For No One

NOTE: This post heavily focuses on God, His impact on my life, and living according to the Bible.

When I talk to my husband about embarking on freelance writing, he often asks me: "What do you define success as?"

Hmm. Good question.

My responses vary:

"It’s educating others and making a difference in other people’s lives."
"Bringing in a decent income."
"Doing what I love to do every day."

But if I’m honest with myself, I define success as writing a brilliant piece, receiving recognition, being lavished with laud and praise over it, and winning a slew of writing and/or journalism awards. I’ve done it in the past. I’d like to do it all over again.

Back in my senior year of college, I won an award as the best student print journalism writer on Long Island. I beat out I-don’t-know-how-many other college students on an island that boasts a population of 2.8 million (as of the 2000 census). Sure, it was just college but it opened my eyes and made me feel as though I had the potential to do that on a bigger scale.

Then comes Epic Fail. (Link provided for your amusement.)

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Freelance writing, editing, and proofreading

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to obtain a part-time job at an ad/marketing agency where I can do some freelance editing and proofreading. I charge them $10 more than what I made at my last job right now, but in retrospect, I think I underestimated my value. However, I cut the company some slack because I haven’t been editing or proofreading in quite a while. I figure I’m a good deal considering my kick-butt skills at the rate that I’m charging. (Woo-hoo! Confidence!)

This leaves me with two free days to do some writing. I’ve mentioned in the past that I haven’t done any form of reporting since 2005, which scares me. In the past, I’ve had editors tell me what stories they think are important or relevant to the locals and I just went out, covered the story, wrote up my assignment, turned it in, then basked in the glow of seeing my name glistening in print. Now, it’s up to me to be up on what’s important and relevant to the community that I live in and decide what I think editors will want to publish. It’s a tricky game and I’m bound for rejection. Considering my history of rejection from my peers, I don’t know if I’m particularly apt for constant rejection from editors. I know I’m not supposed to take it personally but I’m Ms. Overly Sensitive. My recent experience with Joe (here and here) from the magazine I interviewed for has actually taught me a lot. It’s been an annoyance to endure but it’s been a valuable lesson. I’m learning not to take his treatment of me personally. Perhaps I read him all wrong and he’s not the jerk that I think he is. Regardless, he at least sent me a copy of the  issue my work was published in — wouldn’t you know — sans that elusive $75 check. I’m particularly angry with him, mainly because I feel like I got played for the fool. Part of me wants to pursue my writing career even more now to show him that he lost out by not hiring me. The other part of me knows that I’m so unmotivated to do anything that I won’t get anywhere with anything. Better to have low expectations and be pleasantly surprised than to have high expectations and be significantly disappointed.

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Obligatory post

stressedI’ve been quite tired and haven’t been much in the mood for blogging. I’ve been feeling bogged down by all the preliminary crap (see expenses, accountant, and IRS) that I have to do to begin freelance writing. I’m not particularly enjoying the administrative side of life.

On the other hand, I’d like to thank everyone for the kind words on my last post. The issue has been bugging me all week and I wanted to put the matter to rest so I e-mailed the ed-in-chief again on a whim:

Hi Joe,

I figured I probably wouldn’t hear back from you after my last e-mail. If you’re not willing to provide me with the $75 for my submission, at the very least, I’d appreciate having a copy sent to my home address. Thanks.

I figure I had nothing to lose since I’d already lost time spent on the article and the money he’d promised. A copy of the issue is the least he could do for me. (insert not-so-nice thoughts here) He wrote back about an hour ago:

i’ll be sure to make both happen at once. hope you’re well.

I’m not holding my breath. I’d rather be “pleasantly” surprised.

In other news, the ad/marketing agency I have been freelancing for has offered me a part-time contract position. I’ll be able
to do some writing on the side while I have a steady job doing some
proofreading and editing. That makes me incredibly happy.

Otherwise, I hope everyone reading this is getting along decently. It’s been a day. For those in the Northeast, enjoy the beautiful weather!

Your word's as good as nothing

In early February, I went to an interview in the hopes of obtaining an associate editor position at a trade magazine. The editor-in-chief—we’ll call him Joe—met with me in an interview for an hour and a half, maybe even close to two hours. He gave me an assignment to turn around in a week to determine whether he’d want to hire me. He said that if any of the articles I turned in were published, he’d pay me $75 for each of them. Of course, it sounded like a good deal so I agreed to it. I asked him if I could ask him for help if I ran into any trouble. He said, “Sure.”

I also asked Joe how soon I’d find out if I was selected for the position. He hemmed and hawed, hesitating to give me
any estimated time. (This made me uneasy.) I asked him, “Two weeks? A month?” His blue eyes lit up and he enthusiastically said, “Yeah! A month!” I looked at him quizzically and asked him, “Wouldn’t you know whether you would want to hire me after I write those articles for you?” He hemmed and hawed some more then responded, “Let’s see what happens after you write.”

moneyAt the end of my interview, he walks me out of the office building. It was a nice day so I figured he’d stand outside and get some fresh air or just take a smoke break. (Writers and editors have one or two vices: coffee drinking and/or smoking.) I again give my thanks and farewell and proceed to walk down the sidewalk to my car. I feel his eyes watch me as I move toward the parking lot. As soon as I begin to fade from his sight, out of the corner of my eye, I notice he turns around and walks back inside. I stepped inside the car feeling a little nervous now. During the interview, he gave me no reason to feel uncomfortable but at that moment, I realized that it didn’t seem like a job I’d be thrilled to have. Even though I decided I wouldn’t take the position, I forged ahead with my assignment. I didn’t want to take the chance of working for another trade magazine and enduring an uncomfortable run-in with him at a trade conference for not completing an assignment, but I mainly liked the idea of scoring a cool $75!

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The overreaction begins

A few days ago, I wrote about whether violent writing could predict who could become a murderer. Well, 18-year-old Allen Lee of Cary-Grove High School in Chicago, has been charged with disorderly conduct because his essay in his creative writing class was "violently disturbing."

"I understand what happened recently at Virginia Tech," said the teen's father, Albert Lee, referring to last week's massacre of 32 students by gunman Seung-Hui Cho. "I understand the situation."

But he added: "I don't see how somebody can get charged by writing in their homework. The teacher asked them to express themselves, and he followed instructions."

Experts say the charge against Lee is troubling because it was over an essay that even police say contained no direct threats against anyone at the school. However, Virginia Tech's actions toward Cho came under heavy scrutiny after the killings because of the "disturbing" plays and essays teachers say he had written for classes.

This is a roll-your-eyes kind of story, but it angers me beyond belief. A student who appeared to be a straight-A student and apparently didn't freak anyone out like Cho did may spend 30 days in jail and pay a $1,500 fine.

Today, Cary-Grove students rallied behind the arrested teen by organizing a petition drive to let him back in their school. They posted on walls quotes from the English teacher in which she had encouraged students to express their emotions through writing.

"I'm not going to lie. I signed the petition," said senior James Gitzinger. "But I can understand where the administration is coming from. I think I would react the same way if I was a teacher."

Normally, according to the article, disorderly conduct charges apply to pranks gone awry like pulling a fire alarm or dialing 911, but also "when someone's writings can disturb an individual."

There will probably be mixed reactions to this incident. I am a complete proponent of free speech. (I'll probably get a little political here, but you'll deal with it.) I'm black, but I totally support the Ku Klux Klan's right to say whatever racist things they want. Imus can call a basketball team "nappy-headed hos," but not get arrested. That's OK. Of course, the public tends to self-censor themselves on the issue of free speech so he was forced out of a job. People are free to use the "N" word if they'd like, even if I hate it. The only limit on free speech should be if it clearly endangers the welfare of others or incite violence. For example, "Saying I'm going to kill so-and-so" is NOT free speech and can get a person arrested.

I  mentioned in another post that writing can be a safe outlet for people to get their frustrations out. I also said that I tried being creative when writing an essay for Health class that highlighted the positive aspects of suicide instead of the negative ones. (In fairness, I was told to write three negative aspects of suicide and decided to try and be different.) I was sent to a school district counselor for evalution. You can read the entire post for the rest of the story.

I should probably also mention that I took a theater class in which we all had to write a one-act play. Mine clearly disturbed my classmates the most: It was a parallel world in which everyone was gay and anyone who was straight was ostracized. This wasn't revealed until the very end of the one-act. My classmates were horrified and my teacher was cool enough to see it for what it was – creative writing.

Now, for devil's advocate, Lee should have used better judgment in light of the VTech incident and written something else. My main issue is that he didn't specify a person, date, or location in what he wrote. The teacher felt "alarmed and distubed by the content" so she reported it to the correct authorities.

The difference between Lee and Cho is that Cho's behavior gave credence to people worrying about his mental state. If Lee has students rallying around him to return to school, I don't think he's scaring anyone. I'll stand corrected if I hear any stories about him stalking women.

P.S. If the Chicago Tribune tries to get you to register to read the story, here's some log-in info to use (not mine):

Perfectionistic Tendencies

As the only child of Haitian immigrants (side note: As I write this, I’m making a note to check on the proper usage of immigrant/emigrant), pressure to make them proud was thrust upon me. Making them happy had never been a problem until I wrote my first book at 6 years old. My parents and school librarian marveled at my ability to grasp the concept of a beginning, middle and end with a clear conflict and climax at such an early age. My parents — namely my father — viewed me as a child prodigy in the area of writing. Talk ensued about me skipping a grade; peers envied me as I took second grade reading in first grade; my father strongly encouraged me to write a follow-up story. But, sophomore follow-ups don’t tend to be nearly as good as a debut. I wrote Lila’s Secret Hideout in second grade and poured my heart and soul into the book, which included endless revisions and drafts — with the help of my librarian. My father insisted that Lila’s Secret Hideout was nowhere near as good as my debut, Sarah’s Boots. I spent the rest of my life trying to win another Pulitzer Prize from my father.
I’d continue to fail.