Monday, October 25, 2010

News of Almost-November

November is less than a week away. This fact scares me on an annual basis. As a spring chicken, it means the end of comfort, and the start of a long season of colds, stomach viruses, and misery. It also means having to dig my car out of the snow, and then drive through more of it to get wherever I'm going.

As a rule, I try not to think about it, so here's something a little more light-hearted: about three years ago, I read an article about a teen who had a real problem. She could not, no matter what she tried, stop hiccuping. So when I read that she was in the news again, I thought, well, finally! Someone's cured her hiccups and she can live a normal life!


Hiccup girl is now in the news for aiding a robbery-turned-murder. The link, here, had me cracking up. Don't get me wrong, I feel terrible for the murder victim, and his family, but this wasn't the end of the story I was expecting! I wonder what caused her to turn to crime? Was it the relentless teasing she must have received over her condition, family economic pressure (she does live in the economically-troubled state of Florida), or something else altogether? Was it drugs, or pressure to act out because she knew she'd never fit in?

Most importantly, is she still hiccuping in jail?

These are the important questions for our day. What's your opinion?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Entering Imagination Land

So. I'm apparently not done blogging for the night, as I'm still in the mood to write. Read it or not, but here's some more food for thought. In talking over why I have such trouble writing, I've come to the more concrete notion that when I was young and my teachers talked about what a gifted writer I was, they were absolutely wrong.

I'm not going to be falsely modest - this is a blog, not a job interview. I have a great talent, and I was quite gifted when I was young. Just not at writing. My gift is my creativity, my ability to come up with fascinating worlds and stories instantly, and to immerse myself within them and discover them to possess more depth than I'd ever thought possible. As C.S. Lewis put it memorably in "The Last Battle," to find the true world, one must go "further up and further in." I can, and do.

However, as an actual writer, I'm really only average. No head for lovely descriptions (although I have a keen admiration of them), nor any particular talent with putting the right word in the right place at the right time. The best you could say is that I rarely ever have to double-check a paper or a post. I'm a grammar and spelling fiend, and I have a reasonably large vocabulary, if not an eloquent one.

Still, it is something, and I'm about to introduce you to more. What you're about to hear is not anything I've told anyone in my family or circle of friends. What I'm going to divulge, in bits and parts, are details of my creative castoffs over the years, the ideas in a 62 page file called "The Big Index" that are highlighted in green and blue.

"The Big Index" is a list of every story idea I've ever had, and where to find notes on them. My story files, scattered across two computers, three large notebooks, and a backup drive, have quirky titles such as "Bizarre Bazaar of Words," "Alpha Files," and "Middle School Mix." Files don't match titles, nor are all story details always contained in a single file. They're disorganized, and more often than not, make sense to no one but me (if they make sense at all). But having the list to help me sort through them keeps me sane.

Green in that list signifies stories I've grown out of, ones that I've decided are just too silly or juvenile to bother writing. Often, if the plot is good, it evolves and finds its way into another, more mature story. Good characters migrate to more defined universes. Blue indicates that a story is good, but fan-fiction. For instance, if I think up a sequel to a story that ended unhappily in my mind, it makes me feel better and it might be good, but it's still illegal to sell it. So it sits on the shelf, lonely and untouchable.

To begin - directly before I end this ridiculously long post, I'll start with the last section of my list: Musicals.

The Basic Facts: I have written ideas for 36 musicals. I've written outlines for 10, and 2 of them are complete, with lyrics, script and all. I wrote one in 6th grade, and it is absolutely horrible. I never know whether to cringe or laugh looking at it. The other, called "Summer Romance," was written at sleep-away camp, and is a sappy, ridiculous, musical romance novel, wherein four girls and their counselor fall in love with the four boys and counselor of a neighboring bunk. I showed it to the theater counselor. After that, I haven't shown it to anyone else, nor do I think I ever will again. There's only so much humiliation a person can take.

There are three musical ideas that I might actually write someday, and you're not getting the details of those. They're based on myths and fairy tales I love, in particular, "Eros and Psyche," "Pomona and Vertumnus (look it up, it's sweet!)," and "King Thrushbeard (the most under-used good Grimm's fairy tale)."

But maybe in another post I'll tell you some more about the rejects. There are some spectacular ones. Fun, isn't it, watching the writer crash and burn? Meet me back at Pyrakanthe's Place in a little bit, and maybe you can hear about my two separate ideas for a Phantom of the Opera spin-off and sequel. I promise, you they can't be worse than what's playing in London right now. :)

The Blank Page

For all of you viewing this post in its published state, which is all of you (minus my boyfriend, who is sitting next to me as I write), you cannot see what I see now. It is the writer's personal canvas, the window into another world, and often the picnic area for muses, characters, and plots to come together. It can also be a writer's worst nemesis.

The blank page.

All that empty space. Horrible, isn't it? I'm sure you've had this feeling: it's the day of the test you didn't study for, and you're faced with that dreadful essay question, the one where you have no thesis, no evidence, and no hope. Only for a writer, it's even worse - you aren't even given the essay question. You just put down what's in your heart and mind, and hope that it works.

For me, the writing process has always been a struggle. I'm great at ideas. So great, in fact, that they don't stop coming. I'm constantly being bombarded by inspirations from all around me, on TV or the radio, in books and articles I read, or even in everyday situations. Where do I get my ideas? Where don't I?

But when an idea arrives, and I scribble it down on a notepad or some form of paper (which I'm never without), often it remains as notes. When I was younger, I took less notes, had less direction in my stories, and far less technique. But I had stories. Over time, I've been taught to be careful with my words, and with that care came a wariness that has shadowed the last six years of my life.

In college, I studied poetry for the first time. I learned to write in a new form, and it changed the way I thought about writing. Using a shorter form forced me to be more creative with words, and less so with character and idea. I learned to take an archetype and dig deeper into the generic. I still had story ideas, but in seeing the beauty my classmates brought to the written word, I was convinced that nothing I wrote could ever measure up.

Six years later, I've managed to put together two half-finished novels, two partway begun pieces of fan-fiction (fiction based in another creator's world), and notes for a brilliant medieval-style world that absolutely sings with color and detail. I got out of college, went into grad school, and stagnated.

As I've said previously, it's not that I haven't had anything to say all year, but that I haven't had the courage to put forth the words. These stumble, they're verbose but not encompassing, and as usual, the post has gotten too long already. But they're a start. The page isn't blank anymore. Maybe tomorrow there will be another news article, and I'll be more in my element, with my typical self-assigned essay question: what is your opinion?

But until then, you lucky few readers can have a look into the head of a budding writer. And then, presumably, be grateful not to be one.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Beginning Opinions

As a part of my intent to start over with this blog, and to begin working on some real writing again, I've decided to write short reaction pieces to articles I read in the morning. I'm a voracious news reader, and I find I almost always have opinions on what I read, and so I'd like to share my thoughts and see what other people think.

That is, one day, when other people actually start to visit this blog. ;)

So what was in the news today? A recall for my car - with all the Toyota recalls over the last year and a half, it had to happen sometime, the not-quite-confirmation of Derek Jeter's engagement to Minka Kelly, and the results of last night's game, proving that the Yankees are not out of the pennant race yet.

Oh, and a little piece about a commercial against obesity aired in Washington D.C.

The commercial is about 40 seconds. A man lies dead in the morgue, his wife weeping, the doctor comforting her. A cheeseburger is in the dead man's hand. When the camera at last pans to his feet, McDonald's famous golden arches sweep over them. The caption: "I was lovin' it."

Harsh, blunt, and not kid-friendly. Yes, you will be scaring your kids away from their Happy Meals if they see this. Yes, the government is interfering with how you eat. But is that really such a bad thing? I posted the following comment in response to the article discussing the commercial (the link to which can be found here).

"To the person who commented that people who eat fast food and eat unhealthily are not the norm, I beg to differ. According to the Center for Disease Control, almost 1 in 3 people in this country are obese as of 2009. Over 10 states have an obesity rate greater than 30%. It may not be the majority (yet), but when there are more grossly overweight people than there are of some minorities in this country, it absolutely counts as the norm.

As for the argument that the government should not be our "Mommies and Daddies," that's ignorance. They tell us we can't steal, can't kill people, and they tax us - which is basically a grown-up version of the allowance system kids and their parents use.

And furthermore, even if the government isn't parenting us, this country decided to be responsible for Medicaid and for a portion of our health care system. It is therefore in their best financial interests, and the better interests of the country, to discourage people from practices that can put an undue and unnecessary strain on the health care system. Obesity-related disease is becoming epidemic in its scope. The government cannot afford to ignore it any longer.

Personally, I think alternate versions of the commercial should address the threat posed by other fast food chains such as Burger King, White Castle, and Wendy's, but all in all, this is a good start to address what is rapidly becoming a serious problem in our country."

So, those are my thoughts for the day. A final thought for those who call the government food-Nazis, though (btw, not my term): the states with over 30% obese populations are concentrated in areas with very high poverty. Kind of tough to ask the government for food stamps and then balk when the government starts telling you how you should use them.

As a last note: the CDC and poverty charts that I used can be found here and here, respectively.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Summer of Stagnation, Winter of Discontent

I have applied for approximately 25 library positions, and countless others outside of the field, in administration, in retail, anywhere it seemed I might be able to work. I'm on LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder, and Craigslist, scouring search results daily. And in looking for library jobs in particular, I've come up to the following, distressing conclusion:

The New York libraries do not want me.

Not me, specifically, but the archetype into which I fall - newly-graduated and inexperienced. As of the last time I checked (October 13th), there were 13 positions available through METRO (the Metropolitan New York Library Council, for those who don't know), all of which required either a second master's, years of experience in the field that I don't have, or skills which I do not possess, such as archiving and cataloging.

In Suffolk and Nassau counties, where I'd prefer to look, since that's where I live, there have been a total of 16 positions combined over a period of 5 months. I had one interview in Nassau, and one in Suffolk. In Suffolk's interview, I didn't know the term "roaming." Apparently, it means to wander the library looking for patrons to aid. I'd never heard the term, and I knew when it came up that the interview was over. I don't think it would have mattered, though. While submitting my contact information on the way out, the reference librarian at the desk said, "This? I thought we'd filled that position." Other places told me that I was one of 70 applicants, 100 applicants, over 200 applicants in one memorable case.

In Nassau, more recently, I was told I was up against over 40 applicants. Nevertheless, I got to the second interview, and was feeling much more confident, even though they warned me that my eligibility for the job would depend on the results of the civil service department. I then promptly received a form rejection letter. "Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams," wrote Yeats. So much for that.

In Queens, there are zero available public library positions, between 63 branches and a main library building. I feel at this point that I should qualify my job search. I've been looking for public library positions. I don't have school certification. I took no business, health, or archives classes. Mistakenly, I thought public libraries with an emphasis on child and young adult literature, and an alternate focus on emerging technologies would be useful. I've applied for jobs outside my scope, but to no avail.

In Brooklyn Public Library, there are 5 adult literacy positions, mostly for math. New York Public Library offers another array of positions for which I'm unqualified: building manager, driver, senior editor, senior public relations expert. They have open positions for pages, but the cost of the commute versus my paycheck means that I'd actually be making negative capital to take the job. I did that once, the one time I worked in the city. Not only was I broke, I was also miserable because of horrible working conditions.

The last place I've looked is Westchester. There are positions open there, for clerks, and for part-time librarians. But all the libraries are over an hour and a half away, and that's without accounting for traffic. Assume I earn $90 after taxes for working 4 hours a day in a part-time position. I will then proceed to use approximately half that, possibly more, simply to drive my car there and back. It's not a fiscally responsible picture. And why not move? Because I have a lease on my apartment until February, and my family, friends, and boyfriend live on Long Island. Unless I'm completely out of money, which I am thankfully not (yet), I'd rather not go that route.

So here I am.

After reading successive articles detailing the state of the economy, and of the field, I've come to realize that our generation, aged 18-24 (I'm at the higher end of that spectrum), is the national scapegoat. Not in the sense of blame, although we certainly are being blamed for showing less initiative than our parents, but in the original sense, that of a goat being burdened with all of the metaphysical sins of the people and sent off into the desert to survive if it can.

When I started graduate school, the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed library positions as favorable because large numbers of people would retire from the field. But a year and a half later, the baby boomers aren't retiring, the economy is stagnating, and the budget crisis in New York has left a virtual hiring freeze in the library world. Those who graduated in the years before me will get the first jobs, because they have the experience libraries want, and can be gotten for the same price. And so far, as the Library Journal's study clearly shows, there are no jobs leftover after that.

Where Have You Been This Year?

You have no idea how hard it was for me to actually click this "new post" button.

Actually, you probably do. I've looked at the blogs my classmates made in the class where I created Pyrakanthe's Place. Not one of them has been updated since the end of the class. Granted, I actually fancy myself a writer, so I ought to have done a better job than this, but it never seems to be that easy. It's not that I don't have the time - I'm a newly-graduated, unemployed librarian - but honestly? It's that until now, I didn't have the guts.

So where have I been for a year? I've been in the same boat as many of my classmates, apparently. According to the Library Journal's 2010 Placements and Salary survey, a whopping total of 32 of 142 graduates from the Palmer School at Long Island University actually have placements of any kind since graduating in 2009. I shudder to think what the case will be for graduates of 2010, my year.

I finished my classwork up in May, and came out of library school with a bright outlook. After all, hadn't my internship told me that they were going to have a position available shortly, and that I was already in the running? Naturally, I had applied as soon as it was possible, and peppered the library with excellently-spaced phone calls regarding my status. Not too soon after the last one, I told myself. They don't want to hear from you again. But not too late, either, in case they forget.

In the long run, it didn't matter. I didn't get an interview. I didn't even get a phone call until I called the library myself, a month later, and specifically asked the woman in charge of the open position, my former supervisor in my internship, to give me a call back. She did, and gave me a cursory summation of why they hadn't even sent a form rejection letter: "We're sorry, but we went with someone with more experience."

Apparently, working for them for four months in the department where they were hiring wasn't enough. I won't fault them for not choosing me - it's their right and prerogative - but I am still quite upset over the fact that I didn't even warrant a personal response after being their intern for that long, and after they implied that I was a likely candidate for the position.

It's been a long, slow downward spiral since then.

But I won't get into it until the next post, as this one's long enough already. I've waited a year to write this; I can wait a bit longer.