First Days at C

Yesterday I began an internship at C Magazine in Santa Monica. I am going to be at C two days per week and at Santa Barbara Magazine two days per week, so I’m looking at a crazy summer.
The first day was fabulous. I already knew how to do the usual things (though I constantly worry I’m going to say “Santa Barbara Magazine” when I’m at C, and vice versa). The office is larger, but the new faces are friendly.
In the last two days, I have had several projects that I have never had at SBMag, each with a different draw. In one assignment, I searched for a new book we might like to cover, and this meant I was assigned to read summaries and excerpts of novels! Not only fun, but also great research for my fiction writing, to learn what kinds of things are being published now. I spent today on, going through the fall lines of the top designers. This satisfied my fashion cravings, and also a bit of design, art, and photography – and it was an assignment!
Of course there were awkward moments. Once I misheard my editor, had to ask for clarification, and when the answer turned out to be something exceedingly simple, the look on her face seemed to me as though she was questioning her decision to take me on. And the paper towel incident – how was I to know that the rack was not that sturdy? I yanked too hard and the whole roll came off. The thing unwound, twirling in the air, landing in a pool of accumulated drips at the foot of the sink. Half the roll was soiled, and I felt guilty throwing it out. I peered about for a hidden camera for “America’s Funniest First-Day-of-Work Videos.”
The hours (9-5:30) plus the commute (30-45 min in traffic each way) are already wearing on me. It seemed as though I got home the first night and five minutes later had to crawl into bed in preparation for the next morning’s early wake-up. Some days I contemplate this life and I could see myself loving it. Other days I am not so optimistic – when will I have time for fiction? I like to think about my mentor telling me that he writes as much, if not more, when he has a full-time job as when he does not. I have always been a creature of routine. Perhaps it’s just about finding the right one.

Fig Tree Madness

When my sister suggested Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar to me by saying, “It reminds me a lot of my life, but it really reminds me a lot of your life,” I thought this a compelling recommendation. Then I realized that this is the book about a girl’s descent into madness, the novel that parallels the author’s own psychological battlefield, and Plath, of course, committed suicide. And then I wondered just exactly what my sister was trying to tell me – but, insanity aside (at least so far), I found she was right. I’m only one third of the way through this book, and I’m seeing a lot of myself in Esther Greenwood. For starters, the protagonist is a young, female writer with an internship at a magazine. In chapter 7, she compares the many options in her life to an image of a fig tree:
“From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked… I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
            In the modern age, Esther Greenwood’s dilemma is a common one, and we call it “the quarterlife crisis.” As Kate Carraway says in her article Welcome to your Quarterlife Crisis,
“…the ‘Quarterlife Crisis,’ is as ubiquitous as it is intangible. Unrelenting indecision, isolation, confusion and anxiety about working, relationships and direction is reported by people in their mid-twenties to early thirties who are usually urban, middle class and well-educated; those who should be able to capitalize on their youth, unparalleled freedom and free-for-all individuation. They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are because they’re allowed to be anyone they want.”
After some serious soul-searching when I graduated from UCLA, I thought I was ahead of the game in my realization of wanting to be a writer. Yet as I travel down this path, I feel like my options are only expanding, and my quarterlife crisis goes on. There are so many avenues of publishing and types of writing I haven’t explored. I love the things I am already doing, but nothing seems to be happening as fast as I would like. Sometimes magazine writing and fiction writing are complementary, and sometimes they conflict. Lately I have felt as though they are separate figs and focusing on one means giving up the other. I feel like it is time for me to make some change in my life, to take some active step in my career, but I’m not sure what it is. I feel as though, about a quarter of the way through my life, I am already running out of time, and I’m afraid of wrinkling, blackened figs plopping at my feet.

The Passion of Asher Lev

Quite a few months back, my mentor suggested I read Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev, and I finally read it last week. The novel tells the story of a young man torn between his religion, Hasidic Judaism, and his art. Asher Lev’s dedication to his craft was more than passion. It was like breathing, or a heartbeat – without it, he could not survive.
From the beginning of the novel, discord grows between the protagonist and his father. Asher’s father wants him to give up drawing and study Torah, but Asher is incapable of abandoning his art. His passion is such that at moments, he will make a drawing and not remember having done it. [**Spoiler Alert!!**] Ultimately Asher must choose his community or his art. By the end, Asher has been expelled from the community, and he hurts his parents deeply. He sacrifices his relationship with the two people he loves most for the sake of his painting.
I am lucky that I do not have to make this choice. I am lucky to have the support of my parents. For my father’s 65th birthday in April, I went with him and my mother to the Lang-Lang concert at the Granada Theater. Classical music gives you a lot of time to think, and during intermission, my mother said, “I’ve been thinking about what I can do to support you.” She was thinking about the way that she was raised, and how she has realized her passions later in life than I. I am blessed to have the emotional, and fiscal, support of my parents. I would not be where I am without them. They make the way for me to follow my dreams.
I do not have to make Asher Lev’s choice. I wonder if I could – I don’t think so. But I also do not think I would die if I could not write. I have received several responses to this. My boyfriend jokingly accused, “That means you are not a real writer!” As an artist himself, he is familiar with the self-questioning we creative types daily face. My writers’ group in Santa Barbara suggested several things: 1) it is unlikely that I would ever not be able to write, given the society in which we live, 2) not being able to write and not being able to create at all are different things, and 3) not writing may not inspire a literal death, but a figurative one. A mature, female artist friend said, “To die if you cannot create? That is how it is for all true artists.” 
Professional writers write all the time, on everything. They keep notepads in their shirt pockets and scribble on napkins, in lipstick on car windows. At a UCLA panel last year, Kate Milliken said – “Writers write. If I am not writing, I do not consider myself a writer.” My passion is strong but not that strong. I am no Asher Lev. I think about his character, his story, and I am both grateful and jealous. What would life be like, if I truly could not go a day without writing? Of course, it is not something I would like to test. The more I think about it, the less I like how my life might look with such a ban. Can Asher Lev’s type of passion be cultivated? I think I shall try.