Week two: the big apple bites back

I’m not going to sugar coat it. This week was tough. My pet sitting gig was on pause while the family regrouped between trips which meant I slept in four different beds this week—an Airbnb, a cousin’s home, a friend’s home, and then back to the pet sitting gig. Along the way, I lugged my ancient laptop (read: heavy) from Manhattan to Long Island to Roosevelt Island to Brooklyn and ended up bruising or pulling the muscle in my shoulder and neck area. It started as just a pain in the neck but on Thursday morning the pain was debilitating. There’s nothing like pain and a trip to urgent care to pull the plug on the tears one’s been trying to hold in.

Thank you, Dr. Cassie, for being so kind to the sobbing mess on your exam table.

I found out that none of the three apartments I’d been hoping for came through from last week. I don’t meet the 40x-the-rent income requirement. I’ve applied to another apartment on my own this week and if this application doesn’t work, I either have to 1) accept my parent’s offer to co-sign or 2) find a room with others.

The former I’d hoped to avoid because, well, I’m a grown up and it would be nice to do this by myself. However, I had a lovely dinner with a VCFA friend this week and she let me know that rarely can anyone meet the requirement even when they have a job. The later I’d hoped to avoid because I’m a mom of college-aged children, and I’d like them to have a place to come home to where they feel welcome. I can’t imagine a bunch of roommates welcoming two men-children into their space.

I’ve applied for three more jobs this week, and I continue to network in the children’s book community here. I attended Children’s Day at the Brooklyn Book Festival and ran into book authors and agents that I know and met new folks too. I’m thankful to the kindness of the folks at MetroNY SCBWI,  Chronicle and Enchanted Lion Books. The highlight of the picture book tent was witnessing Ame Dyckman’s incredible energy and Jessica Love’s aura of gentleness and love.

Next steps: In the upcoming week, I’m excited to work on a curriculum guide for Lee and Low. If the apartment doesn’t come through, I’ll start interviewing with roommates. Cross your fingers for me.

Here’s my second week by the numbers:

Miles walked: 14

Subway extremes:

  • Long Island Railroad: Syosset
  • F train: Jamaica

Cabs/Ubers/Lyfts: 1

Apartments viewed: 3

Apartment applications: 1

Apartment declines: 3

Job applications: 3

Job declines: 1

Networking phone calls: 1

Creative writing on any of my works in progress: 0

Dog walks: 7

Only 24 hours in a day. Or 1+1+1+1=100.

Yesterday I got a notification that my blog was having a banner day–surprising since I haven’t posted in two months–and it reminded me how busy the last two months have been. As readers of Creative Chaos might know, I’m almost two years out from a divorce and the economic insecurities that often accompany divorce can be stressful. More on that in a few…

Over the past year I’ve been pleased to find challenging and satisfying work event planning at Maine Share, doing customer service work at LLBean, and event planning at Bowdoin College. All along, I’ve been volunteering as the Program Director with my local rowing club. This spring, they hired me as their part time Head Coach as well and I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last two months on the water teaching adults and teens to scull and sweep row.


In addition to the coaching and program directing I’m also SUPER happy to have found a part time temporary home at Islandport Press as their Author Relations and Events Coordinator. In this position I’m able to help Islandport authors with social media, blogs, book them in bookstores and festivals, and help create publicity campaigns and events to sell great books. (Shameless plug: please follow Islandport Press on social media.)

Screenshot 2016-07-08 10.59.41

We now rejoin our program of economic insecurity already in progress…

I love what I’m doing. Still, anyone who has juggled a family, writing, and more than one job knows that the sum of the parts feels WAY greater than it should (ie: 1+1+1+1=100) Part of that 100 number is the chasm of unemployment that looms with temporary jobs. Once the rowing season ends, and the temporary position with the publishing house ends I’m on the search again. It’s a feast and famine sensibility so in the last two months I’ve also written and delivered an article to the new Coxing Magazine (so exciting!), given a presentation to the Romance Writers of Maine, and taught a rowing workshop to counselors at a local sleep away camp. I’m the busy ant storing for the winter.

If there is a positive about the looming chasm of unemployment it is that I might actually get back to my works in progress (a middle grade novel 1st draft and 2 PB rewrites) which wait patiently on my computer. I also might be posting more here at Creative Chaos. I will keep you updated. Cheers!


HigherEd.com Salary Survey

Schmooze with a bunch of writers for a long enough time and you are bound to hear this: “I’m not in it for the money.”

I too, subscribe to that belief. My goal, however, is to be able to write and pay my bills, and buy gifts for my family, and pay for a few writing retreats or travel (research!) opportunities each year. When I dream, I let myself imagine six figure multi-book deals and there’s nothing wrong with putting that out into the universe. Realistically,  I know that even if sweet advances come, they will be inconsistent and unpredictable. There has to be some sort of day job that controls the income.

For many writers, that day job is teaching. Some writers teach K-12, others teach in higher ed. Higheredjobs.com recently published its annual salary survey and I thought I’d share it here for any interested party. If you are working in a Tenure/or Tenure Track position, I’d love to know if these numbers seem accurate. I’d also love to know more about the actual availability of Tenure/Tenure-Track positions. I spend a lot of time on HigherEdJobs.com and on the AWP Jobs Board. If you’ve been on a hiring committee, what makes a candidate stand out? Are positions listed as open really open to the general public? Is there usually an inside candidate?

Happy Writing.

In Defense of a Liberal Arts Degree

This morning, LinkedIn sent me its “Top News for Anna” aggregation. The topics they tend to send me range from education, to jobs, to publishing. I clicked on the following– Why a BA is Now a Ticket to A Job in a Coffee Shop. The article includes quick research, a few graphs, and some spotty assumptions, but I found the reader comments most interesting.

Readers of the Daily Beast are well-spoken, and they don’t hold back. Comments tend to break down in favor of or against the opinions expressed in the original article– then there are the tangential arguments. The tangent that piqued my interest this morning was STEM education vs. Liberal Arts training.

STEM folks generally argue that the degreed students working as baristas have an English, sociology, or some other humanities-based degree. If they had only spent their loans on getting an engineering or some other tech-based degree they’d have a job. These commenters opine that the reason we hire so many international workers is because well-trained American’s are hard or impossible to find.

I do not doubt the truth of these arguments, but 1) there are many reasons for the underemployment mess we are in and 2) there is value in the liberal arts degree.

I teach adult students English. My classes help them improve their skills so that they can place out of remedial college courses that cost money but do not give them college credits. They each have different dreams and paths. Some hope to leave menial or physically taxing work as they age. Some need a college degree to move up in their current work. Many are middle-aged women whose husbands had affairs, abused them, or decided they were done with marriage. They are looking for gainful employment that will keep them above the poverty line. My students often see college as a path to specific work because these days– that is how college is marketed.

I teach my students how important it is, in an age of text communication, to be able to read and write. I teach them how to read critically, how to question, how to make connections, how to cite their resources. I teach them to discern the thesis of a paper, to engage a reader, to support an argument. I teach them that words matter, that everyone brings something important to a discussion, that the opinion you’ve held forever can and will be challenged. This is the value of education for education sake.

Because of ongoing and high unemployment rates, employers have a pool of applicants that is both deep and wide. They sort and discard resumes for narrow criteria. No masters degree? Out. The wrong BA? Out. Not enough experience? Out. Too much experience? Out. They have no reason to give a chance to someone who doesn’t meet their narrow view of “highly qualified.” I say to them– beware.

The world of work is swiftly changing. The technical degree we need desperately today may be obsolete tomorrow. A liberal arts degree graduates critical and creative thinkers. These workers– no, these humans are life long learners who deftly transfer their knowledge from one field and apply it to another. Hire them to sit with your STEM trained employees, and there is no limit to what can be created. We only succeed as a society when we nurture and value everyone’s gifts and knowledge.

Five on Friday: Happy 5773 Edition

If you missed it, last Wednesday marked the Jewish New Year. (Edited to add: Technically, Wednesday was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement after the new year, Rosh Hashanah a week before.) Civil, religious, or cultural, the new year gives us a chance to right our wrongs, wipe the slate clean, set goals, and get to work. Some of us need that more than others and therefore, I invite everyone to participate and take advantage of all new year celebrations.

For me, the holiday is not about sin but about what I can do to move the world (or my little piece of it) towards peace, good health, and prosperity through good-work and kindness. I see it as sort of a sliding continuum with goodness at one side and discord at the other. At the end of the day I can look back and see what things made the sliding marker move towards one end of the continuum or the other. I can make an effort to live in a way that skews towards goodness and helpfulness.

1. I’ve found this year to be especially challenging. As of this writing my husband has been away from home for a year. We expect him back from his Navy deployment in February. This week, a single-parent friend of mine told me, “What you’re doing feels hard because it is hard.” It is. I yell at my kids when they are not to blame. The house is often a wreck even though I feel that I should be able to manage it. Long distance relationships are wicked hard. Take everything that is difficult in your own marriage or relationship and then add 6,000 miles to it. Yeah. Not easy. Still, positive thinking– skewing towards goodness– is a good goal.

2. The summer found me submitting my YA manuscript to five agents. I was pleased to get notes from each of them with helpful feedback. I wish the notes had been “Yes, and…” notes instead of “No, but…” notes, but there are still some open doors there and many more waiting for me to knock. I am using the feedback in another round of revisions and hope to have the manuscript back out and about by November 1. (Public announcement of goal. *check*) This paragraph makes me sound like robot writer– get notes, make revisions, send it out again. However, the late summer and fall were emotional and filled with self-doubt. Of course, my current life situation was a factor. (see #1) I sat down a couple of times to write a big post about self-doubt and fear in art but just couldn’t do it–couldn’t bare my soul.

3. Because of #1 and #2, I found myself looking for “real jobs” again. I applied to a couple right away, got interviews and didn’t make the final cut. I subscribe to the everything-happens-for-a-reason theory and believe that right now writing and taking care of my family need to come first. I’m still looking (searching “Event Planning, Teaching, Writing, Public Relations” in all possible job search engines) but hope to find something that starts more towards January of next year.

4. I am not idle. On Saturday, the 2nd annual Children’s Book Illustration Symposium took place at New Hampshire Institute of Art. As the main event organizer, I’ve been knee deep in those preparations for a good six-eight months. The event was a huge success. We had about 60 participants, wonderful presenters, and new this year– portfolio reviews. Evals are still coming in but generally, the symposium faculty and attendants were all pleased.

5. Friends and family have been so important recently. I’ve found amazing support from friends in my town who have taken my kiddos for overnights, or invited us to dinner. My bookclub and writer’s groups have been irreplaceable. Mom and sister know that they might have to initiate the contact but that I’m so grateful to get the call.

For those of you who enjoy a capella, here is a parting song.

Five on Friday

1. Today begins writer’s camp weekend. I get to read some work. I’m choosing the piece I feel most uncomfortable about and hoping for some direction or spark.

2. I finished a week of LL Bean orientation and feel confident about wearing the Bean Green shirt with pride.

3. Our garden looks beautiful because my wonderful husband bought seedlings and planted and weeded and watered while I was…

4. …finishing my final writing packet of my second VCFA semester! I still need to do my end of semester evals and polish my presentation but I am essential done and looking forward to…

5. Riding in the Prouty. Now, only my family donated to my triathlon efforts on behalf of our local YMCA and I totally understand that. But I’ll be riding with a group of children’s writers on the "Bike Writer" team in honor of the amazing Norma Fox Mazer. I hope some of you will find $5 or $10 that you could donate to cancer research. Thanks so much!

Five on Friday

1. Deadlines approacheth. I’m working on a difficult revision of a picture book with civil rights information. Questions such as how to be developmentally appropriate, not be preachy, and show not tell are swirling around my computer today. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been writing for children these always seem to be the crucial questions.  Also working on my picture book presentation for the VCFA July residency.

2. My second triathlon is on Sunday morning. The experience of the first has taken away some of my pre-race jitters so I’m mostly excited. I’ve decided that triathlons are sort of like child birth. You forget the pain after you enjoy the emotional high of the finish line.

3. Good news on the job front! I’ll be teaching an integrated 5/6th grade Language Arts and Social Studies class at The Friends School of Portland coming September. The four morning a week schedule should be perfect for completing my VCFA critical thesis. (You can remind me I said this when I’m pulling out my hair in November.) LL Bean has also hired me to a retail sales job at their camping department. Stop by if you’re in Maine this summer and I’ll show you some tents!

4. My son was part of a Civil War reenactment this week. I have to say, it was a little uncomfortable watching our children in this romanticized version of war especially when we are in a war right now. We need to ask our children to contemplate the effectiveness and cost of battle to reach political ends. By teaching war do we beget more war or preclude it? What is worth fighting for?

5. Again, with the Civil War… I always felt that my understanding of this atrocious loss of life was always distilled to the lowest common denominator. "The good north was fighting to free the slaves from the bad south." As I’ve gotten older and done some study of my own, I find that the facts are much more nuanced than that. Why do we persist in teaching this distilled version?

PS: if you see me on facebook this weekend, tell me to get back to work.

Summing Up

It’s been quite a long time since my last post. Much has been going on and since it is too long to explain I’ll just sum up. (Did you get the Princess Bride allusion there?)

Jobs: I’ve applied to a writing specialist job at Bates and a teaching position at the Friends School of Portland. I’ve been interviewed at the Friends School so it seems that is more likely to come through. Contacting the Bates folks today to follow up. I also applied to LL Bean’s for retail sales position at the Bike, Boat and Ski shop. I was psyched when they called to offer me the job. I went in to fill out all my paper work, watch their harassment video (not how to, but how not to), and get cleared by their health department. Turns out that the job I was offered was a "level 5" position which requires lifting a 50 lb. box to the height of 76 inches. I did 40 safely, but needed spotting on 45 and help on 50. So bad news…no Bike, Boat and Ski job. Good news…they called yesterday and offered me a position in camping. Discount, here I come. Summer weekends, good-bye.

Triathlon: I’ve been training like crazy and after watching the Polar Tri last Saturday, I’m really excited about the celebration that my first race will be. The race is coming up soon, next Saturday, May 22nd, there is still time to donate to the cause. All money goes to help with YMCA scholarships for camp and membership. The "Mighty Mama’s" (our team) is so close to our $200 goal. Please help.
And because I’m a crazy girl, I’ve already signed up for my next Tri with the Bath Y. (Not a fundraiser) so I’ll get a chance to do all three sections and be timed for both transitions.

VCFA/Writing: I’ve been chugging away churning out picture book manuscripts this semester and have at least 2 or 3 that I feel are submission quality. One is with an editor now and I’m hoping to hear something soon. I need to revise my novel and start subbing to agents but things have been so busy that I’ve had to put that on hold.

Book Review Wednesday: Um… I’m really sorry. I just haven’t kept up and there’s really no excuse except, well, all the other stuff I’ve been doing.

Illustration: The Great Goose Auction is over and I’m trying to find out what happened with my two painted eggs. More on that later. My Fufu And Fresh Strawberries illustrations are awaiting an input of funding to The Telling Room in Portland. They are hoping for grant money to make the design and publication possible. Right now, I’m working on illustrations for my picture book Roar which I will show at the Illustrator’s Academy this Sunday. I’m also working on my poster for the showcase and trying to get my portfolio together too. I’ve been happy doing the whole portfolio thing on line so it’s kind of a pain to get all the images together, printed out and assembled in the book. So on that note, here are some images to take a look at. Enjoy.

News from the outside

Dear Friends,
Originally I was going to lock this post and then decided that there are probably many others who are experiencing similar circumstances and could chime in.

I recently posted about a job for which I applied. I found out yesterday that I did not get the job. I had high hopes that this was the one. I’ve applied to many in the last six months. Six or seven, or is it more like eight or ten? Whatever the numbers, for each one there is the work of the application. For teaching jobs this is more extensive. Transcripts, fingerprints and certifications all need to be gathered. I have to impose upon friends to write or rewrite their references for me, yet again. I send it all in. I get my hopes up. I wait. I follow up. I don’t get the job.

I don’t feel this is at all a reflection of my competence. The employer often sites the large number of qualified and over-qualified applicants. The economy and the high unemployment rate is certainly a factor. Jobs in Maine are few and far between. Budgets are slashed. The employers applaud my intelligence, my creativity, my interesting experiences and then they say, "no." On the publishing front the message is often the same. Wow, the editors say. You are a wonderful writer. So professional. Your piece is great. I just signed a similar one. I’m sorry. No.

The question one might ask, I might ask, I DO ask, is how much "no" can a person take? The reality of our financial situation (two mortgages as our spec house is unrented and unsold) forces me to get up on that horse. Keep riding. Redesign that resume. Network more. Apply or submit again. Tenacity counts. I am tenacious.

I tell myself that a better opportunity will come along. That the universe knows what it is doing. That it wasn’t meant to be.

All this in the midst of a wonderful, magical MFA residency at VCFA in the snow covered mountains of Vermont.
What a joy kill.