"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Week one on the job

The first thing I worry about when starting a new job, before boarding the subway or preparing my best smile and firmest handshake, is designing an outfit that will work whether my new boss is wearing a skirt suit and heels or jeans and clogs. You never know when you're working in the arts world. In San Francisco, though, that outfit had better also work in fog, sun, wind, and possibly rain. Summer weather here is kind of abysmal.

So a few days ago, I set out for day one of my internship in slacks and a t-shirt, with a sweater just in case. I knew this much: that my primary duties will include some video editing, some copy editing, and some research of local artists and arts events. I'll also get to write a couple of reviews per month, to be published on the organization's arts page alongside those of professional hired writers. 'Required' was the word they used in the interview to describe this task, but 'given the great privilege' sounded more accurate to me.

When I arrived, there was no time to learn more about what exactly I'll be doing for the next two months. My boss told me I should just follow him around for a while before actually starting work, and that's exactly what I did. I trailed him on a whirlwind tour of the building, sat quietly by during several meetings, and dutifully lapped up my free lunch (first and last, I was warned). The building itself is bigger and more official-looking than any place I've worked before. I even had to get an ID card to swipe in, although the fact that the picture on the card shows a Sesame Street character instead of my face makes it a bit less officious. (So far, I've resisted the temptation to flash my badge and introduce myself as the Cookie Monster. So far.) There are miles and miles of beige-colored cubicles, redeemed only by a few cardboard cut-outs of Wishbone and Princess Leia. The IT people are painfully and delightfully like IT people, and I felt a familiar terror upon hearing the words, "And here are our printer and copy machine." (At my first job, the combination printer/copier was a malicious beast who liked to break down under nervous intern's hands, causing unspoken but terrible wrath from the office manager. It ruined my relationship with that particular form of technology forever.)

The best part of the day by far was sitting in on an interview with a new writer. Two weeks before, I'd been on the other side of the table, sweating through my own interview. The contrast between me explaining my slightly hodge-podge array of college courses and internships and this woman elaborating her writing "practice" was pretty stark. She wasn't afraid to announce that she only writes a certain kind of article and to set out exactly what kind of article that is. To my surprise, my boss seemed to be thinking of ways to make room on his website for her specialty - writing about art in public space - instead of laying out his own requirements for what she should write about.

At college in particular, writing is most often presented as a means toward communication and comprehension. Writing as a "practice," a kind of art form with direction and philosophy, has always been linked in my mind to creative writing - fiction and poetry and probably creative non-fiction as well. This woman, as far as I could tell, does not write in any of those genres, but she still has a very clear idea of what she wants to cover and how she will cover it. It's not just that she knows about a certain subject and therefore is qualified to write about it. Her writing isn't just a means of informing people about art in public space. To her, it's also a deliberate contribution to the artistic practices that interest her, a record of those events but also a part of them.

In my own interview, I stumbled through confusion about my goals and hesitancy to honestly present myself as an aspiring writer. Two weeks later, I got a glimpse into a carefully honed practice of writing that smacked slightly of artistic pretension but also gave me a new perspective on what it is exactly to be a writer.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds a lot like my first-day jitters too! But it sounds like you handled yourself admirably. I cannot wait to hear more about it! Where are you working in the city?