Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.
I am trying to reinvent myself, or, I guess, “invent” is really the correct word because I never took seriously any of the other social networking pages of which I have been a part. No longer the kid who posts every trivial update or change in mood on MySpace, Facebook, and AIM in quick succession, I backed away from these sites which allow us to be intimately involved in one another’s lives around the time that I realized I had friends who did not seem to understand the concept of “professionalism” or anything beyond college.
When I pursued a master’s degree in English, it was with the intention of moving on to a doctorate and teaching English at the college level. A month into grad school, I was certain that was not at all what I wanted to do, and that the publish-or-perish perspective was not for me. By using my electives to explore another angle, in classes like Modern English Grammar and Critical Studies in Mass Media, I discovered both a talent for and an intense enjoyment of being part of the process by which a new text is created. But the world into which I graduated wasn’t the Golden Age of publishing that so many of my professors had romanticized. Instead, I graduated into the 2008 recession, and kept right on pushing ties and dress shirts at Brooks Brothers.
Then I got my first “real job”: a copywriting gig at an online marketing company that presented itself as a manager of job boards and the middleman between employers and employees. Five months later, I was part of a massive layoff (and not the part that got pizza and beer after the firings). It later came to light that the company was predominantly a scam, offering a few jobs, but mostly feeding those of us in the Communications department skeleton information of fake jobs and fake companies that we unknowingly used to write copy for job advertisements and websites; they sold the names of applicants as leads to online universities.
From there, I moved on to teach English Composition at one of the new for-profit colleges. In the two years I taught there, the standards for plagiarism were lowered from failing the class and suspension, to simply receiving a zero on the plagiarized assignment. Once, a student plagiarized my instructions in an essay and still passed my class.
When I relocated to my hometown pending my husband’s deployment to Afghanistan, I was almost immediately hired as an Associate Editor for a publishing company run out of California. I would be able to earn a competitive hourly wage editing biographies for professionals who wanted to create a bigger web presence; working from home doing something I love is, at this point, my idea of a “dream job.” In my first Skype-based training session, I was told that my question regarding the company’s ownership and history couldn’t “be answered at this time for reasons that haven’t been explained yet.” I prompted my trainer with further questions after reading through the training material and finding in the client section the name of the man who owned the marketing company where I was a copywriter; I was told that “everyone who came to them had done something wrong, but they [my company] wouldn’t work with the client until they had finished their conviction or probation. But some people don’t get convicted…[trainer’s ellipses in chat],” and so to work for this company I had to be “morally flexible.”
How misinformed was I, or how insulated was my educational experience, that I came out of school expecting to get a job fairly easily copyediting books, or magazines, or any manner of written document for someone whose desire was not to be meticulous about the details?
In Lola Ridge’s long poem, “The Ghetto,” she writes, “She — fiery static atom,/Held in place by the fierce pressure all about –” I am striving to be dynamic, raging and sizzling against this very complicated world of which I am a part, trying to figure out how, exactly, to situate myself as an artist and a professional. And, really, leaning into the pressure, pushing back, reminding myself that’s not all there is to the ambiguity of “being.”