Thursday, March 15, 2012

Working from home

Best part about being a writer? Ability to work from home.
The worst part? Ability to work from home.
—Carly Phillips

Thursday nights feel like Fridays to me, because I always work from home on Fridays. This mobile advantage is one of the best perks about working where I do. I've been working from home on Fridays ever since coming off of maternity leave after having Kieran (so nearly 9 years ago). I love it.

But it's not always easy. Sometimes it gets noisy or I have to kick the kids out. Our basement office is dark and messy, so I tend to work in our bedroom...and it's definitely NOT the best ergonomic arrangement! I also find that I get up less to walk around and sometimes put in more hours than I should.

Tomorrow's going to be particularly tricky because I am working on a couple of projects due on Monday, and I have a feeling I will be glued to the computer for much of the day!

But I feel very fortunate that I have a mobile-type profession. My sister, a physician, could not work from home. Teachers can't work from home. In fact it's easiest to work from home with certain white collar type jobs (or perhaps some entrepreneurial ones), so I feel very lucky!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On ghostwriting

Julia Moskin writes in the New York Times about her career as a cookbook ghostwriter. You didn't really think that Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, and Paula Deen wrote all of their endless cookbooks and magazine recipes themselves, did you? They are recipe EMPIRES.

It's actually the likes of Moskin who labor away in kitchens, trying out new recipes with scarcely a direction from the famous chef whose identities they are assuming, and when all the glory arrives, it is paid in homage to the celebrity chef, not the ghostwriter. If the writer is lucky, he or she might end up in the acknowledgements section. It reminds me of Kathy Selden fronting Lena Lamont in "Singin' in the Rain." These writers sacrifice their own careers to boost the careers and fame of others. Must be a thankless job:
"There is the uncomfortable fact that wherever you stand in a restaurant kitchen, trying to shrink into a fly on the wall, you are always in the way of someone with a more important job to do. There are impossible deadlines, hours of waiting around for tardy chefs and off-the-map assignments, like the two days I spent under armed guard in a walled compound in Bogotá, while the chef I was working with disappeared into the Colombian countryside. During those two days, with no cellphone or e-mail and only a Dora-the-Explorer ability to communicate in Spanish, I was essentially a prisoner, with plenty of time to think about my next career."
In many ways, I'm also a ghostwriter. For the 22 years I've been in the technical writing and editing field, I am the one who makes the engineers, scientists, planners, economists, etc., look professional and articulate. I'm the one who turns their technical jargon into English that a layperson can understand. In many cases, I'm the one who writes their documents, but my name does not appear on the cover. (In fact, even when a consulting team member writes a report or proposal, his or her name does not appear on the cover. The name of the firm does.)

In fact, my layperson's perspective (and English degree) qualify me for this job, because I can explain that your typical layperson is not going to understand a particular highly technical phrase. Yes, that liberal arts degree is paying off! I share that qualification with Moskin:
"Oddly, one of the best qualifications for the job is ignorance: the tricky steps and specialized skills that a chef will teach the ghostwriter as they work together are the same ones the writer will have to teach to a home cook in the text of the book. The best ghosts are the ones who anticipate the reader’s questions."
Next time you purchase a cookbook by a famous chef, take a moment to acknowledge the ghostwriters (perhaps other English majors!) behind it.

Hokey Pokey, ala Shakespeare

As we are Shakespeare lovers in my family (especially my husband, who has written a middle-grade time travel adventure about Shakespeare), this is particularly wonderful:

Shakespeare's version of the Hokey Pokey
O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.
The Hoke, the poke -- banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about.
-- by William Shakespeare
(Jeff Brechlin)

Brechlin wrote this little ditty as part of a contest sponsored by the Washington Post in 2003.

Here's another one I especially enjoyed:

Warning on a tobacco pack by Gilbert & Sullivan:
This warning issues from a model modern Surgeon-general
Who wishes that your stay on Earth might be not so ephemeral
As mascot Joe, that smoking
hyperactive dromedary who
Succumbed to fatal illness, cardiac and pulmonary too . . .
--Stephen Fahey and Jeff Brechlin)

Jeff Brechlin, I like your style!

The journey begins...

As I started out my college career at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, I planned to become a teacher. In my sophomore year, I did a teaching practicum in an elementary school in Puyallup, where I shadowed an unfriendly fourth-grade teacher with no control of her classroom and a kind kindergarten teacher who told her students which colors to use on their drawings (yikes!). In my junior year, I felt bored to tears by the education faculty, the other students, and the pass/fail grading system they used in the School of Education.

Dennis Martin
Suzanne Rahn
Tom Campbell
I gobbled up as many English classes as I could fit into my schedule and felt invigorated by the mostly fascinating professors who made me think and work hard. I started out with a disappointing English 101 course from a retiring professor who I had found fascinating at Holden Village (I think she was losing it); Medieval Literature and Children's Literature from a tough, Pre-Raphaelite-looking professor, Dr. Suzanne Rahn (who is apparently now a noted authority on The Wizard of Oz); Contemporary Literature and American Literature from a wonderful prof who wrote in my journal that he saved reading it for last because he enjoyed it so much, Dr. Dennis Martin; British English from the young department heartthrob, Dr. Tom Campbell; letterpress printing and editorial procedures from Megan Benton (the only formal course on editing I've ever taken); and Advanced Composition from Dr. Charles Bergman, a published writer and photographer who had a reputation for being extremely tough and demanding.

Charles Bergman
In that class I wrote a deeply personal essay, sharing a traumatic incident by not only documenting its details but then reading it aloud in the class. He was the one who convinced me that I should consider majoring in English. The thought had never occurred to me until he wrote it on the back of one of my papers.

After the shock wore off (not become a teacher???), I realized it fit. I'd always done best in my English (and other Liberal Arts) courses. What on earth would I do with an English major, though? I had no clue!

Joanne Brown
But I was off and running, and I never looked back. Studying with another encouraging English professor and Irish scholar, Dr. Audrey Eyler, I did my senior project on George Eliot. (Although I cannot find her photo online, she is an extremely elegant, poised, and intelligent woman.) With a minor in religion, in my senior year I designed an independent study course to marry my English major and religion major: a study of feminist fiction, including Doris Lessing's weighty Children of Violence series, with my feminist theology professor and mentor Dr. Joanne Carlson Brown. I feel deeply grateful to these wise professors who sparked my creativity, encouraged my writing, and helped me realize my passions.

In those days at PLU, English majors had to meet with the faculty during a "junior review," when they discussed their coursework and plans for the future. I announced my intention to go directly to graduate school. (What else do English majors do?) Each one of the professors discouraged me from going right to grad school. I wonder now, did they have regrets of their own in becoming academics? Or did they just want me to live a little?

I followed their advice, and I never got to grad school!