Friday, May 25, 2012

First-Day Mistakes

So I’ve had a little over a week to reflect on the first day of my publishing house internship, and I think there are just a few key things that I can improve on this week.

1.  Paranoid about Being Late
Having forgotten my phone last Wednesday, the only way I could tell time was by using my laptop, which is large and cumbersome and could only be kept on in the Starbucks I had camped out in for the majority of the morning. Paranoid about being late, I estimated that the six minute walk to the office would take twenty minutes, that a two minute bathroom break would consume ten minutes, and that my laptop would take an entire five minutes to shut down. So, like a good intern wanting to arrive early, I left Starbucks at 9:20am. I didn’t need to be there until ten.
My laptop took two minutes to “hibernate” and my powder room trip took, at most, sixty seconds. I then spent three minutes fixing my hair to look exactly the way it did when I entered the restroom, and two attempting to mentally speed up time to fulfill those twelve extra minutes I now had. I didn’t want to turn my laptop back on, so I began to make my way toward the office at an atypically sluggish pace.
The walk did not take the nineteen minutes I’d hoped it would.
Today, I will not be so exceptionally early.

2.  Exclamation Points are Unprofessional
I’ve always felt that exclamation points are a tad unprofessional. I abstain from using them in any sort of professional environment (for the most part). And perhaps it’s because I grew up in the texting-era, but conversations in text, without exclamation points, smiley faces, or ha-ha’s, automatically appear angry or bored to me.
In the office we use the instant messaging feature on Skype to communicate quietly, allowing those workers evaluating, editing and designing manuscripts to focus. It’ll take some getting used to for two reasons. The first: I feel like I can hear the publisher typing out his response in the other room and I feel silly for not just walking to the back of the house and talking with him. The second: I have to figure out the amount of animation I can let slip into my questions and responses.
3. Push Down the Hunger
I spent that first day smelling my peanut butter sandwich, considering my peanut butter sandwich, and imagining myself eating my peanut butter sandwich. But I never actually ate my peanut butter sandwich.
Oh sure, I had an hour long lunch break at my disposal, but I couldn’t take it. Why not? I didn't want to leave without letting the publisher know, but I also didn’t want to give him a play-by-play of my every move if I didn’t need to. I didn’t want it sounding like I needed my hand held, like I needed his approval to eat. Did I?
Despite these minor mistakes, my first day went well. I got to spend the entire day reading and call it work (Can you say dream job?). The publisher was impressed with my evaluation, and due to that, entrusted me with a lengthy memoir to evaluate on my second day. Although it seemed a little less like a reward about halfway through... STILL, I learned something from that potential author. And I love that!

Every manuscript I start reading through is like the first stab of a shovel into the ground. I could find a treasure underneath! Yeah, there’s gonna be some flaws. It’s been in underground for months—if not years! It may have some dirt or mud distorting it on the surface, but I get the privilege of determining whether it’s going to shine once all that’s cleaned off.

And every book that comes in has that potential! It's sort of similar to assuming that every new person you meet could be your best friendno matter what they look like, talk like, or where they come from. Wouldn't that be beautiful?

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Monday, May 21, 2012


Last Wednesday:

I woke up this morning feeling a bit like Andy from The Devil Wears Prada. I’m beginning a small internship at a publishing house in Richmond today. All in all, things haven’t gone that bad so far. Granted, I don’t have to be in the office until about ten and it’s still before nine, but I’m determined to start the day positive. So I was positive when I had to get up at 5:45am to catch the last bus into the city at 7:15. And I was positive when I realized I forgot to bring both my iTouch (for musical inspiration) as well as my phone. I was also positive when I got off the bus a stop too early, and when I walked around the city for fifty minutes desperately searching for somewhere to set up camp (i.e. take out my laptop to keep track of time).

With a possibility of rain, I couldn’t hunker down on any old bench. I tried the public library—only a block over from the publisher’s office—but it doesn’t open ‘till ten. How convenient, right? So I trudged on, heavy briefcase hanging from a strap that dug into my shoulder. I tried not to walk down the same streets more than once after a man asked if I needed help and directed me toward a small, local, hole-in-the-wall diner when I asked for a Starbucks.

But I kept going. Mostly because I had no choice, nowhere to stop and sit, and I needed to find a place to pull out my laptop—I had to check the time. I needed a watch. After all this, I was not going to be late on my first day. This was my dream job. Internship. Whatever. And after being told by my interviewer that the company has never taken an intern from my university, and that they normally only take grad students, and they normally come from the University of California, or from UVA, or Yale, I was not going to be late.

I want to work in publishing. In the business of books—preferably the printed version. It’s a romantic’s job. One where words aren’t just power, but money. Where our main goal is to teach the world something new. Where fiction and adventure and romance are as integral a part of our realities as whatever is featured in the New York Times. Where plot and character development fuel our sanity. Where I feel at home.

I did not feel at home next to Marie’s Dry Cleaners, where a homeless man sat jingling a cup of change, shouting “Hey baby!” And if publishing was home, then why did I wake up feeling like Meryl Streep was about to blame me for traffic on the freeway? Maybe it was because I felt like I had to measure up to Yale and UVA. Maybe it was my irrational fear of disappointing people, particularly superiors. Maybe I was afraid I wouldn’t be good at the very career I had my heart set on.

It’s all those things. I’m terrified of a rerun of my first job at Friendly’s. No training and exasperated sighs whenever I would need assistance—it wasn’t the friendliest environment.

But, like the Brady Bunch, I’ll keep on keepin’ on. I did in my search for a Starbucks, and here I sit, in a cozy corner of one of VCU’s dining facilities, drinking a tall, white chocolate mocha frappuccino. I may have asked for a light with no whip, and it may have come back neither light nor without whipped cream, but I’m staying positive. And together, with any luck, my positivity and my frappuccino will cool the sweat from my back and deliver me to my internship scent-free.

I’m ready to dive into the world of publishing. I’ve struggled my way up the ladder, and forced myself to the end of the board. Now, all that holds me back is the daunting look of my destination from a distance. I’m about to take that first step. It’ll lead to a total submergence in manuscripts, marketing, and mental exhaustion. But here’s the thing;

I’m pretty sure I can swim.

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