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.