Nature

I’ve been both privileged and reckless enough to visit several countries on three continents. I’ve slept on the edge of the Sahara with camels and desert cats and I’ve grinded & thumped to wild house music in a Cold War bomb bunker in Prague. I once drove up the east coast to Montreal and back in less than two days, losing a cat and gaining two British friends en route.

I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the most stunning vistas across Earth, both urban and natural. Today, I am prepared to claim that Seattle is the most startlingly beautiful place I’ve ever been.

Ringed on both sides by mountains literally radiating violet, frosted with daubs of snow at their peaks, these two ranges can only be seen on the clearest of days: a rarity in notoriously foggy PNW.

But this week, Seattle found its stride and showed off its full splendor: volcanic Mount Rainier looming beyond the city, the craggy Olympics jutting into a deep blue horizon past Elliott Bay, and the omnipresent Space Needle, dripping with camp and space race theatrics.

Urban beauty is still so underrated

Service

The American service industry rightfully gets a lot of grief: low pay, discrimination galore, and physical labor without any of the prestige found in other nations.

However, for writers and other artists, service industry work can be something of a godsend. Not only are the schedules much more forgiving and even flexible (other workers can often cover shifts), but the money/work trade-off can offer a solid enough exchange rate for folks whose primary work does not support their lifestyles.

As a service industry worker, we can remove ourselves from the “what do you do” narrative that dominates capitalist cultures by “doing” outside of our tipped, paychecked work: writing, reading, painting, and dancing are our lifeblood, but within the constraints of a 9-to-5–or even an academic–job, the economy of time is notoriously difficult to manage. Service jobs allow workers to leave their work in the store, bar, restaurant, food truck, etc. and to spend their off-the-clock hours as they choose (barring errands, etc.).

I’m actually really enjoying my new life in food service. Even my 10-hour/week tutoring job takes more out of me than scooping ice cream. (Another post to come on that subject.) Scooping is largely physical, and despite bodily exertion, physical work can feel almost like a form of meditation for me–interrupted, of course, by the emotional labor of acting like I care about peoples’ days. But mostly, I am able to turn my mental energy towards other projects.

And when I get home, after I wash the ice cream crust out of my eyelashes and boots, I can watch Buffy and read to my heart’s content!

bell

Just devoured bell hooks’s memoir Wounds of Passion. Every once in a while, I need a jolt of poet energy to remind me why I’ve never been able to give up stanza breaks. The relationship between work and the rest of writers’ lives in difficult to embody, and more difficult to elucidate. hooks presents these relationships in all their complexity, and her–often unacknowledged–sacrifices in pursuit of finding an equilibrium are familiar to anyone without a trust fund or a MacArthur grant.

There is a wild sun shower happening outside, complete with a glorious rainbow arcing over the college. Weather is a mystery.

Everyone go read.

List

I’ve been busy at my new job making tons of tip money and getting soaked in ice cream (yuck), but I’ve had several ideas that I will share here:

  1. Don’t trust people who still act like spoiled children into adulthood. Ain’t nobody got time.
  2. Buy your friend coffee or a movie ticket and don’t write it down or ask them for a reimbursement.
  3. Your friends give the best book recommendations.
  4. Take yourself on dates.
  5. Make time to be alone every day.
  6. Call your friends on their birthdays, or just when you’re thinking of them.
  7. If you are a writer, write like your life depends on it. Often, it does.

OK. Back to binge-watching Buffy and drinking tall boys like I’m 20 years old.

Grad

So as you know if you follow my every move via social media, I got a big fat rejection email from the grad program I applied to at the University of Washington.

While part of me is surprised–the honors-graduating, essay-planning, highlighter-toting part of me–in many ways, I expected it. My application was viciously progressive, and for a department conservative in any way, my style of scholarship would be off-putting.

(Not to mention that UW accepts less than 5% of applicants for this particular program and offers less than half of them assistantships or financial support.)

When I received the email, I was just about to leave my tutoring job on my second-to-last day before my unplanned three week vacation. Between the stress I had acquired via the palpable anxiety of students in the throes of finals and the general what-am-I-doing freakout that comes and goes once a week, I was overcome; I went home and wept.

However, after a good cry and a bout of cursing & politicking with one of my favorite UNCA professors, his two engaging comrades, and my wonderful partner, I felt better. I always make fun of people for needing institutional validation, but–as in everything–I am really poking fun at that need within myself.

I texted my extended support system: the writing center director at UNCA, my two professors who wrote recommendations for me, the UWC staff who helped me polish and polish and anguish over my personal statement and writing sample, my mother. True to form, they bolstered my spirit immensely.

I spent the weekend no longer worried about the rejection; I stayed up until 2am dancing and talking, I cooked and played with Octavia Butler (the cat, not the author), I went out to eat three different times, I drank some bourbon.

And yesterday I had an epiphany: if the institution doesn’t want me, then I don’t want it either. If UW’s conservatism caused them to select other, more deferential, students, then I wouldn’t be the right fit there anyway.

Further, without the influence of academic professionals who have drank the Ivory Tower Kool-Aid, I can really focus my academic energies on whatever sorts of independent projects I feel inclined towards. Thus, the second epiphany: I’m working on creating reading lists and syllabi for my own independent courses, focusing on subjects that I have always wanted to tackle but have never had access to within the academy.

Who needs tuition, athletics fees, and bossy research advisors when you have the library, a notebook, and…drumroll please…the internet? Independent scholarship, here I come.

Job

Hiring timelines are the worst. I was always under the impression that folks posted hiring memos when they needed a person to start working soon or immediately.

I was apparently misinformed.

Most of the jobs I’ve applied to that I’m really excited about have taken weeks to get back to me, if I’ve even heard back from them. I emailed HR at UW to follow up on a perfect-sounding position as an academic advisor in the English department. It’s been two full months since I applied, and their hiring timeline says “4-6 weeks, sometimes more.” So, you know, just checking in.

Nothing. A canned response of their hiring timeline policy. Ugh.

Not that I’m not OK with working 20 hours a week tutoring. That leaves lots of time for writing, reading, cleaning, cooking, and playing with my cat. Not to mention the other 20 hours that I spend per week on Craigslist, my various social media profiles, Indeed, and wherever else.

It’s harder to be an academic/creative workaholic since our industries are imploding. (And I don’t want to tutor spoiled high schoolers.)

White

In the writing center where I used to work, I helped a white student with an anthropology personal statement for graduate school. During our session, as the student was explaining their choice to focus their studies in anthropology–instead of sociology–they said, “Sociology is Anthropology for white people.”

At the time, I chuckled and continued to talk about passive verbs and abstract ideas, but in truth, the student’s complete misunderstanding of their field really bothered me. My discomfort worsened as the student detailed their research within an “intentional community” of hippies, freegans, and artists.

Later, I stumbled upon some photos of the student with another friend of mine at their Arabic dance class. The two of them sported heavy eye makeup, gossamer scarves, bangles, and jewels fastened to belly buttons, eyebrows, and cleavage. They were posed in artificial, exoticized positions, their white skin dusted with powder to make them glimmer under stage lights.

If Anthropology is not for white people, then who is cultural appropriation for? Was this just another research method to justify the scientific and cultural othering of non-white people? Or was this student caught in the delusion that their neoliberal multiculturalism benefited their scholarship?

Hippies don’t see color, which allows them to appropriate indiscriminately: dreadlocks are fine if your own thick hair dreads itself “naturally”; belly dancing is feminist and body-positive; the only non-white cultures worth studying are “exotic” cultures and their “mystical” religions, not the cultures of the neighborhoods hippies’ intentional communities have gentrified.

While I don’t have a problem with Anthropology, I do have a problem with white scholars saying shit like “Sociology is for white people.” Set down your Sanskrit dictionary and get a clue.

Communication

I’ve learned some valuable things in the past few weeks. The most resounding of these is that the immense value that I place on communication does not seem to be valued equally by other people. While acquaintance-social relationships can thrive on the abandonment of serious emotional conversations–and are often actually a relief for those of us prone to “processing”–workplace-management relationships cannot function without clarity and assertiveness.

Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about assertive communication–I have conducted professional development about its importance for goodness sake!–but you may not know how I feel about unassertive communication. I am trying to be better about offering my unsolicited advice to everyone–even when I know for a fact that my advice would be beneficial; I have found that most folks don’t want to learn anything new or question their own methods. Thus, I’ve backed off. But I have learned that I can still be made to suffer for someone else’s lack of communication skills.

Enter: the internship. Now defunct. Thank goodness. There were so many problems:

  1. Me being overqualified beyond belief; qualified past the point of every staff member there, including the CEO
  2. Misunderstandings regarding content and expectations of the internship, e.g. a start-up is not the same as a mini-wannabe-corporation
  3. Misunderstandings about what communication means; buying folks coffee once a month to ask how things are going and then rushing back to the computer does not foster straightforwardness
  4. Sheer boredom

I could go on. Needless to say, my creative and critical approach to–you know–everything was being sufficiently stifled to where I was exhausted, miserable, and regularly sick. (Maybe you Western medicine junkies haven’t heard of this, but fatigue, illness, and pain are all results of stress. Horrific, sitting-at-a-desk-all-day-for-below-minimum-wage stress.)

Oh I forgot that part!

5. Money. Or the lack thereof. I put in as much work as $7.50/hr earns from me; which is to say, not much.

So, lessons learned:

  1. If you’re qualified to not be an intern, don’t be an intern. Actually, even if you’re not qualified for entry-level, don’t be an intern. Do your own thing: start a cooking blog, volunteer for a free tutoring service, research topics that get you all hot and bothered and write articles about them. Put these things on your resume; your self-motivation speaks more about your abilities than your proficiency at sitting at a desk answering phones in business-casual and learning how to use the office Keurig.
  2. Don’t believe what they tell you. I signed up for this internship long before I got to Seattle, and when I arrived–womp womp–I was cooler than everyone by a billion light years. They had no interest in developing their skills; they encouraged dumbness and placidity rather than fiery rapport; they had no sense of humor and only talked about what chain fast food places they liked (this was the biggest red alert ever).
  3. If you’re stuck, find an ally. I have neglected talking about the one person in the tiny office whose attitude I liked–partially anyway. They were at least open to jokes and, you know, fun. This helped the days be a little bit less draining.

I’m very lucky to be out of that situation; it’s difficult for me to leave any job that pays me. I do not have the luxury of financial support from a third party, and I must work to pay for my apartment and internet (not optional!). However, the opportunity cost of working at a job that made me into a miserable wretch was simply not worth it.

I’m very lucky to have a partner who will enthusiastically pay for groceries and my bus fare while I piece things together. After leaving the internship for the final time, I promptly sauntered into the office of the tutoring coordinator at the community college behind my apartment and secured a part-time writing consultant position there.

Since then, I have had several successful interviews and am lucky enough that I can afford to be a bit picky and not accept the awkward Amazon customer service rep job that I have been recruited for. (Thank goodness.)

Grad School

Everyone thinks I’m going to get into my grad program except me. In preparation for the inevitability of reapplying next year, I am reading Octavia Butler’s entire bibliography since I’ll write my (nonexistent) master’s thesis on her work and Afrofuturism.

I worry that grad school would cut into my dramatic network television watching though. Thinking of other ways to write and get paid that aren’t being an overqualified intern.

I’m funny! I vary my sentence structure! Pay me to write words!

Facebook

I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. Lots of people that I never want to see again remain my “friends” on the site and that irony is not lost on me. Facebook only reinforces arbitrary markers of friendship and politesse, and my mindset does not allow me to jovially and quietly participate in a consumer-driven, badly designed form of digital media.

Not now, anyway.