From the Basement

July 19, 2010

On Writing, Job Hunting, & Sun Tzu

You know you’re your mother’s daughter when you sit down in the Borders Cafe with The Art of War for Writers and are joined by your mother, who is reading The Art of War for Managers. Here’s to mother/daughter bonding with Sun Tzu.

Due to a lack of funds, I didn’t purchase the book, but one message (which I’d heard before) bears repeating — write hard, write fast. Tie that with Anne Lamott’s Shitty First Draft philosophy, and you’ve got a recipe for a first draft. Or rather, you have no excuses to not write a first draft.

So — having had my ass kicked by Sun Tzu’s modern devotees, I made a goal for myself: 15000 more words by Saturday. That comes out to 2500 a day, for those who do daily word counts. That’ll put me ca. 35000 words by the weekend, which is almost halfway through an 80000 word novel.

You’d think I would have been on fire today. But no.

Today is a wonderful example of how far I will go to avoid writing when I’ve tried to set goals. I spent way too many hours job hunting. Productive! may be what you’re thinking, but trust me, it’s more like, looking at every possible company (FBI, CIA, NSA, you know, the usual) and getting more and more depressed at the lack of jobs I’m qualified for.

I did find a few to apply to, however, and I even drafted one cover letter (not for a government agency).

This always happens. Whenever I set goals for my writing, my productivity in other areas kicks into steroid-like overdrive. Which is good for those areas. Just not for my word count.

So now that I’ve got that 6-hour job hunt out of my system (and two beers in me, let’s be honest), I’ll start writing.

I think.

15000 words aren’t gonna write themselves.

P.S. Whenever the words aren’t coming, the boyfriend suggests the Jack Bauer method of torture – you know the one about how when Jack Bauer lost his keys, he tortured himself until they gave up the location? Ah, never mind.

May 14, 2010

On Waiting

Fact: since I got into college, I have not received or been accepted to any job/school/internship to which I applied. Before every summer, I would be filled with anxiety about where I’d find work, because I’d apply and apply and apply and nothing would come through. So the summer after my freshman year, I waitressed at Perkins, a job I got via my mom’s connections. The summer after my sophomore year, I interned at a regional non-profit in my hometown, also received because of my mom. Last summer, I was the lead teacher for the K-5 kids in a summer program at a local daycare, something I got via my boyfriend’s connections.

God always came through.

And then this year, it was across-the-board rejections at graduate programs. I’ve also been rejected from a fellowship and an internship, and there are several positions that I started to apply for but that were filled before I could finish the application. Right now, I’m waiting to hear from a place I interviewed with about 2 1/2 weeks ago, and I’m also waiting to see if the resumes I sent out to some contacts are going to turn up anything. I’ve submitted my resume online to several job openings; nada.

You know what? God’s still coming through.

I’ve been learning a lot about waiting this past year. I don’t know what exactly this post is shaping up to be, but I want to encourage you – in whatever you’re waiting for – to keep persevering. There’s this great quote from Oswald Chambers that says, “He works where He sends us to wait.” There is work being done in the waiting. We learn so much more through waiting than we do through immediate gratification: patience, trust, and maybe wisdom, too.

This has, thus far, been the least anxiety filled May that I’ve had in the last four years, even though by others’ standards, it should be the worst. I’m graduating in two weeks. I don’t have a job. I didn’t get into grad school. I have few job prospects. Networking has not turned up anything thus far. … and yet God is faithful. He is doing a good work. I can sense it. I trust it.

There’s a reason I am not going to grad school this fall, and I think it has to do with learning to trust God and the gift He’s given me: writing. I am officially taking a year off, and I am feeling called in a powerful way to begin to send out my writing. To keep producing work and to start sending it out. It took closing every door possible to get me to pay attention that voice, that still small voice that’s been nagging at me for years.

In the midst of resounding silence, I’ve found a calling.

But I’m also learning to trust. To not freak out. To know that my Abba will do things in his own way and time, and that I’d just better keep praying and waiting. My dismal record of job applications shows that I’m pretty bad at getting work on my own, and yet He has always brought the perfect thing at the perfect time that taught me just what I needed to be taught. And so I’m trusting that He will find a way to provide for me. A voice of worry says, “You need to start paying student loans back in November.” And I pray, Lord, please help me find a way to pay them back. Trust.

I have grown so much more over the last few months because I’ve been waiting – and I am so grateful. At times, the months were anxiety filled; at times, my head was (literally) in the toilet, my emotions exacting a heavy toll from my physical body. But worry accomplishes nothing. Anxiety and fear accomplish nothing. That voice that says, you could be doing more, you should be doing more, you can do it alone – lies.

Ultimately, my confidence cannot lie in my own abilities. Plenty of people do everything right and have nothing turn out. My professors and various others have expressed fury on my behalf that [fill in the blank] didn’t work out. And you all probably know people like that, or perhaps you’ve been in that position or are in that position.

The good news is, we can have total confidence in the promises of our Savior. That he who begins a good work will be faithful to complete it. That he is with us always. That he gives wisdom to those who ask. That he will grant prayers for patience (oh, will he grant them!).

I’m going through a book by Angela Thomas, and the section for today was entitled Pray & Stand. I started to cry when I read one of the verses; it very much articulates where I’m at, and it is an awesome encouragement.

Ephesians 6:13 – “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

He gives us the strength to stand in the face of adversity, of trial, of desert places, of pain, of brokenness … even better, he is there with us. We can trust that he has a plan and a purpose, that – as “Desert Song” says – “All of my life, in every season, you are still God, I have a reason to sing… I have a reason to worship.”

When I’m unemployed, I have a reason to worship God. When I’m worried about how I’m going to pay the bills, I can trust him. When I’m filled with fear and anxiety, I can invite him in and watch as his awesome love casts everything else out. I know in my heart of hearts that he fights for me, that he loves me, and that even in the waiting – especially in the waiting – he is shaping me into the woman he wants me to be.

Psalm 118:1, 5-9, 13-14 – “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever …. In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper … It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. …. I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

May 11, 2010

Trusting Your Gifts

Talents. Abilities. Instincts. Smarts. Whatever you call them, most everyone has some special talent (my favorite word for it). Whatever your gifting is, my question for you today is: are you walking in it? Are you doing it? Are you practicing? Are you finding a way to incorporate it into your daily life?

I believe that our gifts are given to us for a reason, but too many of us live in fear of them. Perhaps it’s a fear of failure, but perhaps it’s a fear of what will happen when you start walking in the gifting you’ve been given. Maybe you’re just afraid to hope that what you love to do is something that you could walk in every day or even – woah – get paid to do.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about jobs lately. The job hunt, the job market. Y’know – things that are pretty rough right now. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has at some point asked about the fallback, the safety job, survival. When I lead the conversation with the subject of My Writing, the person almost immediately clams up. Or they say “That’s nice. And if that doesn’t work out…?”

All this has me thinking that our culture doesn’t have its priorities straight. We value what pays rather than what edifies and, to be sure, things that are personally edifying won’t necessarily pay the bills. But I can’t help but think that our hope is drowning in our pragmatism. There’s this pervading, latent theme in conversation: it’s not that what we love can’t pay, just that it won’t pay. Too many people seem determined to pass that belief on to others. Don’t even think about pursuing something you love; it won’t pay and you’ll end up disappointed and embarassed, and then where will you be?

I am so sick of hearing that.

We learn early on to disregard our deepest desires, our giftings, our talents. When we’re little, it’s “what I want to do when I grow up!” Have you ever noticed how little kids always have an answer to that question, regardless of their level of talent/ability/opportunity in their chosen career field? But later on in life, we call the things we enjoy “hobbies.” We say “it’s called work for a reason.” And after college, we learn to look for what will pay rather than what we want. What we want might well pay – it’ll just take work and perhaps a thickness of skin that is too much to bear. (Or so we think.) And then we get lazy. We settle into that job or career or industry that wasn’t for us and still isn’t for us, but that pays the bills.

I am determined to not live in fear of my dreams. I am determined to not get lazy. But more than anything, I am determined in my belief that I was given my giftings for a reason … and why would I be given them if I wasn’t supposed to use them?

May 1, 2010

Hold the Scotch: On Job Hunting & Hope

After spending too much time on the online job hunt last night, I put in Charlie Wilson’s War for a pick-me-up. Now, you know it’s bad when a movie about the Cold War is a uplifting. Mostly, I spent the time fantasizing about Philip Seymour Hoffman strolling into my room and offering me a bugged bottle of scotch. I don’t drink scotch, but let me tell you, this job market could drive me to it.

I was plowing through sites like mediabistro.com and others that are heavy on editorial and freelance work. Monster, of course, is a must for jobs in my area. College nannies, college tutors, learning centers, legal aids, online copywriters, the CIA, the State Department, Hallmark, the local university – it’s downright depressing. There are jobs out there, often ones requiring experience, and I’m still trying to vault over that limitation. Several people have told me to ignore the “years experience needed,” especially if they only require 1-2 years.

The hardest thing to overcome in this market is, I think, my own level of expectation. The job I want. The job I’m excited for. It just so happens that the summer job that I a) want and b) am excited for is one that I interviewed for this week … and I won’t hear back from them for 2-3 weeks. That’s a long time to hold out when the job market, which is already thin, is about to become thinner with a flood of recent graduates.

So I’m trying to straddle this: my own desires with pragmatism, the part of me that says “This time is good! This time is for writing! And you’re writing! And you’ve interviewed for that awesome TA job, you’re waiting to hear back, you’ve got a great shot at it” – and then the other part says, ” … and what if that doesn’t work out?”

I’ve started work on some freelance articles that would pay either nothing or very little, but they’d be bylines. Also, I’m so excited about them! So excited. Applying for a position as a marketing assistant in the Twin Cities does not fill my tank nearly as much.

So where is that line? Where is that line when we sacrifice what we love for a job that’ll help us survive? At what point do you just have to say “screw it” to worldly wisdom and hold out and wait? Can you find a survival job that will not suck your passion for what you love, i.e. will you not be completely exhausted and worn out when you get home? How how the heck do you find a career doing what you want?*

Right now, I’m just waiting and praying. And drinking copious amounts of coffee. And the occasional dark beer. No scotch yet.

*On that note, this month has gone a long way in reminding me of why I want to go to graduate school. Not necessarily the state of the job market (tho’ that doesn’t hurt), but that there is nothing that excites me more than digging into literature and researching. I’m gearing up to revise a paper and possibly attend a conference (!), a possibility that has me so freaking excited that I think I’ll be reapplying in the fall. Also, I’m trying to keep one of the freelance articles from getting too heavy on the literary theory (Mulvey and feminist film crit). Yet another sign that I’m either a) brainwashed by my profs or b) still in love with the English discipline. Ah, who are we kidding? I’m still in love. Spurned, but still in love.

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