Giving Back: SBMag Aug/Sept 2010

When I was asked to write the “Giving Back” section for the August/September issue of Santa Barbara Magazine back in May, I was ecstatic. My editor approached me with a question, asking if it was something I would like to do. As if I’d say no! It was, at that point, the longest assignment I had been given (500 words). The subject, Kathleen Rafiq, had built a hospital in Afghanistan – and was still living there. I went through the entire process communicating with her solely via e-mail. It was a challenging way to write an article.
Flashback to CASA, where I learned to do phone interviews. A little about me: despite being an introvert through much of my youth, I now prefer conversing with people in person. Especially during interviews, it is easier to get across that you are interested in what they’re saying and would like to hear more (in my process, excess information is always preferable to not enough). It is easier to build rapport. I was daunted at first, when my editor at CASA told me to conduct interviews only over the phone. She preferred phone interviews because they were succinct (necessary in that publication’s weekly pace). I learned how to make people feel comfortable over the phone, which turned out to be a very useful skill when I went to SBMag and was asked to do the same thing, more often than not. E-mail is completely different.
I am part of the generation that texts rather than calls and, in the face of e-mail, has forgotten that USPS even exists. I am familiar with the usual dilemmas, including how to sound the way you want to sound when you have nothing but letters to convey it. And emoticons – but I opted out of sending a happy face to Afghanistan. I asked if we might try Skype, but her Internet connection was poor.
Kathleen, it turns out, was very easy to e-mail. She was gregarious and sent me tons of pictures and information. I had a terrifying moment just before the issue went to press: my editor asked me to request caption info for photos from Kathleen, but Kathleen didn’t like the pictures. When she emailed me back, asking that the article not be printed with the given photos, I almost died of worry. The art department and my editors chose the photos, I had no say in the matter, and the thing was going to press in the morning. Luckily that was just a momentary scare and now, at well over 600 words, the article has been published. Catch Giving Back in the SBMag Aug/Sept 2010 issue, on page 68, which hits stands next week.
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Goodbye SBMag

God no, I didn’t want to leave. I love it there. I love the city of Santa Barbara, and the office, and the internship, and the people, and the writing, and I’ve said it a million times but I’ll say it again, if I could stay I would.
I have concerns about C. What if they never let me write? This terrifies me the most. Sure, I’ve only been there four weeks. But I am definitely starting from the bottom again. I try not to think about how long it took me to work my way up to writing at SBMag. There are brand new office politics to navigate. What if I mess it up? That fear is rarely latent. What if I never love it the way I love SBMag?
I am devastated. I will miss everybody terribly. But it’s simple: I have gone as far there as I can go. It is the harder choice, but it is the right one.

Doing Too Much

It is amazing how being sick makes all obligations fall away. With my feverish head in a toilet, when I’m puking nothing but stomach acid because everything else has already come up, there is only one thing I want: to feel better.
I spent last Wednesday trembling and queasy; Thursday I subsisted on graham crackers and water because I couldn’t keep anything else down. I called in sick to my internship, I canceled on my writers’ group, on a coffee date, on a friend who was to visit me in Santa Barbara, on Vegas, and on Palm Springs. The emotional breakdowns were clearly not enough, but this physical one I could not ignore. I am doing too much. This was a wake-up call from my body. This was my body taking charge and telling me to STOP. Trying to maintain two internships in separate cities, multiple odd jobs, and a social life (not to mention keeping that fiction thing goin) is not working.

            This has happened to me before. A couple of years ago I worked five days a week, unpaid, at the LA Equestrian Center (it’s in Burbank, which meant about a 3-hour commute each day, and my book-on-tape of choice, The Virgin Suicides, probably didn’t help) until, when I finally got a chance to rest during Christmas, my body revolted with a flu. Shaking, fever – I was so weakened, I would be breathing hard at the top of a flight of five stairs. In middle school, when I slept only five hours a night to complete the superfluous homework assignments at my private, preparatory school (to be fair, I was an overachiever), after a certain amount of sleep deprivation, I would just get sick. Completely incapacitated. If you just can’t get out of bed (or off the bathroom floor), you just can’t. There is not a chance of even thinking about all the things I have to do, let alone actually doing them.
            So when I was doubled over on the linoleum beside my toilet last Wednesday afternoon, I knew I had to do something about the way I was living my life. It is time to make a choice. The bottom line is, I cannot keep this up. I cannot keep going back and forth every few days. I physically cannot take the stress. And so –

I am leaving Santa Barbara Magazine.

How Many Hours/Week?

On Thursday, I greeted and escorted people through a gallery at First Thursday in SB. On Friday, I assisted my mom at her catering job and played sous-chef – which essentially meant spending several hours chopping vegetables and washing dishes. On Saturday, I babysat.
            So basically I intern four days a week and work at odd jobs the other three, or sometimes overlap and both intern and work on the same days. Not to mention I usually interview and write articles outside of time at the office. I am working seven days a week. More. I don’t dare count the hours. Many people have validated what I’m doing. This is the life of a beginning, struggling artist. I have two unpaid internships, to get me into a career doing what I love. I am extremely blessed to have the support of my parents, and an abode in each city. And then I work at whatever I can, to pay for the two unpaid internships (gas, etc.), to have a life, to keep myself from going over the edge. This is what you have to do. This is a good idea.
            I have had an intense fear of the full-time job since…. Well, probably since elementary school, when I would eat breakfast with my father and then not see him again until dinner. If that was what being an adult was like, I wanted to be Peter Pan. Then last summer, I interned at CASA three days a week, from 9-5, and I hated it. I thought: If I can’t even do three days a week, how can I possibly do five? I’m not cut out for this.
            Over the last year, as I seemed to approach a path where I can’t see a way out of the 9-5, my trepidation increased. The pure amount of time one spends at the office – when does that leave time for anything else? And yet, as I’ve been at C a couple days a week from 9-5:30, I begin to see myself living that kind of life. When I realize that I am spending as much or more time working now, not to mention the commute, I see that I practically already have a full-time job. I just don’t get paid for all of it.
            One step at a time, I think I am making my way toward a full-time job. I think when I get there, I may not only be ready, I may be eager for it.

Lifelong Search

Esther gets better. They don’t tell you that. Here I am, approaching the end of The Bell Jar, thinking the novel is going to end in her wretched suicide or a ghastly vision of her stuck in an asylum until she dies of shock treatments by overzealous “doctors.” But she gets out. At the end of the book, the girl regains her sanity and re-enters society.
However, she has no way of knowing if her sanity will stick. In the final chapter, Esther says, “I wasn’t sure at all. How did I know that someday – at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere – the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”
            My questions about my life may not be certifiable but it is insanity of a sort, and the insanity in it is Esther’s bell jar, hovering overhead. The uncertainty may come back at any moment. I thought I made a choice: to write. At the time it seemed simple. I had direction, motivation, and drive in a way that I never had before. As I navigate this path, my once-simple decision blurs. What do I want? What am I going to do (with my life)? These questions reappear again and again.
My father wrote me a letter from the east coast, when he went to New York for his Cornell reunion. He wrote: “Seeing classmates I haven’t seen in 44 years was interesting; some are busy, some are retired, some gave up on architecture and are writing or making pottery. Everybody’s trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. It never changes. We’re all searching.” And I thought I would reach a turning point, one decision in which I would figure out my life, and everything after that would be easy. I found my father’s note very comforting. People in their sixties are still trying to figure their lives out. This is not a line from point A to point B. My questions are not going to disappear. Rather than fearing the descent of madness at any moment, I might as well embrace the journey.