Thursday, August 26, 2010

Other Ways I Express Myself

Sweat pants are soooo not cute. Luckily, stylish and classy college-aged girls all across America have solved this problem by making sure they only purchase sweat pants and athletic shorts that have something written on their cute little derrieres.

I am pleased to announce that I have now jumped on the pink posterior bandwagon, thanks to iron-on letters. I'm so proud of these that I might take the green letters and spell out Pink on my workout pants.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Would You Do for a Klondike Bar? How About a Byline?

Yesterday's post brought me this comment from an anonymous reader:

Be weary. I've heard Demand Studios isn't quite as they advertise: http://www.frogenyozurt.com/2010/03/the-truth-about-demand-studios/

I want to discuss this, because I have been reading quite a bit about DS and similar "content mills" and such, and opinions seem to be mixed. Whichever side they end up taking, though, people seem to be pretty passionate about their view.

I've sifted through nearly a dozen blog posts and articles (including the one the commenter linked for me), and the debate basically comes down to this: people who are for DS swear they could make a decent living, that it jump-started their careers, and that they are better writers because of it; people who are against it say it isn't worth it to write articles given the time and effort involved, that DS doesn't advertise accurately, and that anyone who wants to be a freelance writer should just find other work.

Although I have only been at this for a few days and cannot legitimately speak for the experience of trying to make a living off DS (they give you a limit of three articles when you first start, and two were accepted with no re-writes while the third is still in review), I can see both sides of the argument.

On one hand, it is true that if you do the math, DS doesn't seem worth it in terms of making a living. A lot of the writers who posted comments to the articles about it complained that, unless you're a machine and can churn out four articles in an hour or two, you're making peanuts. At a rate of $15 for most articles, you're pretty much earning minimum wage if you spend more than an hour researching or writing the material. A few exclaimed, "You might as well get a minimum-wage job for that rate!"

Here's my thing, though: I already did that. I started at the cafe two years ago, working part-time for minimum wage. I have had a few raises since then, but after all that time my take-home pay is still less than minimum wage if you factor in taxes and the benefits I was able to get as a store opener. When thinking of money, I'm trying not to look at it in terms of the pay per hour. I just got paid yesterday - my last paycheck before rent is due - and realized with horror that I will come up short for my share of the rent because I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago. So basically I have the option of writing a few articles or borrowing $30 from my poor boyfriend. At this point, I don't care how much I'm making per hour to produce these articles; I just need to write enough to provide for myself. And, given that I haven't been able to find another job yet and don't have the option to work overtime at the one I have, this is about the last resort before borrowing money and/or turning tricks on the street. (Friends and family: I know some of you would rather I turn tricks than hit you up for money, while others would rather the opposite happen; I assure you I don't plan on doing either.)

As readers of my blog you all know I've been trying like hell to find another job, so the argument that I need to "just find another job" is moot. The point I'm trying to make is just that, for me, anything is worth it right now since I have no other way of generating income.

Writers have also attacked DS's credibility and said that writing for them is useless in terms of one's writing career because no one in the business takes it seriously. Again, to explain where I'm coming from, I'm going to use Erin O'Brien's McDonald's analogy. If writing for DS is like working in fast food, then I know I'm at the very bottom of the writing hierarchy. I would be silly to think that writing for them would make me super successful and famous, just as it would be unrealistic to expect to pay a mortgage flipping burgers. But the idea is that it's a start. Many people work at McDonald's because they have no other job prospects, training, experience, or education, and hope to either eventually move up in the company or get enough experience to get a better job in the service industry or elsewhere.

In my case, I'm fresh out of college and have no professional writing experience. Just as a brand new worker with no relevant experience and/or education can't walk into an office downtown and score a CEO position, I cannot realistically expect that anyone would hire me to write for their magazine, newsletter, etc. based on my credentials. I find that, as I'm reading these comments from experienced writers snubbing DS, they seem to exclude those of us who are just starting out and/or broke. They are real freelance writers and can afford to bash DS from their fancy writing desks while sipping $5 lattes.

I'm basically doing now what they likely once did as brand-new journalists and copy editors working third shift in thankless positions for small newspapers, except I have more freedom from writing on my own time and can hold down a stable job while doing it. Yes, I do hope one day to write for national publication of some kind and make a living as a writer, but I can't pretend it'll happen tomorrow. I have to do this now, then maybe something a little higher-paying and respected, and then something better after that until I can get where I want to be. I'm willing and ready to put in the time, and am grateful for the practice. Perhaps this sounds naive coming from someone who hasn't slaved away for decades in the spirit-breaking world of writing, but at least I am willing to work hard and know that getting to "the top" is neither possible for many nor easy for anyone.

The other people who tend to whine about DS sound like they actually believed some of the exaggerated claims about the money they could make. Allow me another analogy: you know those ads for canvassing/sales jobs that tell you you *could* make up to $923,483,029,875,098,090,198 per month? Well, any reasonable person realizes that that is the absolute maximum. In order to make that much you would need to sleep about two hours a week and work the remaining 168, and on top of that succeed in every sale you attempt. Some people don't get that, and then cry and stamp their feet and call that job a "scam" because they didn't make $923,483,029,875,098,090,198 sitting on their asses.

I do not entertain some Carrie Bradshaw fantasy that I can spend a half an hour a week writing for my famous column and then spend the rest of my time galavanting around the city, having lunch with my friends (who also never seem to work), having sex, and charging designer heels to my platinum credit card. In my experience thus far, DS has never made any false promises of such a life. They tell you up front you can do really well with them, but only if you work very quickly and write according to their standards every time. And, from everything I've read that compares DS with other so-called "content farms," they are among the most reliable because they pay a flat fee for the whole article (instead of per page view) and pay consistently and on time.

So, in summary, I will continue to write for DS indefinitely because:

A.) I've found that it is not a scam,

2.) I can make SOME (if not a lot) of money off my efforts, and

D.) because I have no other immediate means of getting my writing out in the professional world.

It may not be ideal, but at least I'm not touching strangers' genitals in dark alleys for cash. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kim Kardashian Got Me a Job

As I have previously mentioned, I have been looking for a new job since I graduated college over a year ago (some times more diligently than others - this is one of those "more diligent" times). Ever since I started to drown in my student loan debt and bills, I realized that the perfect job just wasn't going to fall in my lap. Of course I had realized this before, but I also finally realized I could not afford to wait any longer, trying to hold out for something with benefits and didn't involve talking to customers. So I would just have to settle for whatever second job I could get and/or continue looking for a better full-time job than I have.

Enter Demand Studios, employers of the writers for websites like eHow and Answerbag. I had heard of web content sites (referred to less nicely as "content farms") like this before but heard they weren't very profitable for writers. I read about this particular employer on Ohio writer Erin O'Brien's blog - actually, the article was for the L.A. Times, but of course the blog linked to it - in which she talked at length about all the reasons it wasn't worth it to write for these sites.

But, of course, Erin O'Brien and other writers with columns, careers, and accolades on their resumes besides "Absolutely Miserable Slicer of Bagels and Ass-Kisser of Total Douche Bags" have the luxury of turning up their nose at what they view as slaving away for The (Writing) Man.

"It's like working at McDonald's," O'Brien said to her husband, of writing for Demand Studios, "but for writers."

While that was probably meant to turn me off from wanting to write for them, the comment was actually encouraging. I have no writing experience on my resume. None. And I want to be a writer. Ha. I've spent the last year or so trying to figure out how the hell I would even acquire a good writing sample to show to someone, let alone be hired anywhere to write professionally. So when Ms. O'Brien invoked the image of McDonald's, I thought,

"Right, McDonald's - the place where you go to work for minimum wage when you have nothing else on your resume!"

I applied. And because I didn't have a "real" writing sample, because they gave no guidelines for the application, and because it was late and I just submitted the thing as an afterthought, I sent them the material from this post - sans profanity.

Guess what? They hired me. I'm a "real" writer. I have a second job (not the most lucrative, I'll admit, but it works), and I can start building a portfolio. I have submitted three articles so far; one has been approved, another was re-written and re-submitted, and the third is still pending review.

Holy shit. My name will be on the internet. (You may be shocked to learn this, but it is NOT Bagel Fairy. Sorry.)

In other job news, I haven't heard anything about that job for which I interviewed three weeks ago (not surprising since the position I was supposed to fill wasn't even available anymore and he didn't know if anything would open up anywhere). However, I did have an interview today for a better food service job. My friend, who works the front desk at a hotel downtown, hooked me up with info for a lead position at the cafe there. I'd be in charge, make more money, and work nights instead of days. I think the interview went pretty well and that I have a good shot at it, although I had to go straight from work to there and my shirt looked a bit wrinkly. (If I get this job and not the job for which I agonized over ironing my shirt for the interview, I am never ironing anything again because it is clearly pointless.)

Probably more noteworthy than my interview outfit, however, was my makeup. I have worn makeup precisely twice since my sister's wedding in April, and very few times over the last year. I used to wear a full face (concealer, foundation, powder, blush, eyeshadow, mascara, etc.) every day in high school. I continued on this path when I started college for about one week of classes. Then one day I kind of realized that makeup wouldn't just turn me into a knockout, so what was the point? I didn't want to be one of those fat girls who caked on eyeliner in the vain hope of distracting myself from being unhappy with my body. So I would wear it to go out, and that was it.

Now I almost never wear it, so it was no surprise that everyone at work took a double take. The reactions and ensuing conversations from those who noticed were all about the same.

"Wow, you're wearing makeup - you look pretty! I mean, um, it's not that you weren't before..."

And then we would get all awkward and change the subject.

One conversation went like this.

Him: Whoa, what's with the eyeliner? Is that last night's makeup?
Me: No. Does it look that bad?
Him: No, it's just that you never wear that. Were you out a little late last night?
Me: No. I must have done a terrible job if you think it's from last night.
Him: So, you did it this morning? Like, at 4?
Me: Yeah.
Him: God, I don't understand girls. Why they-
Me: I wanted to look halfway decent because I have an interview today! Jesus-
Him: I have an interview today!

All I can say is that I really, really hope I get this (or some other) job soon. And you can bet that I'll start wearing eyeliner so this never happens again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Not as Good as "Sh*t My Dad Says," But It'll Do

My family, like lots of families, say really bizarre things. I often lament that I cannot adequately describe the dynamic without going into in-depth character studies.

This year, however, I found a shortcut: write down all the weird shit that people say. So here are the quotes from the family vacation, unattributed and out of context.

They range from awkward body humor...


-I'm the sauce fatass.

-You'd better not be burping up intestinal gas. If you are, then there's a problem.

-My ass has natural buoyancy. Wouldn't it be neat if you could get Styrofoam implants?

-I have a tail.

-The best guy bonding moments occur in the bathroom when taking a crap or while taking a shower.

...to awkward sex humor (why is this the largest category?)...

-Did you take over my balls when I was gone?
-Please don’t ask me that question again.

-That’s funny. All I can see is her butt.

-I'm horny. I want to get laid. I'm going to go to church.

-Keep that sperm to yourself, yo.

-Do you want to do a foursome?

-Mom, where should I put my tramp stamp?

-Let's all get naked and let her paint us.

-Since you're the ho, you can put that one on your thigh.

-She's got a black man on her boob!
-Probably wouldn't be the first time.

-Do you have any men on you?

-I still looking at Playboy bunnies. I just don't remember why.

-[My daughter]'s a tart.

-It's better than a commemorative condom.

-I was wondering why you were floating with that thing attached to your noodle.

...to just plain awkward...

-Just let me slap on some deodorant and I’ll be ready to go to dinner.
-Oh, so that means you DO have deodorant?
-He means MY deodorant.
-What? It’s Secret - it’s strong enough for a man, but made for me.

-[While holding very large, sharp, menacing-looking grilling tongs] If you need to walk through the streets of Harlem, just take these grill tools.

-This person likes to chop up dead cows.

-It's not bad. Like, not skunky.

...to horribly un-P.C.and/or insulting.

-She looks sad in this picture. Probably because she knows she has cancer.

-There's, um, a holiday. For blacks. Around Christmas.

-I'm pretty sure your mom has a mullet.

-She went to the hospital a couple of years ago. Apparently the devil had thought it was time, but God didn't want her either.

I think I will make this a yearly tradition.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reflections and Sentimentality and Shit

I'm on vacation with my dad's side of the family. We have taken a beach vacation every summer but two since before I was born (literally - my mom went to Myrtle Beach while eight months pregnant with me), and even though the dynamic has changed quite a bit there are a myriad things that are the same.

We still rent a property - either a condo or house - each day journeying to the beach before lunch and relaxing in the pool until it is time to shower for the evening. We still stagger getting out of bed; my sister usually wakes up first and gets out to the beach by mid-morning, admonishing the rest of us to enjoy more of the day, while the last person (typically my dad) sleeps until at least noon. We eat at the same Japanese steakhouse each year and evaluate how full of personality the chef is compared to the guy from last year. My dad, uncle, and grandpa still argue over obscure rules in the board games we play until they are red in the face, as well as compare distance, gas mileage, and travel time (to nearly the exact minute) for the car trips down. We make a huge grocery store trip the first night of arrival and stock up on sugar cereal and ice cream bars, certain that we have everything, and then go to the store at least once more during the week.

Much has changed, for all the sameness. There used to be nine of us: my grandparents, my dad and mom, my uncle and his wife, and my cousin, sister, and me. Now, two divorces, one marriage, one death, and two remarriages later, there are eleven of us: my grandpa, my dad and stepmom with her two kids, my uncle and his second wife, and my cousin, sister, brother-in-law, and me.

We need more space, more food, and more beds. There are more middle-aged people than before, though the kids have all come of age; cursing and dirty jokes are permissable (and, in fact, somewhat encouraged). We cook in the house most nights and only go out on two, instead of every night. There is less of an emphasis on picking activities together and more on finding what one truly wants to do and inviting only the interested people along. I don't plan my outfits for every night anymore - I just show up with a few things to keep me entertained and know that that is sufficient.

I now pour rum in the Cokes I drink by the pool and order steak at the Japanese steakhouse instead of my old staple of shrimp. I still douse my food in yum-yum sauce, but at least think for a moment of the calories I am adding to the carb-fest that is already marinated in soy sauce and soaked in butter. I can still enjoy the food but find myself noticing the grime buildup on the walls, wondering how much the cooks make in tips, and evaluating the douchiness of the family at the table next to mine ("I was supposed to get the large sashimi and he was supposed to get the small! Oh, he has the small? Oh, okay! No, you can eat that one, Jim. It's fine!").

Then there is the island on which we stay, Hilton Head. The beach used to be my Shangri-la, a playground of pool toys and junk food every night after dinner. As a teenager it became more of a disruption of my "real" summer, but as it has returned as a welcome break from real life (thanks to the drudgery of full-time employment), the magic is gone. Just like the Japanese steakhouse is no longer the exotically authentic experience I once naively believed it to be, Hilton Head appears as nothing more than a tourist trap lacking any real culture or life of its own - a lame pseudo-paradise catering to doughy Midwesterners who think of any place with an ocean nearby as an unattainable Nirvana. (As it turns out, Nirvana costs money and time off work.)

What has also come with the vacations with family, however, is a renewed appreciation for the time to spend with them - time which is becoming more scarce - and for the fortune by which I came across the opportunity to even take a beach vacation every year. Growing up means I have to see and notice more, but that also means I get to see more. It means I can enjoy myself and indulge in pool time, but even more importantly can know that I'm loved and cared for by those around me. I knew all this before, of course, but had not yet met enough people who didn't have these things in order to realize what it really meant.

Once again, I am trying to evaluate what I lack as well as what I have in life, and I am finding more of the latter than the former - an attitude calibration, if you will. And while I am grateful for being on vacation for all the reasons mentioned above, perhaps the most important is that I got just enough time away from complaining about my job to realize it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dear Sir or Madam: I am a grownup.

I have a job interview tomorrow - my first face-to-face interview, for anything, since graduating college nearly fourteen months ago.

Today I reached into boxes and dusty closets for my grownup interview clothes, makeup, and iron. I have not taken a second look at the clothes since I bought them (no need when the closest I have come to getting a job thus far is one phone interview with an HR woman in Florida somewhere). I have not applied makeup in four months - since my sister’s wedding, in fact, for which I was the maid of honor - and ironing my clothes today marked the first time I had ever ironed anything.

While it may be pathetic that I have never used an iron, I never had occasion to. Every job I have had thus far has involved one of the following: my normal, day-to-day clothes or my current food-service uniform of polo shirt and khakis. And considering I wear low-maintenance clothes and lack an eye for detail to begin with, the dryer takes care of about as much wrinkle removal I would ever need in order to be satisfied. I almost considered not ironing the clothes, as the shirt has a bunch of pleats under the seam that kind of blends in with any stray wrinkles, and the pants were about 90% wrinkle-free. But then I reconsidered, and then the resultant thoughts brought on an intense mental argument I had with myself, as if I were a cartoon with a devil talking to me from one shoulder and an angel in a business suit countering on the other.

Devil: Maybe I can get away with not ironing the shirt. It doesn’t look bad. Maybe the collar. I mean, I wouldn’t notice that.

Angel: You lazy asshole. Of course you need to iron the goddamn shirt. You can’t go by what you would notice. What if the interviewer is an insane neat freak who picks lint off his wife’s blouses and couldn’t get past a sloppy collar? You have nothing to gain from not ironing the shirt, and everything to gain from looking reasonably presentable. Those wrinkles could make or break your career!

D: Jesus. Lay off, drama queen. I’ll iron the shirt, but you’re making an awfully big deal out of something someone with a GED and light computer skills qualifies for.

A: What’s with the attitude? What if you go in there with an “anyone can do this job” outlook and the interviewer picks up on it and decides you think you’re too good for it? Besides, *how* many interviews have you had in the last year?

D: Well-

A: Exactly.

D: Quit getting me so worked up over it. If anything, that will show on my face. I don’t want to come off as a caffeinated spazz or over-eager brown-nose.

A: Any more than you want to look like a lazy, directionless college grad with no real ambition?

D: Dickhead.

A: Tool.

…and on and on they went as I smoothed the wrinkles out of the collar on the towel-covered dresser/makeshift ironing board.

I told my boyfriend I was nervous and dreading the interview. He, like every other guy I have ever dated, does not feel exceedingly uncomfortable in interview situations and cannot justify my anxiety.

“Just talk to them,” he said with a shrug.

“But I have to sell myself. I mean, you know, not sell myself…” He got the point.

He held out his hand, palm facing down, and told me to shake it. I grabbed it and gave it a firm shake, like I was taught to do in sixth grade by my Language Arts teacher when receiving a plaque at Honors Night. He shook his head.

Apparently, some in the corporate world will hold their hand parallel to the floor to show dominance, and one is supposed to take the hand from underneath, gently rotate the superior’s hand 90 degrees, and shake. I have never heard of this, but he had an internship at one of New York’s largest ad agencies, and that is what he learned there. He qualified with the admission that my interviewer would probably not do this, but he wanted me to be aware of it.

Unfortunately, this mini-lesson did pretty much the opposite of make me feel calmer or more prepared. It seems there is an endless list of little things employers will look upon favorably or use against candidates, or maybe I have been reading too many articles and accepting too much advice from too many sources. I thought of the tip I heard about corporate interviewing when food is involved, for example: taste the steak before adding salt and pepper, so as not to show over-impulsiveness or disrespect to the restaurant and/or provider of the meal. While I don’t believe I will be applying for any jobs fancy enough to involve fine dining at the interview any time soon, my frustration remains at hearing such “helpful“ little tidbits. Does the manner of one’s consumption of beef tenderloin signify who they really are? (Readers, this is a rhetorical question.)

The application, interview, and hiring processes appear, paradoxically, rigidly straightforward and arbitrarily subjective at the same time. Given what I have seen, heard, and read, it seems that access to good jobs (one’s capabilities of performing at said good job notwithstanding) is a secret club into which only the “right” people are allowed - that is, those who have somehow come into contact with successful individuals (family, classmates, etc.) with such pearls of wisdom to impart. It must also be said that I come from a white, English-speaking middle-class family, where we spoke with “proper” grammar in a dialect with which most potential employers are comfortable, and that I attended college and got career advice from dozens of professors and counselors. If I already have that much of a leg up in spite of feeling clueless, imagine the exponentially higher chances of someone whose father happens to be an attorney or executive, and who has therefore learned to emulate ideal characteristics for those careers.

I don’t want to get overly political or stray too far from the subject at hand, but to summarize how I feel about this whole trying-to-get-a-job thing: meritocracy is bullshit. While this does not signify my lack of willingness to use whatever advantages I have (and believe me, I am glad to know the difference between “good” and “well” and have successful, put-together friends and family members to guide me), I can’t help but look around and wonder whether drive, education, ability, socioeconomic status, and success are always as positively correlated as some are content to let the world believe. I will likely continue to ruminate on this as I attempt to cobble together some sort of career in the next few years.

Anyway, back to being scared shitless over one little interview. It’s incredibly sad that I’m so passive and terrified of people I consider authority figures, such that I’m already intimidated by someone I haven’t even met yet. I keep repeating all the things I know intellectually to be true: that this is just one person on one day, that it is an opportunity for practice, that one, ten, or a thousand rejections mean nothing once one person finally says yes. This is the angel inside of me talking; (s)he is rational, patient, and optimistic. But the devill - that irresponsible, idle, self-loathing creature - is still screaming all the reasons I can and likely will fail.

I wish they would both leave my head. I find the angel incredibly annoying, and I am not superstitious enough to believe in those simplistic “positive thinking” platitudes. Conversely, that devil is a real asswipe. If they would both just shut up for five minutes, maybe I could concentrate on being myself and convincing this dude that my face is the one he wants to see every morning.

I even plan to put on the makeup (gasp!) to prove it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

RRRAAAWWWWWRRRRRRRRR

After I discovered the existence of Cougar Life, a dating site on which Women of A Certain Age can search for young male playthings (referred to as "cubs"), I made a fake profile immediately. I had to know what kinds of men went on there, and what kinds of women they were after. I also hoped to stumble across a profile of someone I actually knew, just because I'm a nosy asshole.

I am a cougar of sorts in real life. I am nearing my 24th birthday, but my boyfriend is still too young to drink. Plus, my sister, who is nearly four years older than I, is married to a guy who is a week younger than I am. And finally, my mom is married to a man six years her junior. We often joke that we're a family, or a "pack" of cougs, if you will.

I put on my profile that I was blond, 36, and single - none of which is true. I had thought about creating a full profile, complete with a real persona, but I had neither the time nor energy to do that.I felt kind of guilty about lying, but at least I did not respond to any of the messages I got and, of course, had no intention of pursuing any members on the site. I browsed the profiles of those who messaged me as well as a few other local dudes, and found only a couple of interesting things (unless faceless 20-year-olds revealing their midsections counts as "interesting"):

1. Several of the men who messaged "me" - the 36-year-old blond me, that is - were nearly "my" age or older. (If the whole point is young men and older women, shouldn't these guys be going for the 50+ crowd?)

2. I got a high volume of responses in spite of my having only a basic (read: free) profile, no picture, and virtually no information - but the cubs were still all over "me" (umm...can we say DESPERATE?).

Due to those two facts I had a sampling of men I would automatically weed out if I were actually taking the site seriously, all of whom came off as "spread myself super thin so that I send everyone a really general message and hopefully get more responses back" types of guys.

So, after reading the occasional messages I got (at times with much amusement), I decided to delete my profile permanently.

When I got to the final stage, Cougar Life asked me for a reason for junking the account. I wrote the following:

My husband found out I had a profile on here, and he was like, MEGA PISSED. Kept saying something about me "cuckolding" him. Really, I think he is just self-conscious about the size about his manhood, but it seems that most of the site's members are as well anyway.

Oh well, back to the cougar den. Guess it was fun to dream. Maybe I'll go for the neighbor's lawn boy.


Given that this 36-year-old blond (heretofore referred as "Statutory Stacey") is my creation and therefore part of my fictional tale to render as I see fit, I have decided that she did in fact go for the lawn boy, and the cub was all over it.