Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Price of History

I’ve been doing my regular freelance newspaper work, plus newsletter and magazine writing gigs as they come up. Occasionally, I’ll get people asking me when I’m going to write the next book, but that’s not on the horizon. Not the immediate horizon, anyway.

My huge, time-consuming project lately has been working on the unpaid* (more about that below) internship portion of the CSU, East Bay certificate program in Art Museum and Gallery Studies.

This quarter, I took notes from videos and films that were archived at the Strathearn Historical Park & Museum in Simi Valley, where I live.

Thanks to the intrepid (also very cool and awesome) park coordinator who applied for and received a grant, a number of films and videos were digitized and put on an external hard drive. Most of the videos, which started out in 1980s VHS format, were oral histories from members of pioneer families. These “old-timers” shared their earliest memories of life in Simi Valley, from picking apricots to riding to school in a surrey to performing in amateur operettas at the community center to plowing through an angry farmer's haystacks in a Ford Model A to... you get the idea.

I took the drive home, plugged it into my laptop and watched all the films and videos, while taking notes in MS Word on my desktop. Some of these films were three hours, and took me all day to look at, mostly due to sound issues (the videos’ and my failing hearing—thank you, 1970s punk rock concerts). I'd have to start and stop and restart and stop and listen carefully, over and over. I wrote down what was on the tapes—usually general things, but some transcription, including what I felt were useable quotes, should the museum ever decide to do a compilation of the area’s history in a modern video.

Here's the deal: I live in a very stereotypical Southern California suburb. Seriously. We now have three Walmarts and a population of about 127,000. I moved here in 1988 when there were no Walmarts and fewer than 100,000 people and I was pregnant with my first child. Yeah, it was different then, but it’s an understatement to say Simi Valley was a lot different a century ago, when there were mostly farms and ranches in the area and no tract houses or strip malls. I heard one early resident say there were 5,000 people living in Simi Valley when she was here in the 1920s.

So, what did I get out of this?

An enormous education about Simi Valley history. 

A huge curiosity about my surroundings. For instance, my house is where Patterson Ranch used to be. I wonder if the avocado tree in my back yard and the walnut tree in my neighbors’ were part of that ranch. 

An understanding as to why the folks who grew up here in the 1910s and ‘20s were so unhappy (on those VHS tapes) about the city’s “progress” in the 1980s.

A profound sadness. Yeah, it’s the circle of life and all, but most of the people on the tapes are gone and that makes me sad. I can't help it.

Gratitude. I’m happy these tapes were made and you can figure out why. I don’t have to tell you.

This was the best *unpaid job I ever had because it paid so very well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Getting the Point

 At the end of 2008, I made it a goal to send out a query, submit an article, come up with greeting card ideas, or enter a writing contest every day of 2009. I wrote a journal documenting this fiasco, which I think is a fair representation of the life of a real working freelance writer.

I tried to sell my experiences as a book. This endeavor didn’t pan out. Naturally. Because these things are either ironic or expected, and occasionally both.

I’ve been periodically sharing these stories in this blog and decided it's time for another tiny tale from that year of writing dangerously. 

A movie came out in 2009. It was a romantic film/chick flick/date movie about a 19th century poet. Exactly the type of movie I would never, ever go see. Or buy. Or watch by accident. (For the record, my all time favorite movie is Die Hard. The first one. The ONLY one.)

A contest was run to publicize the movie about the poet (who was not played by Bruce Willis). You could enter via mail or Twitter. As part of my goal of sending out something writing-related every day, I tweeted my "love letter." As of today, four-and-a-half years later, I couldn’t find the winners’ list, but this tweet still exists:

I was one of the winners. It took me about thirty seconds to write the love letter and a few more to tweet it.

I won a $400 Mont Blanc fountain pen. It looks like this.

 Not mine. I got this pic off someone’s unsold eBay auction.

I kind of wish they’d sent me the four hundred bucks instead of the pen, so I could say I make $48,000 an hour.

I tried selling the pen to one of those We Buy Gold and Fountain Pens places, but the young woman who worked there had no idea what it was and had to call her boss, who did know what it was, which I figured out because she got very weird during their conversation. Like, when you’re listening to one side of a phone call and the person knows you’re listening and says, “mmmm hmmmm” a lot so they don’t give anything away.

Also, she was trying to get the pen to work (it didn’t have any ink in it) by pressing the tip very hard on her desk blotter, which made me cringe.

I think they offered me $50. Or maybe it was $100. I don’t remember. I only remember it wasn’t $400. So I left.

The pen sat on a shelf in my office for four years.

And now for the happy ending to this YAY I WON A WRITING CONTEST FOR DOING VIRTUALLY NOTHING BUT I DIDN’T GET ANYTHING OF VALUE WHICH IS MY DESTINY story: My daughter learned to love schmancy fountain pens while in college and studying abroad and being all cultured ‘n’ stuff ‘n’ junk.

She graduated from college last June and I gave her the fountain pen, which I think she likes even better than her graduation gift, which is a 1930s vanity with mirror. (She knows all about schmancy makeup, too. I get my cosmetics from CVS.)

This ending makes me even happier than winning the contest. How's that for unexpected?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Freelance Writer Mad Libs*

Dear _____ (proper noun)

It was really________ (adjective) ________ (verb + ing) you at the ____________ (place). You seem to be a _________ (adjective) ________ (noun).

When I told you I was a freelance ___________ (job title) who works mostly for the __________  (proper noun) newspaper and you said you ___________ (verb) for them, too, I thought, “How could I not know your name if you are a fellow ____________ (job title)?”

Later, I found out from your ____________ (relative), who was also at the ___________ (place), that you ___________ (verb) letters to the ____________ (job title of a person who edits a portion of a newspaper).

Again, you seem very _____________ (adjective), so I do not judge you for your inability to differentiate between being a _____________ (job title of someone who gets paid to write) and a ______________ (person who comments on stuff that’s in a newspaper).

However, you really aren’t a ____________ (job title) and you probably shouldn’t tell ___________ (plural noun) you meet at _____________ (places) that you are a ______________ (job title) because it’s simply not ______________ (adjective).

____________ (adverb),

________________ (my name)

*with apologies to the creators of Mad Libs and to my childhood.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It’s the End of the Job Market As We Know It

More news from the job-seeking front.

Let’s start with the Craigslist ad, which appeared about a month ago. I copied and pasted it here in its entirety, blanking out a few details using asterisks because Xs just make it look like it’s a job in porn.

compensation: *****
telecommuting okay
We are a growing ***** company in ***** currently accepting resumes for a project support position. This position will be part-time with some flexibility in work schedule. While the main duties of the position are centered in document production and editing, there is also additional need outside of these responsibilities with other administrative tasks. 

- Large amounts of work creating Publisher documents for technical and leadership training from various forms of notes combining existing materials and hand written notes and comments. 
-Content and format editing of documents for publication.
- Administrative tasks -- will serve as a back-up to administrative staff with duties such as printing web-based reports for clients, creating and editing Word and Excel documents as needed.

- Possesses a strong sense of urgency to complete high quality work.
- Strong attention to detail.
- Able to multi-task and handle multiple projects at the same time.
- Able to work well under pressure and strict deadlines.
- Able to work in a team environment and has outstanding communication skills.
- Motivated and has a "can-do" attitude.
- Resourceful and solution-oriented.
- Proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel, and Publisher and willing to learn other Office programs. 

This will be a part-time position with required hours varying according to project work status. The applicant will be required to provide their own computer (preferably a laptop) for work production. Although this individual will be required to attend occasional office meetings, the majority of work will be done in the employee's own home and at their chosen hours.

How fabulous is this? It’s perfect for my schedule. I could keep my current freelance assignments, plus I’d still be able to pick up my grandson from school.

So, what’d I do? I emailed a cover letter and my resume, that’s what.

Did I hear back?


It’s not that I’m upset that I didn’t get the job. I just don’t understand why I didn’t get an acknowledgement. A generic “Thank you for your email. We will get back to you if you meet our requirements.” Or “Sorry, this position has been filled.” Or something. Anything. I don’t get it. Why is silence OK? Is it because it’s a buyer’s market?

Thanks for listening. I feel fine. Really I do.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Your Résumé, I (P)résumé

This is my résumé.

If you don’t want to click on the link, I’ve copied and pasted the summary here for your enjoyment.

Professional freelance writer with over two decades of experience writing articles, advertorials, essays, web content, press releases and more. Interested in a career in museology. Currently enrolled in the Art Museum and Gallery Studies certification program at CSU, East Bay.

OK, so maybe that’s not as enjoyable as, say, the next installment of Game of Thrones—which I’ve never read or seen, and know nothing about except that I’m jealous of the author—but, there you have it. The above summary is my career in the tiniest of nutshells.

I almost wrote “in the nuttiest of nutshells.” Which I like a lot. And am going to use later, in conversation, at a party, where I am being delightful and stylish and am sipping an adult beverage.

Anyway, I almost immediately got a response to my résumé after posting it on Monster. “How exciting for you, Wendy!” you say, clasping your hands in anticipation.

But no.

The email was from someone at Sears, who said my qualifications would make me a good outside sales rep for the company’s home improvement department.


What is it about my résumé, other than the fact that I posted it, that makes you think I want—or am qualified—for such a job?

I got another one, from a different company, for a different job, but equally as non sequitur-ish.

Seems companies are relying on the desperation of applicants to get them to apply for jobs for which they have no interest or qualifications.

And that, my friends, is my opinion, presented to you in the nuttiest of nutshells.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Copy Wrongs

Stay with me here, people. Just for a minute.

This is a link to my Cafepress store.

I’ve had this store since 2005. It has products for writers in it. They have silly lines about writing. The ideas in this shop belong to yours truly. My copyright is right there for all to see.

Here is one of my products, featuring a line I made up. All by myself. In this little ol’ fuchsia head. Which may not have been fuchsia at the time, because I added it to the Real Writer shop so very long ago. Note: I wrote this and uploaded it to my shop before that dumb movie with Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson.

A Facebook friend of mine posted a link to a mug with this slogan on it, recommending it to her writer friends.

It was not my mug. It was another store’s mug, with the same slogan, verbatim, on it.

I have seen this sort of theft before. Many times. But, today, it made me especially sad. I really didn’t need to be sad today. I have too many things to do. Like write a newspaper column (because I am a professional freelance writer), work on a project for my internship (because I am trying to better myself by getting a certificate in museum studies), and clean my house (because it’s dirty).

I feel it is futile to send such thieves a cease and desist letter. I cannot afford an attorney and one will not be appointed to me. These jerks will keep getting away with this stuff. It makes me not want to be a writer. At least, not of fun one-liners. Anymore.

Thank you for listening. Now please discuss. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I See Dread, People

I write articles. I usually have to interview people when I write these articles. I do this over the phone, or in person. Often, people tell me things they shouldn’t tell me. Occasionally while we are on the phone, but mostly when I am face-to-face with them.

This happens in my other life, too. At the supermarket. The doctor’s office. Standing in line wherever. There is something about me that makes people share the most intimate details of their lives.

This generally does not bother me as long as the story does not involve felonies or oozing wounds. I like hearing stories. We are bonded for that moment, but I don’t need to be friends with these people. That line does not have to be crossed. They have gotten something off their chests, and I have another interesting story in my head. Because, let’s face it, my life is not interesting. I wouldn't have it any other way. Boring is fabulous. Boring does not raise blood pressure or cost money. I don't think I have a fully functioning adrenal gland anyway. No roller coasters for me.

Sometimes, however, the private disclosure is followed by an instantaneous look of regret or dread or even panic. The people I am interviewing for an article will say, “You’re not going to put that in the story, are you?” And I will say, “Do you see my pen moving?” Because when they offer something too personal, particularly if it is unrelated to the article's topic, I will stop writing. I am listening, but this stuff will not go on their permanent record.

It's not as if I'm going to tattoo it on my arm or anything.