I commute to work every day via public transportation (read: the subway) (read: I swore I was done doing the whole subway thing) (read: misery -- but it could be worse; I could be riding the bus). I could go on at length about how much I detest public transportation, and how much I loath commuting in general, but I'll admit it's good for one thing: Eavesdropping on people's conversations. Yes, I'm one of those subway riders who will take out her pen and paper and begin transcribing, verbatim, exactly what you're saying to your friend sitting next to me (except I'm stealthily covert about it; you'd think I was writing out a grocery list if you were actually paying attention). In other words: continue talking, people. You give great fodder for characters in future books.
In fact, these conversations are one of the reasons that compelled me to buy a Droid smartphone two days ago (the other reason? I needed something for private use at work, but that's beside the point). Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I'd ever own a smartphone. I'm not a texter, and I've always used my old-school cell phone for what it was intended for: talking. But since my handwriting looks like rabid chicken scratches when I attempt to keep up with the nearest chatter/compose any sudden story ideas I get on the way home, I needed something more stealth and streamlined.
...Something I could use to transcribe one such conversation that I overheard last week:
SCENE: 5:15pm. Subway car barrels beneath the SF Bay en route home from the city. Two college freshman (or sophomores, I wasn't sure) are seated next to me, chatting loudly about their lives and places in the world. Middle-aged men and women, peering over their opened books and Blackberrys, study them as they speak. Me: incognito next to them, wearing big black sunglasses (though we are in a tunnel), reporter's pad and pen clutched in hand, waiting for conversation to continue....
Girl 1 (dark-haired a la Bella Swan from Twilight, in hipster clothing, and insists on ending every sentence with a higher inflection, as though she'd tacked a question mark to each one of her sentences):
"...I don't know though? There are, like, a lot of negatives to wanting to be on Broadway? And, like, that's why I'm afraid of double-majoring, but, like, I know that interior design is a good fallback major. I haven't really researched it, like, that much...but, like, I think I'd like it? It, like, looks really fun? Plus we're still, like, in college so I still have, like, a couple more semesters to change my mind."
Girl 2 (blonde, in similar hipster garb, strangely shares her friend's higher-inflection-at-end-of-each-sentence syndrome):
"For our generation it's, like, so competitive? In my mom's generation just, like, going to, like, college would, like, get you a job afterward, you know? I, like, wish that was still true? They had it, like, so easy?"
"Like, I envy those people who, like, knew what they wanted to do as early as high school and, like, studied it in college? Like, I wish it could just be easy like our parents' generation, you know?"
"I wish I could, like, fast forward to the part in life where I already have, like, a nice car and, like, a house and everything? But I'm still not, like, sure about my major? I just, like, don't know what I want to do for the rest of my life. Like, I can't make that kind of decision. It's so...like...permanent."
Girl 1 nods and they smile at each other, sharing a moment.
At the next stop the doors opened and they stepped off, clutching their Urban Outfitters shopping bags and iPods and cotton hobo bags with witty environmental sayings printed on them. And suddenly, to all those middle-aged people in that subway car, the future seemed at once dizzying and terrifying.
Since I started work last Monday (I know you're wondering how it is but I'd rather speak of such things anonymously on an anon blog I'm starting this week), there are things I miss from my pre-work life. Waking up without setting an alarm the night before...writing in the afternoons...lunching with family...staying up late to watch Gone With the Wind (again) on TCM (even though I own it) just because I can. But most of all, I miss hanging out with The Nana.
That six-week period, between when we moved back to California and when I had to start work, was amazing (for lack of a better term, and I know I overuse that word often but I really can't think of any other way to describe it at the moment). Having the freedom of my daylight hours to reconnect with Nana (who I wasn't that close to growing up) was wonderful. Though she's much older now, it was like I was given a second chance to reintroduce myself to her (and vice versa). And all it took was six weeks to erase a lifetime of formality and acquaintance.
It was grand. We'd go shopping every afternoon and scour the aisles at stores all over the tri-county area, filling our carts with nothing we needed but everything we wanted. (Tubes of coral pink lipstick (all her), coffee mugs, dresses, giraffe-print tote boxes, sterling silver wine-stoppers, authentic Portuguese olive oil. You name it, we bought it. (Her cart, suffice to say, was always much more filled than mine -- this was before I had the job, after all.)
We'd leave stores toting our wares in giant plastic bags, laughing the whole way home in her Volvo station wagon or her Land Yacht (a ginormous black Lincoln that belonged to my late grandfather) about the four ceramic chickens (of varying shapes and sizes) that I'd talked her into buying because of her well-documented obsession with the animal (they're all over her house: chicken sculptures, chicken tablecloths, chicken-shaped candles, chicken-print doormats. Heck, she actually just bought a red wingback chair with little chickens embroidered all over it. Without me, of course. I had to work that day. *pouts*)
If we weren't shopping for ceramic chickens or olive oil, than we were doing our other favorite thing together: antiquing. We'd spend hours at consignment shops and antique stores, strolling through the aisles and running our hands -- first old, than young -- across the wooden finishes of old tables and chairs and benches, marveling at the potential in such things with just a bit of sanding and the right stain. It was during these days in particular that I learned a lot from Nana, who's like the Obi Wan Kenobi of antiquing and furniture refinishing. Seriously. I am but a young Jedi when it comes to her knowledge of such things; she's been doing it all her life, back to her Betty Draper years -- yes she was a platinum blond with piercing blue eyes -- when she used to put my dad and his siblings to work sanding down dressers and tables with her in the backyard of their big stately house on a red-brick, tree-lined road in Moline, Illinois.
Anyway, every day the lunching and shopping would draw to a close (usually around 3pm), and we'd make our way back to her house where she'd reminisce about her life over a couple glasses of her classic iced tea (the secret ingredient? Crystal Light). It was during these conversations that I learned far more than I'd ever known about Nana. Sure I'd seen pictures of her back when she was spry (including one of her in a swimsuit on a beach feeding a sandwich to a man, who I should probably add was not my grandfather, on the cover of a 1940s copy of Holiday Magazine), but I never really pictured her having a life before my dad.
It's funny, isn't it? How certain people -- older family members, teachers, etc. -- all get frozen to a particular time period we tether them too? There is no beginning or ending for these kind of people. They just "are" -- held in place in our lives by markers like fathers and mothers, birthdays or graduations, Thanksgivings or Christmases. And any pictures we see of them outside of our parameters don't seem real. Like the Holiday cover my grandmother was on. I see it, but can't conceivably see that woman sitting on the beach, laughing with the sandwich in her hand, is actually who I've come to know as The Nana.
But over our iced teas every afternoon, between our shopping and our furniture refinishing, I began to see Nana as more than just...well...Nana. She actually had a life before she had kids and she even had a life before her marriage in the late '40s. Memories from her go back as far as the Great Depression, when she remembers neighbors and others in the community who'd lost everything come by her parents' house asking for handouts, food, anything to survive. She recounted her parents giving out food (luckily my great-grandparents were never affected by the Depression), and she remembered those people leaving, marking the stairs up to her front door with the symbol that food was being handed out at that address for any other passerbys desperate to eat. (Much like that "Hobo Code" Mad Men episode.)
She'd talk about her vacations in Florida as a young woman (just before she met my grandfather), when she and her girlfriends would dance with WWII GIs returning from the war. Or she'd tell me how some of the most favorite moments in her life were back when she lived in Illinois, near her best friend who also happened to be her sister-in-law. The two of them would load their old Norman Rockwellian station wagon up with all the kids (I believe they had around 11, combined) and antique all day with their children in tow. Just two young women in the 1950s, enjoying their all-American lives full of antiques and picnics and summer trips to Lake Michigan before things got complicated (her SIL fell out of contact after Nana moved to California in the early '60s with my grandfather) and the kids grew up. It's these times, back before the world changed and the country lost its innocence in the mid-'60s and on, that Nana misses most. I can tell by the way she talks about it.
Shortly before I started work, on one of the last full days I had with her before we'd be rescinded to weekends (if that), she told me in the car that she didn't see me as a granddaughter.
"You're more than that," she explained, laughing in disbelief that she even felt that way. "I don't know how to explain it, but I don't feel like you're my 28-year-old granddaughter. I look at you and I don't think of an age; I feel like we're the same age. We get along so well, that you're more of a friend. A good friend." She smiled, and I smiled back.
"Well, age is just a number," I said. "There's no reason why our age difference should be a matter. 20s, 80s, who cares? 'Cause I feel the same way. You're not my grandmother; you're a good friend."
Finally. Not only had we reconnected, but we'd moved past that onto a different, higher plane.
I still see Nana here and there. I try to make it over for dinner once a week and if I have time I stop by on the weekends, but because I work 40+ hours a week it'll never be the same. Then I start feeling differing shades of blue throughout my workday because of it. True, we have that bond that at this point is impervious to time, but still. It's different. I feel -- since starting work -- that there isn't enough time...and Nana's not getting any younger. I sit at my desk in SF, wishing I could be back in that station wagon across the bay, en route to some antique store or new Italian restaurant, listening to her stories. And then I feel sad, as though in a way I'm losing her all over again.
What the new Mad Men S4 photo (above) tells us. (Yes, a body-language expert was actually interviewed for the article.)
It's almost time for an all new season of Mad Men!
Without giving away too much, the first episode will be titled "Public Relations" and -- from what I've read -- sounds like it's going to be amazing. 10pm on Sunday cannot come soon enough. To satiate your fix until the premiere, here's a roundup of my favorite Mad Men links:
SPOILER ALERT (seriously, if you read this article you are going to know exactly where everyone stands in episode 1; read at your own risk): Exploring Don Draper as a single man in Season 4.
New photos are out from the upcoming episodes! Peggy, that haircut is just not doing it for you.
Speaking of Peggy's hair, series costume designer Janie Bryant discusses Peggy's coif choice, Bryant's new mod line and vintage clothing.
The NY Post is Mad about the girls. "Forget Carrie Bradshaw," they write, "today's girls are trying Betty, Joan and Peggy on for size."
SPOILER ALERT: The SF Chronicle argues that identity is key to the start of Mad Men season 4 (makes sense; creator Matt Weiner mentioned months ago that this year the characters would all be asking: "Who am I?").
We're in good company: Obama is a huge Mad Men fan. "He wrote to say he enjoyed Season 3," Weiner said. "He was congratulating me on my and the show's success, and I wanted to say, 'But wait, you're the successful person."
According to the LA Times, "[Don Draper] may look great, but he has no heart, nor capacity for truth. He's Satan in a starched collar." I (of course) don't agree, especially when the writer attempts to make a Don-Draper-as-devil case by saying he chose that pseudonym because both the first and last name have six letters each and six is the devil's number. Creee-per.
For the fashion-philes out there, Janie Bryant gives viewers a sneak peak at season 4 garb (the costume closet = buh-nanas).
And if you're still unclear as to why 98% of women are in love with Jon Hamm, here's the classic SNL "Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women" video:
When I was first asked to review How To Be An American Housewife, I was immediately intrigued by the title. I knew it was fiction and not some how-to guide (because really, that would be kind of awkward if they'd actually made a how-to book for acclimating to American domesticity), but the title piqued my interest, especially when juxtaposed against the photo of the Japanese woman set behind it.
It turns out the title was based on a book by the same name that actually did exist back in the 1940s when Japanese women were marrying American GIs in droves during WWII. The novel's author, Margaret Dilloway, noticed an old copy her Japanese mother owned, given by her GI husband (and later Dilloway's father) in an effort to help her acclimate when he first brought her to America. It was this book, which later turned out to be a manual of sorts for Japanese maids and therefore was never read, that was the inspiration behind Dilloway's debut novel of the same name.
How To Be An American Housewife is not only a book about mother/daughter relationships, it's commentary on cultural assimilation. Of yearning to fit into a new culture and land while missing family and letting go of traditions left behind on native soil.
The first half of the novel is narrated by Shoko, a Japanese woman determined to come to America. She marries an American GI she falls in love with much later in life, but her struggles going from Japan to setting up a home near a military base in San Diego, California, are at the same time both humbling and heartbreaking. Dilloway cleverly crafts Shoko's narrative so that everything Shoko thinks is written in perfect English, while everything she communicates to her husband, children's teachers, or fellow parents comes out clunky, broken and distorted (since English is her second language). Through Shoko readers have a window into what it's like as a foreigner in America, of the language barriers and sometimes physical traits that shouldn't but often cast one as "an outsider."
The story continues through Shoko's narrative, gliding along memories she has of experiences in both Japan and America and the transition between, when about half-way through the narrative baton is passed to her American-born daughter, Sue.
Sue is a single mother and working professional with one divorce under her belt. She hates her job, has no love life and feels misunderstood by everyone, including her parents (and especially Shoko). Even though she's in her 30s, Sue still feels like she has no identity since she was raised in a multi-cultural household and loathes the fact that she could never fully fit in growing up; Shoko with her broken English seemed always an embarrassment for Sue at school functions or when she wanted to invite friends over. Even at 30-something, Sue's still not sure where she belongs and because of this has remained quiet, withdrawn and passive -- a wallflower, through and through.
It's only when Shoko asks Sue to travel back to Japan for her to mend a decades-old family argument that Sue (with her daughter in tow) comes into her own as a woman and begins to see the beauty of growing up multi-culturally. The acceptance of her upbringing and heritage (which were both solid but much different than her peers) starts to quickly transform Sue into a new woman, and brings about a level of understanding for her mother and mother's life before America that is fascinating to read.
I recommend this book to anyone who's ever felt like their mothers (or daughters) misunderstand them, or to anyone who's questioned their roots and what it means to be a part of a certain ethnic group. Dilloway's excels at showing the uncomfortable situations Shoko finds herself in once she arrives in America, the loneliness Shoko experiences as she lets go of her past to build her future, and the wallflower Sue who eventually blooms by reconnecting with her origins as a favor to her ailing mother. For a debut novel, I was thoroughly impressed.
Just wanted to post a quick Happy Anniversary to...me! (And J.) Today's our three-year wedding anniversary and though J will be studying for the Bar and I'll be in my office in the city all day we're going to make some time tonight to go out to a nice restaurant and make a toast to this crazy little thing called love. Back when we were this age:
(Yes, this is me wearing a Native American vest fashioned from a paper grocery bag as I play my oatmeal-can-turned-tom-tom-drum. In flip-flops and tapered sweatpants. Don't be jealous.)
we had no idea that someday, many years down the road, we'd meet through mutual friends and that overly talkative girl who once wore a grocery bag vest would be assigned to sit at J's table group in a certain math teacher's geometry class, and, nearly a decade later after non-existent contact, that girl would be the woman he'd spend the rest of his life with:
It's been a fun three years; here's to many, many more. Thanks for the laughter, my love.
Well, I'm all caffeinated up, my hair's been styled, my makeup applied...and I'm ready for my first day of work.
I have to admit that after this last year and a half of waking up and simply strolling across the living room to my "office" (a small Ikea desk a kind neighbor left me before they moved out), actually waking up at a set time, putting on an ensemble diligently chosen the night before, and heading out (with second cup of coffee in hand, of course) to commute into the city till rush hour back feels foreign. I barely remember what it felt like before...then I remember, and all those feelings of resentment get dredged up toward CEO of the Year (this is what we're alluding to him as now) and trudging to "Hell" (what my ex-coworkers and I used to call our office) in 95 degree weather with 90% humidity and I start getting a knot of anxiety in the pit of my stomach that feels like I ate a bag of patio rocks from Home Depot because I hated, HATED commuting into the city half-asleep every morning with my face pressed against some man's armpit in a crowded, stinky metro train until I remind myself:
"Crystal. This is different. You will actually enjoy this job, unlike the last. Do not be anxious. You cannot continually compare every career experience going forward to Hell and its Commander. Doing so will only wear you down before you even start. Plus, news flash: Your job before Hell (your first job that kicked off your career) was fabulous and you had a great time at that for nearly two years. Remember this. Not all jobs are alike."
And then I breathe a sigh of relief (as I'm doing now) and realize I am right. It will not be like before. The news focus is different; the people in this newsroom are different. Best of all, no matter what time of day (or how hot it is) there's never really any humidity here so I don't have to worry about completely schvitzing in my new, dry-clean-only dress before I've even stepped foot into the office. More sighs of relief.
So here's what I'm wearing for my first day outfit (please forgive the horribly tacky MySpace-ness of these pictures, but I'm in a hurry and still putting on my makeup, which would explain why I'm also headless):
I think Joan Holloway would approve and yes, that is Moneypenny in the last picture, wondering what her deranged owner is doing up so early in three-inch heels. I think I'll add a skinny red belt to the mix and head out!
So there I was the other day, spinning in the living room with J, our joined hands the still-point of our turning world whizzing behind us in slow motion. After the spinning and the dancing and jovial pouncing was over, we made plans to celebrate my job news at a fancy restaurant, "Va De Vi", nearby (I needed a good reason to drop an unmentionable sum on duck confit, and now I had one). He resumed studying for the Bar (like he does every day) as I left to hang out (like I do every day) at The Nana's, drinking iced tea and refinishing furniture and having lunch with other sweet, old ladies (which I am definitely getting used to. My brother mentioned I'm "becoming a Golden Girl." My response: "You say that like it's a bad thing." Age is really just a number, after all.)
After a good day of lunching and antiquing and discussing how movie stars today just aren't what they used to be (hello, Paul Newman and Cary Grant), I got back to our apartment in time to shower and head to Va De Vi with J. But he had questionably good news.
I guess I should preface this part by letting you in on the fact that J was flown down to Newport Beach last week for an interview at a law firm. The firm does exactly what he wants to do (corporate litigation), all the partners and associates he met clicked with him right away, and the office -- well, from what I heard the office was magnificent (think one of the top floors in the building, all glass windows, with a full view of Newport Harbor and the Pacific Ocean). They wined and dined him (at this point all I thought of was The Firm, minus the corruption and partially cheesy action scenes), and sent him back up to the Bay Area wanting the job.
Flash forward to yesterday. Literally HOURS after I got my job offer that I'd only JUST interviewed for two business days prior, the law firm called J with good news: They wanted to hire him. The salary they offered was (how do I put this) obscene, and the bonuses and profit-sharing were clutch. All in all it was an offer he couldn't refuse. Almost.
I was happy for him but tried to hide my disappointment: a.) We were about to visit a fancy restaurant (something that's been long overdue) to celebrate the good news, but b.) How could I be happy knowing he'd be leaving soon? Which I wouldn't blame him doing -- the pay is more than good, it's exactly the type of law he wants to practice, it sounded like a great work atmosphere and the lifestyle that comes with such opportunities...let's just say they make movies about such things for a reason.
"So why wouldn't he take it?" I thought. This is exactly what we wanted. What we'd waited for. This is why he worked so hard in law school. Or was it?
As we sat at a table in the posh outdoor alleyway, peppered with hundreds of white Christmas lights and low chatter from neighboring tables, I grew even more sad. Ordering a bottle of Malbec did not help (though said Malbec was a deliciously excellent choice) and neither did thinking I saw Robert Redford (my idol) walk by (turned out it was just some older guy with good hair). I was sad not because J was leaving, or because we'd see a lot less of each other. No, I was sad because it finally dawned on me that we were never given a fighting chance as a married couple.
We got married about one month before J started law school and for three years I've waited for him, meaning waited for him to be a "normal" husband, not one who is in law school full-time. Law school has been like the "other woman" in the first three years of our marriage -- years that newlyweds usually spend setting up house apartment and traveling and enjoying being together before things like kids and mortgages start to take effect. They're supposed to be the carefree, let's-spend-time-together-and-enjoy-being-married years. My first three years were not this.
Nearly every day, every week, was taken up by the "other woman" (i.e., law journal meetings and finals and mock trial competitions and internships). There was always something and though J tried his hardest to spread himself thin and be home as much as possible, there were many, many times when he couldn't be. So I tolerated the early years of our marriage, the him-needing-to-stay-late-at-the-library nights, when I'd come home exhausted from my desk job and eat dinners alone watching reruns of Little People, Big World because this was important. He was building the foundation for his life. For our life.
The saving grace during those years, when his seat on the couch sat empty because he was out hoofing it for some DC judge or legal internship, was that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. "The three years would eventually be over," I told myself. And almost as quickly as they started, they were finished.
The final stretch of this leg of the journey is taking the Bar at the end of July and since he has about two months to study for this test that nearly 40%-50% fail their first time in the state of California, he's been studying his little butt off. Every day. Which -- again -- I'm completely fine with. I see it as the last 100 yards in this crazy legal race and (of course) I want him to pass, so all summer he's stayed home studying 10+ hours a day while I chill at The Nana's, glad to be hanging out with someone who likes classic films and Mad Men and shopping as much as I do (these are the perks of knowing someone who doesn't have to work at all).
But now that the Bar is right around the corner, I'm getting excited about being able to see my husband again. ("Again?!" she says, "was there ever a time in this marriage you could?") I know that normal is a subjective term, but I'm ready for a normal marriage (read: one where it's expected that we get to hang out together without a timer beeping when our five minutes is up). And it was looking like things were going to become...normal. I just got that job. We just got this apartment. My friend just dropped off Moneypenny so both our animals are once again under the same roof. We're finally back on the West Coast. To quote Penny Lane from Almost Famous, "It's all happening(!)..."
Then this (otherwise amazing) offer from the Newport firm happens THE SAME DAY as my offer, which by this point I'd already accepted. And nothing felt like it was happening anymore. No more Age of Aquarius or stars aligning, nope, just one, big diamond-encrusted wrench worthy of Lil Jon's toolbox, thrown into the oiled gears of our Master Plan.
But I said none of this. I hid my sadness. This was supposed to be a happy day. One filled with reams of money and pretentious restaurants and funny quips Nana had said that morning remembered over grilled asparagus with panko crusted egg that night. That light at the end of the tunnel -- that pinprick of hope that this would one day be all over and we could actually walk down to the local Farmer's Market together on any given Sunday or finally see movies in theaters again or go out to dinner just because -- it faded to black. That realization alone was enough to ruin my good news. Paper covers rock, and so on. It dawned on me that it would never just be "easy" with us. Things were not, nor did they ever in the last three years, align that way.
As we continued feasting on the tapas that were brought out as prepared, J seemed on edge. Both of us were more quiet than usual. Obviously something was bothering both of us and so he started asking questions of how I felt about it, of what I thought, and everything I just wrote prior to this paragraph began trepidatiously coming out. (I say trepidatious because I'm just happy we're back on the West Coast, close to family and friends and excellent weather. With DC in our rear-view mirror, I really have no more demands.)
Turns out I was wrong thinking he'd automatically accept the position. He shared many of my sentiments and totally saw where I was coming from. His answer back to the firm was not a given "yes", much to my surprise.
Over the next two hours we talked, laughed, drank, ate and discussed the State of Our Marriage -- our wants, expectations, standards, dreams. It all came out on the table (for a couple who communicates all feelings, much of it wasn't new, just reiteration). But many of it needed to be reiterated because, as J put it, we were at a crossroads now. Were we okay with seeing each other on errant weekends (there'd be many weekends where we wouldn't see each other: I'd want to see family and friends, or he'd be expected to network with clients on some golf course)? How would we eventually start a family in a few years if we were apart during those pivotal years leading up to such things?
At one point J and I both got misty-eyed talking about all these real-life, marital issues (confession: I cry easily, especially at those SPCA commercials on TV with Sarah McLaughlin singing in the background) and that's when he said it. On his own accord, even after I insisted this was very much his decision, that I didn't know anything about the legal field and he needed to do what he felt was right for his career.
"I can't do it," he said, pouring himself another glass of Malbec. "I feel like it's a choice between the job and money or you. The firm's offer is attractive and you're right -- it's exactly the law I want to practice. ...But a life without you is pointless."
This is why I married this man.
Later, when we got the check (brought out not in a checkfold like most restaurants, but stuck within the pages of an old book called "La Princessa" -- clever, Va De Vi, clever!), I flipped through the novel as he signed our bill. Dozens of people had signed random pages within this same book, scrawling little notes like "Happy Birthday, Jim!" or "Happy 20th Anniversary, L + M, 2009" or "Life would be perfect if I could eat at Va De Vi everyday." I laughed and pointed out the hundreds of notes left in the margins to J.
He signed his name to our check then took the book from my hands. Turning to a middle page (I believe it was page 51), he wrote "To hell with the Newport job" in the margins, stuck our check in, and closed the book, smiling.
Guess who got a call yesterday for that editorial job? Me! I guess the stars really have aligned. I accepted the offer without a second thought and after getting off the phone I glided into my living room to tell J the good news. It basically looked like the final scene of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, except my good news came minus the headbands and tunics and rolling hills and colorful banners (unfortunately):
Mystic crystal revelations, reader-friends.
So to recap: I'm working in news (like serious making-a-difference kind of news -- no fluff here), I'm No. 3 on the editorial totem pole in the newsroom, and I'm getting paid (well!) for said job (read: I can actually buy stuff now! Who wants an island??)
Lately I've been thinking about what the perfect day job for a writer could be.
Obviously it can't be a black hole for creative energy. Trudging home after a tedious day at a soul-sucking job leaves you no chutzpah (along with no time to rock out "witch yo bad self," but that's another post entirely). The last thing I want after getting home from a crap commute is to shovel lukewarm Mac & Cheese down my gaping maw (because though we love cooking, cooking takes time and time is not something we have a lot of with a day job) and spend the handful of remaining hours at home sitting at a desk, trying to be CREATIVE Goddamnit because this bestseller isn't writing itself as it teases us with its blinking cursor and why am I still on page 57 and oh hell it's already way past bedtime and I've got exactly 5.5 hours to sleep before morning hits and I have to fling myself out of bed from a deep slumber wherein I'm dreaming about having cocktails with Cary Grant and one of my novel's main characters just so I can sit at a desk again that following morning to waste another day, ghostwriting for a CEO who takes all the public credit for my words and research while I get none. Nothing. No credit. No byline. Just free espresso, the occasional $500 Amazon giftcard and the perk of having my office chair be a Herman Miller original.
Ladies and gentleman, that was a short snippet of my life as an editor/writer with a certain, unnamed company. Nope, didn't really enjoy it.
I was lucky that aforementioned job I ended up leaving last year still fell in the "journalism" (financial journalism) category, and in the beginning it was fantastic. I got to edit the hell out of all the bad writing we'd receive and work with our reporters and freelancers to make them better journalists and I'd occasionally get to write a short column and it was great. Then everyone started getting laid off except for me (ironic, isn't it? the one person who wouldn't have really minded getting laid off was one of the Last Men Standing), until finally my job description morphed from me enjoying my job to me doing more marketing/PR than journalism while ghostwriting most of our investment articles and mutual fund reports for our CEO. Like 24/7.
It doesn't matter how soft and luxurious that damned $1,300 Herman Miller chair was or how much I got paid (it was more than I expected in such a position, says the girl who wanted to be laid off), I knew it was over when I began seeing my articles show up on national websites with my 29-year-old CEO's name in the byline as though HE'D written them. That was really the last straw. Especially when he was in talks to appear on Fox Business News (for what? funding a company who made him sound smart?) and was also "writing" an investment book (which, for the record, was written by some for-hire ghostwriter -- thank God I didn't have to work on that behemoth with no credit). But I digress: this isn't meant to be a rant on my last employer (again, my first year there was amazing) or a tirade against my loved to take credit for everyone's work while he's out wine tasting on the west coast and taking month long vacations in Europe CEO. No, this isn't that.
When I realized in that job, after about 5 years of being a journalist/writer/editor, that I had actual standards for my life and career (suddenly -- poof -- I was an adult), that was it. I had reached a point of what I wasn't willing to accept in my life. I quit shortly after seeing his smiling mug next to the titles of my articles made me want to take off one of my heels and smash it through my computer monitor. Life is just too short to not have creative ownership. If you don't have that, you've got nothing. (And yes, I get that ghostwriting might not sound that bad. Many people do it professionally, but it made me feel like a sellout and a whore, plain and simple.)
Now that J and I are back on the west coast and I'm outlining my third novel, I've decided that it's time I venture out into this whole day job thing again. With J studying for the Bar and about to start a short-term clerkship with a judge in SF this August, I want to contribute to our Buick Fund (what we've decided to call our "Hopes and Dreams" fund; don't worry, we're not really buying a Buick...but then again, that would be hilarious).
So what would be the perfect day job for someone like myself? I've decided it would have to include the following:
Journalism and/or somehow publishing-related. It doesn't have to center around writing full-time -- in fact, I would actually prefer it didn't. In an ideal world I would preserve my writing juice for other, more personal projects -- like books. The occasional article/column/blog post (with byline) at work would make me happy.
No full-time marketing or PR. I haven't yet had to convert to the Dark Side and I hope I never will.
Something that's intellectually stimulating. I like a challenge. Part of the problem in my last job was that aside from my convert of a PR/ghostwriting-fueled position, it wasn't fast-paced enough. In those last, tedious months it lacked the je ne sais quoi that made me want to get into news in the first place. I wanted to be Ben Bradlee in All the President's Men; instead I was Kate Hudson from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, daydreaming about other options.
Something that utilizes my degrees. This goes without saying. I worked hard for them and chose those fields (English Lit and Journalism) because I loved them, not because I wanted to play beer pong for four years of my life then figure out what I wanted to do in my 20s and beyond. I know the stereotype: Artists do things like wait tables to make ends meet, which is fine. But I don't want to wait tables with my resume.
Editing. If there's one thing I love more than writing (ok, and dancing, but the latter isn't a viable career path at this point) it's editing. One of my goals was to become a managing editor before 30, which I did and loved being so in control of the content/content flow/publishing decisions/etc. It was never a dictatorship (hello? I don't run my newsrooms like Cuba), but I enjoyed improving the writing that came across my desk. To see what didn't work with news and feature stories made me a better writer, just like how reading hundreds of good books in a lifetime makes you a better scribe than one who reads nothing. As a writer I feel you learn by example and by tinkering with malleable pieces of content. I like it, find it challenging, and fit seamlessly into a newsroom environment.
Which brings me to an interview I had last week.
I got an email from a legit news outfit in SF that had been recommended my name from that one bay area publication I had to turn down last month due to the low salary offered. I was shocked at getting the email (seriously, how often does this happen??) and told them that of course I'd love to come in for an interview. Two days later I was in the office meeting with the Editor in Chief and Managing Editor -- both very polite, professional, experienced journalists (real journalists...yes, they still exist!).
The interview went well and I left wanting the job. Badly. Not only would I play a part in leading a prominent newsroom as a higher-up editor, but I'd be able to work one-on-one with budding reporters and -- get this -- work in the news niche I'd originally wanted to go into after grad school: Political and legal journalism. Is it the age of Aquarius? Have the stars aligned in their own, twisted way? I don't know, but after my horrible experience with El Company de Indecision and their three drawn-out interviews (the first of which I flew cross-country ON MY OWN DIME for) (clearly I am still very bitter about this), I figured maybe I should wait a while. See what opens up. Then this unbelievably amazing opportunity falls out of nowhere without me even having to fight to get my resume noticed out of hundreds of hopeful applicants. How do these things happen?
Anyway I got home from the interview feeling all rainbows and unicorns and found an email waiting in my inbox, thanking me for coming in and asking for references (two of which they called before Saturday). If I actually prayed, I would pray that this is a good sign. Not only is the job perfectly suited to what I'm looking for, but for a journalism position it (surprisingly!) pays bank ($60s, starting) and has lots of room for growth and creative input and chances to actually make a difference in this cray cray world we live in. I mean, they made a point to emphasize they look for quality over quantity in their news stories (what a novel idea!).
Read: This is not the kind of boring, unchallenging desk job that would lead to tired commutes home punctuated with lukewarm Mac and Cheese and sad reruns of The City that serve as (much-needed) escape from the daily grind. No, this job would be a breath of fresh air in a field most are being laid off in or leaving entirely for more lucrative options (*cough* marketing *cough*). It would engage me, it would inspire me, and best of all, it would even pay me. To quote Gollum, "We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious."
So by this point many of you are probably thinking I'm beyond obsessive about certain television shows (and you're right -- I am, just like I'm obsessive about red nail polish and poodles and George Michael). You're probably also thinking "All right, we all get it. Mad Men is the greatest show ever created. Get over it already." But I can't, and here's why:
The fashion, oh the fashion. Not like the writing and acting and directing already make the show incredible, but head costume designer Janie Bryant truly knows how to round out the storytelling with the outfits she chooses for each character based on their story arc.
"Everyone thinks that Janie’s job consists of picking cool clothes, but she’s really a storyteller. She cares about who the character is and what we are trying to say about them. If I write a fur in there—say, Don gives Betty a fur—I know that we can develop a history of that coat and how it relays a bit of the sad story of their marriage," said Matt Weiner recently to The Wall Street Journal,in a fantastic article describing how Mad Men has not only "reshaped television, but inspired the fashion world, popularizing the clothes of the era, from sharp suits to fitted dresses."
Thank God. I've personally had my fill of ill-fitting denim, tired tank tops, and sad androgynous flats from Urban Outfitters. When did we start thinking "dressing up" was only for special occasions and that it's somehow appropriate to perpetually "slum it"? In my humble opinion men and women should be expected to look...well...like men and women, not like teenyboppers or like they've been home with the flu all weekend or like disheveled vagrants. No one likes the look of a vagrant except maybe Janis Joplin and that strung-out hippie I met recently on the beach, though even he said he was into demons more.
Men: You look best in tailored wool suits with pocket squares during the week or Penguin-brand garb as casualwear on the weekends. Women: Dresses and pencil skirts during the week; if no dresses are on hand then sleeveless blouses and capris for weekend outings, mmk? There's never a wrong time to wear heels. And while you're at it, a little red lipstick never hurt anyone.
Let's see...what did I learn from this 4th of July weekend? Ah yes: If you're ever invited to a minor league baseball game always remember to politely decline unless you don't mind sitting in a crowd of people too lazy to drive the 45 minutes it takes to see an actual major league baseball game.
It started off innocently enough. J's bro and his girlfriend (long-time readers: you might remember them of Burt and Clothilde fame) called with an offer J couldn't refuse. They had just scored four free tickets to the San Jose Giants minor league baseball game the next night (because GOD FORBID anyone I know could ever score free tickets to a Hall & Oates concert or a glitzy movie premiere or a Medieval renaissance festival where drunk Scotsmen in kilts perform caber tosses for us spectators in the stands. NOPE. Whenever I'm offered free tickets it's never to any of the above. Sigh)
J is a huge baseball fan, stemming from his years in Little League up to playing college baseball his freshman year when, as a pitcher, he ruined his arm and his MLB dreams were swallowed along with a few bottles of aspirin for more realistic life goals. Obvi his initial response at the tickets was "Yes!" I, on the other hand, was a bit more suspicious but thought it would be fun to see Burt and Clothilde and so we went.
Three hours later, I was shivering on the cold, steel bleachers, ready to take the bag of sunflower seeds J was holding and dump them all over his head. Was the event completely horrible? No. Do I hate baseball? No (for the record I am a Red Sox fan). Did I care who was playing and what the score was and whether the GMs of either team were remotely attractive like I usually do at (major league) baseball teams I attend? No. It's hard to get into the spirit of things when:
1.) The crowd is thin to begin with and vaguely reminds you of attending that high school game all over again,
2.) "Your" team is playing a team you initially thought was called the "Landblasters" because you are near-sighted and cannot read sports jerseys that well from a distance and you know you should wear your glasses in such instances but always conveniently forget them like Marilyn Monroe did in How to Marry a Millionaire,
3.) You find out that said jerseys actually say "Lancaster" on them and then you really become disinterested because Lancaster is a small hick town on the outermost outskirts of Los Angeles where meth addicts and other pillars of society tend to congregate slash reside in.
The highlight of the night was when I spaced out for a third -- or was it fourth? -- time, rereading the "Blue Cross of California" banner ad (really, that's all it said) in left outfield, when a rather large man wearing a "Big Belly Crew" shirt climbed past me on the bleachers, wheezing the entire way, extra large plastic cup of beer in hand. Oh no, wait. The highlight was actually when three-quarters of the crowd stood up to partake in a rousing rendition of YMCA, including BBC behind us. All I thought, as he reached to the heavens to spell out those sacred letters, was "raise your hands higher...I want to see your glorious belly!"
Judging from J and his brother's conversation (and all the conversations around us), minor league baseball games are where men go to talk about other, more professional sports. World Cup Soccer, Major League Baseball...you name it, they were talking about it. It's as if the actual real-life game we watched was just something on TV in the background to set the stage for all the sports chatter happening in the stands. Chatter that was punctuated with dozens of square tip acrylic nails.
Again, it wasn't all terrible and we were in good, immediate company. But if I was ever invited to another minor league game I would pass. Et tu, reader-friends? Or am I in the minority?
And now, just because he talked me into going, here are a couple pictures I'm taking public of J playing varsity baseball in high school ;)
J, back when he was somewhat reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio circa Growing Pains.
In honor of the Mad Men Season 4 premiere this month (July 25th -- set your DVRs!), every Friday leading up to the fated night I'll be running a post related to the show and/or its actors. Today comes a short, fantastic video (via AMC) counting down the "rules" of Mad Men leading up to Season 4. Creator/writer/director Matt Weiner does a superb job of dissecting the basic elements (or rules) that make Men Men so brilliant and shows how those rules will carry into the new season:
My favorite rule? "Only boring people are bored."So true, Betty. So true.
And if it's been a while since you've Mad Men-ized yourself (or you simply have no clue what I'm talking about), AMC has a new "Mad Men Yourself" up on their website in honor of the new season! New backgrounds, new clothes and new accessories (because let's face it, there's something so devastatingly handsome about a man smoking a cigarette in a Brooks Brothers suit. At least in cartoon form.)
Writer and new-ish mom trying to figure it all out. I married a great guy six years ago in Italy and after many adventures we've finally settled down in our first house. I've been told I'm Norma Desmond meets Bridget Jones. I hope that's a good thing. Email me at brunetteonabudget [at] gmail [dot] com.