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….

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Week 1 of NaNoWriMo

I’m not sure if I’m going to continue doing this novel-writing month thingie.

It isn’t that the first week isn’t going well–in fact it has been good to get in the habit of setting aside time to just write, and not just a couple pages but a substantial amount (even though it’s all crap that I’m writing down, but that’s not the point of why I’m doing this, is it?)–but I am starting to see that there are other things I could be doing with my time on certain days. This may just mean doing a lower word count on busy days and a higher one on days off, but as the month gets into swing, I start to find all kinds of reasons not to write 1,667 words per day.

For example, I like doing this blog, even though I’m not sure what it’s for exactly–but it helps me in some strange way. I have never tried to promote this blog outside of my own circle of family and friends, because I have always just used blogs to keep those people who care updated about what’s going on in my life, starting with the blog about living for a year in Mexico eight years ago. I don’t necessarily want it to get a big readership or anything, because then I’ll just feel pressured to produce something really good every time I write, and that proves disastrous for me. Instead, I use it to focus my thoughts on what I want to do to make a living and to try to notice what I like and don’t like and work that all out. It’s also something that keeps me a little more accountable, because even though I only have a few people who read it, I have committed to trying to post once a week so that I do think about my career (or lack of one, more like) and communicate that to people who either worry about me or just want to make sure I’m still alive.

My tumblr is another thing I want to spend time on, only because I love birding and photography now. Which leads to a bunch of other things I want to do, but primarily: Learn how to take better photos. First, it does mean getting a stronger zoom lens, which I’m hoping I’ll do once I get a job with an income…. Second, learn how to process the photos I do take with Photoshop.

I saw a posting for a communications assistant for the New York Philharmonic the other day, helping with press releases and PR but also managing photography and video for the orchestra, and I’d have applied except for that whole thing about not trying to get a full-time job while I’m committed to a part-time internship, but also because I don’t know how to use Photoshop yet, even though my friend Ruth lent me a book months ago to help me start with learning. So that’s another thing I’d like to spend some time doing. And while I’m not thrilled about doing communications work (having to contact lots of people for shit isn’t my idea of fun), I’d do it for an organization like the NY Philharmonic, of course, hello! The freakin’ Philharmonic!

Other things to do with my time:

Read. I start the six-week writing workshop on Monday, and I just got the workshop leader’s novel in the mail yesterday! Also, Junot Diaz is going to be at the United Palace in Washington Heights on Nov. 15, and I am getting This Is How You Lose Her in the mail today so I can be prepared to listen to him talk about it.

Yoga. I used to have this daily morning practice back in Ohio, but it fizzled out while I was in Mexico and I’ve never really gotten back into a routine since. By now it’s nonexistent, so I have to start taking classes to get going again. It was so good for me back then to do it–good for my body but mainly good for my low-grade depression because it was a discipline that I did even when I didn’t want to, and it made me feel better in the long run (plus I hate all other forms of exercise). That’s the problem when you’re depressed, not doing things because you don’t feel any motivation or energy at all, ignoring the fact that it will make you feel better at the end of the day, not caring what’s good for you anyway because, well, you don’t feel self worth in the first place, right? 

Therapy. That segues nicely from the depression thing, because honestly I need to deal with some of these issues that have been problems for most of my life. Also, I don’t want to be medicated anymore. Time to find a counselor.

Look for jobs. Of course–what else? I have to find some way of making money to fund one of my favorite all-time hobbies: shopping.

In the end, I’m still going to try to continue NaNoWriMo for at least another week. They say it takes two weeks of doing something daily to make it a habit. We’ll see about that!

Sort of, not really, back to normal

Now that the literary festival is over, and we’ve moved vanloads of stuff back from downtown Brooklyn, we at the AAWW office finally get to wind down. We’ll slowly unpack boxes while getting back to the work of putting out three online magazines and preparing for other, smaller events.

I will get back to the project of creating a house style sheet/guide for the AAWW publications, which is kind if exciting if you like copyediting, as language-nerds like me do.

I also spent my first working day away from the office writing my long overdue article on the Quakers, whose service I attended weeks ago. If there’s time today, I may even finish it, which is no small accomplishment for me. I putzed around most of the morning yesterday until finally getting myself to the nearby cafe to work.

Haven’t started looking for work again yet. The whole part-time thing seems strange since I won’t be doing this internship long-term, but it’s no excuse.

I complain about working as an intern a lot, but it is a special thing to be working with writers.

One thing I found inspiring at the festival Saturday was unexpected, because it came from the author of several urban-fantasy romance novels and X-men comics, Marjorie Liu. While I love the X-men films (especially Hugh Jackman, I mean, Wolverine), I do not aspire to writing romance novels or making comics. But she said something that has given me motivation to start writing my own fiction, that you can talk about voice and plot and character development all you like, but you have to finish your writing. If you don’t finish something, none of that other stuff matters.

She also said that a lot of her writing, especially in the beginning, sucked, but that’s what revision is for. You have to spend a great deal of time revising to make the writing good. That’s something I definitely need to remember when my perfectionism takes over and harshly judges everything I write down or even think.

So I’ve now signed up to do National Novel Writing Month, in which people vow to write 50,000 words over the course of 30 days and keep track of it at the website.

Who’s gonna do it with me?

In preparation, I am going to have to spend the rest of October writing a lot, so I’ll have to journal daily, at the very least, which I haven’t done in ages, and maybe try for a short story or essay.

No procrastination, no training wheels, just writing … every day.

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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.

The worst job interview … ever

I knew that as soon as I made a decision that I would just be a copy editor, I’d get an interview for a job that was not for copyediting and go through this whole dilemma of whether or not to take it. I did not think, however, that it would be a FAKE interview.

Yeah, it was kind of a fake interview for me, too, at that point, but I thought maybe I’d want the job if they offered it to me, especially if it paid well and had good benefits. It was coordinating a university program dealing with East Asian studies. I happen to have a master’s degree in Chinese literature,  and the job description indicated they were looking for someone with a background in East Asian studies as well as experience living abroad in East Asia and working with faculty and students from there. Hey, that’s me!

But the kicker was that I had also applied for a position as assistant in that center. So when I got the interview and arrived there, I didn’t ask which position I was interviewing for. Big mistake. They just started by asking me why I thought I was right for the position. So I said stuff that I thought was relevant for both roles, having supported faculty a lot in different roles, event coordination at a church, budget oversight, etc.

They said I had not mentioned the event coordination in my resume, but it was there in both my resume and my cover letter. Oh yeah, and the first sentence of my cover letter said that I had also applied for the assistant position, but they had obviously not read it carefully.

The woman then said that it didn’t sound like I knew what the position was, and that it was for a student affairs coordinator, mainly advising students in a master’s program. I said, the job description didn’t indicate that it was a student affairs position coordinating a master’s program. I checked afterward — it did not say any of that.

She said, “You should really read the job description before you apply.”

WHAT?!

I said, “I did read the job description, and it didn’t mention student affairs.”

The other guy said it did mention student affairs and that event coordination was only mentioned briefly at the end. Again, I checked the job description afterward, and the whole first paragraph was about event coordination.

The woman then said that this was clearly not something I wanted to do, so she’d have to terminate the interview.

I was, as you can imagine, rather put out at this point. I said that I was interested and asked, if I wasn’t qualified for the position, why did they ask me for an interview? She said I was qualified but that I didn’t reference the right parts of my background.

I replied that I might have been confused because I had also applied to the assistant position.

“That’s the problem with applying to every position,” the dragon lady said.

By this point, I was fuming. I did not just spend the afternoon ironing my good linen pants for this shit, to be told that I didn’t read the job descriptions and applied for all the jobs at the university.

I told them they should look at the job description they wrote; maybe I was mistaken, but they should really take more care in writing them. And I stormed out.

Later, I was sad and angry that I had reacted in that way, but I can only conclude, in retrospect, that I had felt wrongly accused of nonchalantly applying for a job I didn’t want. Which is kind of true, but I guess I did want it at the time that I had applied, which was about a month ago. But then I felt stupid that I had applied or gone to the interview at all, or at least I should’ve asked what position I was being interviewed for — I mean, I hadn’t been keeping it a secret or anything.

That night, I received an email that appeared to be sent to all candidates, thanking them for their time, but that they had found a suitable candidate.

Not a likely story, because I interviewed on the first day available, the day after I was notified that I was being interviewed. Did they really get through the interviews that quickly? My feeling, and my husband’s, is that they already had a candidate, but because the university requires them to conduct a search, they had to go through the motions.

I’m not sure what I would do differently put in the same position again — maybe to say gracefully after they mention wanting to end the interview, “Thank you for your time; please keep me in mind if any other positions open up.”

But y’all know me, I have very little grace, and as my father told my in-laws upon meeting them for the first time, I have a bad temper. Maybe I was channeling too much cocky wonder woman (see earlier posts on “power poses” and self-confidence), but I wanted to obliterate that nasty woman for wrongly accusing me of things I didn’t do, putting the blame on me for their own lack of preparation, and most likely I’d be just as argumentative as I was yesterday.

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The lesson I’ve learned, however, is to ask what position the interview is for, if I’ve applied to more than one at the same place. Yes, that was my bad. I doubt that will happen again, but at least I know now.

Fake it till you become it

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TED Talk on how doing power poses can change how you feel and act. This is just more of the magic I need to get the job I want; if you’ve ever thought, “I’m not supposed to be here,” like I have, this is a quick way to feel confident.

Now, what’s the written equivalent to a power pose for a cover letter? I guess I should just pretend I’m Wonder Woman for a couple minutes before I write the next one.

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….

Not the brightest idea I’ve ever had

Writing a blog about my search for a career/job has proven to be problematic in many ways.

It’s made me worry that I didn’t get a job because the prospective employers found this blog and read what I wrote about them. So I stopped mentioning the job interviews and positions I’d applied for.

Then, complaining about aspects of my current part-time position as a reporter for a local news site and free print weekly has alerted superiors to warn me not air my opinions so freely, lest I compromise my mission to report on events and situations fairly.

Also, it’s never a good idea to complain about one’s employer on a public site.

Maybe my problem is that the blog is public. I should probably be journaling about all this stuff and then writing a book about it later, after I am no longer employed at a place I’m complaining about. Or I should make this thing private and unsearchable and only give out the web address to close friends and family via email, not broadcasting it over facebook, which is full of “friends” who are not really my friends anyway. (Hi, those of you reading this and wondering if I meant you!)

Whatever the case, I am finding it hard to write about anything related to my job search, or rather, lack of a job search, or my current position.

I suppose I can say that I may have wriggled my way out of covering the village government, simply by not covering it adequately, though that was not intentional. My heart’s not in it, of course, so there’s that, but I also don’t have the stomach for the quarreling.

My husband came down with the flu on Monday, so he’s been home since Tuesday on. He finally went to the doctor today — one day shy of health insurance coverage, mind you, because our doctor doesn’t work Fridays, and he’s been feeling miserable enough to self pay. I have been trying my best to take care of him.

Now writing that sentence: “I have been trying my best to take care of him,” makes me realize that I have been trying to do that since he started his full-time job at the end of November.

That has been a difficulty for a while between us. I have high expectations of myself, and I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself to be a good stay-at-home spouse, just like Shane was to me for the four years that I worked full-time as a teacher. I want to make delicious dinners with leftovers so he can bring a lunch to work, keep the house clean, do the dishes and the laundry regularly, but then again, I don’t really want to do any of that at all. At the end of the day, when none of that has been done, I feel like I’ve failed him and myself.

I’m also rather a workaholic, so even though I’m technically part-time at the paper, I have made it so that I work on stuff for the paper pretty much a lot of the time. That way I don’t have to do housewife-y stuff, either.

On top of that, I have taken on lots of responsibility at this church. This church! I am in charge of hall rentals, and now I am trying to organize a pancake supper that is happening NEXT WEEK!

One has to understand something about my past to comprehend the anxiety with which I face this freaking pancake supper. I can remember, in my entire 36 years of life, only one or two gatherings that I organized that were successful. I think they were while I was in grad school, so it wasn’t difficult to impress the other grad students I’d invited, who were equally as or perhaps a little nerdier than I was.

OK, so this is at CHURCH for God’s sake, so what am I worrying about? Well, I still want it to be FUN.

In my search for the right formula to create said FUN, I may have tried a little too hard. I bought a bunch of Mardi Gras masks and beads — I mean, come on, Pancake Day is fine and all, but let’s spice things up a little — and I’m thinking about holding a pancake race (which I’ve learned actually happens at pancake suppers in the UK). Shane and a few friends at church are asking me, “Who’s going to run in a pancake relay race?! It’s a bunch of old people who can’t run!” And I’m saying, “The kids?” while I’m thinking, “I want to run in a pancake relay race! And I want to watch a bunch of people making fools of themselves running in a pancake relay race!”

Did I mention there will be mimosas? Everyone is excited about the mimosas. Maybe with mimosas people will wear Mardi Gras masks and beads and run around flipping pancakes. Maybe it will be fun.

Copy editor and reporter and … photographer?

I could say I have been busy with work, getting more responsibilities at the paper, which is sort of true, but since it is only part-time, there’s no real excuse for my long hiatus from writing.

There was that whole job interview thing — I finally heard back that I didn’t get the job, weeks after the second interview I mentioned previously. It was fine not getting the position, especially after worrying that I’d have to interact with that horrible professor, but I did feel like maybe they had somehow seen my blog post about them (and that I didn’t really want the job). I don’t know how they would have, but I stressed out about it anyway. That paranoia led me not to want to write about much else on this blog. And so a couple of other job interviews have come and gone without so much as a … tweet.

I still do enjoy working for the paper, and staying there is now made easier by the fact that my husband has secured a full-time job (with benefits!) in the city. The whole idea of giving the Ailes operation a hard time is extremely satisfying, which unfortunately allows me and my colleagues to put up with a lot of other stuff, like not being able to go full-time or get insurance benefits.

I remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to develop my skills there, though. I have, since my last posting, written a few more articles, one or two of which have had an impact (however small) on parts of the community.

One of my stories on the Garrison School Board meetings, for example, reportedly angered the teachers there, which was the desired effect. They were not present to hear the condescending tone of some the parents or to defend themselves, and so I felt it my duty to inform those not present of the general themes of the discussion. Unfortunately, I heard that the teachers felt the article was immensely critical of them, when in fact I had tried my best to report as “objectively” as possible.

I haven’t been writing as much for the paper as one might expect, given my “added,” somewhat editorial responsibilities at the paper. With the awesome digital SLR camera that I bought myself for my birthday in October, I have been taking much better pictures than I ever could with my old point-and-shoot, and my photos have been appearing a lot more in the paper than my writing has. My shots of the late-night flooding at high tide in lower Cold Spring (in my last post), for example, were some of the only ones that I have seen. When we need front-page photos now, the editor often asks me to get the shots.

gingerbread ornamentLiving nativity Saunders Farm

The wonders of digital photography! Now any numbnut can take a hundred photos and find a good one somewhere in the mix. I DO want to learn more about photography, though, so that I don’t have to sort through a hundred photos to find one that is merely decent. I know there are several ways to do so that are free, through the Internet, perhaps through all of my artsy photographer friends, but it just means getting up and doing it….

Which brings me to the confessional part of my blog: Am I in a rut? Am I, as I type this entry while noon approaches, in bed, in my bathrobe, shirking my duties as the spouse who works part-time, avoiding the laundry, the dishes, the cleaning, the grocery shopping, the cooking, and contemplating what I’ll watch next on Netflix instant? Am I avoiding a job search that will land us in the city so that my husband doesn’t have to commute an hour and a half each way and so that I can continue working at this paper and take on village reporting duties? Am I also making no progress whatsoever on journaling or writing fiction/creative nonfiction/my first novel? Am I, perhaps, rather depressed? I’m afraid the answer is yes. But therapy will resume as soon as my health insurance kicks in next month.