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Inspiration September 20, 2009

Posted by Emily in Blogs I read and like, books, design, jobs schmobs, moving, photography, working.

It’s funny, because lately I’ve been coming up with ideas for posts all of the time. Funny/ironic, mostly because I’ve written so little for so long. I have this great idea brewing and then I realize that I haven’t done laundry in six weeks. And I think, “I want to sit down and write, but if this laundry doesn’t get done tonight, I’ll be wearing a swimsuit to work tomorrow because I’m officially out of clean underwear.” (yes, I have about six weeks’ worth of underwear –  crucial in times like these)

Truth be told, I’m not quite certain how I am going to link all of the thoughts I’ve been having lately about big things like Life and Work and Love and Happiness. Nonetheless, I know an obvious connection exists, even as I may struggle to pull them together here. So here goes.

For a while now, I’ve been sort of in the throes of “What the hell am I doing with myself?” In some ways, this is normal. And sometimes even good. But I’ll get to that in a minute. The other side of that has been some form of quarter-life crisis, right on time (In a moment of weakness/insanity last winter, I even checked out a lame self-helpy book from the library with a title pertaining to this point in life. It was, obviously, useless). This moment involves a fair amount of self doubt and a penchant for getting emotional when reading about the economy. I’m currently working three jobs and waiting, waiting for things to finally die down. Talking to friends who are in grad school and hating it, or who are recently married, have moved, and are job hunting without any success, my situation seems pretty OK. And I’m reminded that a year ago, I would have been so psyched to have even one job. Three isn’t ideal, no, but it’s three more than many people have. For a moment I feel guilty for hogging so many, until I realize that I sort of need all three, at least in their currently functioning forms, in order to pay rent and buy food and generally pretend to be a semi-adult.

Sometimes I have some doubts, as I’m running from one gig to the next, about whether this is worth it. Or when I get a paycheck for one job that seems almost laughable. Or when people ask me what it is I want to do, longterm. With my life. Whether I’m working toward that. And I have no real way to answer them.

I think I have a pretty good idea of one thing I’d like to do with my life. But once I get on that train, it’s next stop Career. And Adulthood. And those aren’t such bad things, not at all, but they don’t let you ever go back. I won’t be in this responsibility-lite moment forever, and I don’t want to be. But I try (I really try, even though I often fail) to remember that that is where I am now. And that it’s something to be taking advantage of. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to be able to do some of the coolest adult things for a long while, like buy a house. And perhaps referring to one of the most important moments of a life as “cool” means I’m not ready to be a full-blown adult anyway.

So then there’s the title I stuck to this jumble of thoughts, inspiration. In a lot of the reading I do, inspiration comes up over and over again. It’s thrown around design blogs like you wouldn’t believe, it’s often a question in interviews with musicians and artists and writers and sometimes even CEOs. The other side of the “What the hell am I doing with myself?” thing can only be called “figuring some things out.” I know I have learned a lot about myself in the past couple of years, things that I didn’t learn in college.

I’m dealing with failure and the truth is, I didn’t have a lot of experience with it before. I’ve used my free time to do some interesting reading, to try improving my photography.

And so I attended a workshop a week or two ago by Mary Virginia Swanson, a photography marketing expert. I don’t want to be a professional photographer, it’s mostly just a hobby, but I’ve made a little money with it and it would be fun to display my work somewhere at some point, whether in a public setting or in a publication or two. And so I listened to her talk with interest. She made a lot of excellent points, ideas I hadn’t thought about but that apply to websites, marketing, networking, and resumes/portfolios in general. But one thing that really stuck with me was when she said, “To help people get to know you, share your sources of inspiration…To create and communicate, educate yourself.”

Since that night, I’ve been thinking a lot about what inspires me. Whether I feel inspired, or when. It’s felt a little elusive for a while, and I waver between feeling envious of people who talk about inspiration all the time and annoyed, convinced that it’s a put-on, that it’s maybe a little pretentious and not quite real. Who feels so damn inspired all the time? Sometimes I barely have time for the basics – work, sleep, eat, shower – and feel too drained to educate myself about my passions, let alone sit down and share my thoughts with someone else. Don’t these people start to feel overwhelmed by dishes and messy rooms and six weeks’ of laundry piled up?

Probably. My cousin Megan, who authors a blog much more frequently updated and generally more pulled together than mine, sent along a link to me about personal posting. I often hesitate to write here about things going on in my life, especially when they are negative. Having been a semi-professional job hunter for quite some time, I think being a little guarded is smart. But in reading through the article, I came across this one on the same site, which sums up a lot of what I’ve been working toward lately. I found the concept pretty fascinating. Basically, there is a certain threshold one must reach, be able to provide shelter and food and a little bit of beer money, in order to be happy. Being in responsibility-lite mode, I am thankful I don’t have a mortgage, or car payments, or daycare costs. I have some student loans, but that’s about it. I don’t have health insurance, but that’s not by choice. (young people without health insurance=irresponsible? That’s a whole other post.)

But what really matters is your relationships – with your family, your friends, someone who cares about and appreciates you. Sometimes it’s hard to identify at the time, but spending time with the people I care about is often directly rooted to me feeling inspired. Perhaps it’s indirect. Something they say or do leads me thinking some new thought, or checking out a new singer or book or whatever. Or my brain finally flips into off mode for a while with them and, walking home, there’s room enough for some moment of real appreciation. Happiness. Inspiration.

Sometimes my room is messy (ok, almost always). And I’m not as good about keeping up on the dishes as I should be. Sometimes I reach into the back of the fridge and uncover leftovers turned science experiment, and I’m a little disgusted with myself. My shoddy housekeeping can’t be completely excused away.

But in the current situation, my free time is sparse. I find that I am really protective of it. So when I get off work and I have a choice between spending time with people I care about, who help to make me feel inspired and who help to make sense of all of these jobs (it’s how I’m here), and between cleaning out my car or tidying my room or doing laundry, I choose them as much as possible. A perfectly ordered house where I’m alone doesn’t inspire me. If I sleep one hour less because I got to spend that hour with people that matter, that time was better spent. In the end I feel more rejuvenated. All of this only functions to a point of course – I’m not a total degenerate – but working more isn’t going to make me happy. An impeccable, design mag-worthy apartment isn’t going to do it, either, as much as I may fantasize. The people I care about are what make it. And I choose them.

At least until I am out of clean underwear.


Serendipitous March 29, 2009

Posted by Emily in jobs schmobs, Montana, photography, working.
Tags: , , ,

Isn’t life weird sometimes?

After more months than I wish to count bumming around my hometown, doing a fair amount of reading and some dog walking mixed in with a lot of job applying and general internet time, all it took was one little catalyst to get things moving differently. And now, all of a sudden, everything is moving along at quite a clip in ways I would not have anticipated even a few months ago.

The temporary job I took last month is wrapping up but it looks like I’ll be staying on for a while part time. I just got hired on at a new part time job in town, one that is perfect for the recession. It doesn’t pay well, but it is something that speaks to one of my passions, something I maybe couldn’t do longterm but hope to really enjoy for a while. I’ve been on a string of housesitting gigs, one of which may turn into somewhere I can live through the summer paying only minimal rent. I’ve started seeing someone new. Things are falling into place so nicely.

I’ve been too occupied to pay too much attention to Google Reader, email, even Flickr and this blog. And that’s a good thing. A little internet time today is nice, but I’m out there taking photos, meeting friends for dinner, getting outside. It’s wonderful.

More soon.

Stuff White People Like: Unpaid Internships November 6, 2008

Posted by Emily in jobs schmobs, moving, rants, working.
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I had to giggle (and violently shake my fist) when a friend pointed out post #105 on the site Stuff White People Like: Unpaid Internships.

Over the course of my job search, I have been flabbergasted by the extent to which unpaid internships are offered as the main, and sometimes only, way to get started in a number of fields. Of course these internships are mostly 15-25 hours a week and often require a commute, making another full-time job a bit dicey, and are located in huge cities where rent and cost of living are high.

As the site says, “White people view the internship as their foot into the door to such high-profile low-paying career fields as journalism, film, politics, art, non-profits, and anything associated with a museum…If all goes according to plan, an internship will end with an offer of a job that pays $24,000 per year and will consist entirely of the same tasks they were recently doing for free.

Please add publishing to that list. I must be “the wrong kind of white person,” because I just can’t buy into the idea of competing to work for free.

Although I think I found the $25/week stipend for the internship at a famous art museum, with a job description which looked like this: Duration: January – June, 2009; a 6-month commitment expected. Average of 15+ hours per week, Monday through Friday plus evening and weekend special events as required.” even more insulting. 25 bucks? Really?

Read the entire post here.

The scary corners of the World Wide Web, my hometown, and beyond September 12, 2008

Posted by Emily in Montana, moving, rants, working.
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I’ll admit that my posts of late have been a bit on the lame side. (Well, hey, so has my life.) There’s only so much one can write about days that revolve around walking the dog, researching jobs online, spitting out a cover letter or two, and then letting the dog outside. And back inside. And back outside. Repeat.

Today when I went to buy beer, the checker asked me if I was was UNDER 40 YEARS OLD. Stunned and little hurt, I mumbled an “uh, yeah” and handed over my ID. It was a new low.

The mailman’s arrival is quite often the day’s highlight, and I have been receiving nothing but frequent flier notices and pushes to join my college alumni association, when I get anything at all. A friend said she sent me a postcard from Romania about a month ago. It still hasn’t arrived, and I am starting to doubt it ever will.

As for job searching, it’s not like I’m the only one out there who’s going, or has gone, through it. I realize that. But that doesn’t make it any less soul sucking. Between the unpaid internships and the pyramid schemes and the companies that specialize in lifelike duck decoys (I kid you not), there are a few respectable professional postings out there. Many of the secretarial positions seem to require 10 years of experience and/or a Masters degree (wha?) but others set the bar a little more within my reach. They generally require an online application that repeats your resume line by line, but that’s OK. At least then you get an automatically generated response saying they received your application materials and, if they like you, they’ll be in touch. Who knew job hunting was so much like dating?

Many of the job postings require you to include salary requirements with your cover letter. I realize this is fairly common practice, but it’s one that perplexes me. Aren’t they going to be (theoretically) writing the checks? Isn’t it sort of their job to make an offer, one I can take or negotiate or turn down or whatever? It’s like when teachers would ask you what grade you thought you deserved–I may not have said A+ but I never understood the kids who gave themselves Cs. Are they idiots? Or just self loathing? Content with mediocrity? Maybe just clueless.

But in this case, the teacher figure is tricky. Aim too high and you’re booted right off the bat. Aim too low and you’re basically giving yourself a C. It’s a mean ploy.

In trying to figure out the cost of living in five or six cities across the country, I have been scanning some of the Craig’s List “roommate wanted” listings. Again, there are some people who seem real and who seem like they could perhaps be normal people in a cohabitation scenario. But then there’s the guy who “lost his live-in girlfriend” and is thus seeking an open-minded 18-30 year old female to share his pad. 1 bedroom, 1 bath. Don’t worry, he wants to meet first to “establish trust and chemistry.” He posts a picture, in case I had any doubts. Yikes.

Actually, there are a lot of guys who post no pictures of the places they apparently live, just photos of themselves. Seriously. Messed. Up. This isn’t chemistry.com, people.

That’s the update I can give at the moment. I’m looking forward to heading to Missoula in about a week to attend a reunion for a student group of which I was a member. It’ll be nice to catch up with some friends I haven’t seen in a long time, and others I see more often but not enough. In the meantime, there are cover letters to be written and creepy roommate ads to be avoided.

Wish me luck.

That weird in-between July 23, 2008

Posted by Emily in jobs schmobs, moving, Travel, working.

Having scanned Craig’s List for all of twenty minutes this week, I can say with some confidence that the job search has begun. Emotionally, at least. Kind of.

A number of well-intentioned friends and relatives have asked me questions about my future, and I’ve gotten the impression that few have been too impressed with my answers. “I’m thinking of finding a job somewhere in the U.S.” wouldn’t satisfy many, and understandably. At this point, it’s the big circle on my Venn Diagram. I have sort of scoped out a few cities, nothing for sure and changing all the time, but if someone asked me my criteria, I think I would be embarrassed to admit the influence of off-handed remarks from friends, movies, magazine articles, and proximity to major airports. I figure I can’t live anywhere known for a meteorological condition I don’t like, such as rain. As I told a friend, “Rain makes me want to curl up with a blanket, a book, a cup of tea and some Norah Jones.” Not too conducive to starting a new job. I even did some random Googling–and I refuse to share any of those keywords out of pure self-preservation.

So I haven’t really figured out where to begin, what I might want to do, where exactly I might want to do yet-to-be determined thing. I figure there’s lots of things I could enjoy. Plenty of other things I could semi-enjoy that would involve twice-monthly paychecks for a while. So it’s just a question of looking. Right?

I know everyone goes through this post-college transition period. Not really being an adult, not really being a kid. I just happened to postpone my time a year or so and wasn’t smart enough to move in/move on with college friends as some brighter friends have done. Then again, most of my college friends are in law school or married. Some of them have careers, which, I’ll be honest, don’t really appeal to me too much. Whether I plan to or not, I kind of follow the whole “I will go in this way/and I’ll find my own way out” bit anyway (thanks, Dave).

At this point, I’ve lived with 17 (!) different roommates over the past six years in eight different apartments/houses/dorm rooms in four cities, three countries. (And that’s not even counting the three summers I spent living in a cabin in northeastern Washington.) As a disclaimer to any future roommates I may have, most of them came into the relationship with a deadline already in mind–I only drove one away and that’s because I evicted him. Part of me is tired of going through the motions, the meet and greet and then getting accustomed to their strange cohabitation patterns, becoming close friends with some, only to do it all over again a few months later. Even as I am sick of it, just like I am getting pretty damn tired of moving this unbelievable amount of stuff I have accumulated, I know it’s a necessary evil. I like my stuff. And I’m not sure I can see moving to a new place where I know no one and living alone as the smartest option. Meeting people in the post-college world is awkward enough. You can’t knock on the door down the hall during the first week and ask if they want to hit the Food Zoo. There’s no orientation or small classes or student groups. I’ve been told I could join a gym–there’s just a couple problems with that idea. I hate gyms, and I’m not sure my red-faced sweaty self is the first impression I am looking to give to future friends. Book clubs, classes from cooking to car maintenance, knitting groups, all the other tenets of chick-lit friendship building I haven’t entirely ruled out. I don’t even know where I’m moving yet.

Despite all of the confusion and general angst, I’m excited. When the time comes, I am guessing I will feel ready to start something new. I am looking forward to getting to know a U.S. city outside of Montana, getting to know the U.S. in general. I’ve traveled so little here. It’s fun, though clearly overwhelming, to have some choice in where I’m headed–last year, I got a letter saying I was assigned to a city in southern Spain and off I headed, completely clueless. To some extent, I’ll be clueless whereever I go, but at least I have some say in the matter.

And hey, there’s always random Googling.

My alternate universe July 11, 2008

Posted by Emily in moving, Spain, working.

I am not sure where I live.

Most of the emotions of leaving Spain and friends and a language I came to love and food and 110 degree heat (c’mon, you didn’t think it was all rosy, did you?) have been postponed somewhere in my mind. It hasn’t quite hit me. I haven’t seen many American friends since my return, for a number of reasons dealing with crossing paths and geography (some in Missoula, others in Japan) and also my lack of a cell phone, an answering machine, or frequent internet access.

People keep asking me if I am glad to be home, and for the most part, I think I am. It’s nice to see people who have known me forever, to express myself in a more exact fashion than even nine months in Spain afforded me. It’s nice to eat random foods I missed, to shop the sales, to think how cheap everything seems here when I am used to paying in euros. Well, except gas, but I didn’t ever buy that in Europe.

I have basically nothing to do, so I read a book, a really good one, in an afternoon this week and I have whipped through magazines from Harper’s to JPG to Better Homes and Gardens. I spend a lot of time petting my dog, who makes sure to get whatever clothes I’m wearing thoroughly dog hair covered. The front porch swing is surely getting more use than it has seen in some time. The weather here is perfect, in the 80s, although the air-conditioned house is too cold after sweating through most of June. I am rarely dressed before 11:15.

Of course, I have only been home about a week. The suitcases are opened but far from unpacked; my room looks more storage space than living space. Then again, the ceiling is also covered with glow in the dark stars and magazine clippings of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio and all sorts of other late 90s celebs, so I suppose it’s only natural that I feel like I am just home for Christmas vacation or something, not really living here or anywhere.

Soon enough, I will have to start job searching. I will have to go through interviews and the process of moving all over again. Soon enough, I will be busy  and I will complain about having no time. So I am trying to bask in the time I have now, even if it seems I am living in an alternate universe, one where I have zero responsibilities, spend zero money, read a lot, eat well, go to bed early.

It may not seem like reality, but I guess sometimes reality is overrated.