Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Will you be my Semicolon?

In just five questions, this blogthing read me like a book:

You Are a Colon
You are very orderly and fact driven.
You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.
You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice.
(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)

You excel in: Leadership positions

You get along best with: The Semi-Colon
What Punctuation Mark Are You?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Googling Oneself

I read this article on Poets & Writers and it really struck a chord. A discordant one. I, too, Google myself. I, too, do so often and to no real satisfaction. And as I near the end of my program and the job market looms, I am minded of a little thing called professional identity.

Some aspects of my Internet presence make sense. As a writer and an avid reader, my Goodreads page is a no-brainer. Sure, I've wasted time on some questionable books on my life, but there are no incriminating photos of me sexualizing "The Wasteland". My selections don't reveal an inordinate attention to erotica or shitty romance novels. There are also my (very few) publications, my university related activities and my occasional forays into civic discourse. All of these would make perfect sense to a potential employer.

What I'm worried about, what we should all be worried about, are those little indiscretions or ill-advised decisions that come back to bite us on the ass. I'll admit, I was once a comic book geek. I still would be, but for the lack of funds to support the habit. I'm not ashamed of that. What I am ashamed of is that I actually wrote letters and emails, posted on message boards, attended comic book conventions, and generally exhibited all of the symptoms of a crazed fangirl. Given that the realm of comic book geeks tends to overlap with that of Internet geeks, it is no surprise that there are traces of my former life still available for public consumption. I love how, even then, I was bringing my amazing powers of analysis and interpretation to bear on the convoluted plot of Strangers in Paradise #27:

It's interesting that, when she thinks the end is near, Katchoo is so certain that she will die. Even though she's lived through so much. She shows little concern for David right before the plane crashes. In fact, it's Francine that she thinks of (of course). What a complex situation.

What incredible insight. An earlier letter to the writers of a fantasy comic called Elfquest (I believe I was 9 at the time, which means there was no Internet to speak of, which means someone even geekier than me must have expended a lot of time and energy to go back through the print versions of the Elfquest letters columns and code them all in HTML) shows my innate love of inquiry and my innate interest in fictional genealogies:

In the book Blood of Ten Chiefs it says that Pike is Rain's son. Is this true? If it is then Pike is Rainsong's brother, isn't he? Who was his mother? Who was Rainsong's mother? I'm totally confused-- can you straighten this out?

Who wouldn't want to hire an employee that showed such precocity so early in life? Possibly the same person who wouldn't want to hire an employee who didn't have the good judgment not to post on a website called "Pagan Perspectives" when she was 25 and should have known better. Possibly the same person who wouldn't hire an employee who might waste valuable work time posting answers to trivia questions on for free trail mix.

I could just deny any knowledge of these former selves. I could claim that they are, in fact, not me, in the same way that the highly successful architect, drummer, Wellesley grad and mom Trina (Burke) Gribble is not me. Or maybe I should claim that she is me and disavow the other, actual me's.

Is there a way to get Internet references to oneself taken down? If there is, let me know. I have some housecleaning to do.

So what have we learned, aside from the fact that Trina Burke is completely out-of-control when it comes to her Internet addiction and needs an intervention?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Word or two on Freelancing

Freelance editing is what I did in Seattle for a year when I couldn't find a full-time job. There are many benefits--sometimes you get paid in cash, you make your own hours, you work from home. There are also a number of cons--no retirement or health care, weeding out the serious writers who know how things are done from the pseudo writers who don't understand why you charge so much or what the difference between copy editing and proofreading is, making your own hours, working from home...

As a novice freelancer, I had a really hard time figuring out how to a) find work in the first place and b) find enough work to make a decent living. The Northwest Independent Editors Guild was a great resource for figuring out how much to charge for my services, how to explain what my services were, exactly, to clients, and for advertising said services. Would that there were such organizations everywhere in the country.

Now I'm doing part-time technical editing, to make a little extra money while I'm in school and I could see my way to making a decent living by hashing together different part-time and freelance gigs. But I worry, as is my wont. How do I get health insurance when I work for myself? I know there are ways of doing so, but my eyes glaze over and I go to my happy place whenever anyone tries to explain how. Will I make enough to contribute to a Roth-IRA? What is a Roth-IRA? How do I deal with paying my taxes? Am I really made of strong enough stuff to deal with the uncertainty of when and where the next gig will come from? Will I make enough money to pay for annual trips to Europe?

I was raised with the idea that when you get a job it needs to be a job that is a part of an entity--a company, a corporation, or some other multisyllabic thing that begins with the letter 'c'. There needs to be an interview and a boss. One can't be one's own boss. It's unseemly--like being one's own grandpa. It just isn't done in polite society. Rugged individualism was never one of my family's strong points. We are made of strong sheep stock. Despite the fact that I've seen others do it and, to an extent, I've done it myself, I still have a hard time believing that self-employment is feasible.

Perhaps I can convince Kelly and Laurie to form a limited liability company with me. One of them will need to be the boss, so I can stay within my comfort zone as a peon. And the other one can handle all the HR stuff. I think it could work...

Friday, February 15, 2008

First mistake and a fresh batch of do-overs: The Cover Letter

This weekend I, Laurie, will submit two pending online applications for administrative positions in Chicago. This is a fact. This is the beginning of the phase I'd like to call "the do-overs".

Many weeks ago, (a dark and naïve time in my life), I embarked on a tentative step toward establishing a telecommuting job reviewing manuscript with a small Chicago publishing agent site. I sent a query email with basic skill-specific details about my suitability for the position, asking if they were considering applications. If they were, I'd be happy to send cover letter and resume...

Oh, faux pas gods, how you plague me.

It seemed simple enough, only after I had hit "send" on that email. A cover letter seeking employment possibility (a query!--Why, I've heard of those...) would have been the logical, responsible, extroverted choice to woo this potential employer preemptively. I believe my silly five line email was promptly filtered away into the nether regions of the company's inbox. Can I blame them? Nope.

(Debilitated by fear of the unknown and the blank page of a cover letter template, I stumbled upon a helpful site, covering all cover letter needs that a person might ever have. )

Thursday, February 14, 2008

First Meeting w/Thesis Chair

Here is what I learned:

  • One week prior to my thesis reading (April 27), I need to submit an approved draft (i.e., read and approved by each member of my committee with a sign-off from the chair) to the graduate school. That's Friday, April 18.
  • That means I have to get a final-ish version to my committee members by Monday, March 31. That means I have 5 weeks to work something out. Ack.
  • Chair recommends I consider cutting 9 of the poems because they are tonally out-of-sync with the rest. I agree with this assessment. But what am I going to do with the 9 outcasts? I guess I'll just have to send them to reform school. Or gut them for spare parts.
  • Chair recommends I lay out all the poems on the floor in different iterations to find out where there are resonances, affinities, tonalities, etc.
  • I write in two modes: lyric "I" and descriptive/narrative. These modes are difficult to reconcile in terms of sequencing. Do I revise toward one or the other or support the integrity of individual poems despite their refusal to assimilate?

I'm going to a cabin in the woods this weekend, ostensibly to reconnect with my partner, but mostly to have a heart-to-heart with my pile of thesis. Work through our disagreements. Hash out the ways we've been hurt. Find a way to love each other again.

Things you didn't need to know, but now know

While considering the sticky situation of how best to pluralize "Ph.D.s" (Does that look alright? Isn't "Ph.D.'s" unwieldy?), I naturally went to the never-academically-sound Wikipedia to discover something more alarming:

"Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated Ph.D. or PhD for the Latin Philosophiæ Doctor, meaning 'teacher of philosophy', (or, more rarely, D.Phil., for the equivalent Doctor Philosophiæ) is an advanced academic degree."

Wait a minute... "D.Phil."?.. why, that looks alarming like "Dr. Phil".

"Should I be scared?" I asked myself. Have we been hoodwinked into believing Dr. Phil offers advice at the backing of his subliminal Ph.D. degree? Hmmm.

Today I Looked at a Job

One job, for one major Seattle-based corporation. I saw the words "Best-of-Breed Content" and got scared, so I shut my browser.

The Seattle Writergrrls listserv posts jobs quite often. Maybe one will just fall into my inbox.

Kelly's Four Point Strategy Plan for February

1) Pre-Preparedness. In order to be prepared, first one must prepare to be prepared. To that effect, I have taken an extra legal pad (past the allotment of one) from the English Office supply closet.

2) Friendship. Maintain close ties with Laurie and Trina, who are clearly way ahead of the game. At least Trina knows how to bake scones so she won't starve, and has armed herself with a mean knowledge of articles and their correct application. Laurie has, like, resumes and references stored in cyberspace. Crikey.

3) Formulating Other P's: Prayer? Prozac? Prostitution?

4) Cats in Sinks

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Stage One: Overwhelmedness

It starts over the long winter break, while we're waiting in the nether regions of our lives for classes to resume while still enjoying watching every HBO series currently on Netflix. Suddenly, you realize cover letters do not write themselves. Recommendations don't send themselves, either.

Things I learned in the last 2 months, a short list:

0. First, I will need to tools and on-line applications to order my life. I cannot proceed without a stable organization method. (This is my firm mantra.) Spreadsheets have served me well in the past. I just bought a heavy-duty drying rack, so droopy just-laundered clothes can no longer distract me in a heap on the floor. I will sit down and figure out that I wouldn't mind doing for 40 hours a week. But I just found out that, yes, dummy, diet soda is terrible for you. What will I drink now?

1. Higher Education Jobs provide comfort and assurance that I can obtain an administrative position of some sort, remaining close to academia, while enjoying enough mental distance from teaching for a year or so. Kelly, what are your academia-related assurances? Can I visit you in academia if I need my fix?

2. Mediabistro provides the same feeling with all the assurance that freelancing (copyediting work from home, ideally) is also an option for the MFAers among us. I purchased The Copyeditor's Handbook (U of California P, 2006) as a primer and instrument to remind me how much I still need to know about style convention. I did confirm that the choice of indefinite article when preceding an acroynm is decided by pronunciation and not spelling. This confirms that I can indeed write "She received an MFA." Trina could have also confirmed this matter, she knows this stuff. She is also available for pro-bono life coaching services on an informal basis.

3. Interfolio document management system provides a very nice service. Less upfront cost than AWP's dossier service, but does not provide any mailings in the annual cost of $15.

So, I've gathered up all of the resources and many of the sheets of paper with important information on them. I've placed them all on my desk. I've filled out job applications with human resources at Northwestern (for I am Chicago-bound this summer), but haven't hit "submit". I am weak. Where is the sunshine in Montana?

Initial Thoughts on Graduation

These are the things that keep me up at night:

Moving to Seattle: I spent the first 27 years of my life in Florida. In the spring of 2003, I had a nervous breakdown/epiphany. I quit my job, packed my stuff and moved across the country to Seattle. Upside: I met an awesome guy. Downside: I spent a year applying for really awesome jobs and not getting them. Hence grad school. Now as I approach the end of grad school, I have to wonder--will two graduate degrees in poetry make me any more marketable? Or will I be folding sweaters at Macy's again to make rent? Will my experience as an ENEX 101 instructor be my only selling point? Does that mean I'll be stuck teaching freshman comp for the rest of my days?

Age: I had a most unpleasant experience the other day. While browsing the Internet for some easy money, I came across the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, worth $15,000. I began to fantasize about putting off my job search, working on manuscripts, traveling to exotic locales that would inspire me to generate the best work of my life...And then the fine print: Applicants must be us citizens between the age of twenty-one and thirty-one as of  March 31, 2008.

At 32, I'm no longer a "younger poet."

Aw. Snap.

Thesis Reading: Do I really have to do this? Really? I'm a poet, not a party planner. Last year's round of readings, replete with open bars, hors d'ouevres, DJ's, and multimedia presentations have set up unrealistic expectations. Is it a reading, or a bat mitzvah? I honestly don't know where people find the money for these kinds of extravaganzas. Perhaps they have trust funds. Perhaps they managed to save some cash from their pre-MFA days. Perhaps their parents help out. Well, I have no trust fund, I have no cash stash, and I'm too old to be asking my parents for handouts to cover a keg (see above). What am I capable of providing in the way of snacks? Some strips of uncooked fakey bacon cut up and placed artfully on generic Ritz crackers next to a six pack of whatever beer is on sale at the Food Farm. Post-reading entertainment? I'm sorry, I was busy coming up with a bunch of damned poems to read for you. Get out of my face and find your own post-reading entertainment.

Prague: I'm going to Prague for a month this summer, as a graduation present to myself. I'm going with GMU's Prague Summer Program. Which may account for the lack of funds for thesis reading festivities. Which would you rather do: go to Prague or feed and water a bunch of first-year MFA students? Yeah, I thought so.

In any case, it may not be the best idea I've ever had. I probably should be using that time to find a job or find a place to live in Seattle. I think I've chosen to go at this inopportune time because I'm unprepared to let go of the intensive writing regimen of the MFA program. When I had a full-time job, lo those many years ago, I simply didn't write. I spent my free time gardening and going to bars and generally avoiding intellectual pursuits of any kind. I cross-stitched fairy patterns. I baked scones. So I feel the need to do things that will ensure my continued writing practice, even if those things deplete my financial resources entirely.

There you have it, a smattering of my anxieties leading up to graduation. On the bright side, the writer's strike is over, so I can go back to anesthetizing by watching my favorite scripted television shows.