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.

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.

Image

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.

The second interview and the waiting game

Yesterday, I went to the second interview for the secretary job at the education graduate school from which I graduated five years ago and where I worked as secretary for a year. Now I am waiting to hear back about whether I get the job.

The panel who met with me (and at least one other candidate) consisted of the academic coordinator of the department, the manager for the program in which the secretary would be working, and a couple of other academic secretaries in the department. Everyone seemed nice and fun. They asked me questions like, “What was the best movie you’ve seen in the last two years?” and “If you could be anything for Halloween, what would you be?” A couple of them seemed like doctoral students in the process of writing dissertations, so they had that fun, self-deprecating but miserable vibe that many doctoral students have.

It occurred to me, however, that one of these secretaries might remember me from my studies through this department one semester six years ago, when the bilingual ed students did a semester with this particular department. I asked her yesterday, if she remembered me, because I had to take courses through the program. She said my name sounded familiar.

Those who have read about my travails during that time (on my blog from back then) might also recall the U.S. Open incident. My father was coming, from Taiwan, to visit New York to see a grand slam tennis tournament for the first time in his life, and we had bought tickets months ahead of time. Of course, it turned out that one of the days for which we had tickets was also the first day of school. So, in my naivete, I emailed the program to ask whether I could miss that day during my first student teaching assignment.

The secretary, who was sitting before me at this interview yesterday, might have seen the email that was forwarded to the she-devil professor of the department, who subsequently wrote me a vile message questioning my desire to be a teacher. (She wrote in the subject line, “Teaching or tennis?”)

Offended and infuriated, I calmed myself enough to attempt to explain my request. I had failed to mention that my father was in another country and also elderly, so this was not, in my opinion, like asking to be off the first day of school to go see a movie with a friend, for example. Naturally, after hearing how important the first day of school would be for a student teacher, I would now be present on the first day of school. But she did not have to be as condescending as she was. Her email follows below:

____ forwarded your email about your desire to see the U.S. Open, rather than the first day of school with children.

I imagine you do not realize the impression your question leaves with us about your interest in, and commitment to, becoming a teacher.

Perhaps your commitment is truly solid and you do not realize the significance the first day of schools holds for both teachers and children. If you told your cooperating teacher that you couldn’t come to the first day of school because you were going to the U.S. Open, you would probably be immediately asked to leave the placement.

As a program, we cannot afford to jeopardize our reputation with the public schools and with the teachers who donate their time to be cooperating teachers; if you are wavering in your commitments, or if teaching is perhaps too restrictive of a life-style, we should discuss this ASAP.

Ew. And for the record, my cooperating teacher that semester would not have asked me to leave the placement if I had asked to be absent; she wouldn’t have cared, just like she wouldn’t have cared if I had shown up in jeans like she did every day, even though this professor told us never to do so. In fact, that teacher probably shouldn’t have been a cooperating teacher in the program, because she scared the children into behaving, and I probably learned some bad habits. Or maybe the program assigned me to her to get back at me somehow.

Anyway, so why am I applying to work in a department where this horrible, condescending person teaches? Because I checked — I’d be working in a different program and not with that loca. Otherwise, you can forget it.

But, there are chances that I’d have to work with her. And that scares me. If she found out it was that girl coming to work for the department, she’d probably make my life hell; no doubt she’d think, “So she couldn’t cut it after all, and that’s why she’s just a secretary now,” and that teaching was “too restrictive of a lifestyle” for me.

Maybe I shouldn’t get the job.

Turning 36 in the year of the dragon

Fighting for good journalism, getting ‘real’ jobs, and marriage equality in church

My birthday was last Saturday. I turned 36. This means, in Chinese astrology, that I am a dragon in the year of the dragon. (There are 12 animals in the horoscope, so it’s a 12-year cycle.)

You might think this is a good thing; I did. Woohoo! It’s my year, I wrote on facebook. This belief was dispelled by the only other Asian working in the school district where I was employed during the first half of this year. Hai, a Vietnamese immigrant who had lived several years in Hong Kong, has a much better understanding of the horoscope than I do as an ABC (American-born Chinese). The year of the dragon, he told me, is a bad year for a dragon. This, as I understand it, is because the astrology takes into account the five elements — earth, fire, metal, water, wood — and having too much of one element causes imbalance, and a dragon in a dragon year would present a pretty big imbalance. A dragon in a monkey year, however, would be a good, balanced year, since the monkey provides things that a dragon lacks. Or something along those lines.

In any case, Hai was right, in that I had a miserable first half of the year at least. Working at that school caused me to increase my antidepressant as well as start me on anti-anxiety pills; I had bad evaluations, no support though I asked for help, parents and students complaining about me, and a new principal who was convinced that I was a horrible teacher and didn’t give me serious chances to improve. This principal made it virtually impossible for me to get another teaching position in another district, because I was technically, if not officially, fired, and no other school in these tough-on-teachers times wants to touch a fired teacher with a 10-foot pole.

Being fired from my job was, however, probably a blessing in disguise, because I am much happier NOT as a teacher. Of course, I have not been able to bring myself to forgive the actions of my superiors in that district, but I know that I should really feel grateful that they didn’t let me waste any more of my time trying to learn something — dealing with challenging behavior — that was so difficult for me.

Today I went into the city for a job interview at the education graduate school where I got my master’s degree in bilingual education. I had worked there as a secretary for a year during my studies, and that job may have been one of the most enjoyable experiences I had there (which is not exactly saying it was enjoyable, per se). I applied for another secretary position last month, and I think I do want to get the job.

At first, when they called me to set up the interview, I didn’t want it. I had been volunteering at the farm on Friday, talking to the apprentices with whom I work about their difficulties working with their boss. I looked back at my last 15 or so years of work experience and realized I have never had such a good time at a job as I do where I am now, at this paper, working part-time with no benefits. (It was a beautiful fall day at the farm, by the way. I love this area.)

The path to the fields up topView of a pond at Glynwood Farm

After all, the editor is endlessly helpful to me, encouraging me to take on more responsibilities and praising my writing. (My latest articles are both on the front page!) I also like many of the people I work with, and I get to meet interesting people. Oh, and have I mentioned that it is greatly fulfilling to know that I work at a publication that directly competes with the local paper owned and operated by the wife of the president of Fox News? I feel like I am fighting for a good cause, for real journalism, ethical reporting, and bipartisanship, even in the venue of such a small town. I didn’t, and often still don’t, want to give any of that up.

Later I discussed the job with my husband, who is really excited these days about the prospect of getting full-time jobs in the city and moving back there. He says, if we could get settled into some secure, stable jobs in the city, that eventually he could support me while I have a baby. And so we are back to the age thing — I am no spring chicken, and my window of childbearing is closing. If I want to have kids, then I have to have them soon, probably within the next few years.

The truth is that we haven’t found any way to sustain life here in this beautiful and too-expensive Hudson River village, now that I’m not making a good salary. With my increasing responsibilities at the paper, I could make a little more money, but it will not be a full-time job with benefits anytime soon, with the funding situation as it is. And Shane has not been able to find any positions within reasonable driving distance for which he is qualified and that would support us, and commuting an hour and a half each way to the city would be too much for him.

So I resigned myself to perhaps only being able to copy edit for the paper remotely on the internet.

Taking into consideration this new desire to get a benefit-providing job, I don’t know why I was so honest at the interview today. Basically, I admitted to wanting to a job where I don’t have to take work home and where I can have fun with coworkers, and I confessed to needing to work on resolving conflict with others. Whaa? And yet, I think, being honest is my way of cutting to the chase, and if they don’t want me with all of my flaws, then I don’t want them.

There may also have been a little part of me that simply hopes that we can find a way to make things work living in this area and keeping my job at the paper.

There’s this other thing, too, that I don’t know how to discuss on this blog, and that’s the work we’ve been doing for this Episcopal church in town. I think I try to avoid writing about it because I don’t want to turn people off by talking about religion. Most of my friends, after all, are agnostics and atheists, as I was for most of my life.

But it has been a great part of our lives here, and it has meant, for us, being part of a community and, in a way, supporting gay rights. This is because we have a priest who recently came out as gay and who has presided over the first gay wedding in the diocese (even though the bishop has not yet approved of marrying same-sex couples in an Episcopal ceremony). Honestly, if you looked up the Episcopal church, you’d find it surprisingly progressive (for those of us who look down on organized religion and believe Christianity is quite scary in its more popular, conservative American form).

The parish members are wonderful — we met our best friend in the village there, and we are actually friends with some Republican church-goers! The priest gives thoughtful and helpful sermons about emulating Christ by accepting and loving, not judging, others, which I truly want to try to do. (And here the friends who know me well may be surprised, since I never exactly espoused withholding judgment in the past. In fact, my disdain for most of humankind may be one of my most fun traits.)

The church, however, is not doing well. We recently learned that we have to prepare two budgets for the coming year — one continuing as is and another without a full-time priest. Unfortunately, our priest will probably have to leave, since we cannot sustain what we have now, and our savings are dwindling. (Sound familiar? Is it merely a coincidence?)

To add to the turmoil, a couple of the main players on the church vestry have quit, having been burned out, I guess, by the stress of trying to run a church with a full-time priest for over 7 years on a diminishing income. In the course of the past week or so, I have taken on more responsibilities on the vestry as a result — becoming co-chair of pastoral care and chair of hall rentals, and Shane has taken more financial responsibilities as treasurer.

St. Mary-in-the-Highlands

I haven’t been trying a great deal to discern my “calling,” but this — helping the parish — is the closest thing to a calling that we have imagined for ourselves thus far. It’s a beautiful landmark, for one, but a serene place to find comfort (with its stained glass, somber classical music, and age-old, high-mass rites — Catholicism with none of the guilt!) as well as a raucously fun place to find friendship. What churches, after all, hold champagne receptions for adult baptisms and Christmas midnight mass, and regularly serve alcohol at its fundraisers and social events (all while teaching people to be nice to each other)? This place needs to survive!

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.