Archive for October 2009
This week finds me in an especially good mood because I finally have a day off! Mondays are my new day to sleep in, watch TV and read…for FUN! Of course, I’m reading all the time at the internship, but it’s nice to read novels of my own choosing once in awhile 🙂 It reminds me why I love books and why I want to work with them for the rest of my life. Actually, I’m reading Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins right now, the sequel to The Hunger Games that’s been pretty popular. If anyone else has been in a literary lull like the one in between the Harry Potter and Twilight phenomena, try out this series. It’s well-written with creative plot twists and a strong protagonist. There’s a lot to like, and I can’t wait for the third book, coming out sometime in 2010.
Today at the internship, three women who were previous interns and now have entry-level jobs at publishing companies came in to talk to us. I’m basically overwhelmed after listening to them. They are proof that it is possible to land a paid position in publishing after an internship—but they didn’t try to hide the fact that right now, jobs in the industry are extremely difficult to come by. At a few of the major houses, they apparently won’t even consider applications unless you’re personally recommended by another employee. This is very intimidating and while I want to remain hopeful about my chances of getting a job after this internship, I also want to be realistic.
I went through college thinking I was going to have a job after I graduated. But the joke was on me—why would I think that $35,000 a year for four years would buy me anything except thick folders of interpretations on Poe’s short stories and the defining characteristics of the Victorian period of literature in Great Britain? Silly Rachel. How could I not have realized that this knowledge would in no way further my career plans? (No offense to the dead geniuses of literature—you know I love you guys. But if you could conjure up a job for me, I’d have a much greater appreciation for you.)
Okay. I’m spiraling into cynicism. And that breeds negativity and hopelessness. I don’t want to be hopeless. I really do want to be optimistic that I’m going to get a job here after the internship is over. But it’ll help to know that it’s not because of my lack of abilities if it proves to be difficult for me to find a job in publishing. It’s just an extremely, extremely competitive industry that is hurting for money right now, making jobs rare. Rare, but not obsolete. And if it ever comes to the point where there’s only one job in the entire publishing industry—I’ll find it.
8.2 million people. Every day, the subways fill to capacity, taxi drivers chauffer person after person from one place to another, and the streets teem with hustle, bustle, activity. What could all these people possibly have in common, besides the fact that, whether proud or ashamed, they call New York home? If there’s one theme I’ve picked up on since I’ve been in New York City, it’s dreams. New York is the city of dreams, and its residents are dreamers. From college students who move across the country to study business or science at NYU or performing arts at Juilliard, to young people with their lives unfolding before them like a cornucopia, to older folks who have been settled here for years and couldn’t imagine a life anywhere else—there’s something electric in the air here. The fast pace at which New Yorkers must move is an unwritten but inviolable code. If you aren’t confident in where you’re going (literally AND figuratively), you have to pretend to be, or you’ll get bowled over by those who are. The confident are the ones who dictate, in this city.
So New Yorkers have no choice but to dream. I’ve discovered that dreams don’t have to be fluffy, abstract things. If you know what you want, they can be as solid as the concrete sidewalks pounded by the high heels and sneakers of dreamers every day. I can’t believe how accessible everything is here. I guess I always thought the world of publishing was surrounded by a jeweled and bulletproof glass case. I think a lot of people feel that way about their passions because it’s scary yet simultaneously exhilarating to finally be chasing them. And that’s what I’m doing here—and while it’s surreal in concept, it’s incredibly real in execution. I am actually reading manuscripts that are going to become published books—not all of them, of course, but some. One of the best things about my internship is that I’m not just doing this to meet some meaningless requirement. It’s not like a typical internship for school. This is the real world, and I’m doing real, important and tangible things. I’m interacting every day that I’m in the office with real agents who work with real authors. The other day, I even spoke on the phone with the producer of the movie Paranormal Activity! (I sit at the front desk one day a week and act as secretary, and one of the agents who represents screenwriters has a lot of connections in the movie business.) Somehow, I’ve found my way inside that jeweled case. And it’s better than I ever thought it could be.
I have always believed that everything happens for a reason, and I’m convinced there was a greater plan all along for my life at this exact moment. When I first considered coming to New York, I knew I’d have to get a paid job to support myself, pay the rent, utilities, student loans from college, cell phone bill, groceries, etc. I never could have imagined that a month after walking into the restaurant, I would be this comfortable with the job and my co-workers. They’ve become my friends, and this restaurant has become my home, in a weird way. (I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that I’m here 60 hours a week…I should probably just put a cot in the kitchen.) Sure, customers who change their mind seven times before ordering a dish with no carrots or scallions but extra broccoli annoy the crap out of me. And on Friday, I had to stay an hour late, after a 12-hour shift, to serve a party of eight drunk teenagers who came in 15 minutes before we were supposed to close. They were literally slurring over their orders, and one kid passed out on the table. Then they tried to get free food by saying I messed up their order.
Even though things like that have pushed me close to the breaking point, especially since I haven’t had a single day off in a month, I still enjoy this job because it’s a learning experience. Waitressing is a degrading job at times, and the restaurant’s owners constantly remind us that we are the clients’ servants. I’ve never had a job like this before, but I think it’s good for me. I’ve already had my eyes opened to how demanding it is to work in the food industry. I have a new respect for everyone who works in service, food, retail and hospitality positions. Every time I go out to eat from now on, I’m going to tip generously because I know first-hand how difficult it is. I served a customer last night who made me change his soup because he didn’t like it, and he didn’t leave a tip. Not one cent. Frustrating? That’s an understatement.
But don’t get me wrong—I’m far from miserable. I feel comfortable here. I came to New York on my own, with nobody and nothing. I walked into this restaurant five days after I moved here, and it sounds crazy, but despite obnoxious customers and long hours, I am loving my life right now. There’s always drama to keep it interesting. We’re still having trouble with our delivery guys. The one they hired to replace the one who kept getting lost was great—he always found the addresses and got the food there quickly. Then on Saturday, they sent him out to distribute menus, and apparently he threw the menus away, went to a bar and got drunk, then came back to work. We were watching him dancing and singing in the kitchen, which, though entertaining, was absolutely ridiculous. Then later that day, he lost the money from a delivery order and was instantly fired. (Oh, and when the manager was firing him, I translated into Spanish for him because he doesn’t speak English–my Spanish is getting good!!)
Although this job is demanding and stressful, and despite the fact that I’m only at my apartment for about eight hours a day (and I’ve consumed more coffee in the past month than in my whole life before moving here), I know I’m doing the right thing. I know this because every morning when my alarm goes off, it’s not a struggle for me to wake up and get out of bed, even though I’m not getting nearly enough sleep. I’m excited to go to either my internship or the restaurant every day. I also know I’m in a good place right now because I’m happy. It’s as simple as that. I’m laughing a lot—at drunk delivery guys, at indecisive customers, at really bad and really good manuscripts. It’s easy to get caught up in dreams, success, wealth, power, all the abstract concepts that arise when people decide to go for what they want. It’s easy to forget what makes you really happy—what makes you laugh. Most of the time, I’m too busy or tired to process even my simple wants and needs. But I do know that right now, I’m happy. And while I’m only at the internship two days a week, I feel like I’m still chasing my dreams even when I’m at the restaurant. No, I can safely say that I do NOT want to work as a waitress for the rest of my life, or anywhere close to that amount of time. This job is paying the bills for me, allowing me to do this internship, so it’s helping me to pursue what I really want. I’m working toward a goal, just like every other resident of this fine city.
And it’s not only Americans who move to New York to chase their dreams—this city is teeming with immigrants who have come to this country in pursuit of something better. They were dropped off at Ellis Island, and so many of them could sense the vibes of success and dreams in this city that they never bothered to leave. Everyone I work with at the restaurant is foreign, and when we don’t have customers, we just stand around and talk. I’ve learned so much about other cultures’ customs, religions and work ethics. Since this restaurant is new, the tips are nothing compared to what you could make waitressing at a busy restaurant. There are some days where I’ll take away ten bucks or less in cash tips, and put together with my shift pay it works out to maybe four or five dollars an hour. In America, that’s pretty bad. But I was talking with one of my coworkers the other day who came from Peru, where he worked a 9-hour day for $7. I guess it just comes down to putting things into perspective and to thinking about things from an alternative point of view. There are people all over the world who would kill to come to America. Everyone has a dream, and it’s easier for some people to pursue theirs than others. This way of thinking reminds me that I am incredibly blessed to be pursuing mine. I’m one of the millions making my way in New York City. Somehow, I’ve found myself swimming in the same ocean with all these other dreamers, bound together by a current of hopes, visions and possibilities. Sometimes, I feel like I’m floating aimlessly. But for the most part, I know where I’m going. And I’m going to get there.
People, people everywhere. It’s rare if I get a seat on the subway, even coming home from work at 11:30 p.m. on a weekday. After leaving my internship in Manhattan at 7 p.m.? Forget it. On the first subway, to Times Square, there are so many people that I’m usually packed in on all sides, trying desperately not to breathe in the same air as the person five inches from my face. Tonight on my way home from my internship I stopped at the store just to buy bread and milk, and I stood in line for about 20 minutes. And you know what I’m learning? That stereotype about New Yorkers being unfriendly really isn’t true. Everyone’s just so wrapped up in their schedules and in getting from Point A to Point B, and there are so MANY people at Points A and B (and every point along the way…A1, A2, A3?) that it just SEEMS like people are unfriendly because they’re focusing on getting somewhere in this huge city without being trampled to death. Well, this fast-paced New York way of life has bitten me too, and I’ve been too busy to even update this blog!
Since I last wrote, I started working five days a week at the restaurant. This plus the two days at my internship leaves me with no days off and working 60 hours a week and putting in 16 at the internship…but I LOVE it. I feel like I fit in here. Like that’s what you’re supposed to do in New York—overwork yourself, run from one thing to the next while clutching a cup of coffee to stay awake because you don’t spend more than eight hours a day at your apartment, and for three-quarters of those you’re asleep. I think my life could be a movie. College graduate with a passion for publishing and a determination to break into the industry uproots her life, moves to NYC for an unpaid internship, rents an apartment and works overtime to pay the rent. Scenes could show me running through the subway station to get onto the train as the doors are shutting, holding onto the subway pole with one hand while reading a manuscript in the other, and making drinks at work while typing up reports for my internship on my mini laptop. I love it. I’ll write the screenplay immediately—as soon as I have time to breathe.
Yeah, I’m busy—but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve felt more fulfilled and accomplished in the past few weeks than I did during the eight months I spent job hunting, when I had all the time in the world. I keep kicking myself for not pursuing this sooner, but I was scared. It was a big decision and an incredibly risky one with no guarantees and no security. No promises, only possibilities and potential. Today at the internship, an acquisitions editor from a publishing house came in to talk to us about the business. I left the office incredibly motivated, feeling like the sky’s the limit. My biggest problem right now is I want to do it all. Before I knew a whole lot about the publishing industry, I wanted to be an editor. Then I started working at the agencies, and I can’t get enough of what I’m doing. The other interns and I joke that we’re going to be professional readers for a living.
It’s so hard to explain to people who aren’t book nerds like myself how it’s not only enjoyable to read a manuscript and write a report on its strengths and weaknesses, I have to restrain myself sometimes. I take pages and pages of notes on the stories and can usually barely work half of them into the report, which usually ends up being at least three pages, single-spaced. I have this limitless desire to help potential authors refine and revise their work so it can sell. I read some bad manuscripts, sure, but every potential author deserves at least one read. And to me, it’s worth all the bad manuscripts when I read a really good one. There’s NOTHING more fulfilling than reading one that has the majority of the literary elements worked out properly with so much appeal and potential. And I’ve read some really good ones recently! So maybe I’d like to be an agent. I don’t know. The acquisitions editor made that side of the business seem really cool too, though. I’m just going to have to clone myself multiple times so I can do several different jobs in publishing. I want to do it all.
And I am LOVING my job at the restaurant, which is awesome since I’m there so much. I actually enjoy going to work—I love interacting with customers, and there’s so much downtime (especially between lunch and dinner, those awkward afternoon hours when it’s like who would be eating a meal right now?) that I can read manuscripts and type reports at work! Kill two birds with one stone, baby! Also, all of my coworkers are awesome. It’s like a family at the restaurant, and I felt welcomed right away. I feel so comfortable there. Yesterday was the co-owner Rony’s birthday, so at closing time we pretended to leave but hid out in the basement and came up with a cake, singing happy birthday. We had a party with champagne, strawberry rum and some delicious coffee liquor at midnight in the closed restaurant.
There’s also enough drama to keep things interesting. For example, we’re having problems with our delivery guys getting lost, and customers call the restaurant (aka me) to complain about their food not arriving. Yesterday one customer called four times, hung up on me two of them and said he’s never ordering from us again. It’s a new restaurant, and they’re still trying to find good help. One of them, Angel, is from Ecuador and barely speaks English. The other night it was raining, and we had about ten deliveries going out at once. He got lost on about half, and the phone was ringing off the hook with customers demanding their food. It shouldn’t have been a funny situation at all, but you can only listen to a customer bitch you out for something that’s entirely out of your control so many times before the whole thing just becomes comical. So to lighten the mood, some of my coworkers and I started picturing Angel, who’s about 4 foot 6 inches, wandering around Astoria hopelessly lost on his bicycle with all these delivery bags hanging from the handle bars. Even the restaurant’s owner, Lora, was cracking up laughing as her husband, Rony, tried to assuage a furious customer over the phone. The bad news? They cancelled their order. The good news? When Angel came back (he got fired, btw), we ate the shrimp fried rice that he failed to deliver. Staff dinner of an ex-customer’s cancelled order.
So I basically love my life right now. Oh, I’m sure this crazy schedule will get old at some point, and my lack of sleep is bound to catch me eventually—but right now I’m empowered. Sleep is beneath me. Angry customers can’t bring me down. Good manuscripts lie in front of me.
Let me do it all.