Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Between North and South
Not knowing where you're going to be living in several weeks' time can make life invigorating.
I thought about that yesterday evening as I packed what remained in my dorm room and prepared to leave Major University for a summer whose trajectory remains uncertain.
"So," said Patrick, who's been my roommate since I returned to Student Town in February. "When are you going to be in the City of Fate? I'll have to try to come up and see you."
Patrick and I have grown closer than I've ever been with any other roommate, a fact reflected in our decision to continue living together next year. I'd be happy to see him over the summer, but I'm not sure that any reunion will take place in the metropolis he mentioned.
"I don't really know if I'm going to be there," I answered. "But if I am, it would be from June to August."
He rolled his eyes.
"Well, let me know," he said. "We can meet up in the city or at your parents' house."
"The city or [my] parents' house" pretty aptly sums up the two radically different paths my life could take over the next several months.
The road upon which this unique fork sits began, as so many things concerning me do, with anxiety.
You see, I happen to be a very good journalist. I also, as fate would have it, happen to despise journalism.
Back in 2008, bereft of any concrete career aspirations and gnawingly aware of the slow march toward graduation, I made the decision to add a journalism minor to my degree and actively pursue employment in a field where my writing ability was a huge asset. In many ways this strategy proved wise.
I quickly accumulated both experience and praise, beginning as a lowly reporter at Major University's student newspaper before moving up to the senior correspondent position at the school's political news site one semester later. In 2009 I was made an assistant editor at Student Newspaper and this year became an editor in my own right at Student News Website. Along the way I interned in a public relations department and a newspaper and freelanced for another newspaper and a website, winning accolades from my superiors at each step.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could be hired as a reporter tomorrow if I so chose. That is not what I choose, though.
Interview-based journalism would seem like a natural fit for me. It's writing- and people-intensive, its foundations built on two areas in which I thrive. Yet as any laborer will tell you, doing a job well does not mean doing a job happily.
I am quite good at journalism. I just don't like it.
The harried pace, coarse realism, and base mundaneness of it has never appealed to me, nor has the meager pay that, in a field to which my heart was dedicated, I would probably be willing to accept.
Once I came to that realization, I was tasked with finding another goal to work towards. Somewhere in the search for a career that would allow me to combine my knack for writing with my love for creativity, I stumbled across the idea of entering the publishing industry. Naturally, none of the professors, academic advisers, or career counselors at Major University, all of whom are supposed to guide students towards viable post-college lives, thought to mention to me a job that involves reading books all day and then selling those books for obscene amounts of money (the closest anyone came to it was when a faculty member advised me to remember that I was unlikely to get paid for "being creative").
Major University, which extorts thousands of dollars from me every year, proved similarly useless at helping me make any connections once I decided to seek out an internship with a literary agency. It would be almost comical if they weren't robbing me blind.
One of my professors actually suggested that I take a summer internship class, which, once I signed up for it, would guarantee me a spot of some sort in public relations. The fact that this (conveniently) involved my spending about $1,000 in tuition money without being placed in my desired position did not seem to dampen his ardor for the idea.
In the end it was Google, and a little bit of a luck, that led me to one of the publishing industry's jealously guarded gateways. If there's one thing I've learned about publishing houses and literary agencies throughout this process it's that they're exclusive. They don't advertise openings because they don't have to; people come to them.
The first person I came to was the president of a small agency based in Marble City. Her company, she said, did not have room for an intern, but she referred me a man, Literary Agent, whom she believed could help.
I sent Literary Agent an e-mail and he directed me to the internship coordinator for the Book Agency, which is where he works. I spoke with the coordinator and was very pleased with what I heard; the Book Agency allowed its interns to work under individual agents and would tailor the students' time at the company toward specific genres. After a few enthusiastic exchanges I completed the Book Agency's extensive application and sent it in.
About a month passed and, preoccupied with another application, I didn't think about the Book Agency as much. When I was rejected by a different house, however, I sent an e-mail to the Book Agency's internship overseer to inquire as to my status. She never got back to me. I contacted her on three separate occasions, waiting to hear one way or the other, and I didn't receive so much as a peep in reply.
"Dude, if they're not e-mailing you back then you didn't get it," Patrick said. "Let it go."
"Oh, I know I didn't get it," I said. "But damn it, I am going to make them tell me no. I refuse to accept their just not responding. I'll be a pain if I have to be."
"Whatever, man. I think you're being dumb."
When yet another missive to the internship woman went unanswered I once again contacted Literary Agent.
"Literary Agent," my e-mail began. "This is BrightenedBoy, the student from Major University. You may remember that I contacted you earlier in the spring regarding a possible summer internship. I have not yet heard back from Ms. Doesn't Answer and was wondering if you knew when internship decisions would be announced. The Book Agency remains my first choice for this summer and I would be thrilled to be selected. As the school year draws to a close, however, I must make a decision so that I can set up living arrangements, employment, etc. BB."
Literary Agent responded to me within fifteen minutes, asking that I re-send my resume and cover letter. Twenty minutes after that I had my internship.
"You can intern directly under me!" he said.
His tone indicated that he was conferring some kind of privilege on me, and so I looked him up on Google to see just exactly who I'd be entrusting my professional life to this summer.
What I found genuinely shocked me.
Literary Agent wasn't just a reader at the Book Agency; he was the president. And the Book Agency wasn't just an upstart company; it was a major industry presence, one with New York Times bestsellers on its current roster of represented works.
Through persistence and my inability to take a hint, I've secured for myself a truly amazing opportunity.
Almost right after I got it, though, I was faced with a significant decision. The Book Agency is based, as most such agencies are, in the City of Fate. Literary Agent, however, by a ridiculous twist of fortune, owns a home in Southern State about twenty minutes away from me and divides his week between the two locations.
"It honestly doesn't matter where you work," he said. "If you want to stay in Southern State you could do that, and if you wanted to go to the City of Fate you'd be welcome to do that. I'll find something for you to do wherever you are."
The logical side of me echoed what my parents were saying: that I should stay home, remain where things were familiar and safe and where I could save huge amounts of money while still doing the exact same internship.
The other part of me, though, the one that houses my passions and my dreams, knows that foresaking a chance to live in the City of Fate would be unthinkable. It's a place of magic and mystery and opportunity, a cosmopolitan island of the fantastic and the impossible, a beacon of the Northern life to which my Southern heart has always been drawn. If I can go, I must. If I don't go, I fear I will regret it the rest of my days.
So I'm trying.
Another lazy Southern summer is on the horizon, but for the first time in my life I may miss it. I'm striking out as best I can, and the fear that causes tells me it's the right thing to do.