Friday, December 18, 2009

The Prodigal Blogger Returns

Hello all! Let's see if I remember how to do this blogging thing. It's been so long! Bad blogger!

With Thanksgiving over (and Christmas just around the corner), it's strange to think that I'm still not sitting in an office everyday, or just working one full-time job. When I graduated I expected that by now I would be settled. I wonder how long it will be, but I think I'm over that phase of creating deadlines for myself about it. I just have to keep working and eventually it will get there. Trust is something I'm learning, trust in myself more than anything else.

But in more tangible news, I just completed a piece for my local paper that could be the beginning of a regular freelancing gig. A step in the right direction, I believe. In the non-writing field, I did get a job that pays the bills (of which I have precisely two: car insurance and repaying student loans; three if you count holiday shopping). I'm the newest holiday staffer of a retail store in the mall. Not revealing the company since I wouldn't want to enter into the gray area of the social media thingy I signed, but if you're my Facebook friend, you know.

This is my first 'real' job, the kind that's not an internship, not at school, and involves going somewhere. Pay stubs and everything. A lot of people did this in high school. I was lucky enough to think of school as my work and devote those years to homework and last minute group projects (they happen more than you realize). Which might be why I'm finding the transition to the working world so strange. It's like changing careers, going from a record producer to a chemical engineer. Okay, no idea why I picked those two things, but you know what I mean. I'm getting used to it, though, and continue to juggle my schedule with writing and retailing.

So, look forward to rants about my sore feet and people paying with checks (so complicated for the cashier!). And my continuing search for a full-time writing job. Would that be a good New Year's resolution? Maybe I should just start with not leaving this blog empty for a month! Thanks for hanging in there!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Be Back Soon!

With the holidays and everything, I've been falling behind in my posts, so I just wanted to leave a quick cyber note that I am alive and well, and that I have every intention of flooding your brains with new and exciting life events soon. Until then, happy weekend...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Consumer Stalking

Have you ever felt like a company or store was following you around, tempting you with things that they know you can't resist? I feel that I'm am currently the victim of consumer stalking.

I swear to you. I don't know if they're tapping my phone or reading my thoughts, but somehow, Amazon clearly knows what I want and exactly what price it will take to make it impossible to say no. Now, they already have plenty of information on me. I've bought various things from them over the years, usually movies and books. And I have about six wish lists, including one specifically telling people what would make a good gift for me. I'm a list person, and Amazon satisfies my organizing addiction. So it's not surprising that they know what I want. But really, I don't know why there has been such a string of things which seems specifically designed to ensnare me and my money.

First, it was Gilmore Girls. Loved it in high school and college, and I've recently started watching the reruns every weekday on ABC Family. So when Amazon sent me a friendly little e-mail about their deal of the day, imagine my amazement to see that they had the entire show, seven whole seasons, for about $100. That was insane, because we're talking about 40+ discs that usually sell for at least $170. I knew I would want this set eventually, and that it would never be cheaper, so after a few agonizing hours going back and forth, I gave in and made the purchase. And a week or so later I had my lovely little set waiting for me in the mail box. So pretty, so new, and with its own special place on my shelf. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Uh-huh.

But then, I was further propositioned by Amazon with another deal of the day a few weeks later. The complete series of Angel, for the same ridiculous discount. I haven't even seen all of Angel, but I knew I wanted it, being the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I already own. And somehow, not having seen the series made me want it more, because it made me want to watch it, and there was no other way to do it. So I gave them another $50 of my money and anxiously awaited another package. It does concern me that perhaps some of my motivation was to make walking to the mail box more exciting, but I don't think that would be enough for someone like me to want to spend money. The gorgeousness of David Boreanaz is a much more likely culprit.

Now, if I start getting e-mails from Amazon about Doctor Who specials or discounts on NCIS, I'm going to have to call in reinforcements, because that will be going one step too far. I did find a flyer for Arby's in my door, so maybe now I'm being stalked by fast food vendors, which might actually be worse. I can look at my shelves and still feel good about my purchases, but I probably wouldn't say the same thing about the crumpled-up wrapper of a cheeseburger.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Know You're a Cat Lady When...

I'm currently transitioning a cat that lived at my dad's house to my mom's house. She's been inside for about two weeks, to make sure she doesn't run away and try and return to her old home. The first day she was confused and sniffing around, and spending a lot of time in the chair I brought over to give her something that 'smelled' right. I was feeling very guilty at the trauma I had exposed her to.

But now, she is perfectly well adapted to the new house, explored every last corner, and she's itching to go outside. Itching, scratching, meowing, she's ready. But I'm not.

I've let her outside twice now. Both times I've followed her around and then brought her in after ten or twenty minutes. I'm starting to think that if I ever become a mother, I'll be the one sitting outside of Pre-K, chewing their fingernails and bursting through the door after half an hour to take the kid home. That's enough, let's go home! See what I mean? Cat lady. Whenever you can link your treatment of your cat to a child, it's time to rethink the warning signs and take control of your life. Before you become a Mother Goose rhyme.

Of course, there are legitimate concerns. I don't want her getting lost, etc. And because she tends to shuffle off any collar around her neck, she has no ID, which brings nightmares of someone else taking her in or taking her to a shelter. But, as is my wont, these rational issues become irrationally dangerous in my mind. I think one of the drawbacks of working at home is that you interact more with cats than with people.

So I'm trying to take a step back and force myself to open the door. These are the trials and tribulations of a freelance writer.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Invoices 101, and Other Classes I WIsh I Had Taken

So, I just made up an invoice for a month of corporate blogging. And I kept thinking, "This shouldn't be this hard. I should already know how to do this? Why don't I know how to do this?" It's just another one of those things that we all are expected to know, but no one teaches us. And it's kind of annoying. Paying bills, serving bills, these are the things we really need to know, but they are treated both like secrets and common knowledge. You either just don't need to know, or it's ridiculous and pathetic that you don't. There's no actual period when you are supposed to learn.

Thank God for Word having examples for me to fill info into. That solved a few of my problems. Some, however, appear to have no template.

Like rates. What does one charge for freelance writing? Apparently if you're a scab, you go for a penny a word or less. If you're awesome, you get a few bucks or more. I'm currently going with ten cents, or six if pushed. I just have no idea. And no one will give me the straight answer. It used to be a buck a word for magazines, but that was years ago and now writing is worth what a random, non-English speaker is willing to charge. How am I supposed to make sure I'm not expensive, but not setting myself up for permanent Mom-residence? I have loans coming into repayment, I'm not just going to work for the sheer thrill. But I'd rather have a little money than none. It's a financial and moral dilemma, because underselling yourself is setting a bad industry precedent. I don't want to be a scab!!!

So after having navigated cover letters, I've got these terrible questions to ponder. And soon there will be fantastic taxes to decipher, and at some point I'm going to need a 401k. Where were these classes? Why did I go through two years of Calculus, but absolutely no real life training? Particularly for Sarah Lawrence students, who might need to make unconventional choices and fend for themselves while everyone else realizes how awesome we are. Hey, it's the humor that helps us through these troubled times...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Confessions of a Burnout

I've been remiss in posting, I must apologize. But at least I can write about my reasons, vague and slim though they may be.

This past week or so, I've been slowly losing steam. It feels like I just need a little extra motivation to get things done. I still write my Examiner articles every day, but it's the other things that are starting to feel tedious and like more work than they actually are. This blog, for instance. I have three other drafts for posts as I type, that will most likely never see the light of day. I get an idea, I begin to write, but before I can perfect it, I move onto to something else and it falls by the wayside, never to be touched again. And I second-guess myself constantly, wondering if anyone really cares that I moved a cat from my dad's house to my mom's, or that I made a new friend. With two followers, I'm buckling under expectation! Ridiculous. More than likely it's the growing fear that I've run out of interesting things to write about because I spend most of my days writing. Does that make sense?

There's also my television info logging. I dutifully watch 'Project Runway' and input all the interesting data on Saturday morning, when the episode is posted online and I can time out all the scenes. I enjoy this quite a bit, and have gotten into the habit when watching television of picking out what would and would not be an info item, or trying to discern a particular product brand. Unfortunately, I have been lax in my coverage of the defunct show 'Roswell.' Perhaps as a reaction to working on Saturday, it takes some initiative on my part to actually pop in the DVD and watch another episode, cataloguing scene times and info objects. It isn't that I don't like it, it's just that I'm in such a strangely unmotivated funk.

It didn't help that yesterday, despite constantly creating new content, my Examiner page views dipped dramatically. Three page views for the entire day. Very special. Still plodding along, but I'm going to need a little more than three reads to feel as though my typing is worth something.

Perhaps, like caffeine, small amounts of recognition and even smaller amounts of pay can only sustain you for so long. Eventually, you're going to have to sleep, or take something stronger. I'm still on the lookout for a position that is both financially and personally satisfying, though at this point anything would be welcome. I don't want to stop writing, and I do enjoy the work I'm doing, but thinking down the road, this is not a situation I can handle long term. Maybe it's the capitalist influence, but I need to know that my skills as I writer are worth money and benefits. In my head I know they are, but in the world all I see are ads for experience or something not down my alley.

I don't want to sound self-pitying, or give the impression that I'm not a go-getting, self-starting catch of an employee. It's just that a daily grind that doesn't seem to be getting anywhere is immensely frustrating, if not paralyzing. I'm the kind of person who likes to see the results of their work, and to know where their effort is getting them. Studying leads to good grades, which leads to good college, which leads to more studying, which leads to good job. When something in that linear frame of thinking gets skewed, it's hard to keep believing that hard work equals compensation. How many months can you get by on putting yourself out there before you just want to crawl back in, wave the white flag and become an accountant?

I know this will pass. I know because I still get excited when there's a new topic to discuss and a new comment on my articles. I just need a deep breath, maybe a day off, and to not get another bill in the mail.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen: Hair

I'm a planner. I don't go out without knowing where I'm going, how to get there, and what I want. This came in handy when taking day trips into Manhattan when I was in school. It also makes me a little neurotic. Before college, when preparing for summer vacations visiting my grandparents, packing usually lasted at least a week, and even before then I was making lists of what I wanted to bring and which books I would read. Sometimes I think I take half of my pleasure in just the anticipation of something happening.

I take the same careful approach when it comes to haircuts. When I have an appointment coming up, I starts to take over all my spare brain power to try and decide what I want. I Google haircuts for pictures, and always bring in at least one for my stylist to go from. I have delusions of grandeur; or at least delusions of straight hair. I'm told people with straight hair wish for curl, but I don't believe them. I think everyone of the female persuasion has a very personal relationship with their hair. It's an expression of self, something you can control (in theory) when nothing else will submit to your will. You love it, you hate it, you perm it, you gel it. But you've got to live with it.

When I was a child, I was very blond. The kind of blond that creates a halo effect when the sun shines behind you. Golden curly locks fit for a fairy tale. As I grew up, though, my hair seemed to lose its luster and became more mousy brown than golden. I believe I was a dirty blond, which is such a flattering description. At first I fought the onset of brunettry, dying my hair back to the natural order. Then I saw 'Moulin Rouge' and decided that I wanted to be a redhead. That of course, translated to turning myself into walking carrot fuzz. But I didn't realize that at the time.

But even before I tried to salvage my blond or venture into red, I had already made a major hair decision my sophomore year of high school. After years of long, and frankly unmanageable hair, I made what might have been the most impulsive decision of my life and cut my hair. It was an idea that was born of a single afternoon. I decided, and we went to SuperCuts. This wasn't a minor trim by any stretch. They took off a full ten inches so I could donate to Locks of Love. And thus began my life of relatively short hair. And I never looked back.

It took a few cuts before I perfected my short hair self. The first cut was really more of a slash and go job, no layers. That left my hair just this side of poof-tastic. But soon I was embracing a hair style that cut my morning brush time to under ten minutes. And then I began embracing my darker side, opting for a warm brown hair color, still with that touch of auburn. Eventually, I found a hair dye that somehow matched my natural color, because it never grew out. Since then I've only ventured into semi-permanent colors so I don't have to worry about messing up or roots.

Coming to terms with my hair was a process. It was yet another test of surviving high school. I'm much happier with my hair these days, though I still sometimes curse the poof and it's indecision as to whether it is curly, wavy, or straight. I still get antsy about it though, and I always want to change it, just a little. It's one of the only times I look forward to change. Normally I'm the type of person who is always defending their rut. But with my hair, I'm always scoping out the new cuts and imagining how they would look. I suppose I see my hair as almost another accessory, like my oh-so important shoes. With the right haircut, it seems that the perfect life could be just around the corner.

I have a hair appointment later today. Rest assured, I am armed with plenty of photos and glorious expectation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Let's Get Political...litical...

(Just as a sidenote, the title of this post should be read with Olivia Newton-John's song "Physical" in mind. It's actually been in my head for a while now, with lyrics based on this.)

The biggest political ruckus right now in the U.S. is over health care. More specifically, it's about the push and pull of Obama trying to reform it and the Republicans accusing him of socialism and trying to kill old people. And it's been sparking a lot of rants inside my head that I need to get out.

As a college graduate, I was dropped from my father's health insurance plan. In order to stay covered, we're paying exorbitant rates for a COBRA plan which I can buy into for about a year and a half. If it wasn't for that contingency, I would no doubt constantly be anxious about what might happen if I was in a car accident, if I need stronger lenses, or if I just get the sniffles. Really, should anyone have to worry about that?

Then, I saw an ad the other day meant to undermine the public option. It featured a breast cancer survivor spouting statistics that a greater number of British patients die of breast cancer. There you go, something else to be afraid of, if we have a public option, you will die! By taking a statistic and reducing it's cause to one specific difference between the two countries, they've created a ridiculous argument that I'm afraid too many people will accept as fact. But here's the thing: at least in the UK, if you get breast cancer, you and your family won't lose everything to get treatment. And putting that completely aside, Obama isn't even proposing a system like the UK has. I guess they just had the best (read: worst) statistics. Classy.

Here's what I think: there's a lot of blame going around for people who don't have health insurance. I hear and read a lot of people saying that people who aren't insured are just lazy and need to get a job. Hmm, well, okay, but we do have over 10% unemployment, with people getting laid off for no reason related to their performance. Are they lazy? Then there are the small businesses which can't afford to buy insurance for their employees. Aren't small businesses part of the much-touted American dream? Are the people running the Mom and Pop grocery store lazy because they aren't pushing paper in a cubicle (not that there's anything wrong with that!)? If I'm working at least three part-time jobs, none of which provide health insurance, am I lazy? There are so many writers out there working freelance, doing what they love and making some money, but not "earning" benefits because of the business model of their field.

It seems to me that blaming the uninsured is just people's way of separating themselves from the fear of lay offs and the like. Because maybe if it's their fault it won't happen to you. But it can, and if it does, wouldn't you like the opportunity to break your leg without re-mortaging your home? With more and more students graduating every year, how can so many parents think that their children will become "the problem" if they aren't able to find a job immediately? Denying a problem by blaming others is no way to live.

And another thing (I'm on a roll now) for those who think the government shouldn't guarantee health insurance, that it isn't a right. What about the police, or the firefighters? Those are a right. You can hire your own security system or team, but if you're mugged, the police will come whether or not you've paid a monthly fee. Why can we expect the government to protect our property and our livelihood, but not our health? And if you don't ever call the police, or if you don't have a fire, you don't whine that your tax dollars are going towards all those lazy bums who did suffer those things. Because it's a right to a certain amount of security that we all accept.

I just think that everyone is entitled to reasonably priced healthcare. At minimum. We can argue about free healthcare and who should provide it until the cows come home. But someone who is out of work, or is working without benefits, should be able to get their prescriptions and see their doctor without losing a huge chunk of cash.

I know that this is essentially a rant. But where else can I rave?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How Many Homes Can One Heart Have?

They say home is where the heart is. But that assumes that there is only one place for your heart, only one place that's really home. In my experience, you leave a little piece of your heart everywhere you go, and that makes it harder and harder to accept one home.

I was born in Germany. I suppose that means it could be my home, but other than fond memories of vacations after the fact, nothing ties me there. I would still love to go back, though.

When I was three we moved to Austin. It is my default home, and I love it, but there have been ups and downs. Being Texan is taken very seriously, and moving here doesn't cut it. It seemed that to many, I didn't belong. Many times growing up I doubted where I fit in, feeling like the only person who was questioning anything about themselves.

That was part of the reason I decided to go to college in New York. The other part was the fantastic school. I found so many people I connected with, and I was able to really experience learning the way I wanted, pouring over books and writing papers and having sincere discussions at circular tables and on sun-kissed lawns. It was all very much like a college brochure, I assure you. Leaving was not easy. I don't know how to live in New York, but I'm not sure I was ready to live outside of SLC.

But in between years in Bronxville, I spent a semester in Prague studying abroad. My father is Czech, which made me want to explore a little of my heritage, especially considering my wandering childhood, which was plagued with questions of what citizenship meant. More friends were made, but the revelation was simply living in the city. Walking down cobblestone streets and taking trams, splurging on Marks & Spencer's dark chocolate digestive biscuits and pushing my way through grocery shopping at Tesco. It was the most independently I have ever lived. But beyond that, I love the city. I joined a knitting group and made my own friends, was able to search out great bookstores, yarn stores, and, most importantly, bakeries.

Other places I've visited and would love to see again (to the point of elaborate day dreams) are Kefalonia, a Greek Island; Paris; Hallstatt, a small town in Austria; and Cesky Krumlov, a historic Czech town. There are others, but these are the ones I'd be sad to never see again. One other major spot is the U.K. With family there, I've spent a total of many months there, and it's a familiar and comfortable home. I considered spending my semester abroad there, and I think I would enjoy an opportunity to explore London and its outskirts in the same manner as I explored Prague.

Now I'm back in Austin, and I'm glad to be back. I'm looking forward to Buda's Annual Weiner Dog Races in the spring, and the Trail of Lights at Christmas. But I'm starting to suspect that there's nowhere I can be without missing somewhere else. In New York I missed being home, just like I craved Mexican food in Prague. But being here, I miss walking through Prague, feeling vastly superior to camera-wielding tourists. I miss my New York friends.

Is there any solution? How can there be, other than suddenly coming into masses of money that allow me a work-free rotational system, with three months in each place, or perhaps six or more, with each rotation taking two or three years. I think my major stressor is the thought that, barring this lottery fate, I might not see some of these places again. I've reached adulthood, and the time for summer vacations has ended. What if I don't have the luxury of travel, which emotional investment has made me feel is a necessity? The world gets smaller, and I can chat with friends thousands of miles away or look at photos online of my favorite spots. But the distances are still the same, the cost is higher, and nothing can take the place of actually being there.

Staring at postcards. Wish I was there. Every there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Power of a Page View

Since I've begun blogging and writing online, I've realized the power we all hold as consumers of entertainment. I check my page views almost daily, and I love the idea that there are people who look forward to reading content I've created. It's a completely different feeling than writing a class paper, or even writing for a school publication, because it is more my own (while reaching a wider audience), and I can keep track of the results.

This has translated into my attitude towards others' content as well. When I read my favorite blogs, I feel a sense of pride almost in knowing that I'm part of numbers I know matter. I leave comments more often because everyone deserves feedback. It's important that the community of writers engage and encourage each other because we understand the importance of every page view.

This also applies to other media. When I watch a television show, I feel the responsibility of being a viewer. This past spring, a show which I love, Dollhouse, was near cancellation. The chances of seeing a second season were reportedly slim. I sent e-mails, I called the network, and I made sure to watch the episodes on sites like Hulu that send their viewing numbers to the networks. Eventually the news came out, and it was good. The second season started last Friday. The ratings are still low, but I'm intent on making sure my view is always there (even though my lack of a Nielson box means they have no idea when I watch live on television). If anyone's interested in making this easier, catch up with the first season and start watching. I can't guarantee there will be a third season, but I do know that what we've seen so far is worth every minute.

When I find something I like, I feel loyal. The same goes for artists and writers and show creators. I'm a very involved consumer. Being a part of an audience, I feel like I'm giving something to the creators, but I also feel that the product is partly my own. What is a book or a blog without readers?

It's important that when we consume culture, we take pride in it. Because it isn't just a frivolous exploit, it isn't a waste of time. It's human nature, and it's something we need. When you read a blog, it leaves you with something (hopefully). But it also gives something to the author. Each page view is an affirmation. It's a beautiful relationship between producers and consumers, and I'm happy to know both roles.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Crafting a Work Day

Working from home on various projects affords a great deal of flexibility. But sometimes, in my obsessively-planned world, flexibility isn't what I'm looking for.

I kept pretty regular hours even after high school. They were not atypical for a college student: up until about midnight or later, sleeping through to ten and getting ready for class at eleven. Your time is basically your own to decide whether to study or write or goof, but there are still the absolutes of class time providing a rigid backbone, and eventually you fall into a pattern of dividing the hours a certain way.

Of course office life is defined by the nine to five. You know when to wake up, and you know that during the day you will be working, leaving your personal activities for after the drive home. This of course does not apply to things like Facebook, which seem to have wormed their way into the workplace as the number one time waster, causing employers to shake their heads. But basically, there are allotted hours for you and allotted hours for your work.

Working from home is very different. I suppose if I had a regular position for which I was simply working remotely it would be easier to create a work day in my living room, tackling the same eight-hour workload from the comfort of my sofa. But with a myriad of things to do, writing, researching, watching old episodes of TV shows to log online, there's no set period of time I must devote to each activity. I do set my alarm in the morning, and generally wake up around 8:30 each day to start up the computer and brush my teeth, grabbing a yogurt as I open up all the windows of my browser (at two of which devoted to social networking) and get settled in for the day.

I work on my articles, adding links to whatever is going up today and adding content to others scheduled to go out later in the week. I also look up other things I could write about soon, to keep my calendar full. My goal at the moment is to publish an article every weekday, sometimes more if there's just an embarrassment of content riches. I'm also taking frequent, short breaks for walking, just a few laps around the house or the block, trying to keep a foundation of movement in my day. Then there's the job searching, which is regularly random, checking the usual sites for something new and exciting that will pay me. And of course, thinking up ideas for posts here! It's all very exciting.

Lunch takes as long as it takes, though I could probably keep that around 30 minutes if I really wanted to, and then it's the same again as the morning, only with some DVD-watching paired with furious note-taking. Plus planning for dinner, which I have taken responsibility for. My culinary skills would wow you. Did you know you have to take the plastic off of the cheese slices? Kidding.

Anyway, the mix of work and extraneous activity is relaxing, and everything gets done. The only problem comes at night, when I could be knitting (I knit!) or reading a magazine, but I still feel the urge to work, and if I'm not, I feel just a little bit guilty. Since I always can be working, it seems lazy to not be doing a little work all the time. I think this tendency is magnified just because I'm not making money, so I want to feel that I'm actually working, justifying myself and every hour of my day. Which doesn't seem very healthy.

So I'm trying to keep regular hours for work and play. Of course I'm writing this in the evening (posting it in the morning), as I take notes on the latest Project Runway episode, which gets logged mostly on Saturdays when Lifetime deems it fit to put the episode online so I can time out the scenes. Maybe I can't schedule out my time as rigidly right now, and maybe that's a good thing. It means I can have a friend over to watch movies while I write, or nap away a headache and work later into the night. It's good to stretch my adaptability muscles every once in a while. I'll think of it as training. Wait-lifting (gotta end with a pun).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Odometer Sentimentality

Driving is not my favorite thing, but it's something that's required to get from one place to another, particularly when you don't live in a fabulously public transit urban area. I could walk to the grocery store, but I'd be taking my life into my own hands, given the spotty sidewalk availability and the speed of traffic. People aren't so always used to pedestrians around here. So driving is the way it's got to be.

Most of the time I'm on my own in the car, listening to the radio, singing along, and let's be honest, sometimes pretending I'm in a music video. There's nothing like an open stretch of road and your favorite song of the week playing full blast (or at least semi-full blast, don't want to burst an ear drum). But a lot of people, maybe even most, sing in the car. It's the mobile equivalent of a shower, just a little drier. There's something that I do in the car that I've never heard anyone else doing.

There are two odometers in a car: one with the total mileage for the car, and another that can be reset, generally used for mileage per tank of gas. It counts miles to one decimal point. This may sound ridiculously basic to describe, but I'm setting a scene. When I get up to around two hundred miles on one tank, I have a nostalgic little ritual I almost always go through. Remember that one decimal point? That means that at two hundred miles, the odometer reads 2000. I begin to think of where I was in 2000, what was happening. I began high school in 2001, and memories of lunch in the cafeteria and my first poetry slam come to mind. I remember each year as the wheels turn beneath me and the miles go by. 2005, there goes my graduation and my first year in college, the friends I made and the memories we shared.

It's only a matter of moments before we reach 2009, today. I remember how driving this same car years ago I imagined this year and what I would be doing, graduating and leaving school. It seemed so far away then. Now, it seems to be slipping away faster than it does on the dashboard. Before I know it the years are flying by. 2014, five years from now, what will that bring? 2017 I turn 30, will anything have changed. The decades go by, and soon I can't calculate my age fast enough, and the moment has passed. Back to singing and driving.

It may be only a mile or two, but it's an interesting reminder of where I've been and a well-developed moment to consider where I'm going (in more ways than one). Maybe other people do it as well, but for me, this is a personal moment brings smiles and a few hopeful tears. There I am, alone in the car, alone on the road, just pushing on. I can't go back. Even if I shifted into reverse, the odometer would keep going forward.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


A lot has been made of the recent outbursts of incivility in the American cable news media. As someone who is able to take in a lot of these 24-hour channels these days, I thought I'd make a comment or two on how they treat news and how they create news. Also, I wanted to write some more about tennis, considering how well it's symbolizing something more widely applicable at the moment.

On the other side of the news, there was Serena Williams' outrageous verbal attack on a lines woman at the semifinals of the US Open. I watched it unfold live, and it truly left me aghast, literally with my jaw dropped. It was a Twitter trend within minutes, and everyone knew this was the watercooler moment of the tournament. I accept that it was a big deal, but as the days went on, I saw this as a greater cultural example of what we deem to be newsworthy.

The night after the cursing, threatening and jaw dropping was the women's final, with Kim Clijsters facing off against Caroline Wozniacki. And Clijsters won, heralding her return to tennis, winning a grand slam in her third tournament back. It was an amazing story. But not amazing enough. Clijsters didn't trend on Twitter, and no one cared that a mother won the US Open for the first time in nearly three decades.

And then, in a five-set stunner, Juan Martin Del Potro managed to end Roger Federer's 2,200 day winning streak at the Open. Again, not nearly as much attention was paid to this as Serena losing a match and throwing a fit.

The pundits seem to wonder why this fit of rage is spreading. With Joe Wilson's outburst to Kanye's VMA "performance," this makes for a convenient little story about our society's anger and growing incivility. And they ask why. What I don't understand is how they can't see why. If Serena had won against Clijsters and then the championship, only ESPN would give it more than a passing thought. Of course Serena didn't do it with publicity in mind, but she did appear at the VMAs to poke fun at the incident less than 24 hours after it happened, and at the same time as Clijsters was playing against Wozniacki. Hmm...

Why are people acting so outrageously? Because that's the only thing that gets attention. Juan Martin Del Potro is a twenty-year old who had never been to a grand slam final before, who beat arguably the greatest player ever. But it was Federer's slight loss of temper with the chair umpire that interested everyone. If Serena had simply come back against Clijsters and won the match, there would have been no snarky comment to make at the VMAs, and there wouldn't be nearly as much publicity for her newly-released memoir. In being so shocked, are we simply promoting this behavior? Like children acting out for parental attention.

How can you address a problem without discussing it, without promoting it? You tell me.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Insert Pun Here

"It's a Love Match," "Serving Up Fun," there's a slew of wonderful puns I could use to begin this post, but let's not, shall we? Instead, let's just jump into my favorite sport, and why I love it.

Being from Texas, football would be a logical assumption for my favorite sport, but I've blown hot and cold with it. For one thing, why bother having a clock, when the last five minutes of a game can go on for half an hour? And why so many guys on a team who only seem to be able to complete one aspect of the game on their own? I like soccer (or as my mother would say, "real football"), but generally only international events like the World Cup where the stakes are high and the games are competitive. There's something about the fact that "friendlies" can end in a tie that seems to go against the general quality of a sport.

No, tennis is the one for me. There is no sport where an athlete is so alone in their play. Even golf, an individual sport, players have caddies to discuss shots with a choose clubs. The closest a tennis player gets is the roar of the crowd and sly signaling from their box. But it is up to them and no one else to keep their mind in the game.

There are so many stories in tennis. You have Federer, the best out there right now. I've been a little ambiguous in my feelings for him because it does get a little dull knowing who will ultimately win a match or tournament. No matter how many gorgeous shots he hits, it doesn't get interesting until someone returns them (just one reason I love Nadal so much). But when Federer shows emotion, that's when I love him. When he lost the Australian Open, he was clearly devastated, and when he won the French Open for the first time, completing the career Grand Slam, he was full of joyful tears and disbelief. I admire his skill, but it's the desire I require to root for someone. For the same reason that I care so much for characters in books and movies, I love to see a player enjoy the win of their life.

By the same token, I do suffer when a favorite player loses. I've been a fan of Andy Roddick since 2001's Wimbledon, where he lost to eventual winner Ivanisevic. My fandom is simple: I don't just want him to win, I know he can, and it's disappointing when he doesn't. When he won the US Open I was ecstatic. When he lost the epic Wimbledon final to Federer, I was in tears the rest of the afternoon, but consoled by the fact that he almost beat Federer, something no one thought he could do there.

The women's game can be just as interesting, though the drama of a break of serve isn't as high because it happens more often. But with Clijsters return, and the amazing run of Melanie Oudin, there's always something popping up to make life interesting. I won't comment on the recent kerfuffle with Serena Williams' outburst, I'll just say that it's a shame Clijsters didn't get her winning moment, and that this is what most people will take from the match, and possibly the tournament. Why is it people seem to only tune into tennis when someone is yelling?

One of the advantages to working at home is that I can do what I like while I work, which includes watching hours of television coverage on grand slams. First, Wimbledon, my first and favorite tournament, and now near its end, the US Open, with its own special place in my heart because I was there last year. There's nothing quite like being able to watch every single moment of each round (or at least every moment they decide is important enough to show me). It's not the same to see the score update online or watch the recaps at night.

I love waking up every morning to the ESPN or CBS team. Anyone not in the US won't know what I mean when I talk about "Pammy," "Killer," "Cliffy," "MJ," "BJ," along with Dick Enberg and John and Patrick McEnroe (who I like to think of as "Knick-knack, Patty-Mc"). But truly, were I to go to another event, I'd be just as excited to see these guys as any of the top players. The many hours they spend together covering tennis makes them friendly and jovial with each other, adding an extra layer of pleasure in my viewing and bringing a few laughs to the matches.

Other than the commentators, there is simply the game of tennis. These past two weeks have given me plenty to feed off of as I work from my computer and walk around the living room to keep myself active. When it's all over tomorrow, there will be a gap. I'll miss waking up and looking at the schedule of the day, and hoping for a "Technically Speaking" feature from the commentators. I'll have to wait until January to get the same quantity and quality of tennis. And by then, I hope I'll have a job, which might prevent me from enjoying every minute of coverage as I have recently. But I'll still be watching closely, breathless as the live score window updates on my browser (while of course still doing my work to the utmost!).

Some people have soap operas, but tennis is where I get my stories. There is triumph, comeback, success against all odds, and there is disappointment, loss, injury and heartbreak. It's just a ball being knocked around a few squares, but it's so much more. To me at least.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What do I Owe You, Mr. Sparks?

Hello all! I apologize for the lapse in blogging over the past few days. It was influenced by the three-day weekend, the US Open, and a sudden burst in workload. Labor day was not that exciting, and I'll write on the US Open a little later, so let's discuss the events of the week, including my very exciting Tuesday.

I've been working on my various projects, getting a fashion branding website up and running with almost all the content co-written by me, which is very exciting. I've also been logging information on two television shows, which takes more time than you might guess. But what has really been taking my attention away from my loyal little blog, is A website which has local branches offering topics ranging from Charter Education to Joss Whedon, Examiner hired me on as their Austin Literature Examiner a few weeks ago, and I've been steadily posting articles there with moderate success. I knew I could count on a few friends on Facebook and Twitter to follow my links and gain myself a few pages views, but yesterday things were very different.

Tuesday is the day of book releases, and this Tuesday was the release of Nicholas Sparks' new novel. Sparks is a popular writer who has found a great deal of fame in having his movies adapted into blockbuster chick flicks that make you cry and realize how unromantic your life truly is. His newest book is already in production as a movie, and the screenplay was actually written before the novel. I wrote a little article about it's release, treading lightly between promotion and criticism. Sparks' novels are popular mainstream fare that aren't quite my cup of tea, but they are certainly well-crafted, and anything that gets people to read today is great by me. But the article was fairly straightforward, and as I published it, I expected the same 20 or so views from my friends and a few strangers interested in the novel.

Boy, was I wrong. As I checked my page views, I had suddenly climbed to over a hundred, and was the most popular article of the moment. I was shocked. How did this happen? Just one article on a popular author, and suddenly everyone was reading my words. Bolstered by this success, I went ahead and also wrote an article about the newest novel in the Dexter series. This was not as explosive, but still managed to grab some attention.

By the end of the day, I had received 234 page views! This earned me a place as one of the top five Austin Examiners. Even if this only lasted for a day, it was so exciting, and such a boost to my confidence. This showed me that I could find an audience and find at least a glimmer of success just doing what I'm doing now. Now I've fallen from the rankings, and my latest article is getting modest numbers (though I think slightly elevated), but the memory of yesterday will keep me satisfied for a long time.

It didn't make me rich, but it made me hope. And so I feel I have to ask: What do I owe you, Nicholas Sparks, for the hope?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Take a Look, It's in a Book

I just published an article online about the recent end of a PBS show, Reading Rainbow, and I thought it was worth discussing it here. I'm a huge believer in public television, and I wish this country would invest more to guarantee its future. I think that PBS was immensely important in my informal education, inspiring me to love what I was learning for something more than grades.

As everything seems to be moving more and more towards teaching basic skills only, I wonder what happens when all you know is how to read and not why. Of course it's important to learn spelling and grammar, but the next level is using it, and if you don't use it, it's a skill half-learned. I remember spending so many days in public school on standardized testing that was truly a waste of time, because it dealt with things I had already learned, but I still had to take the test, and most classes taught to the test rather than to the actual subject. If you only learn grammar for the sake of a test, that's negative reinforcement in my view, and that will only go so far.

What Reading Rainbow, Wishbone, Mister Rogers Neighborhood and other PBS shows did for me was beyond what I can explain. It was just as important as my parents reading to me at night and having some truly involved teachers. These shows influenced my way of thinking about learning and reading, and without them, I don't know who I would be. Perhaps I was always meant to be a word person, maybe it's in my DNA, but even if it is nature, certainly this nurture was critical.

So it's the end of an era. I hope that budding wordsmiths will still be inspired to explore reading and writing, but I fear that this might be a loss for them. Maybe I need to buy some of the DVDs if I ever have kids, because who knows what will be on television by then.

Anyway, if anyone wants to read the article, you can find it here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Symbolism of Shoes

On a recent shopping excursion to DSW, I spent nearly an hour contemplating a very important decision: to buy or not to buy. That is indeed the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer life without a really cute pair of shoes, or to just suck it up and pay the money.

Decisions aren't normally easy for me anyway, but make that decision about shoes, and it becomes about something more than footwear. Because when I'm thinking about a pair of shoes, I'm thinking about what I'll be doing when I wear them. And recently, my weakness has been for black dress shoes that I could wear to work.

It started with just a few good staples, low heels, cute but sensible, which caused me to buy a pair of bright pink sneakers in retaliation against such "boring" choices.

This trend has expanded to include more fashionable booties, still black, but more interesting (and less comfortable). It went from relatively subdued Franco Sarto... quilted patent pleather...

...and finally, to the decision which took an hour to make.

Why did it take me so long? Well, there's the fact that the shoes I've just shown you are pretty similar, the heels are very high, and that I just hate spending money in general. Those were negative, but they were countered with these: the shoes are all somewhat different in the details, there's a platform which makes the heels less extreme than they seem (plus I used to be able to walk in stilettos in high school, need to retrain my feet), and when it comes down to it, they were $20 because they were 70% off (I heart clearance).

Those things all even out, which normally would make me lean towards not buying, because stinginess will always win. But the all-important factor, me seeing myself in the shoes, is what made the difference. And here's where this becomes relevant to the blog (thanks for sticking with me!). What I see with these shoes is a fabulous, twenty-something me, working and going out dancing and just generally being cool and awesome. When I was in elementary school, we took several field trips to the capital building, and I remember listening to the clicking of heels on the granite floors, and thinking that that was what adulthood sounded like. From the look to the sound, shoes represent so much more to me than footwear. It's about where you're going in them.

So it was the idea of the shoes, rather than the shoes themselves that I bought. And I figure that it's worth investing in the idea of my future self. And in the meantime, I can practice by wearing them around the house.

Monday, August 31, 2009

An Ode to Fall Registration

Today my still-undergraduate friends will be returning to our dear Sarah Lawrence campus and begin the tedious process of registration. SLC does registration a bit differently than everyone else. Well, they do everything differently. Go to their website to get a taste.

There are a lot of things that I like about not being a student anymore. Not having to lug a fifty-pound suitcase through JFK and paying hundreds of dollars to store the rest each summer is a plus. I don't miss paper deadlines. But I miss my dorm room, I miss my friends, and I actually miss writing papers about a myriad of topics that I've chosen. It's hard to let go of a place I spent so long getting to, especially when everyone else gets to go back. Kinda like being single on Valentine's Day.

Here's a little haiku I developed in memory of those days when I was one of the few, the proud, the different (forgive me for the not-so-poetic nostalgia):

Monday, airport cab
One hundred dollars
An expensive ride

Empty room, white walls
Try to make your new home from
Bed, desk, drawer, boxes

Yourself to last year's friendships
And this year's classes

The course catalogue
Must distill just three choices
So many pages

And once you've chosen
There are interviews to do
You're nowhere near done

Tuesday early morn
Ready with pen and paper
Stalk the sign-up sheets

All through Wednesday
Traipse up and down the campus
Why is it so hot?

Thursday, the last day
Squeeze in one more interview
And chat with your don

Make your decision
Registrar's form in your hand
Fill in all the blanks

And then it begins
Friday of uncertainty
The terrible wait

Camped out in Westlands
Staring at a blank corkboard
Waiting for your fate

The verdict comes in
Print-outs stapled, pulses race
Did you make the list?

You search for your name
Cross your fingers as you scan
And hope for all three...

All the stress, the hope
At the time isn't so fun
But graduation
Makes you miss what you hated
And I'd give it all
For one more registration

Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Fellow Writers

I know that a majority of the content here is about the trials and tribulations of being thrust into the real world after college (otherwise known as me whining), but I just wanted to take a moment to put something positive out there. This isn't just for writers, though, this really goes out to everyone right now who might be feeling a little unsure about what they're doing right now and whether it's worth it.

There's a lot I would give to be fully employed right now, and some things I'd change if I had the chance to go back in time. But something I would never change, for any job, is what I am, and that's a writer. I've been a writer since I was three, scribbling lines across paper because I didn't know real words. And when I finally learned to master the alphabet, I was writing poems on pink paper. I remember one in particular which rhymed 'fun' with 'hot dog bun.' Hey, you work with what you know.

I was always creating stories, and I was always writing something down. From music video treatments to haikus (which you'll get a sampling of soon), words are sacred to me, and putting them together the right way is something I treasure. In the middle of the Texan suburbs, where saying you are agnostic (unsure of God) was practically a scarlet letter among my conservative peers, I prayed more than once using Shakespeare's sonnets.

I know that being an engineer or an accountant might make finding a job easier and mean a higher salary, but it's not my calling. My father knew he wanted to be an engineer since he was a kid taking things apart and putting them back together. He was lucky that his choice happened to be something very obviously valuable in the job market and connected to a perfectly drawn path. But 'word-lover' isn't something I can put in my passport. For most of my life I've been fighting two opposing forces: the passion driving me to words, and the guilt of my practicality telling me to find something solid and dependable. My college was expensive, but it was what I wanted so, so badly. More importantly, it was what I needed to be the writer I am. I can wish it wasn't such a financial burden, but I can't apologize for it being the best school for me.

Just because not everyone understands the value of being a writer, and how much they need people like me, doesn't mean I've chosen a useless profession. I did not get a Bachelor's degree in 'Do you want fries with that?' No matter what people may tell you, or what their faces may convey as you explain to them what you're doing, you need to know that it's worth it to pursue what you were made to do. Even just this blog, which has made me a grand total of 50¢, has given me so much more because I'm writing. And people are reading. Blogs, articles, website copywriting, it's all part of being a writer, just like those Shakepeare prayers and childhood rhymes.

I am what I am. I can't change it. I would never want to.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Anti-Social Life

For the past few months, I've been living a hermit's life, with a few notable exceptions. I went to a wedding, as I blogged, and I went to see Wicked on tour. And even at the show, I was basically alone, having inherited the ticket from someone who could no longer attend. It was still a fun thing to do, but I wouldn't call it socializing.

The problem with working from home is that I'm not forced to befriend any coworkers other than my computer, and the television is my water-cooler (along with the IMDb message boards). Once I'm employed full-time, that shouldn't be a problem, hopefully with some co-workers near my own age. I'm curious to discover my friend-making skills in the workplace. Will we bond over projects instead of homework, tyrannical bosses in place of demanding professors? I hope it can be that easy: just start a conversation, go out for a happy hour and go home with one more friend to add to Facebook (one I've actually met).

Of course, there are always old friends. There are still some high school friends in town, but I've been remiss in seeing them for about four years, so we don't talk anymore than I do with the friends I left in New York. I'd like to reconnect, but we have such varying schedules that I would need to make a concerted effort to reach out. I want to, but the best of intentions rarely translate into actual invitations.

It's where my inherent introversion kicks in, the voice in my head saying it would just be easier to stay in for the night and watch television. I'm a rut-lover. If I could schedule out my entire week, down to the minute, I'd be a pretty happy camper. I love predictability and I hate change. Maybe it doesn't make sense that I love an industry with little stability, or that I went to college out of state and went abroad for a semester, but those were things I had to do, I had to push past the torturous change to get what I wanted. It's easy to push when the reward is the college I've dreamed of, but it's hard to make myself want to clean up and drive somewhere for a night with the girls. I know it's important, but my inner hermit just wants to put it off 'til tomorrow.

Eventually, though, I'll run out of tomorrows, and I don't want to make it into another decade of life still not going out or seeing people, I'm afraid of where that could lead. I'm already a knitter, and a cat person (though I love dogs as well), I don't want to end up the cranky old woman down the street.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Most Insincere Question Ever Asked

If you've ever had an interview, you've been asked it. When you prepare for an interview, you try and come up with a clever answer, and yet when it comes, it still won't sound convincing. It haunts all job-hunters. And because it's so clearly a trick question, I can only surmise that the reason it is still used is in order to torture the interviewee, a horrendous hazing ritual employers only force onto us because they had to go through it. Please, if any of you are reading, abandon the cycle of trickery and lies. You can change the course of so many lives by just not asking one question:

What is your greatest weakness?

What? My greatest weakness? Why would I tell you that when I want you to hire me? What am I supposed to say? "My biggest flaw is that I work too hard, never take sick days and don't ask for raises." Come on, you don't believe that. My answers are usually what most answers are: a cop out. "My greatest weakness is being a little fidgety, so sometimes I seem more nervous than I am." So that way, when I twirl my ring around my finger, I have an excuse. Because I'm not going to say that I really am nervous.

They don't want a real answer, because a real answer isn't all that appealing. But if you're answer is so obviously fake, that becomes a negative. It's almost like they're testing your ability to lie believably.

My secret desire is to use Daria's answer in the episode 'Prize Fighters,' when she, Jodie and Upchuck are up for a scholarship and have to interview to make it to the next level. Asked what her greatest weakness was, she answered, "My inability to answer stock questions with stock answers." I want to just be able to say, "My biggest weakness is lying in interviews just to get hired. My greatest strength is in actually doing the job."

But like cover letters, risking a genuine answer is basically throwing away an opportunity, and it's only a one-in-a-million employer who will appreciate your honesty and crack a smile. Most will probably just look confused and a little annoyed. Just hope they validate your parking before they kick you out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A New Media Milestone

I just had a major blogging breakthrough: my first comment. I now have a smile plastered across my face that I think has a fair amount of staying power. It's a strange and wonderful thing that I'm going to try and put into words.

I went in here to work on a post that's coming up, and when I looked at my list of posts, there was a new link next to one which said, "1 comment." I was amazed. A comment, me? I clicked, and saw that in fact, someone had commented on a post. Most importantly, this someone wasn't my mother. Unless this is an elaborate, she seems trustworthy enough.

But a comment! Proof of audience existence! I check my page views every so often, and I see the numbers rising, but a comment in the hand is worth about 50 views in the bush. That just sounds wrong, but you get the point. I was always rationalizing my page views with the possibility that most of them were me on my way to writing posts. But you're out there, and I don't know all of you. It's a weird realization. I wrote the first post for this blog and no one read it, and now it's out there, and people are reading it for the value of the words rather than obligation to me. I'm just completely tickled at the idea!

Of course, the paranoid side of my personality did eventually kick in with the thought that having readers who like the blog means that I could soon write a post which is not as good. Yes, my second thought after receiving any sort of acclaim is the possibility of failing to even greater disappointment. This is the curse of my psyche. But I have been figuratively dope-slapped by my mother, so I'm pushing that out of my mind. Hope a few people get the 'Car Talk' reference.

So thank you, gat, for taking the time to comment. It was an adventure in discovery, happiness and fear. All the makings of a great day. And I'm still smiling.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rush Hour

Yesterday afternoon was apparently the designated time for scheduling meetings for the rest of the week. Why is it that you can go days, weeks without having a meeting or a crisis, and then suddenly, there doesn't seem to be a moment of peace? There I was, minding my own business and getting some work done, when suddenly my Inbox started popping with new mail.

First there was a reply to a resume I had sent out asking for an interview, perhaps on Wednesday. Great news. Then I had an inquiry from my boss for another project who wanted to have a lunch work session on Wednesday or Thursday. I already also had a tentative meeting with another boss-type person which hadn't been scheduled yet, but was most likely going to be Wednesday or Thursday. Wow. How many meetings for completely different projects could I juggle in two days? And how could I answer for my availability on certain days when I had no specific times for any of these appointments.

In the end, I have most of my week planned out. A two-hour lunch meeting on Wednesday and my interview on Friday (wish me luck!). Hopefully my other meeting will end up on Thursday, evening out my days and avoiding a stressful running to and fro between meetings and interviews.

What all this chaotic schedule juggling made me realize was that though I love being able to work from home and value all the experience I'm getting from different projects, I'm the kind of person who likes to know what's happening. I'd like to be able to have just one job vying for my time and asking for meetings. Of course, one job could still mean different assignments and people to juggle, but something about it all being a part of one company and ultimate goal would give me a sense of order. And I wouldn't have to worry that my interview isn't going to be affected by my high-maintenance scheduling moment.

Maybe this is very un-twenties of me, but I do like stability. I know I should embrace this time to explore my skills and their place in the job market, but a very big part of me is ready for a nine-to-five job with health benefits and consistent group of colleagues I can build relationships with. On the other hand, I also love blogging (I don't think I'd ever give it up) and logging information on television shows that I spend so many hours watching anyway. It's a conundrum, but when it comes down to it, I'm just looking to be able to do what I love (and what I'm good at) forty hours a week for reasonable pay and health insurance. Why does that seem so hard these days?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Try, Try Again

How can you tell you're still alive when you feel numb from the constant audio/visual stimulation? Because it hurts when you get rejected.

In my case, rejected from a job. Earlier this year, I was turned down for an internship with a local monthly magazine. It stung, but I thought that perhaps I didn't have enough experience, or maybe I didn't take enough care with the writing sample I submitted. At that point I hadn't graduated, and still thought I had more options than an unpaid internship which was enough of a drive to be a concern.

I recently saw an ad for the same magazine's fall internship program, and wondered if I should apply. Would it be strange to send a full cover letter and resume to someone who had read all (or at least most) of it before and had turned me down? Was there even a chance they would want me five months later? I still haven't decided if it's worth it to try.

I also recently applied for a blogging position with a website. I had three subjects in mind, but started with the first one on the list, which happened to be weight loss. I'm currently trying to loss weight, so though I'm no expert, I could offer some solidarity with my posts. It wasn't until I had completed the first application that I learned I could only apply for one subject, then discuss another after I had been accepted. This was troubling, because weight loss was my least confident subject.

Sure enough, a week letter, I received an "unfortunately" e-mail. You know, the e-mails that start out complimentary, but sooner or later the "unfortunately" shows up and you realize the subject of the e-mail should just have been "Fail." I felt deflated. I thought that perhaps I wasn't a writer after all. I had been recommended by someone who wrote for them already, could my application really have been so bad?

Again I faced the quandary: should I accept defeat or try again? There was the possibility that with a stronger subject I might be accepted this time around. This thought was enough to push me to try again. And instead of taking a few days to get back to me, I had an e-mail in seven minutes. This time, there was a happy ending! I had the position of regular blogger on the subject of literature. Hurrah! The pay is competitive, if not consistent, and I'm excited to have an excuse to read more. And, oh, do I have lots to read now!

So what have we learned, class? If at first you don't succeed...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Refilling the Nest

Here's the way life is supposed to go: You're born. You learn to crawl, walk, talk a play dollies. You go to school everyday for the next twelve years until you graduate from high school. Then you go to college, and after four years there you graduate with an entry-level job all lined up. This marks the beginning of your truly adult life. If you didn't when you started college, you move all your stuff out of your parent's house and you find a place of your own.

Unless, of course, you graduate without a job and can't afford a place of your own otherwise. Then you move back in with your parents (if they let you), and you find yourself in limbo. You're in your twenties, you should be an adult, but you sleep in your childhood bed, surrounded by the stuffed animals you used to require. You can redecorate and pack up everything you don't need (sorry, Teddy), but the fact still remains, you are living at home.

Of course living rent-free (or at the family rate) has it's advantages, but there's only so long you can do this before you start to feel like a 30-something comic book collector who speaks Klingon and lives in their mother's basement (not that there's anything wrong with that). What exactly is the deadline? I used to think I would only be home long enough to apartment or house hunt and get everything organized. Now I'm entering my third month, and I'm nowhere near a the real estate phase of my life. I asked a few friends before graduation what my acceptable home-living limit was. I was given a year or two. Am I really an adult if I live at home?

Another factor which should not be underestimated is the tension of finding yourself once more under your parent's roof. No matter how much you love each other, or how PG your life is, your parents never expected you back and you wish you had your own place to call your own. It stunts your growth, or at least it feels that way. You feel like you're a mature adult, but you look in the mirror and see the same teenager that went off to college. And how far have you really come? It's hard to believe that you are in fact a different person with a wealth experiences who would probably go through high school much differently now (but please, God, don't make me prove it).

So what can we do when we chicks must return to the nest? Do the dishes and the laundry, be grateful your parents still want you, and live in hope. And maybe avoid the Star Trek reruns, just to be safe.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Fate of the Class of '09

What goes up must come down. And, generally speaking, the opposite is true. I trust that, eventually, the economy will improve, and new jobs will be created (or rather, old ones will return). My fear is that by the time this happens, a new crop of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, fresh-off-campus graduates will have arrived, ready to take those entry-level positions. What's to become of the post-grads who have been toiling away for a year or more? There are two not-so-optimistic scenarios I see playing out.

The first is that, in an interview, I am asked what I have done with in the past dozen months or so, and that my answer will not be enough, proving that I am not worth hiring because I've been unemployed.

The second is that I do manage to keep myself employed, with part-time, temporary projects which prove that I am capable. However, they also make me more experienced than this year's batch of graduates, making me possibly more expense to hire.

So in one case, not worth hiring. In the other, too worth hiring. Of course, this is a symptom of my paranoid tendencies, but I can't help thinking there's a little bit of truth to it. After all, there are only going to be so many jobs, and the number of people waiting to take them will always be higher. I wonder how the class of '09 will fare in the grand scheme of things. Will we emerge from this depressing graduating climate wiser for the experience, or battle-scarred with no health insurance?

Only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Joining the Ranks

For my latest part-time job, I'm working with another writer to launch a company's website. It's been an eye-opening experience, as I see someone very much like me out there in the same field with many of the same aspirations. Working together I'm gaining a concept of my own worth in the job market, and learning a few tips on how to get out there.

Before, I had worked with other students who planned to write, but we weren't in the real world yet. Even now I have a hard time accepting that I am a writer, and not just hoping to grow up to become one. I'm naturally very bad at taking compliments and find it difficult to believe in myself as a professional. And then in the real world with a highly-paid internship over two summers at an office, my job was only tenuously related to my true goals, and so I felt that my successes there, while a boost to my confidence, couldn't necessarily be applied to my writerly goals.

After a few hours working on our project, I felt that this was right. I can do this, it's not so very different from what I did in school or in previous internships. Writing copy is all about finding the right words, which just happens to be one of my favorite past-times. And this newfound confidence was only aided by the fact that I was receiving positive feedback from my colleague, who took my comments and additions as if they were coming from an equal. I began to feel validated, accepted, and all those other things I struggled for when going through high school. I felt I was being handed my writer's card. "Go on, young one," I heard in my mind, "Go on and do what you were born to do. You are a writer now. Make us proud."

Of course then the next day I felt the stress of another project breaking into my schedule, and grumbled as I thought about the meetings to come. And I will continue to grumble when I have to wake up early or stay up late working on various things, unsure of how good the ultimate product will be. But in the back of my mind I'm still smiling. Because I'm in the club now. I've joined the ranks of writers. Lowly, underpaid writers. And I couldn't be more proud.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

How Unpaid is Too Unpaid?

Being back at home and looking for work, many of the best opportunities for work offer experience rather than money as compensation for your efforts. I apply for anything I think I can get done, and getting paid is just an added bonus to being able to fill the months with some kind of employment. I dread being completely without work and having to explain in an interview exactly what I've been doing with my time. At this stage in my career, experience, references and contacts are just as valuable as cash. And at this stage in the world economy, more and more companies are offering what they can for the work they need to get done.

But though my living expenses are low living at home, they are not non-existent. The price of gas still being what it is, having to drive to a 9-5, 5 days a week internship would soon be more savings than I'm willing to sacrifice without the promise of a full-benefits position to come. A day or two a week for meetings and updates is fine, but in this day and age, do I really need another desk and computer to do what can just as easily be done at home on my own laptop and bright pink rolling desk? It makes sense to me that if I'm not getting paid, I shouldn't be paying more than necessary either to get the job done. And for businesses in small offices, or even in home offices, why try and find room for an intern when you can just e-mail assignments and problem-solve with conference calls. I have been fortunate enough to find part-time jobs which I can complete from home, filling my days with work without cramming my mornings and evenings with commutes.

Being able to work from home is a luxury. I wake up early, but not too early. I have the luxury of kitchen proximity, so my lunch break isn't limited to sandwiches and leftovers. Pajamas are my workwear staple. But it also helps me get more work done. Instead of just 9-5, I work while watching primetime and as I lounge at the weekend. Having my office always right in front of me, I see work as a good way to fill any empty moment.

So while my bank account doesn't know I'm working, there are advantages to certain unpaid internships. Which isn't to say I'm not still on the lookout for paid jobs, but learning how to mould my school skills and homework habits into the real world in the comfort of my own home is like wading in the kiddie pool. And all the while, I hope I'm impressing my employers with my dedication and detail-orientation, inspiring them to recommend me for that 401k-included position, or hire me themselves. It's hard to swallow in the beginning, but there really is more to job compensation than dollars and cents.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cover Letters: The Silent Killer (of Humanity)

Having now written innumerable cover letters, I have become a slave to turning my unique thoughts and qualifications and sanitizing them down into the same boring old script. Because God help us if we write something funny or words someone might actually say in real life!

The first few letters I attempted to add a few phrases that I felt described me and perhaps contained just enough wit to make me stand out from the crowd. But after running them past my mother, I was told to leave them out. It would seem that these cover letters are all being read by the most robotic bureaucrats who cannot compute anything beyond the form. This cannot be true. They are just people like you and me, reading e-mails and looking for real people themselves. Surely it would put a smile on their face to read a cover letter which didn't sound as though it could be created by a cleverly written computer program (wait, maybe I should get on making one of those, then I wouldn't need a job).

Why is it only this kind of correspondence which turns us into mindless drones? I say we throw off the shackles of cover letter hypocrisy and tell our potential employees how we really feel! Perhaps a well-placed haiku would more accurately express my desire to write for a particular publication, or a witty equation can prove that technical writing is the gig for me. Join me, my unemployed brethren, join me in the rebellion against insincere 'Sincerely's and desperate 'I look forward to hearing from you's! Together, we can overthrow the boring, the tedious, the soul-stealing rules of cover-letter writing and type once more on the keyboard of candor!

Who's with me?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Brain Betrayal

I've been told before that I'm smart.  I've never really taken the compliment that well, because it seemed to me that I wasn't necessarily that smarter than anyone else, I was just worked at it more because I was more afraid of what would happen if I turned in a paper that wasn't my best.  But okay, I'll take it: I'm smart.  Now, what does it get me?

The problem is, I'm not math or science smart.  I'm math perseverant and science competent.  But though I admire how math problems are like puzzles, there's no career in proofs, and my calling is not engineering like my father.  I'm also not social smart.  Again, competent with the friends and the mingling, but not my forte.  And that's not my fault.  We are who we are.  

If I'm smart, I'm word smart.

A dangerous proposal to make on a blog.  It just screams for someone to point out a terrible grammatical error.  However (because starting with "but" would be frowned upon), what I enjoy doing is writing.  Stories, poems, research papers, there's a reason I went to a college that trades exams for twenty-page conferences.  I love finding the words that perfectly express what I want to say, and I admire those who have perfected the art.  As a pre-pubescent misfit in Texas, I often prayed by my bedside using Shakespeare's sonnets.  Sacrilegious to be certain, but also a sign of things to come.

But again, if I'm smart, what does it get me?  Because my brain's calling doesn't come in the form of equations arithmetic or chemical, it doesn't lend itself well to a set career path.  Word smart is not a quantitative factor.  You must not be "This smart to write a book."  There are no tests to submit to publications with minimum grade standards.  Which is just as well, because I hate tests and I never liked getting graded.  

The conundrum is clear.  I spent a dozen plus years fine-tuning my brain to become as smart as possible, not to be as lucrative or as hire-able as possible.  And at the moment, that feels like a mistake.  It feels like I did what I was told, like I was good at it, and in return have found that there is no reward.  I value my education, and I loved reading the 18th-Century British novel in context, but no one wants me to write about that.  Or at least, no one wants to pay me for it.  As one of the nerds who followed practically all of the rules, I suppose I naively believed that it was enough when it isn't.

But I'm smart, right?  So I'll find a way to make it work.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

For Whom the Wedding Bell Tolls

And so it begins.  This weekend I attended the wedding of two high school friends, the first of my life.  What a strange experience, mingling with friends, many of whom I hadn't seen since Christmas break my first year in college, when we all thought we could stay in touch.  We were able to pick up where we left off, laughing and taking pictures while we avoided the dance floor.

No one seemed sure of where they would end up, which comforted the paranoid part of me that worries I'm the only post-grad without plans.  But there was another part of me that was sort of hoping we'd all be here together.  Selfish, I'll admit, to expect to be able to leave for four years and come back to a waiting crowd.  But it is hard to come to terms with knowing that each meeting with someone you saw everyday could be the last.

The next wedding could be as close as six months away, and I can't help but think this is another stage of life I'm not ready to meet: that phase when we stop just being friends, and are instead divided into single friends and married friends.  Now the distinction bears very little pressure, as we singles are in the majority.  But I fear that soon our numbers will shrink, leaving the final few of us in the same position we were in oh so many years ago in gym, hoping against hope we won't be last picked.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Congratulations...Now Leave

In fifth grade, my teacher told us that we had to think of being a student as a job, just like being a lawyer or a doctor.  I took that advice to heart.  It seems as though all I've ever worked for is to go to the college of my choice, and study the way I want to study.  I worked hard in high school, and was accepted to my first choice: Sarah Lawrence.  I moved all the necessities of life (i.e. all my DVDs) up to New York and spent the next four years writing, reading, and being a very contented college student.  I even spent a semester abroad in Prague and got in touch with my Czech side.  

And then, the dreaded day came, when my work was done.  I had turned in my last conference paper, attended my last class.  It was time to graduate, and Sarah Lawrence shutting it's gates on me.  It seemed rather harsh that after four years of personalized and thoughtful education, I should be forced to vacate my beloved dorm room and leave campus mere hours after commencement.  

Other than the stress of making four years' worth of accumulated stuff fit into boxes to be stuffed into an SUV, there was the sudden realization that I did not know where I was headed.  I knew generally the things I was hoping to be paid to do, but I had never had a particular career path in mind.  I loved words and popular culture, but mostly I loved being in school.  My perfect job would most likely consist of doing the things I did at Sarah Lawrence, but instead of paying $50,000 a year for the privilege, earning a livable salary and some benefits.  

For me, life after graduation is a great expanse of everything and nothing at the same time.  It is full of decisions to be made, but only one choice to be had.  Find a job, make some money, make your way through the 'real world' with your head down and your mouth shut.  Send out your resume and cover letter, with the same insincere 'Sincerely,' at the bottom and the hope of finding something halfway interesting that isn't unpaid.  I've waded through the mucky expanse for nearly a month now, and am only just getting used to the fact that I am no longer what I once was, what I have been since I was six: a student.