Living and breathing the internship — and eating, too

The Asian American Writers Workshop is having their giant, annual literary festival — Page Turner — on Saturday, Oct. 5, in Brooklyn, and we are consumed by it in the office. In addition, we have had two events there this week already and are co-sponsoring another about Edward Said tonight at CUNY.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of work to be done. Since I don’t yet have another job, I am working the internship full-time for the week and a half leading up to Page Turner. This leaves little time for me to work on my next article for the religions series or for my new pastime of birding, but I am eagerly awaiting the next week’s migration news on BirdCast and hoping that Saturday is going to be a good day for birding on Van Cortlandt Park’s free bird walk. Plus, I can work on the article. And of course look for jobs…. (Oh yeah, that other thing I need to do!)

Last night was the book launch for Jen Lin-Liu’s On the Noodle Road, a travelogue about searching for the origins of noodles along the Silk Road from China to Italy. She did a cooking demonstration, and we got to sample manti, the Turkish dumplings that are very similar to Italian tortellini, in a yogurt sauce. She also cooked up some tortelloni, the bigger cheese ones, with some butter and fresh sage. (Tortelloni were by far my favorite food in Bologna when I was there, except I had them with this heavenly butter-tomato sauce called burro e oro.)

on-the-noodle-roadAnd to end things, we also had some Chinese vegetarian dumplings, which I had to schlep all the way from this tiny hole-in-the-wall place called Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown. I’m not complaining because they were delicious and cheap and I have found my new go-to place for dumplings; while I waited for the dumplings I got a free piece of this giant fried sesame bread, 芝麻大餅 — so tasty and I have never seen this thing before, where’s this thing from? — and on the menu it only costs $1.50. I love Chinatown!

I wish I had gotten a picture on my phone of them frying this thing in a wok — this is not the usual scallion pancake 蔥油餅 that we have had all our lives; it’s a thick yeast bread that’s fried, kind of like this one:

zhimadabingexcept mine might not have had scallions, and it reminded me of New York-style pizza, because it was huge. You can order it plain or with different things inside, like egg or different kinds of meat, but I got the veggie filling of carrots and cilantro and a nutty blend of spices — oh my god, so good.

It was also quite inspiring to hear about Jen Lin-Liu’s book, because I’m interested in travel writing — I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in traveling and then writing and publishing a book about it? And on top of that, food writing — eating and then writing and publishing a book about that!

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My birding blog

I’ve been trying out different social media/blog thingies, mostly because job descriptions for editorial assistants sometimes want you to be familiar with them, and I’m getting to like Tumblr after having an empty account on it for a year.

I called it “pillowtumblr” after the fashion of Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book (not the Ewan McGregor movie, which I have not seen, but beware searching “pillow book” because you’ll get all kinds of photos of naked bodies with calligraphy on them). If you don’t know it, it’s kind of this Japanese court lady’s journal, but it’s done in mainly lists of things, such as:

“64. Surprising and Distressing Things
While one is cleaning a decorative comb, something catches in the teeth and the comb breaks.
A carriage overturns. One would have imagined that such a solid, bulky object would remain forever on its wheels. It all seems like a dream — astonishing and senseless.
A child or grown-up blurts out something that is bound to make people uncomfortable.
All night long one has been waiting for a man who one thought was sure to arrive. At dawn, just when one has forgotten about him for a moment and dozed off, a crow caws loudly. One wakes up with a start and sees that it is daytime — most astonishing.
One of the bowmen in an archery contest stands trembling for a long time before shooting; when finally he does release his arrow, it goes in the wrong direction.”

Well, if you aspire to be the social media version of a Sei Shonagon, there is no way you will write anything … for a whole year. I could make lists, but they certainly wouldn’t be anywhere nearly as entertaining or profound as hers. (And Sei Shonagon’s would-be Twitter account has been cleverly done already — “Peach trees are blooming, nice. Willows looking good omg am I done yet” — there’s a screenshot of it from one of my early pillowtumblr posts, too.)

Finally, I realized I could forget about trying to make pithy lists and simply make lists for myself of birds I see, since I’ve now become a compulsive beginning birder (a recipe for frustration if ever there was one). It’s good to write down what you see on a birdwalk. And most definitely, there are visible outcomes of birdwatching — you are bound to see something, even if it’s a park full of Canada geese, or some sparrows and pigeons.

So in the absence of a post here about looking for a job (not really happening much) or my internship, I am linking the birding blog.

I feel old

There aren’t many places where I would take an unpaid internship; the Asian American Writers Workshop is one of those places. I applied for a fall internship there last year and had an interview, then tried again in the winter but wasn’t called back. This summer, with all different editors and managers, I got it.

I figured, it’s only part-time, so I could have a paying part-time job while I’m doing it, make lots of good connections in the publishing world (which I sorely lack at this point), learn about nonprofits and digital publishing (since they have three online publications, including CultureStrike, about changing mainstream views of immigration through culture and art, mostly in response to anti-immigration laws in my home state of Arizona), and though it’s unpaid, there is a travel stipend and a free writing workshop. My dream, after all, is to write fiction or creative nonfiction, and I’d be in this ethnicity-based genre whatever I wrote, so where else better to intern?

My first event was Friday night, a reading at the workshop space in Chelsea by Bushra Rehman, from her novel, Corona, which is about the neighborhood in Queens where she grew up. She was joined by other Queens artists from the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective. The readings left me feeling rejuvenated, especially Bushra’s. I can’t wait to read her book; the parts I’ve read and heard are really good.

Corona-TRUE5x8-100dpi

Monday was my first official day on the job. I was there with three other interns, all college students, all of them really nice. That was weird, though, to think these kids are, what, 20 years old? And I am working for free alongside them, even though I am almost twice their age? I couldn’t help but think to myself, what am I doing here? I’m turning 37 next month and I’m an intern! But I try not to feel embarrassed and remind myself that I’m getting connections, lots of connections, which is the only way to get a job in publishing.

Meanwhile, I wonder what would happen if I got called for any of the full-time jobs I applied to before accepting this internship. I mean, if I were offered a paying job with benefits, I would feel weird turning it down for an unpaid internship, but I have this deep sense of responsibility, making a commitment to an organization I feel passionate about, that would basically put me in a state of agony.

In fact, the same day that I was offered the internship, I was sent a copy test, my very first one, for a copy editor’s position for a digital media company, something to do with comedy, which is why I was worrying about whether “ball sack” should be one word or two (for those who saw my Facebook post). My solution, in the end, was to just use “balls” and avoid the problematic term. I never did hear back from them for an interview, though, which is disappointing, but it’s also kind of relief for my abovementioned sense of duty.

So the goal today is to apply for some part-time jobs, I guess clerical stuff at universities, which is my default, because I am so good at that sort of mindless labor, especially making copies, and working with students and professors. But I know you can make mad tips waiting tables, so that’s an option. I mean, I could do anything I wanted! I would prefer copyediting, but that’s been a hard little network to crack. I’m working on it, though, joining copy editors’ associations and reading articles and books on how to get freelance gigs….

I also need to work on my last InDesign assignment, though that online class is getting so tiresome that I’m certain to skip the last discussion session and go to a happy hour in Brooklyn for CultureStrike.

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On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

Since this is a blog about being able to see the results of your work, I thought I would post this interesting article by an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, on the rise of what he calls “bullshit jobs.” I would say that perhaps these are jobs in which the workers don’t see any outcome, or at least little socially beneficial outcome, from what they do at work for 40 or more hours per week, as opposed to say, garbage collectors or MTA construction workers or farmers, or even teachers.

Even though my presumption here is that teaching does not yield adequate “visible outcomes” for me, now that I have sufficient distance from that profession, I would say it does produce some results, though perhaps much more infrequently and of a totally different nature than I had expected. For example, as a teacher, you do sometimes see the students respond to your care, whereas few, if any, will remember that calcite dissolves in acid. (Though when I learned that a few years ago as a third-grade teacher, I couldn’t imagine how anyone would forget. And yet, the only thing I think my students remembered of that science curriculum is that water beads on wax paper, which, when you think about it, is pretty amazing. I probably should’ve turned that into a lesson on surface tension or something.)

I wouldn’t rule out teaching as a possible route in the future, but I don’t mean elementary school or even high school — if I ever venture into teaching again it should probably be to adults. I simply can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do with 20-30 young humans who would rather not be there, trapped in a room with you all day, or even for 40 minutes. I am just not that kind of manager.

Course overload

Back from a Labor Day weekend in Cold Spring to spend time with friends, and finally done with the draft of the article on Episcopal churches, I was going to use the day to get homework done for my online classes through Mediabistro, “HTML” and “InDesign for Writers and Editors.” Of course, halfway through my first video lesson of the day, I couldn’t see the video anymore, and it turns out that there’s something wrong with the YouTube server.

So much for work!

Earlier today I went and had an eye exam, resulting in a new pair of glasses (these old frames were from the start of my year in Mexico, fall 2005) as well as some contacts. I have never really liked the way I look in glasses, but when I finally started trying to wear contacts a few years ago, while teaching, I noticed that my students would stop wearing their glasses if I didn’t have mine on. I thought, that’s no good, so I stopped wearing contacts at school, and, finally, ever.

While I was waiting forever for the eye exam, and after all my Candy Crush lives got used up, I happened to see the Tuesday shoe trivia question on DSW’s Facebook page, so I ended up looking up the shoes they posted and submitted the answer.

And I won a $50 certificate! SHOES!!!!!!!!!!

I am seriously in need of self control these days with my shopping. I’m confessing here so that I feel accountable to someone. I am not to buy any shoes beyond that $50, because I actually just got three beautiful pairs last week.

I should be doing more constructive things, like building a website. After all, I need one if I’m going to freelance, along with business cards, invoices, etc. This HTML course is kind of fun, being my very first experience coding, but it’s also showing me how very little I know. My website looks like it came from the early ’90s. Yuck.

Here’s to hoping that the class discussion tonight teaches me a little more so I can make it pretty.