Getting back on the horse

I haven’t blogged here in ages because I was looking for a job, and as I found out previously, the hard way, it’s not a good idea to blog about trying to get a job, because even if employers don’t find the blog, the paranoia that they might find it would be nerve-wracking enough.

In the meantime, I really amped up my birding blog, and since major spring migration has finally begun in New York, I’ve been spending a lot of my free time birding and posting photos of birds.

As for jobs, I finally got some. I really wanted to freelance as a copy editor/proofreader, and then after realizing that would be pretty hard to get into without more experience and super connections, I tried to get full-time jobs in publishing houses, which, as if I didn’t learn a few years ago, is also difficult to do without the right connections. Even after I made a bunch of connections through alumni networking and the workshop internship in the fall, I still couldn’t get a job as an editorial, production, or publicity assistant.

Meanwhile, the savings dwindled and the husband got more and more nervous about finances. That led to my decision to apply for a lot of other types of jobs.

In March I started working on a freelance basis as a proofreader for a company that provides training in web development. It’s pretty sweet, since I get to learn a bit of computer stuff while testing their workbooks; so far I’ve done a few lessons in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, WordPress, HTML email, and other stuff like that. I think my understanding of coding, though extremely basic, is even improving. I’d like to learn more Photoshop and Lightroom, since I am trying to get better at digital photography, but too bad I don’t really get to tailor my work projects or get software suites for free.

That month I also started working part-time at Teachers College again, in a different program and department than before. It’s not bad, even though I have no benefits as a part-timer, because I’m good at helping faculty and students and all that. And then there’s the possibility that this could turn into something that has benefits in the future, like tuition credits, and I could do some conflict resolution or TESOL courses if I wanted, maybe even some writing workshops or journalism classes. Or ornithology….

And then there’s this writing gig I got, because I applied for a job I really had no business trying to get — so there are advantages to aiming high, you know — as bilingual editor of a Chinese-English lifestyle magazine aimed at affluent tourists from China. They liked my writing, I guess, so when they asked my cash-strapped self whether I’d want to write an article about sunscreens and translate it into Chinese, I said YES.

Since that first article, I’ve done one on aftersun skin care and another on a new Chinese restaurant in the city, with more in the works — one on a new trilingual private school and yet another skincare one. Of course, these are for the summer and fall issues, which haven’t come out yet, so I have yet to see the payment for them, but I’m sure I’ll be raking it in soon….

You may laugh and think I’ve sold out, writing about skincare and sunscreens and makeup, but the truth is that I AM interested in that kind of thing. Of course, they had me revise my original articles quite a bit, because safe products — environmentally as well as health-wise — are more my thing, and this magazine is more interested in high-end, luxury products that I cannot afford (and even if I could afford them, I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to spend that much money on a single product).

So, yes, in a way, I did sell out, but I also chose to feature only those products that I thought were safer … that is, if I could find out what ingredients were in them. That’s the problem with luxury products — the more expensive they are, the less likely you are to find the ingredient lists online — proprietary formulas and all that, I suppose. But hey, if you have that much money to blow on a skincare product, I guess you’re not really going to care what’s in it, right? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but whatever — I’ll post my real article on the best(-for-you) sunscreens and aftersun products here soon.

Back to jobs: the best news is that I may start freelancing soon as a proofreader for a book publisher! A connection from the workshop came through, and I got to meet the managing editor for the publisher, who gave me the copy tests and feedback and put me on the roster!

Another fun prospect is that a friend of mine from my knitting meetup wants me to help write copy for an online yarn store/magazine that she is planning to start. Of course, I wouldn’t be making money doing that at first, but I’m happy to be doing it as a labor of love.

I actually didn’t knit at all for about three months, because in mid-January I started having pain in my right wrist. I was, after all, spending hours knitting from November and December on, sometimes for hours on end without stopping. I never did go to the doctor, because I figured I’d just be told to stop knitting for a while and wear a wrist brace, which I did do, and now it is better. What’s weird is, I think that it really feels better now that I’ve started crocheting and knitting again! I still don’t do it often or for long periods of time — maybe once a week for an hour or two — so I’ll have to keep monitoring it.

Now the challenge is how to fit MY OWN WRITING into this schedule….

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.

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.

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.

Image

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.

The Pipe Dream of a Husband-Wife Sports-Writing Team

Shane and I went to the local high school (American) football game Saturday to report for the paper, which sorely lacks sports coverage. Every so often a regular reporter writes a big story, like the Little League tournament or when the high school baseball team went to the state championships. But my editor had asked a long time ago if I’d wanted to do some sports stories, and I finally got up the nerve to try it, as long as I had Shane, an avid sports follower, to help me.

The last time I had gone to a football game was probably when I was a freshman in high school myself. I didn’t then and still don’t understand the details of the game, possibly intentionally, as I find it one of the most repulsive sports today. All it seems to be good for is traumatic brain injury (not only to the players) and training in loud, macho yelling. I was planning to just take some photos and write a few short lines like “So-and-so made a touchdown in the first quarter” and “They lost to the Broncos [insert score].”

As soon as we got to the field, I noticed the concession stand and hot dogs, while Shane whipped out his notebook and started jotting down notes. Turns out my husband was pretty good at writing his first article, with my lame smartphone photos that cut out the QB and RB and, most times, even the football. The only photo that really turned out well … you can see for yourself that it didn’t really have anything to do with football:

(I just loved that kid’s fashion sense.)

When the article was published online, I got super excited that Shane and I could become the sports-writing duo that expands the paper’s sports section into a force to be reckoned with. We would not only cover important varsity games but perhaps even junior varsity games! Shane could get paid for doing something extra that he enjoys – watching sports! I would take amazing action photos with a new digital SLR camera (that I bought yesterday)!

Then the editor told me what I knew to be true all along: the paper did not have the budget or the space to expand the sports coverage in the way I was hoping. It could accommodate maybe one story per week, if that, and there is already one reporter, possibly two, working on occasional sports coverage. Wuah – wuah, goes the game-over trombone.

In happier news, we don’t have to go to tons of sports games.

We are also looking into health insurance options through the Freelancers’ Union, and I am seriously thinking about getting business cards and a website to promote myself as a freelance copy editor. Got a gig through work doing some academic copy editing, and I applied for a freelance copy-editing position with a cool website today, so keep fingers crossed, everyone!