institute for documentary studies

{Week 8: Writing}

Week 8: Writing

I am on a train from Boston, making my way back up the New England coast. With two seats to myself, I stretch my legs across the row, watching from across the aisle as tired mill towns, trucks with weeds growing out of their beds, above-ground pools, and mini-golf courses shaped like castles pass by in the window. Two sisters climb to the top of a wooden fence to wave.

I went home to paint eggs with my family, and marked up my Salt readings as each egg dried.  Yesterday morning, I transcribed two hours’ worth of interview — pounding my fingers against the keys to keep up with my subject’s rapid stories, laughing at her jokes for a second time, cringing at the sound of my own voice. I speak painfully slowly, as if I am inventing the words as they come out of my mouth. My “likes” and “ums” and “you know what I means?” make my sentences sag into incoherence, like pigeons squatting on a telephone pole.

It is spring time, I am told. Salt is closer to the ending than the beginning. My notebook, once blindingly white, is full of red, black, and blue writing, depending on what I could find at the bottom of my bag. Filling a notebook feels somewhat sacred to me.

Upon visiting Salt last week, my boyfriend learned two ways never to start a conversation with a Salt student:

1) So, the program’s ending soon, isn’t it?

And, most regretfully…

2) What do you plan to do after?

I was told by more than one successful Salt alum that internships are an inevitability after Salt; like buds sprouting after the rain. Maybe I am stubborn, or reactive when told a path is “the only way”, or out of touch with reality, but I cannot, I will not, be an intern again. I had nine internships in college, at least the ones I can remember, one after college, and one year-long “fellowship” where I was called an intern by my coworkers anyway. For me, working without pay (I prefer that over unpaid, which is defined by its lack, essentially legitimizing free labor), or for a stipend that covers ½ my sandwich for lunch, is a financial impossibility, but also an emotional one. Yes, I need to pay rent, and buy food, and occasionally would like to see a movie, but more so, I refuse to be undervalued for my work, or told that my six years of internships, jobs, and freelance writing amounts to no experience.

Embarking on a job search for the second time may, inevitably, lead me back to internships, or the artfully ambiguous “full-time fellowship”, while juggling a coffee-shop or waitressing job. As I’ve found in the past, this work schedule will leave me with little time to write like John Jeremiah Sullivan and take trips with my spouse to Cuba, but sometimes (I am told by Tim Gunn and I keep learning), you have to make it work. We’ll see what life after Salt brings…