for Take Your Child To Work Day, the Annual Holiday Party, the Federal Charity Drive, the Go Green Day, the Administrative Professionals Support Day, and Other Office Events:
I know that you’re just trying to get me to help. I know you didn’t specify where you wanted to be forwarded. You—badly drafted, typo ridden, and Screen Bean-infested though you are—are in and of yourself rather innocuous. But you get sent to my department by the director, and then you get sent on to me.
And I hate it.
Last year I volunteered for a few of these events, because I am that person who, when someone says “any questions?” and the silence stretches on and on and on and the speaker looks faintly terrified, will always stick my hand up and ask a question, because I can’t stand for the speaker to feel like they’ve failed. Professors loved me; I could always be counted on to ask a question. My fellow students hated me, and so did I.
So when it became apparent that no one was going to volunteer, and our director sent out two more emails with “calls for volunteers!” with more exclamation points each time, I heaved a sigh and volunteered. And it was excruciating, because instead of getting to stand around chugging cheap wine and eating sugar-gritty supermarket cake at the Holiday Party, I got stuck behind the table serving the cheap wine. As though putting up the decorations, attending the excruciating party committee meetings wasn’t enough, I had to stand there watching everyone else drink the cheap wine while pretending to be enjoying myself.
Also, I had once again forgotten that I don’t like parties or crowds of people unless they are comprised of the approximately three people I know whose company I don’t detest.
The other things that bothered me is that it was always me—me, the youngest, lowliest staff member, and a woman—who volunteered. This is why I never, not once, made coffee in the office. I knew that if I did, I would be doomed, and every morning for the rest of the time I worked there, someone would come in and boom “Any coffee yet?” and if I didn’t make the coffee that morning, they’d be hurt and sulky.
So I volunteered once, then twice, and then the director started forwarding you straight to me, ignoring everyone else in the office.
So I ignored you too.
It’s not personal. If everyone else took a turn shepherding obnoxious kids around on Take Your Child To Work Day or listening to someone explain why the word “Christmas” can’t be used in conjunction with the Holiday Party but that pictures of Santa are totally okay, I wouldn’t have so much of a problem with you. Call it the agony of expectation. It’s like feeding stray cats or buying a sandwich and juice at the supermarket for that homeless guy who was sitting on a bus stop bench. You feel a warm little glow of happiness—look what I did, I cared enough that I didn’t just give him some change, I bought him a meal!—that will last as long as it takes you to come back out of the grocery store and see that he tore the sandwich apart and left it scattered on the ground, and it will remind you that maybe he is just a jerk, and that you should never try to help anyone else again.
So that is why I keep deleting you. I don’t even open you anymore. I see the word “volunteer” in the subject line and I send you straight to the trash.
I’m sure you will continue showing up in my inbox, hoping I will have forgotten how bad the last time was, that something in your WordArt or misplaced apostrophes will pull at my heart and make me email back with “Sure!”
But those days are over. I volunteer for no one now.
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