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Literary Conventions: (Un)Important

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

During my senior year of college, I took a couple of classes which began to shape my thinking about literature. Now, sure, plenty of other courses helped mold my literary mind, but my senior year featured some classes which really made me think, and which will likely keep me thinking well beyond 2012. Sometimes, those classes made my brain hurt but, mostly, they made me think more deeply about literature than I ever had before.

One thing that has stayed with me and that I continue to think about now (months after) is conventions. I think the reason it is particularly interesting to me is because I write fiction myself (or attempt to) and I often wonder what might make my stories better (or worse).

It’s a pretty common assumption that nothing is original, nothing is brand-new. There are plenty of cliches and it is difficult to avoid every single one. I’m sure some writers/poets/people think that the way around this is to be “unconventional.” I tend to disagree. There is a reason why conventions exist and why we continue to use them: they work, they are familiar.

I’m making this sound way more simple than it actually is, but the truth is this: conventions are important. They are also unimportant, but I will get to that later.

Here’s what one should think about when considering conventions:

  • Mixing genres is rarely popular. Why? Because someone expecting a sci fi book unconsciously expects a certain number of conventions to be fulfilled. If your sci fi book is actually a sci fi/romance/comedy, it likely mixes too many conventions and readers from each genre will be disappointed when they find that your book doesn’t match their expectations, which is no good for your bottom line.
  • Conventions can help shape your story, keep it together, push it forward…. All of this could even fight writer’s block! Why? Because when you are unsure where to take a story, you can think about where it would conventionally go. That doesn’t mean it HAS to go there, but it gives you an option you didn’t have before…and an opportunity to continue writing, which may break that block.
  • Conventions work. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t see the same story set ups thrown about (think: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. Not the same story, but the plots follow convention. I got this from one of my professors, so I can go into more detail in another blog if anyone is really interested).

But there is so much more to conventions, and, again, I am simplifying too much. I am making it sound like writers need to follow conventions all the time. But what did being conventional ever get anyone?

So, why conventions are unimportant:

  • If everything were an equation, there would be little reason to read or write. Think back to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter…I said each is based on the same formula. They are, but what makes them more interesting are the ways in which the authors broke conventions. It’s the language. The medium, etc. They are all different even though they are all the same.
  • Conventions are unimportant because the ones you break are the ones that make you different. They can also be the ones that make your writing not make sense, but that’s a risk we sometimes have to take.

The issue of breaking conventions becomes sticky when authors cross genre too much. Yes, yes, that makes something different and new, but it also makes it nearly un-marketable and unrecognizable by the people at large. If I want a sci fi book, and I pick up something that claims to be that, but find out it’s romance/comedy/sci fi, I am going to put it down. It doesn’t meet my (unconscious) expectations of conventions.

Conventions are way too complex to fit into a single post, and they are something I will continue to ponder (and perhaps research) now that I have no classroom in which to learn.

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I’m Sorry, Kissing Ass Wasn’t a College Requirement

August 25, 2012 Leave a comment

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been very unhappy with my first “real” job outside of college.  Well, last Friday, I took a leap and I broke up with my receptionist/legal assistant job at the small firm I was working at by putting my two week’s notice in.

It appears not only was this a good decision, it was likely the best decision. Before I go into the aftermath of my two week’s notice, I want to recap some reasons this place wasn’t working for me:

  • I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t for me. Sure enough, not only did I dislike almost every minute I was there, but everything that was handed to me required zero brain work….that’s a problem.
  • I wasn’t trained to do much. The office has no training program, so instead of being taught to do anything, I was forced to sit all day at the desk, doing nothing but answer phones and occasionally enter a few things into a template letter.
  • When the second receptionist/legal assistant started, she did not share duties with me. I did everything.
  • A week after the other receptionist/legal assistant started, one of the legal assistant’s announced he would be leaving. He told me he expected me to get his job. I didn’t. The other girl did.
  • The new girl was trained. Again, I sat there and was not. This was a HUGE problem, especially since I had been there longer.
  • There are two partners at the firm and one announced she would be going to a new firm and took her assistant with her. In addition to this, the office appeared, to me, to be poorly run.

So, all this lead up to me leaving. I especially had a problem with not being trained. I didn’t take this job to be a mindless receptionist who only answers phones and copies things. I’m ambitious, I would like to learn skills that will help me in the long run. This job did nothing for me.

When I gave my two week’s notice, the main lawyer of the office thought I was leaving because it was too hard. I really wanted to laugh. I told him it wasn’t hard, that I was bored and that wasn’t for me. I still think he thinks the job was too hard. This wasn’t even the first thing that made me think “wow, I truly made the best decision in leaving.”

Please note: I do not know for certain that all these things are true, but, having heard similar things from multiple people, I am inclined to believe there is truth in what they say. The day I put in my two week’s, a co-worker talked about how the office has been a revolving door–that the boss tended to hire girls who looked nice, but didn’t necessarily have skills. I’m not the greatest looking girl, but I could see how someone might view me as a young, attractive, recent college grad. Needless to say, this peeved me. I don’t want a job where I’m just supposed to look nice. Then, a different co-worker tells me that every girl before me has left that job, because the position is boring. She said that some of the girls were like me, too ambitious to not be trained. Others, she said, were perfect for the job: content to do nothing and just answer phones. But those ones, she said, were “let go” because they didn’t show interest in learning. So, because I showed interest, I was being kept. But, I left in the end anyway. When the previous partner came back to pick a few things up, she took me outside and told me to let her know if I ever needed a reference. She said it was smart of me to leave, because I would not have moved from that position for a long time. She said it’s a bad position for a recent college grad. She also told me that she told the other partner that I should have taken the vacant legal assistant position, and that he didn’t agree to it. She thinks I didn’t kiss his ass enough.

Excuse me? I am NOT an ass kisser, so anyone who requires a certain amount of ass kissing to get a promotion will be sorely mistaken when they expect to get that from me. I didn’t go to school (hell, I don’t still want to go to school) just to work my way up by kissing someone’s ass.

Maybe the other girl kissed his ass enough (just enough to out-do me) and got the assistant job. It doesn’t matter anyway, because, after a week, the other girl told the lawyer she couldn’t handle being the assistant, so they are looking for a new assistant. But, she won’t be reception either (a consolation prize, maybe). Needless to say, yet again, that I am very glad to be done. One more week.

By the way, the other partner wasn’t the only one happy to know I was leaving. Everyone was. They all said I deserved better….That I am to smart to be sitting at the front desk all day.

At least someone saw that, even if it wasn’t the big boss.

On to the next!

“Are You Reading That for a Class?”

August 11, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been wanting to write this post for about a week now. Mostly because I think it shows that college was worth something, but also because it makes me feel better about my degree.

I was at the urgent care one afternoon (nothing serious), I was sitting in the waiting room with Crime and Punishment on my lap. I wasn’t reading, but the book stands out pretty well on my lap with its black and white cover and because it’s a fairly well sized book. Well, one man sitting near me caught my attention and asked, “Is that for class or for pleasure?” I smiled and said, “For pleasure.” He looked surprised and said, “Wow, really? I can tell you that I didn’t expect that answer. I don’t meet too many people with a book like Crime and Punishment in their lap for fun.” I agreed and explained that I had studied English in college and I was testing out the Russians. He was impressed and told me how he had wished he’d taken a comparative literature course earlier in college because he really enjoyed it. We talked about books a little bit before I was called in to the urgent care. He told me good luck with everything and to keep reading.

I didn’t think too much about it afterward because I was worried about what might be wrong with my ailing body. But when one of the nurse’s asked me, “Are you reading that for a class?” I remembered the conversation. She reacted similarly, but more in line with what I normally hear: “Oh, wow. Not me! I don’t read much.”

Again, my nice conversation with the man in the waiting room went to the back of my mind until I had a doctor’s appointment a couple days later. First the nurse asked me if I was reading the book for a class and was pleased to hear that I wasn’t. Then, the doctor asked the same question and reacted well to hearing it wasn’t for a class. “I almost assume when I see a book like that…” he commented. He asked me about my degree and I was surprised at how interested he was in my English degree. “It’s such a versatile degree. You really can do anything with it,” he said. “When my kids get ready for college, it’s stuff like that I am going to discuss with them. The humanities can be a good way into many careers.” I’m ecstatic that someone has finally said this to me. I’m so sick of the “what can you do with that if you don’t teach” comments and the “wouldn’t you have been better off with something else” or “oh, well I suppose we need people in all sorts of fields…” comments.

When I was at work this week, one of my co-workers came in to talk to me and saw Crime and Punishment on my desk. She laughed and said, “I don’t think you do any light reading. I wish I could bring myself to read the way you do.” It made me feel proud, again, and justified my summer readings thus far. I may have left college with my degree, but my degree has certainly not left me–I continue to pursue English and push myself to learn and explore literature. I don’t want that to die.

It’s Not You…Well, Maybe It Is

August 7, 2012 4 comments

For the past couple weeks, I have been struggling with my dissatisfaction with my “real” job. I keep telling myself that I should be grateful to have a job so soon after graduation (which I really am grateful for), but feeling grateful isn’t helping the unhappy feeling in my stomach when I sit in the office and consider what I do all day.

My problem isn’t who I work with and it’s not even the place in general. It’s a nice office with nice people. My problem is that I am underwhelmed. Very underwhelmed. I feel like a robot–there is little thought process required for most of the things I do. Most everything I do is templated in documents or listed in steps. There’s no thinking for yourself. And that’s a huge problem for me. It’s one of the main reasons I disliked retail: I was never required to really think.

When I was an intern at a Congressman’s office, I was given more tasks that required thinking and synthesizing information than my current job and I wasn’t even paid to do it.

So, what I have been struggling with is whether or not I am not giving enough time to this job before evaluating it. It’s sort of like a relationship: I don’t know how long to give the other person before I decide I am too unhappy to go on. Obviously, I am not going to just walk away without a backup plan….

If I were to find another place to go, I likely wouldn’t be making the same salary… I would probably make less, but if that job had the possibility of having more stimulation for my mind, would it be the right decision to take that leap?

What is the problem here? Is it really the job? Is it me? Maybe I have too high of expectations for a job?

I’m not sure. I’m very lost because I am grateful to have the job that I have, and yet I am unhappy with the experience I am having there.

The real question is: Does the job I want (a job where you have to think) even exist in this economy?