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.

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After family reunions, job search resumes

The month of August was eventful in terms of family visits. One weekend was devoted to the in-laws in the environs of Rochester, N.Y., with the following weekend to my own family in Tucson. In between the two, I spent a few days relaxing at the New Hampshire farm of my best friend’s family. I needed the break to recover from the one reunion and to prepare for the next.

There were lots of children.

I was lucky to have had work to do while in western New York; I still have to write the article on the Episcopal churches for the old paper, so on my second day there, I holed myself up in my husband’s old bedroom (now a storage area for toys and clothes for the grandchildren) with some noise-cancelling headphones and transcribed some old interviews.

(Transcription is another area where I could make some money freelancing. It’s tedious, but I can do it, and my friend Tom says there’s money to be made there, because most people hate it.)

There’s nothing like spending your days with nieces and nephews to make a childless person not want to have children. Of course they’re adorable and I love them and all that, but when you put four of them together, aged 6 through 1, even in a big house, it’s enough to make one swear off procreation. It becomes harder when you’re known as the fun childless aunt or uncle who plays with kids, when those same kids expect you to play with them every minute you’re around. I am therefore developing and grooming my un-fun persona, boring childless aunt who doesn’t want to play right now. My husband probably needs to do the same, but he really enjoys playing with toys, so I’m sure he’s feeling conflicted.

The thing I love the most about going to western New York is thrift-store shopping (without kids). The goods are often high-quality, bountiful and cheap. I have perfected the art — only look at clothes your size with the tag color that’s 50 percent off, unless something really catches your eye; else you could be there all day. I wanted to be at the Volunteers of America all day, when in addition to the normal 50 percent off color, they had another color that was 75 percent off, and all tanks, shorts and capris were half off. That quadrupled the amount of clothing I would normally look at, so my husband and mother-in-law had to wait for me, having valuable one-on-one time on a sofa, while I tried on a hundred things. You can’t make them wait forever, though, so I made myself leave the store after only seeing a fraction of it.

When I got to New Hampshire, there was more quality time with children to be had. My friend’s son is a cute 2-year-old with a train obsession (“Play choo-choo, play choo-choo, play choo-choo!” is his usual mantra with his adult playmates — I, the sucker that I am, being one of them), and her 3-year-old nephew Jack is a doll. So I didn’t mind too much when I ended up being the child-minder for a bit one day, when we picked what was left of the glorious blueberries in the yard and wandered down the freshly cleared nature path through the woods on the property. It did get tiring, however, to make sure they didn’t kill each other with the paint-rollers that were doubling as lawn mowers. Boys are hard to manage in a way that is alien to me; I never had brothers so I’m unaccustomed to their brutish ways.

There are a lot of best things about going to the farm in New Hampshire — my friend, of course, is at the top of the list, but the blueberries and the clear, brisk water of the lake are close behind. Even though that week was chilly, I still went in for a couple swims.

Then, Arizona, land of so much personal baggage, because that’s where the family’s at. We did successfully celebrate my father’s 80th birthday and my mother’s lunar birthday, with two giant meals. Of course, all of us (three sisters, their significant others, and two nieces) besides my parents, who are divorced, got to gorge ourselves silly almost every day of the trip, since we had to go from one parent to the other, to be “fair.” Though it was hectic and stressful at times to coordinate, I was glad to be able to spend time with both my sisters at once, since the last time we’d been together was at my grandmother’s funeral about five years ago.

My two nieces are lovely, and since they’re older, they aren’t quite as noisy. They’re going to grow up to be great women, I can tell. The last evening, though, one of them was feverish and grumpy, so they argued rather too loudly for many of our tastes. Being a parent mediator would be a difficult job.

On the flights to and from Tucson, I read my friend Patrick O’Keeffe’s book, The Hill Road, which was superb. It contains four novellas, all of them set in neighboring farming villages in County Limerick, Ireland, where Patrick’s from. I highly recommend it, and if you aren’t convinced simply by my saying so, you can even read the first 35 pages on Google’s e-book preview. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did have a long period of time to start the whole first 20 pages or so, I couldn’t put it down. I cried on both plane trips reading the first and second stories.

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It’s inspiring to read an excellent book by someone you know, but it’s also a bit daunting if think of yourself as an aspiring writer and start making comparisons, so I’m trying to focus more on the encouraging and slightly cocky voice of our friend Tom — “Just do it!”

I did, the other day, reread something I had written — the start of what could be a personal essay or memoir or novel — but the problem with it, I think, besides the fact that it needs tons of revision and editing, is that I don’t know what it is yet. Do I want to write an essay or a whole book of memoirs? A novel, a short story, creative nonfiction? I guess I don’t have to worry about it now. I’m supposed to just write, and when I’ve got enough written down, I can decide later what it really is. The problem, however, is making myself “just write.”

The goal for today is at least to start that article on my old town’s Episcopal churches, so that it can be done and out of the way. I may have to force myself to go to the neighborhood cafe to do it, since all I do around here is putz around the internet in my pajamas. I do apply to a few jobs every day, now that I’m back, but I could probably be a bit more proactive and send things to publications without waiting for job postings. It’s hard for me not to be overwhelmed by all the things I “ought” to do. Which is why I often find myself playing mind-numbing Facebook games, probably.

In other news, I started the InDesign course online this week, to make myself learn the program, because some employers prefer their copy editors and editorial assistants know how to use it. Next week I start a short online course on HTML.

Keep self busy.

Decision

Our friend Tom is one of the best cheerleaders we know. Talking to him can make you feel more confident in yourself, but his own actions can also serve as examples to emulate. The story that inspires me, in particular, is the one about him interviewing for a job as reporter for The New York Times and leaving after a 20-minute wait, resulting in his interviewer chasing after him. It’s not that he’s cocky; he’s just that good, and he knows it.

We visited him and his wife this weekend, and I’ve returned with a more confident attitude about my own skills. I’ve decided that I am an experienced copy editor, which I didn’t feel like before. I had all kinds of doubts and insecurities, stemming partly from the fact that potential employers will not have heard of the publications I copyedited for, but also because of those last couple of weeks at work when I felt like nobody listened to me or cared about my opinion.

It helps, of course, that I’m in the middle of a copyediting intro class that makes me realize I know what I’m doing. Some of my classmates aren’t as knowledgeable yet about grammar/punctuation/usage, and some of them want to over-edit everything. I am also the go-to person when it comes to AP style; nobody there knows it as well as I do (not even the instructor, who has mainly worked with Chicago style). The same goes with working on news publications and the issues that come up for those copy editors.

I have discovered that I know my niche.

This is leading me to rethink what kinds of jobs to apply for. Up till now, I’ve only been applying for clerical jobs at Columbia and NYU with the hope of being able to take classes and explore other fields, with a smattering of applications for editorial assistantships at publishing houses, which have never, ever contacted me. I have also thought about working as a freelance copy editor and wondering how to get started. But now I may actually take Tom’s advice and contact some news organizations about becoming a staff copy editor, which I previously thought I was underqualified to do.

Now for the more difficult task of getting motivation to see myself as a writer and actually sit down every day to write….

Freelancing

I updated my LinkedIn profile, which, like most people, I never use, but I am no longer copy editor at the paper, so I changed my title to “freelance copy editor.”

It’s not untrue; I did do a copyediting gig once in April, referred generously by a coworker, and I spent a few hours editing a script. I recently wrote to them asking why I never got paid, and they wrote back saying they never received an invoice. Oops. I guess I need to figure out how to invoice people if I’m a freelancer! They said they’d like to have me help out with the script later, but obviously that’s not very abundant work.

I signed up for and am currently taking a four-session intro course on copyediting, through mediabistro.com. I figured I’d take it to make sure I cover the basics and get a clue as to what I’m getting myself into. Even though I worked as a copy editor for about six months on an English-language daily paper in Taiwan and last year at the local paper, I don’t have quite enough experience to “qualify” for most job postings, which usually say they want at least three years’ copyediting experience.

My husband said I could count my two years working part-time as editorial assistant on my advisor’s academic journal while I was in grad school. Many of my friends would probably tell me that’s enough to “qualify” and that it wouldn’t be lying to say I had more than three years of experience, but I don’t know. I think I just need to build more confidence in myself. Hence, I’m taking this course.

After the first session the other night, I realized I did learn a few things, but I probably could’ve found the info online somewhere, and I felt that compared to some of the students who didn’t have experience copyediting, I could probably end up feeling more confident over the next few weeks and not think that I need to take a bunch of other courses to get the copyediting certificate. I am a copy editor. I am a copy editor. Keep repeating that.

I just need to learn how to get some freelance work, and build some connections. Yeah, that’s all.

On discernment, or lack there of, and health insurance

I am currently on a discernment committee through the vestry at my church. (Don’t worry, I won’t talk much about church.) A discernment committee, in the Episcopalian church, is created when someone in the parish wants to go to seminary and become a priest. The members and the candidate meet once a month for 6 to 12 months in order to “discern gifts for the ministry” or some such thing. We meet this person every month and talk to him about why he thinks he is being called to the priesthood, in order to make a judgment about whether the parish should recommend him for the seminary.

I have recently been struck by the absurdity of my presence on this committee. Not only am I one of the most opinionated and judgmental people in the group, I have no idea how to discern my own calling in life, let alone that of someone else.

I thought I had been called to be a bilingual, public-school elementary teacher, serving a low-income population of immigrants and their children learning English. I still feel passionately about bilingual education and advocating social justice for immigrants and minorities in the U.S., and maybe in the future I’ll want to work on those issues again, but I now know that teaching children in large groups is not the way I am supposed to achieve those goals.

The other day, I went to fill out an application form to be a substitute at the public school in town. I didn’t have time to finish the application there, so I brought it home and said I would bring it back the next day. That night, I had a nightmare about teaching a class of rowdy adolescents in my old school. I never turned in that application, and I am not sure I ever will. Obviously I feel a level of anxiety about classroom teaching that has not yet dissipated.

The dilemma I am experiencing right now is that I am paying $680 a month for COBRA to continue my health insurance, and my husband does not have health insurance, because it was much too expensive to have both of us on COBRA. We thought we’d be able to find something for him that was cheaper, in the age of Obamacare, but we haven’t so far. With the income from my part-time job at the paper and his from music lessons, we make more than the cutoff for poverty, so we don’t qualify for most forms of governmental health plans. But to expect to pay over $1500 a month for health insurance for two people is not feasible on what we do make.

The imperative at the moment is to find health insurance, and the only way we know how to do that is to get a job with benefits. We have been searching, though, even in the city, for a long time, and we haven’t exactly been offered many … or any, really.

Yesterday, I went to a job interview in the city for a full-time administrative aide position in a university department. I know it would be great to be able to have (1) a job that pays a reasonable salary, (2) health insurance, and (3) tuition credits as a benefit. The night before the interview, I looked at all the classes I would want to take if I were to get the position: language classes so that I could feel more comfortable pursuing translation, publishing or editing courses if I want to try going that way again in the future, web stuff because everyone wants someone who can do web stuff….

Then I wondered, at 35, whether I should take this job if they offer it to me. Do I want to be a secretary and delay an attempt to work as a copy editor or writer? Or maybe this is just a way to take a much-needed break from being burned out by teaching, and a time to really figure out what my calling could be?

Finally I conceded that I probably won’t get this job anyway, because they are spending the whole week interviewing people, and I have to admit that I didn’t show much excitement for the position, so I may not have to make that decision after all.

I guess I should work on making business cards and a website for myself, while still looking for a “real” job that I would love to take, and use my time wisely while I still have it. What exactly constitutes “wise use” remains to be seen.